My Narrative Arc

Matt McMahon in Belize, 2012
Matt McMahon in Belize, 2012

By Matt McMahon

Through my career in high school and now in college at Texas A&M University, writing has been a skill that I have always treasured and appreciated. The power of writing is simply amazing when used effectively, in processes such as applications, publications, or simply getting a grade. In the two years that I have been at A&M, research composition has truly shown me the significance of writing, which I could not have fully appreciated at any time before.

My official push into the field of research composition began during spring 2012 when I was given the assignment of writing a research proposal to prepare for my internship in Belize that summer. The proposal was a way for me to begin developing my research project, which was a survey of the invasive lionfish population in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. As this proposal was my first composition of its kind, I was naturally proud of it, and as it grew to become 46 pages in length by the end of the summer I felt like I was the lead author of a small book. Little did I know that, in my naivety from lack of experience, I had overlooked a crucial aspect of research communication: no conjecture is allowed. Before I could end my internship, my last assignment was to rebuild my high 46-level temple of research results into a small, secure hut of a mere ten levels. Similar to the story that the Son of God once told, I had three days to do so. The result was a report that, I felt, was stripped to the bare minimum, but in reality that minimum was the crucial line through the flow of the project. The revised report finally had a forward direction through which a progressive point could be made, and since it was shorter people may have actually had the desire to read it all the way through. Overall, the experience was a difficult one to bear, as criticism pointing at an underlying mistake that had gone on for two months is not easy to handle. I learned many valuable lessons about the process of research composition and peer review, however, which gave me the grounds to launch forward towards new opportunities.

After returning from Belize, I applied for and was accepted onto the editorial board for the Explorations Undergraduate Research Journal. With my newfound writing skills taken from my Belize internship, I have already been able to make full use of my position as a journal editor in my critiquing of applicants and in revision of their work. When the university nominated me for the Udall scholarship, I saw another opportunity to apply those same skills, but this time I would be writing about myself and working to highlight why I should be chosen for such an award. The skill that came in most handy for this application process was definitely my experience with peer review, since I could view the application from my own eyes as well as consider what opinions my readers might have as I wrote it. The editorial process to prepare the Udall application took about a month and a half, since eight essays of varying lengths were required. With such scrupulous review and revision, I not only learned a great deal about where I want to head with my future semesters of schooling, but I also realized how much more I have yet to learn about the fields that I had believed I was familiar with. In the final week, the application was presented to a faculty review board, which was given the task of editing for technical errors and making minor adjustments. The results from this final editing step gave me one last, meaningful lesson to remember: no matter how hard you work, there will likely always be critics looking to depreciate your work. For that reason, a writer should believe in what has been written, and, just as in a debate, have solid reasons for the points that have been made.

Keeping these fresh new lessons in mind, I disembarked into the research arena while my Udall application lay in line to face its final judgment. My culmination of acquired writing experiences aided me in writing my first research grant proposal, and another will likely be sent out the door in a similar fashion soon. The method through which grant proposals are written, as professors will confirm, is vital in the long run with regards to keeping one’s academic position as well as funding research. Although I don’t have to count on research funds for my job just yet, the results of my grant proposals will be an accurate critique of how effective my writing skills have become. Now I look to add the finishing touches to the lesson that came from my Belize internship, which will be accomplished in a publication in a professional research journal. Using the experiences that I have from my high school Expository Writing class, writing and rebuilding my Belize report, meticulously constructing the Udall application, and sending off my first grant proposal, I have already begun to build three research reports derived from the findings obtained in my lionfish study, with the goal of getting them all officially published in the near future. Needless to say, the power of effective writing is an impressive and increasingly useful one, and only through practice and experience can students of all kinds harness that ability. When such a level of comprehension is reached, only good things can come from continuing to strive forward.

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