Exhibit asks faculty how they discovered their field of study

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Biology freshman Sareena Contractor checks out the different photos and books that inspire faculty featured in the “On Influence” exhibit.

Photo Credit: Elias Huerta

“On Influence,” an exhibit in the Perry–Castañeda Library, showcases stories written by University faculty, describing the personal experiences that shaped their careers.

The exhibit asks participants to reflect on the influences that led them to their field of study. Each participant‘s story details how non-academic influences, like family and life events, guided them to their profession in a few paragraphs of text.

Jessica Aberle, School of Information graduate student and volunteer at the UT Architecture and Planning Library, created the exhibit by compiling anecdotal entries from several faculty and staff members she knew, along with personal items which inspired her own passions.

“The topic is a favorite of mine to discuss with other graduate students,” Aberle said. “I personally find people’s research trajectories an interesting topic and a way to get to know other graduate students and faculty.”

Dale Correa, a Middle Eastern studies librarian, said students may relate to the unique and informal stories of self-discovery the exhibit tells.

“I think it’s a fantastic approach and quite intriguing to think about research not necessarily as this sort of ivory tower, elitist, disconnected pursuit, but as something that has deeper roots in someone’s life experience,” Correa said.

Correa became interested in Middle Eastern studies when her graduate professor said no one wanted to ever “go there” in both the physical and research sense.

“It sounded like an opportunity for adventure,” Correa said. 

Aberle is interested in architecture and art of the Middle Ages, and so her personal books and movies — such as “Beowulf,” “Excalibur” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — decorate the glass shelves.

“I think they are more interesting as a collection than as individual items,” Aberle said. “But ‘Camelot 3000’ is one of my favorites.”

Humanities librarian Katie Pierce Meyer credited a Frank Lloyd Wright documentary film for her interest in architecture, while childhood memories of California’s natural landscapes brought architecture associate professor Miroslava Benes to his profession.

Classics associate professor Adam Rabinowitz, another professor whose story is featured, said the exhibit demonstrates how students should acquire skills related to their interests rather than try to follow set career paths.

“What you should think about is building the tool kit that is going to allow you to do a lot of different things,” Rabinowitz said. “Start picking up rocks before you step out into the path.”