My encounter with a (research) superstar

When it comes to background research, no one rocks it like I do. If I want to know something, I Google and Google and Google until I find my answer. During my research for graduate schools, I have read a lot about choosing the right advisor/supervisor (funny how some people think they really get to “choose” their advisor/supervisors. I think most students are just happy to have one who is willing to take them on). There are pros and cons about having a junior academic and a veteran as your “boss”. I won’t go into the details now. My point is, it was when I first heard of the term “research superstar”.

I really didn’t know what constituted a research superstar. At that time I could only picture Lady Gaga sitting in a lab. I only figured a research superstar to be someone whose work is so paradigm shifting that your professors make you study it. Now I finally have a better idea and can happily say I’ve (sort of) befriended one!

Since I got my desk and own work station at my department last week, I’ve been catching up on my reading to update my literature review. There is this professor at University of Southern California whose name I have seen a few times while I was researching for my proposal more than a year ago for my PhD application. During my first meeting with my supervisor, he advised me to read up this professor’s work. Then I came across two very useful titles at the library which also happened to be written by him. The more journal articles I’ve read, the more his last name resurfaced. I’m not kidding, he is literally cited in EVERY article I’ve read on my area of interest. 

It was when I realized, “This guy is a research superstar!” He was among the first researchers to take fandom and fan studies seriously. In our field, he is like Stephen Hawking.

Out of curiosity, I Googled his name to see which schools have produced someone this great. Guess what? MY SCHOOL! Turns out he got his master’s from Iowa. All my Hawkeye pride began to rush in!

I knew it was probably awkward, but I couldn’t help but want to reach out to him. It’s not like I haven’t done this kind of things before. Remember how I wrote to my teenage favorite writer and bestselling author R.L. Stine to thank him for triggering my interest in English? Also how I invited the professor at Brown University for lunch and shamelessly asked if I could go there for a visiting research opportunity? I got a very satisfactory reply both times. 

With nothing to lose, I wrote an email to this research superstar last night to introduce myself (and our alumni connection) and my research topic and tell him I was looking forward to learning more from his two books. I thought if he did reply, that would be awesome. If he didn’t, well, emails don’t always get replies, still cool.  

Today I woke up and saw an email from him on my phone. I immediately jumped to my feet. Not only did he welcome me to this field, he also offered me a 30-page bibliography that he thought I would find useful! He even gave me some advice on my methodology since I’ve been having troubles. 

I’m so glad my PhD journey is off to a good start. Despite the initial hiccups, my new life is getting better and better everyday. I was already very grateful to have made some good friends at school and also outside of school. Making connections with a superstar in my field just makes it 10 times better. I will describe how I feel about my life in Auckland with a Kiwi slang I’ve just learned — sweet as. (Don’t ask me, “Sweet as what?” I asked the same thing lol. It just means great!)


About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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