OUR Featured Researcher: Julia Martin '22
Julia Martin (she/her) is an Environmental Studies, Art History, Classics major conducting mentored research under Professor Rumi Shammin. Her project is titled “Environmental Histories of Refugees in Bangladesh".
Please describe your project:
This project seeks to collect and analyze the environmental histories of refugees currently living in camps in Bangladesh. Most of these people have fled Myanmar due to the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in the country and become disconnected from their homes. Our project uses interview transcripts, collected by researchers in Bangladesh, to document the history of the land before new populations move in and climate change affects the landscape. Through this data collection and analysis, we will both be recording history and compiling indigenous knowledge of the place. This will allow us to learn how people deal with environmental challenges in this region and see if any of these response strategies are transferable to the refugee camps or beyond.
A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:
This project uses interview transcripts to collect and analyze the environmental histories of refugees who have fled Myanmar and currently live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Our data collection and analysis will allow us to chronicle the history of the environment before it is changed, record indigenous knowledge, and learn how people deal with environmental challenges in this region.
Why is your research important?
This work will track and chronicle the indigenous knowledge of refugees who have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh and keep a record of the environmental history of Myanmar. As this country’s cultural demographic and physical landscape rapidly change due to genocide and climate change, it is important to record the voices of those being silenced so that their immense knowledge is not lost.
What does the process of doing your research look like?
As we are in the data collection stage of this project, most of the work occurs remotely using Google Docs and Sheets. My research partner and I are each assigned a group of transcripts, then we read through them and pull the environmental data into a shared document. This means noting the different terrain features, animal and plant species, waste collection strategies, environmental challenges, transferable skills, etc. mentioned by the interviewees in an ever-growing Excel spreadsheet.
In what ways have you showcased your research?
While this work has not been showcased yet because it is still in the early stages, after we finish analyzing the data we are currently collecting, Professor Shammin will include it in his next book. This book will then be published and presented to the global community.
How did you get involved in research?
When I was in high school, I thought I would become a professional researcher in the biomedical field after college because I love learning new information and solving mental puzzles; however, I quickly realized that will not be my career path. Even so, due to my interest in research generally and Professor Shammin’s project more specifically, I asked to join his project multiple semesters ago. Though he did not have an available position at that time, once one opened up, I was able to join this project and begin performing research.
What is your favorite aspect of the research process?
Reading interview transcripts and hearing the stories of people on the other side of the world is my favorite part of this research process. I love getting to engage with people whose lives are entirely different from mine, even if it is only through their translated words. This process has also taught me a great deal about Myanmar, including the knowledge that elephants are quite dangerous and regularly kill people (which I had no idea about!).
How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?
Throughout this process, Professor Shammin has been an incredible guide and mentor. Though he provided a basic outline of how to proceed, Professor Shammin gave us the freedom to develop our own systems and organizational strategies. While it feels easy to ask questions, I have also learned how to make my own decisions and only ask for help when it is truly necessary.
How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?
Learning how to use excel to collect data has been the most tangible skill developed during my time as a researcher and will be applicable to my professional career; however, I have acquired more general knowledge about Myanmar and the lives of refugees as well. In particular, this experience has taught me the value of and need for engaging with indigenous knowledge.
What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?
My best advice for becoming involved in research is to express interest early. If you tell a professor that you’d like to join their project and then display competency, enthusiasm, and a good work ethic, they are more likely to think of you when selecting research assistants in the future.