Honors in the Major project: Noah Dubroff on "Congo Chaos and America’s Involvement"
My project is a brief look into the Congo Crisis, or the Katanga Secession Crisis, of the early 1960s and the causes not only for the initial outburst but also for the continued instability, with a focus on American participation in the destabilization of this African state.
How did you decide on your research topic?
Going in, I wasn’t certain what I wanted to study, as I’ve always been interested in pretty much any event or era in history, but with the help of my mentor, Dr. Blaufarb, I found an interesting topic in the 1960s Congo Crisis.
How did you choose your advisor? Did you know them previously?
I ended up asking Dr. Blaufarb to be my advisor for a couple reasons. For one thing, I’d had him for three different classes in the past, and I always enjoyed studying with him and knew I could count on him to answer questions and offer advice if I asked. Additionally, we had chatted about the possibility before, and he was very supportive of the idea, and when I first broached the topic, he immediately told me that he would be glad to be my advisor if I chose to do this.
Did your conversations with your advisor lead to any changes or revisions to your research topic?
Yes. Dr. Blaufarb originally helped me find my topic by talking about how Gurkhas (a subject of a previous paper I had written for him) had been employed by UN forces in the Congo during the sixties, and from there we talked back and forth repeatedly until I found a solid position to progress from.
What sources are you using for your project?
I am using a variety of secondary sources, but my primary sources include translated speeches by political actors, United State government documents, some information from the National Bank of Belgium, and works written by Congolese natives who participated in the events of the Crisis.
Were you nervous to take “the leap” on such a big project?
Definitely, yes. I was worried that I wouldn’t be up to the task of actually writing this paper and intimidated by the seemingly colossal size of the project – especially in comparison to the shorter papers I had written previously.
How do you stay on top of things? How often do you work on your project? Meet with your advisor?
To stay on top of things, I keep a running mental list and I check back on the guidebook occasionally to help bring everything back into perspective. I try to work on the project throughout the week and meet periodically with my advisor for advice and review of my progress.
Do you find it challenging to balance your Honors in the Major project along with your other classes?
Not particularly, but I kind of planned my HITM so that I would have lighter class loads during the semesters I’m working this. Piece of advice: always think ahead, particularly in regard to scheduling.
What role did your mentor play? What your committee?
My mentor was the one who I turned to first with my issues, and I contacted him more often than my other advisors. He was more closely involved in my project than the rest of the committee, whereas my other committee members while also helpful, I didn’t contact as much after finding my subject and figuring out how to proceed.
Overall, would you say the process of completing your project is more fun or stressful? How do you deal with some of the stressful moments that arise in the research process?
It’d say it is more fun than stressful, but stress definitely can build up. Keeping track of a schedule for competing the work is key, but when that schedule gets a little overwhelming, and due dates start coming in fast, I would sometimes deal with the stress first by going for a walk, playing a videogame, or reading a book; it is important to take a break every now and then – I always seem to work better after one of these short breaks. Second, I was in frequent contact with my mentor, whether through meetings or just emailing drafts of my paper. This helped me to make certain that everything was actually on track – it always helps to get some reassurance that you’re not unknowingly going off on a side tangent.
How do you think completing an Honors in the Major project will help you in 5 years? 10 years?
Within the next few years, my experience with writing this paper will help prepare me for writing a master’s thesis, and before even that, it will aid me in my application to graduate school. Learning how to do this kind of in-depth research and where to look for information like this is always useful in academic settings. In the more distant future, I think that I might be drawn back into researching this era, as the Cold War was an extremely interesting and interwoven time. Originally, I had wanted to explore how the Congo Crisis influenced future US policy towards third world countries and had to abandon that because I was wholly unprepared to tackle such a large project – I might look back into this in the future, as I feel that the connections and patterns of thought are still there and are worthy of academic investigation.
What goals did you have in mind when you initially set out to complete this project? Have they changed at all during the course of your research?
I had two goals in particular: writing a good piece that would reflect favorably upon me and look good on a grad school application. Second, participating in Honors in the major could help me to see whether or not I was really cut out for an academic career in this field. I was nervous going in that I would find myself not enjoying the process, and that what I had thought would be a good way to step into my chosen field would actually dissuade me from it; that I might not actually like pursuing such a career. Fortunately, the latter goal has been solved: I do enjoy the research and the writing, and this experience is making me more ready for the next step in my education.
What advice would you give to students currently contemplating an Honors in the Major project?
I’d say take the leap – this is your opportunity to get a taste for the full field you are training yourself for while still being protected by the confines of your undergraduate education. It’s an opportunity early in your education, to see if an advance degree is truly something you wish to pursue.
Also: try not to procrastinate in any aspect of this. Time is a demanding debtor, and it will always take its due; your success or failure is entirely dependent on you. Don’t procrastinate, write lists, make a schedule, and keep to it.
Lastly: don’t be afraid to talk to your committee. You asked them to help you, and they will if you give them the chance.
If you were to start your Honors in the Major project over today, what would you do differently?
I procrastinated a bit at first, and that in turn hindered my progress, but luckily my two semesters were augmented by summer break, so I was able to make up my lost time, but if I were to start again, I’d keep more closely to my schedules. But, more than that, I would try to get in contact with my committee more often, at least once every two weeks or so, as once again, they’re there to help you, and I feel like I didn’t exploit that enough.
Also: I would try to have put more time into the physical books up front. The digital age is a miracle for research, but Strozier library has a surprising amount of extremely relevant primary sources that are written with ink on paper that should not be discounted or forgotten.