Research in the Time of Corona

With shelter-in-place policies in effect throughout the world, much of the U.S. has come to a complete standstill. However, for the many University of California, Irvine (UCI) undergraduate researchers, the grind doesn’t stop. One student researcher continuing his work is third-year comparative literature and philosophy student Ruiqing Li.

“I was planning on going to New York this quarter to visit the library at Columbia University to get some archives. But now I can’t even leave the house,“ Ruiqing explains. While the COVID-19 epidemic might have thrown a wrench into his travel plans, Ruiqing remains positive as he points out, “I have a lot of time to read the books I’ve already checked out!” 

Ruiqing’s commitment to keeping up with his research even amidst a global pandemic is something he credits to the process of working with the UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). He identifies UROP check-ins and deadlines as keeping him focused; “They push me to stop immersing myself in all sorts of archives and to actually start writing.” 

For the last 25 years, UROP has connected UCI students from all schools and disciplines to research opportunities both on and off-campus. With the mission of helping undergraduates explore the world of academic research, UROP fosters collaboration between students and faculty and guides students through every stage of the research process.

Ruiqing discovered UROP through Professor Jane Newman in the comparative literature department. For years, Professor Newman has mentored many students in their research projects. Many of her students have gone on to be accepted at some of the top doctoral programs in the nation, as well as win prestigious scholarships and fellowships. In recognition of Professor Newman’s mentorship, the School of Humanities honored her with the 2004 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research and UROP named her the Faculty Mentor of the Month in May of 2009. 

When Professor Newman introduced Ruiqing to UROP, he already knew he was interested in conducting research. However, he wasn’t sure how to get started. He recalls, “In the beginning, I didn’t have a specific idea about what I had to do.” As he went through the process of applying for a UROP fellowship, Ruiqing was able to develop his ideas, narrow his focus, and successfully pitch his research proposal.

Ruiqing admits, “For me, the hardest part of completing a project is starting to write and taking the initial steps. Applying for UROP helped me stay on track and helped me do all the work I needed to do.” 

For Ruiqing, his partnership with UROP goes beyond helping him set and achieve his research goals. It has also taught him the importance of collaboration and given him the confidence to reach out to UCI faculty for guidance. “In order to improve the quality of my work, I’ve visited professors and asked them questions,” he explains. “They were all friendly, supportive, and enthusiastic. Their passion keeps me motivated.”

When speaking about his research project, Ruiqing’s own passion is evident. In his words: 

My research is an evaluation of traditional intellectuals’ roles in social movements, as well as my reflection on whether traditional intellectuals, who have always resided in their ivory towers, can lead social movements to success. My study is important in the sense that it studies the reasons why previous traditional intellectuals failed in leading revolutions and attempts to provide a response to the question of whether traditional intellectuals can become competent leaders of revolutions. After all, if traditional intellectuals are inherently handicapped on this matter, then what else can they do to shape society into their ideal form?

The historical and societal questions that Ruiqing looks to answer are broad. Fortunately, Ruiqing will have plenty of time to continue his research and his relationship with UROP as he applies for their Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Through SURP, Ruiqing is hoping to earn funding that will allow him to fully dedicate himself to continuing his project through the summer months.

For Ruiqing, working with UROP and pursuing research has cemented his goals for the future. As he considers the personal impact of his research experience, he describes, “It is both a training and a rehearsal of what I would like to do for at least the next couple of years.”

Looking beyond his undergraduate career, Ruiqing plans to continue his academic journey. “I will graduate next year and apply for comparative literature and global study graduate programs,” he explains, “Eventually, I will strive to earn my doctorate and become a college professor.”

To learn more about the breadth and depth of UROP’s programs, students are encouraged to visit UROP’s website here or reach out to the UROP team at urop@uci.edu.