Sarah Mahoney got involved in undergraduate research while studying abroad in Japan. In addition to introducing her to the challenges of conducting a research project, her work also gave her a tremendous opportunity to improve her Japanese language proficiency. She feels that pursuing research helped her make the most of her time as an undergraduate at UC Irvine. UROP is pleased to highlight Sarah for her commitment to achieving undergraduate excellence through research.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My research is an ethnographic study on the restoration and repurposing of Kyo-machiya, traditional wooden townhouses, in Kyoto, Japan in which I examine the intersections between culture, heritage, and built environments. My faculty mentor is Professor Sylvia Nam. Also, Professor Tom Boellstorff has been an important mentor in my research. Both have played important roles as mentors who have helped me think about my project in new ways, while providing salient feedback.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

Immediately after I transferred to UCI I decided to study abroad in Kyoto, Japan. I thought it would be fun to conduct fieldwork during my time in Japan to see what doing research would be like so I wrote a proposal. I enrolled in 199 independent studies under Professor Nam to work on my research.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

Conducting independent research has challenged me to think creatively, work independently, secure funding, and has greatly enhanced my Japanese language skills. Research made my study abroad in Japan a unique and rewarding experience.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

My favorite experience with research has been having the opportunity to conduct a second round of fieldwork in Kyoto, Japan during the summer of 2017 as a visiting researcher at Kyoto University with funding from National Geographic. I was hosted by a wood research lab in the Graduate School of Agriculture at Kyoto University. Since I have mobility problems, my host professor made the door in their lab accessible for me by adding automatic door openers. He also created my own desk space with the other lab members and assisted with connecting me with people to interview for my research.

I remember my host professor driving the other visiting researcher from Austria and me to a wood museum in Kobe, Japan. He treated us to a yummy lunch, let us loose in the wood museum to explore freely, drove us around the city of Kobe, and then bought us a giant box of cream puffs to eat for the drive back to Kyoto. I enjoyed being in the lab with the other students. We ate lunch together each day and took very lengthy pour over coffee breaks. Our lab was like a little family.

As for fieldwork, I had an interview with an elderly machiya carpenter at a cafe. The cafe is an old wooden house and had large step at the entrance. Following the interview, the carpenter built a wooden ramp for the cafe so that I could get in easily with my wheelchair. I met great people during my fieldwork.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

Iím not sure what my future plans are, but I feel I made the most of my time here at UCI because of research and that was my goal.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Have a sense of curiosity, pick a topic you will enjoy, and find a professor that you get along with to be your mentor. For transfer students it can feel even more daunting to get into research because you just arrived, so I would recommend talking to your TAs/graduate students to pitch some research ideas and to help refer you to some professors to seek out. Write down your research topic and ideas for the professor. Then keep revising after each meeting. My research ideas and questions came out of a continual revising process.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '19 Aneesah Syeda Akbar
Nov. '19 Jennifer Fong
Oct. '19 Amanda Woodworth
Sep. '19 Yvette Sanders
Aug. '19 Amber Marie Obenshain
Jul. '19 Gurleen Samra
Jun. '19 Yiwei Gong
May. '19 William Gerald Smith
Apr. '19 Emeizmi Mandagi
Mar. '19 Whitney Zhang
Feb. '19 William Agnew
Jan. '19 Sarah Mahoney