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Undergraduate Researchers

Eva Jannotta

Eva Jannotta, Gender and Women's Studies and English

“What is Chick-lit? Gender and Genre in Contemporary Popular Fiction”

This research will examine “chick-lit,” a contemporary popular fiction genre, from a Gender and Women's Studies and literary criticism perspective. Ten chick-lit novels written by women in the United States will form the basis of my analysis. I will first examine the way in which chick-lit novels imagine and represent contemporary professional white women, paying particular attention to portrayals of female relationships, feminism, careers, and the perpetuation of whiteness as an invisible racial category. I am also interested in how traditional gender roles and norms may be reified or undermined in these novels through the ways in which female characters negotiate their careers, families, and romantic partnerships. I will then analyze chick-lit novels as part of a supposed genre, using genre theory to determine if and how chick-lit novels comprise their own “genre.” Novels considered chick-lit are many and varied, with roots in romance novels, novels of manners and epistolary and diary writing. I will examine these and other influences and analyze the components of chick-lit novels to determine if they merit categorization as one cohesive genre.

How did you find out that you could do research in your field as an undergraduate?
I came across literature review or research proposal assignments in several of my classes and decided that if I had to propose to review research for a class, then I could certainly do research myself. My current project was born out of a literature review assignment in GWST 300.

How did you decide on your research project?
Several professors helped me narrow my topic and gave me suggestions for how to make the research specific enough to be doable. I chose my topic because I'd read a lot of chick-lit novels and felt uncomfortable with how poorly these books are portrayed in the media and academia. Whenever you have a concern like that, something doesn't feel right or doesn't make sense to you, it might be a place to do research.

Who did you seek out as a faculty mentor? How did you know that would be the right person? Was he/she easy to approach?
I first approached professors I was familiar with in the Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST) and English departments. They in turn directed me to my independent project mentor (Dr. Kathy Bryan in American Studies) and my URA mentor (Dr. Jessica Berman, chair of English). I asked Dr. Berman to be my mentor because she has extensive experience both in GWST and Literature. She was very easy to approach and very supportive. I am fortunate to also have taken a class with her which I greatly enjoyed and which helped me feel comfortable working with her (but taking a class with your mentor is by no means necessary!).

Was the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) application hard to complete? Did your mentor help you?
It was not hard to complete but did take several drafts. Another professor I consider a mentor helped me with the application process: Dr. Osherow in the English department. She had great feedback and was very supportive. I asked her for help because I have known her since freshman year and she has helped me with other projects in the past.

What courses or other experiences prepared you for this research project? What has been the hardest part of your research?
All my courses that required research helped - the Humanities seminar I took freshman year, GWST and English classes. It has been challenging to keep up with the research sometimes, as there is no syllabus or immediate "due dates" for the work. It has been a good lesson in accountability and pacing myself. It's very easy to put off the work! I'm working on self-discipline.

Does your research connect back to the courses you are taking?
Yes. It connects generally to English and GWST topics, as well as to my plans for the future. I am applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to study the intersections of gender and writing in Peru and I want to study gender and writing in grad school. This URA project has been an invaluable experience and opportunity.

What else are you involved in on campus?
The Humanities Scholars Program, Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL), Gender and Women's Studies Coordinating Committee

What are your plans for after UMBC? Do you plan to do anything that builds on your research?
I hope to win a Fulbright to do research abroad. If that does not work out I want to find another way to spend time abroad, improving my Spanish and experiencing another culture. Ultimately I want to pursue graduate school and my Ph.D., and teach Literature and Women's Studies at the college level.

What advice do you have for other undergraduate about the research opportunities at UMBC?
You CAN do research in your field and it can and should be something you are passionate about. Research doesn't have to be boring! Researching chick-lit has been hard work and fun because I am interested in the results. I used some of my URA grant to travel to a conference where I met other scholars researching chick-lit. It was a great experience! There is so much out there. Give the URA a shot if you have an idea of something you want to learn. Professors will be there to help you. It's a unique opportunity at UMBC, very valuable experience, and it sure looks good on your resume!