Alana Shilling

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
I am extremely intrigued by Renaissance epic poetry, though I'd also like to research the chivalric romance tradition. Although some might consider epic poetry a bit inaccessible, it is in fact an incredibly 'approachable' genre. As Thomas Greene put it, the "legendary epic ideal was like a spirit that seized and rode great men, haunting them and exhausting them." Greene's statement captures the charming intensity of epic. It possesses a passion that enthralls me. At the moment, I am immersed in Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata and rely upon the guidance of Prof. Jane Newman, who has given my research a fascinating new dimension: disciplinary histories. Under Prof. Newman, my research metamorphosed from a relatively conventional study of Counter-Reformation epic to an analysis that includes discussions not only of readings of the "Bower of Bliss," but even questions about periodization.
2. When and how did you first get involved in research?
My interest in research began my junior year, when I took Prof. Chiampi's course on Renaissance Epic. Chiampi didn't simply lecture on epic, he wove an elaborate web. I must admit, I was 'caught.' Later, I enrolled in an upper-division seminar under Prof. Newman. She encouraged research and by the end of the quarter, I was studying Tasso's Liberata. During the summer of 2002, I participated in SURP, which was an excellent opportunity. I was able to completely immerse myself in my research-- able to study Tasso on a level yet unimagined.
3. How has research enhanced you education?
I feel that research has made my educational experience incalculably richer. For me, the beauty of research is captured not by the answers that are discovered through investigation but rather the "accidents" of study. For me, research is not a linear experience in which one slowly winds their way toward the answer to an isolated question. Rather, the joy of research is derived from the unintentional discoveries. Although I intended to study epic exclusively, I discovered (with the guidance of my mentor), a multitude of related delights. When I studied Tasso over the summer, I didn't just investigate the Gerusalemme Liberata, but I also looked at feminism, aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and even disciplinary histories. For instance, Prof. Newman suggested I study the Baroque. By the end of the summer, a third of my paper was devoted to versions of the Baroque. I learned as much (if not more) from incidental research as I did from Tasso scholarship.
4. What has been you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?
Granted, research in comparative literature is not riddled with fantastic adventures and 'close calls' in the lab. However, my favorite experience with research was the luxury afforded by it. Although some might be puzzled by the juxtaposition of "luxury" with "research," it is incredibly accurate for me. Rather than struggling for a week with a paper that you feel is mediocre, rather than limiting yourself to a topic and attempting to do the reading and write the paper, there is a sense of lavishness to research-the feeling that you are taking breakfast in bed at the Four Seasons. Instead of madly plummeting towards requirements, limited by page restrictions, you are able to explore. Always wondered about that search engine? Curious about dissertations? Wondering how the I.L.L. works? Perhaps you run across an article that is intriguing, but related to your topic only by a slender filament. Each of these desires can be gratified when doing research. During the summer, I encountered a biographical text from the 1840's on Tasso. It was riddled with far-fetched claims and romantic speculation, not exactly the stuff that reliable sources are based on. Nevertheless, I was able to request and read the text, a treat that would have otherwise been lost. In short, research allows you the luxury to explore the landscape of the library, of scholarship, of your own thought.
5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?
After UCI, I will apply to graduate schools on both coasts. UCI has given me a powerful tool: experience. My exposure to research has enabled me to explore, and has kindled my own thought. Research has enabled me to hone practical skills (such as familiarity with UCI's library services). More importantly, my experience with research was a moment of demystification. Before participating in SURP, I was always intimidated by research papers. However, my growing familiarity with research is extremely comforting. I have learned how to 'tackle' academic topics.
6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?
Embrace the accidental. It seems that the most auspicious moments come from seemingly minor details. Although "unrelated," these details might be a veiled opportunity, a new dimension to your research. Also, the choice of a faculty mentor is crucial. For example, under Prof. Newman I was given guidance balanced by freedom. More importantly, she encouraged me to push myself and offered me honest feedback, which is a crucial aspect of research.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '02 Ping Chen
Nov. '02 Sanjay Naran
Oct. '02 Alana Shilling
Sep. '02 Michael Vongphoe
Aug. '02 Ryan Wright
Jul. '02 Adrian Fernandez
Jun. '02 Allen Andres
May '02 Elizabeth Tsai
Apr. '02 David Bear
Mar. '02 Lorrel Brown
Feb. '02 Jiri Herrmann
Jan. '02 Kathi Hamor
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