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Alley view to Camino de Santiago, possibly

Research Out of Left Field

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Alley view to Camino de Santiago, possibly


An early class and a little bit too much coffee can sometimes be a recipe for disaster: jittery hands, bouncing knees, and a mind that not only wanders, but sprints in the opposite direction of the lecture material. I made this mistake towards the end of the fall quarter of my freshman year, but, as luck would have it, the extra caffeine in my system happened to bounce an idea into my head: what if I could go on pilgrimage for research?

This idea sounds like it came unexpectedly from left field, without context: however, in high school, I went on a 560-mile hike along a portion of the Camino de Santiago, an 1100-year-old Catholic pilgrimage path, in France with a group of students and teachers from my school. This was not a religious trip for any of my peers; for me, it was a chance to experience history in a way I never had before. Those five weeks changed my life, inspiring my love for medieval history and allowing me to make lifelong friends with people I had never talked to before. I knew the second that my group arrived in our stopping place of Roncesvalles that my pilgrimage had not ended. I wanted to go back and walk again.

I took my shell of an idea to my wonderful undergraduate advising director, Melissa Stevenson, who helped me navigate Stanford’s resources for undergraduates interested in research. Over winter break, while exploring the grant application opportunities offered to students, I found the perfect match: the Beagle II Undergraduate Research Award. The Beagle II is for students for whom travel is indispensable to their research, and you cannot effectively write about a walking pilgrimage without actually walking it! The deadline was fast approaching, so I sent off an email to Melissa asking for advice on the grant proposal process, and started writing. It took a few weeks of constant writing, many emails to Melissa, and support from the Undergraduate research office to put together my grant proposal. I also had multiple academic mentors during this process: not only my trip leader from my high school pilgrimage, but my major advisor, Professor Como, who wrote me a letter of recommendation on short notice and helped me shape my research ideas. After an interview with the Beagle II committee, I had the privilege of being chosen for the grant. I was on my way to walking again during the summer of 2020!

And then the pandemic came. Already sent home from Stanford for spring quarter, I received an email from the research office telling me to cancel my flights. I was devastated, but thankfully, my project was not over. The Beagle II committee decided to fund remote research related to my pilgrimage this summer as well as my actual trip, which will now hopefully happen during the summer of 2021. 

The moral of my story is not to overload on coffee in hope of inspiration nor that everything you try to accomplish will work out. The moral is that Stanford is made up of a million opportunities, as well as many people who will work as hard as they can to help you get there. You just have to find the perfect ones for you!

Lauren Selden

Class of 2023

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