Thursday, January 12, 2012

Capstone: Not as Scary as I Thought!

So, every Macalester student is required to complete a capstone of sorts. This could be a project of some sorts, or a thesis-type paper. In Political Science, it's a paper, and it's done the first semester of your senior year. Yes, ladies and gentlemen: I survived!

In July or so I started to think about possible ideas for my paper. I tossed around a few, and met with my professor a couple of times to shape them. After more than a month of shaping my idea, narrowing down a broad topic, and freaking out about whether or not I was making the right choice, I arrived right here:

Yep, Twitter. More specifically, how members of the US House of Representatives were using Twitter to communicate with their constituents. I wanted to see whether or not there was any pattern in who was using Twitter.

I gathered all of the accounts of all of the members of the House into one convenient list (seen above), and then began to do some data crunching. What I found... was completely unexpected! I was expecting to find at least some way of predicting who used Twitter (based on political party, age, gender, geographic location, year elected, etc.)... but there didn't seem to be any predictor!

Naturally, this caused a bit of an existential crisis on my end. What was I supposed to write about now that my entire idea was based on patterns that didn't exist? My fantastic advisor suggested that I take a step back and look at scholarly literature from before the Internet on political communication. Disclosure: I was a little skeptical of this idea at first. I mean, what would a book written in 1974 tell me about Twitter use?

Turns out, a lot. I ended up setting my entire thesis into a framework that's almost 40 years old - something I wouldn't have ever considered without the help of my advisor and the support of the library staff!

I spent one entire semester developing, researching, writing, and presenting my findings. In the end, I'm quite proud of the work that I did. The scholarly literature on Twitter use is still quite sparse, and I may have contributed something that someone else might find useful someday! That in itself is worth all of the long hours I put into it.

-- Natalie Pavlatos '12

P.S. Maybe you're a tweeter too. If so, you should follow @MacAdmis to get the inside scoop on Macalester from a current student's perspective!