Throughout the semester, I find I’m haunted by looming research papers and projects that will inevitably close out most of my classes. I picture myself in the library with stacks of scholarly journal articles, a highlighter, my third coffee, and wrinkles in my forehead. It’s daunting and feels like that workout you force yourself to do when you have no energy or that long road trip to a place you don’t really want to go.
There has to be a better way. If not, I may have just talked myself out it. We have to find a way to revamp our boring projects.
Sometimes it can be hard to find wiggle room if the directions are very direct, but I think I have some ideas that will keep our projects from being painful.
Tie your project to something that interests you. Seems like common sense, but I know I don’t always think of it as an option. Last semester, I had an econometrics class (the math and statistics behind economic research). A very, very small group of people think this is super fun. For our final project, most everyone studied the typical stuff: effect of education levels on salary, unemployment rates and drug use, age and earnings … but a guy in our class decided to study the effect of year model on the selling price of classic cars. While we were putting together sterile looking graphs and calculations, this guy was searching websites he regularly visited anyway and writing about his favorite cars. With of a little creativity and thoughtfulness, he had a much better experience than we did.
Another option, find good sources. Usually when you hear that, it’s your teachers warning you to stay away from Wikipedia. What I mean is different. Not all sources are created equal. Data bases and scholarly journals are awesome for accurate, reliable info, but they can also be crazy complicated and a snooze. You might be surprised how many leaders-in-the-field publish books for the general public.
For my last project, I used the New York Times Best Seller The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. This book was entertaining and explained topics and issues in a way everyone can understand. And for me, it was a thousand times better than combing through technical, academic style writing. Work smarter, not harder!
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘presentation is everything.’ It typically makes me think of food, but I think it is just as relevant in projects. How many times have you seen students and teachers pull up the same bland, boring PowerPoint presentation and read the slides to you? All eyes on the clock. By rethinking how you present your info, your project could become much more fun. Make a video, use Prezi, find a way to have other students interact in a demonstration. It might look like extra effort this way, but it won’t feel like it once you get started.
The moral of the story here is to create something you can be proud of. If you’re trying to just check off another box and get through it, these final projects probably won’t be a pleasant experience. But, if you take ownership of it and make it special, you might not find yourself dozing off on your keyboard.
Jessica Casebolt, a former Miss Kentucky, is a correspondent for the The Lane Report. You can reach her at [email protected]