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My Research Experience: REEES Think Tank

Lexi explains what the REEES Think Tank project is, and how she got involved!

Lexi explains what the REEES Think Tank project is, and how she got involved!


I have been keeping a big secret from you all. Since May 2023, I have been involved with a research opportunity called REEES Think Tank. I am finally going to share with y’all the nitty gritty details of this amazing extracurricular activity.

What is the REEES Think Tank?

The REEES Think Tank is the brainchild of 4 professors who wanted to build a program they wished they had as undergraduates. Their goal is to increase diversity in Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies and provide students with research skills to “make it” in academia. A big part of what they do is help us form connections with each other and current scholars in the field.

Through the Think Tank, I was partnered with my mentor, Dr. Louis Porter, who is a historian focusing on Soviet internationalism and foreign policy during the Cold War. Dr. Porter and I spent many hours on Zoom, figuring out exactly what I wanted to contribute to the conversation about my topic (keep reading for more on that).

The REEES Think Tank organizers
Dr. Amarilis Lugo de Fabritz, Dr. Kelly Knickmeier Cummings, Dr. Krista Goff, and Dr. Sunnie Rucker-Chang keep the Think Tank together and running smoothly. They inspire me!

How Did I Hear About the Think Tank?

On May 1st, 2023, my Russian professor Laura Goering sent me this email:

Screenshot of my email conversation with Laura. She tells me about the research opportunity.
Laura was really looking out for me! This is what small class sizes can do for you.

I responded later that same day with:

My email response to Laura
My research interests changed significantly since I first began. I had almost forgotten that I wanted to study Soviet-era jokes.

 

And thus, I was introduced to an entire world of academia that I was really unfamiliar with. However, the Think Tank made it more accessible to me by providing me with “safety in numbers.”

Who Did I Meet?

I met some of the current (and future) top scholars in the field of REEES. In my Soviet history class this term with Adeeb Khalid, I opened up the acknowledgments section and found a whole bunch of REEES mentors being thanked in it! That’s how big this research opportunity was.

As for future top scholars, I am referring to my cohort of researchers. We hail from all over the United States, from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast and everywhere in between. I am proud to have represented the Midwest!

REEES Think Tank Smiles for a photo
Look how happy we are after we finished our presentations. I’m so excited to get a “reunion” picture in a decade or so.

Unrelated, but fun fact, there was a board games convention held next door to the ASEEES Convention. One moment, I was looking at some very serious, important professors, and the next, at a very serious, important board game enthusiast!

What Did I Do?

Research. About Baikonur Cosmodrome. That you can view online in this website I made.

There is much to say about what research is, but I’ll give you the short version.

  1. I came up with a research topic, which was the legacy of the Space Race in Kazakhstan. Basically, the biggest legacy is the world’s largest and oldest spaceport.
  2. Over the summer and part of fall term, I researched very diligently. Gathering as many sources as I could, I wrote a research paper. Thank you to the Writing Center, who answered all my questions about phrasing and flow.
  3. I presented that research paper at the ASEEES Convention in Philadelphia in November 2023. I have never been nervous in my life. I was gripping the edge of the podium so nobody could see how my hands were shaking! However, the entire room was extremely supportive and asked great questions at the end.
  4. I completed a website using ArcGIS StoryMaps (a new skill I learned via the Think Tank) in January 2024. Website design was not my forte before this project (ironic considering I am a blogger), but now I feel a lot more comfortable navigating that space. I am also confident that I can somehow manage to accidentally delete everything off of a program where it is nearly impossible to delete everything.
Lexi presents at the ASEEES Convention
You can’t tell that my voice was trembling here, but trust me, it was.

How Did I Do?

Hey, to be an undergraduate presenting at THE American Slavic Studies Convention is pretty cool. Some people have even likened it to a high school quarterback playing in the Soup-er Bowl, but I’m not sure what that means. My advisor, Laura Goering, said that I was very well-prepared for my presentation, which I take as a massive compliment. She very patiently listened to me fret about my project during fall term, and she always offered me encouragement when she could. That #1 in Undergraduate Teaching means something, am I right?

Everyone in my cohort had fantastic, interesting research to share. For example, my friend Christian gave a very enlightening talk about Mexican-Soviet relations. Have you ever heard that before? I learned something new from every one of my cohort-mates’ presentations, including that Baku began as an oil-drilling city (Thanks, Cata!). I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about Transnistria, which is a small internationally unrecognized state within Moldova, but Sora laid out all the important facts and dates. Of course, that was only a small fraction of what I learned, so please check out my cohort’s projects at the Think Tank website.

I am very excited to watch my new friends grow up and become a significant part of REEES research. They’ve got a wonderful head start because of the Think Tank!

Can You Do It Too?

Yes! Please! Do apply! This research opportunity has been instrumental in helping me figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve learned practical research skills, met some amazing people, and experienced my first ever academic conference. If you are thinking about Carleton and what kind of research opportunities there are, you definitely should consider Carleton and its connection to the REEES Think Tank.

A collage of photos from the conference
Not all of the conference was spent presenting. We also had a lot of fun exploring Philadelphia!

Lexi Wallace (she/her) is excited to be returning to Carleton as a sophomore. She works as an Admissions Blogger, Russian Teaching Assistant, and Writing Consultant. She plans on becoming a SOAN and Russian double major, but you’ll have to ask her what she ends up declaring in the spring. Her current obsessions are oat milk, NCIS, and Doc Martens.