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Political Science Department Faculty Leading the way in Undergraduate Research Mentorship at the UW

Submitted by Natalie Mc Martinez on September 27, 2022 - 3:22pm
Professor Cichowski (center) with her research mentees at the 2022 UW Undergraduate Research Symposium
Professor Cichowski (center) with her research mentees at the 2022 UW Undergraduate Research Symposium

Political Science undergraduates have a myriad of ways to get directly involved in research during their time at the University of Washington. These research experiences might include working directly with faculty as a research assistant or through advanced research experiences such as the Honors Program or the CAPPP Research Fellows Program with many of these experiences culminating in public presentations at the annual UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. The Department had 25 students participating in the Symposium this last year and our faculty stand out as leaders in undergraduate research mentorship. Professor Rachel Cichowski was awarded a UW Outstanding Research Mentor Award in 2021 and we had a chance to catch up with her recently to discuss her experience as a mentor and to solicit some comments from the students she mentored.

Can you share with us a little about your research mentor philosophy and why you enjoy mentoring undergraduate research?

I find working with students as an educator immensely rewarding. I am dedicated to providing a hands-on research experience, both in and beyond the classroom, on salient global justice challenges and I aim to offer the instruction, tools, and mentorship enabling student success. I regularly serve as a faculty advisor for undergraduates pursuing honors theses and independent research experiences. I take on this extra research mentorship as I believe strongly in what can be a transformative experience in a student’s life and undergraduate education. My philosophy at its core is about empowering students to ask big real world questions and to build their confidence in acquiring the social science tools to explore and find the answers. I enjoy the research discovery process immensely and making this process accessible to undergraduates at a major global public university is a highlight of my career. Our classrooms are filled with students with diverse life experiences that often shape the larger social and political questions that they are passionate about. This passion is what can fuel great research projects. I see my job as creating the learning space where students can safely struggle and succeed in translating that curiosity and passion into successful social science research that has real world application.

What were some of your favorite projects to mentor?

Ha! That question is like asking a mother to choose which is her favorite child. Instead let me answer it this way. There are two favorite types of projects. First, it is extremely gratifying in my large lecture courses to assign a research paper assignment. This is often hard to accomplish within a 10 week quarter and in a learning environment of that size. But I have developed over many years a scaffolding structure where we are building this research paper together each week, acquiring research and legal analysis tools, grounded in a finely tuned strong research question. I love the line out my office door every week and watching the transformation take place over the quarter between the overwhelmed student to the empowered confident independent researcher.

Second, I have to say I have a soft spot for undergraduate research projects that span multiple quarters. These are honors theses or research created through my small hands on 15 student research seminar courses. This is where we can take initial research questions to an even higher level of inquiry given the extra time across quarters and I can support students as they take an initial scientific curiosity and successfully develop it into a cogent research paper, public presentation and even publication. These are phenomenal accomplishments for an undergraduate and I am passionate about serving as the stepping stone for student success in these research forums. Annually, I serve as research mentor for 5-10 students presenting in the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium helping to place Political Science as the most active social science department in this STEM dominated university wide symposium. Above all with my mentorship experiences, I am so proud to watch students be empowered through the research process, not only as scientists, but as human beings, creating a confidence to engage with failure, work together in community and keep striving to make the world a better place.

What are students saying about their experience with Professor Cichowski as a research mentor? Here are a few excerpts:

Matthew Chang, ’22: "Prof. Cichowski challenged me to think critically and rigorously about the major problems facing judiciaries in liberal democracies today and did not hold back from asking us difficult questions in class, the most memorable of which was a small, tightly-knit seminar research course. The lessons I learned have stuck with me and are as applicable as ever during my studies in law school."

Elaine Kim, Senior: "Prof. Cichowski never falters in promoting lifelong learning among her students and creates a foundation to incorporate lessons within the classroom to be utilized beyond the walls of her teaching. Her role as a research mentor not only allowed me to develop fundamental skills necessary to my intended career path, but Prof. Cichowski offered a level of guidance that always remained open to individualize teaching approaches based on my needs and fostered a sense of partnership to ensure that I had her support through every step of my research process."

Vladimir Bejdo, ’22: "Prof. Cichowski's mentorship allowed me to take true ownership over my own research; having her serve as my research mentor meant I was supported by someone with a wealth of subject-matter knowledge on the type of work I performed in my research, allowing me to perform work that truly felt original in its contribution to the field. Her mentorship style is truly student-centered. "

Mahda Soltani, Senior: "From the time I met her as an anxious sophomore driven to her office door by an interest in international judicial systems and was welcomed by her warmth and patience, to a junior fascinated by her discussions on the importance of Data Feminism and the intersection of policy and data science, to a senior amazed by her generosity in meeting with me even during her summer break to share resources and informative insight about my Honors Thesis. Every memory, however, is marked by one constant: just as a North Star, Prof. Cichowski shines and so selflessly steers, not just me, but every student in the direction of academic and personal growth."

Jasmine Mae Alindayu, Senior:  "Prof. Cichowski has been so integral in my research career and in my studies. As a research mentor and teacher, she was always encouraging of any idea, passion and endeavor. Because of her, research continues to be a passion that I want to pursue."

Estey Chen, ’22:  "I really appreciated Prof. Cichowski's patience and thoughtful feedback, especially when I was staring down the nearly 100 constitutional court cases I had collected. I felt overwhelmed about how to test my research question and turn qualitative data (the pages and pages of court decisions) into quantitative data I could analyze. Her mentorship made me confident in my own research, writing, and critical analysis abilities and instilled in me the belief that I could see through a multi-month project."

CG Gupta, ‘21:"I completed both an independent study and my honors thesis under Prof. Cichowski’s supervision. Working with her was one of the highlights of my UW experience. Her mentorship fostered my love of research and passion for international human rights law."