Victoria Wilburn is a 2011 UNC graduate from Huntington, West Virginia. She graduated with a degree in Communications with a concentration in Media Studies and Productions. Currently, she is working towards her masters in Critical Cinema Studies at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. She became a McNair Scholar in 2008.
1. Could you give readers some background info on the McNair Scholars program?
The McNair Scholars Program is a federal TRIO program and is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential. The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.
2. How was your experience working with/through the McNair Scholars Program?
Amazing. I had the opportunity to network and communicate with McNair Scholars from other institutions as well as present my research at McNair Conferences and get a lot of feedback from fellow McNair Scholars and professors at myriad institutions. Also, I had a lot of support from UNC faculty in terms of my GRE preparation and the graduate admissions process, and upon completing the program, I felt as though I really a had “leg up” as an applicant as a whole. These are only a few of the many great things that come with being a McNair Scholar.
3. What made you decide to do research?
My junior year of undergrad, I knew I wanted a career in the film industry; however, I was unsure of what specific path to pursue. After receiving a call from a colleague about the McNair Scholars Program, I immediately applied and in time was accepted into the program. Once accepted, I was introduced into the world of research. Initially, I thought the research world was limited to science or what others termed “more serious” subjects. However, I realized that research surrounds all of us: shopping for grocery discounts, best deals in retail stores, popular meals to have in restaurants, top restaurants to eat for a specific cuisine, etc…
4. How did you decide on your research topic?
When asked what my research project would be, I knew instantly that I would research a subject that I was passionate about: film. In this moment, I thought it would be amazing to quantify qualitative works, and in terms of films, I loved the idea of incorporating my interest in the studio system, Academy Awards, voting process, and black actors into my research.
5. Were there times that were frustrating or did not go as planned?
Through the McNair Program, I learned about a program called SAS (Statistical Analysis System) and used it to create my data. Once I examined my results, I learned quickly that what I had assumed was incorrect, and most importantly, that I would have to reconsider different variables (i.e. which small studio was owned by the conglomerate studio, the reputation and box office results of film the actor was featured in, the production code which affected the types of films that were made, the history of cinema during particular eras which influenced one star’s win and another star’s loss, etc…) and re-enter and re-evaluate my “new” results. After looking into these variables, I presented my research at Penn State for a conference and received positive feedback, specifically from career expert, Donald Asher, who told me that I was “on to something” with my research, and he “couldn’t wait to hear” more about my findings in the future. After receiving this feedback, I knew that I wanted to become an authority on the subject matter.
6. Talk about a memorable experience you have had.
One of my most memorable experiences is when I won honorable mention for my research in the 25th annual Ronald. E. McNair Conference. Dr. Randal Pinkett (Season 4 winner of Donald Trump’s Apprentice) was the guest speaker, and I met and discussed my career aspirations with him. He signed my copy of his book and acknowledged me as Dr. Wilburn, which heightened my determination to delve deeper into my topic, report more findings, and ultimately get my PhD in cinema studies.
7. What do you find most interesting with research?
What I find most interesting is the concept of coming closer to “the truth” by researching what “isn’t” true. Everyone can leave their mark and play a huge role in the development of our society through research.
8. Do you have any advice for future researchers?
Research a topic that you’re passionate and enthusiastic about and most importantly, involves a specific interest of yours.
9. Do you have any advice for people interested in the McNair program?
Apply. Every field has ongoing research in terms of improvement or current practices. If you have an interest in research as a whole and are looking for ways to impact/influence your field of choice through research, then this is the program for you.