Before coming to the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Information in the fall of 2017, I made a promise to myself that my time here would be different from my time at my undergraduate institution. It would be different in that I would ensure that the feelings of isolation as a student of color at a predominantly white institution would not deter my initiative to seek out opportunities that would help advance my personal and professional skills. It would be different in that I would not be afraid to apply to positions I thought I was unqualified for simply because people in positions of power told me so in coded language.
Research was something that I so desperately wanted to try but never had the opportunity or the resources to pursue. As an undergraduate student, I spent a significant chunk of time working at the campus center because it was the highest paying student job on campus with a relatively good amount of shifts to pick up for extra pay. However, this position, as well as my need for monetary support to fund my basic amenities, prevented me from pursuing other unpaid research opportunities with professors and academic departments. Unable to stack the skills needed to even apply for these research opportunities, I gave up.
The Library as Research Lab, among other scholarships, has given me the resources to make my graduate experience different. Furthermore, it has given me the platform to work with mentors who are not only experts in their respective fields and practices, but also, learn from the small interactions that happen during meetings and workshops. I was especially excited to begin learning how to code qualitative data using software, like NVivo, as I have never had training on coding prior to this experience. I am even more excited to interview qualitative researchers in a variety of fields, including those in the health sciences, to gain a better understanding of an under-supported research methodology.
These kinds of hands- on experiences are so important to have to supplement coursework because it gives people like me the ability to see theory applied into actual fieldwork. Moreover, I believe that for those aspiring to become academic librarians, it is even more crucial that they are able to gain research knowledge and experience to further advance their careers upon graduation. However, oftentimes, especially without monetary support, it is difficult to get your foot in the door. If it were not for opportunities like working for the Library as Research Lab, I would have been in a similar position as I was during my undergraduate education.
Oftentimes, I feel that people think of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in lofty ways where goals and steps to accomplish those goals are difficult to conceptualize and actualize. However, from my experiences as a student of color who has faced financial difficulties, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility can start in simple ways—like providing funding for research opportunities that students from lower socioeconomic communities can pursue without struggling to make ends meet.
I continue to struggle with having confidence in my abilities to be a part of this fellowship. However, the team I am privileged to work with has been so encouraging in the learning process that I am slowly regaining that confidence. I only hope that programs like the Library as Research Lab will grow so that more people like me could have the same opportunities that I have been given.
Andrea Kang graduated from Smith College with a B.A. in East Asian Studies with a minor in History. Upon graduating, she taught English for 3 years in South Korea through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and is now pursuing an M.S. in Information at the University of Michigan.