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Francesca Dumitrescu’s Fourth-Wall-Breaking SIR

Written by: Shreya Mahesh

SIR, or the Student Inquiry and Research program, was established in 1989. Sparking curiosity and engagement in various academic fields, students are now given the opportunity to dedicate their Wednesdays, or Inquiry Days, to SIRs, should they choose to do so. Students conduct independent research on or off-campus, with an advisor, as they make their own discoveries in the fields of STEM. Although this process seems fascinating and exciting, it is sometimes difficult for others in the IMSA community to truly understand SIR. Francesca Dumitrescu, a junior, is conducting an independent SIR that takes a closer look at the various SIRs to make the information more accessible to the IMSA community. I interviewed Francesca regarding her journey in participating in this SIR. The following interview has been edited for clarity, but everything printed has been approved by Francesca Dumitrescu.

Can you please explain your SIR?

My SIR is a pilot SIR as of this year. The main question that I hope to answer is “what does it mean to do SIR?” I like to think that it is a fourth-wall-breaking SIR where I break the barrier between current SIR students the IMSA community. I will be shadowing current SIR students on and off-campus, recording the processes they use, and evaluating the similarities and differences between the various SIRs. I will also be looking at why some students prefer to stay on campus for a SIR, or vice versa, as well as the benefits for each one. I also interview some SIR advisors and see their perspective on what SIRs really mean to the IMSA community and what their purposes are. 

Why do you think it is important to communicate this information to IMSA?

SIR is such a big part of IMSA and yet so many people don’t really know much about it until they are in the program. Furthermore, there are plenty of adults involved in IMSA (parents, partner schools, etc.) that have little information about what the program entails. Even students going into SIRs may be clueless in what to expect from the program and I think it’s important for everyone to be educated about it.

What does a typical day in your SIR look like?

This semester my schedule isn’t as vigorous as other SIR students. It usually entails of me working in ITMC, the technology center on campus. I have been focusing on doing interviews with students and teachers on campus. For a few days, I had the opportunity to go to the labs and get some video footage of what various SIRs look like. Other days I review and edit the footage. Next semester I am going to start going off-campus.

What forms of communication are you using?

It is through film, so the goal is that I will have a few short films that concisely and effectively show what a SIR really is.

Why did you choose to use filming instead of the written word to communicate this information?

Personally, I think film is easier to digest compared to the written word. It keeps attention and you’re able to be more creative with it. At least personally I felt I could be more creative with it. Sometimes reading long articles can be boring, and watching a video can be more entertaining. Also, I think it helps put things in perspective since I am attempting to put the viewer in the shoes of a SIR student.

What types of equipment do you use?

We record using the green screen in ITMC and I set up a 4K camera typically with a clip-on mic and when I go on the field, I either use a 4K camera or a cinema camera and when I start going off-campus, I am going to have to bring a laptop to download my video and audio as I go.

What types of questions do you use to interview students?

When I interview students I ask them some of the following questions:

Why did they choose their SIR?

What is a typical day look like? 

Why do they prefer staying on or off-campus? 

What do you hope to gain from your SIR? 

What does the academy hope to gain from SIR? 

Why is the SIR important to them?

I just try to ask questions to see their insight on how they feel about doing their SIR. 

What types of questions do you use to interview advisors?

I often ask what is the relationship between being an advisor and researcher compared to classroom teaching experience. For example, I interviewed Ms. Townsend, a SIR advisor and English teacher, and we discussed the difference of dealing with teenagers in a research environment compared to a classroom environment. I also ask how experienced they are in the SIR program. For example, if they have been an advisor previously or if they are newer to the SIR program as well as what contributions they would like to make to the SIR program. I also try to ask some fun questions like what kind of SIR would you be doing if you were a student at IMSA. 

What interviews are in the process currently?

For this semester, I am about done with my interviews for on-campus SIRs. Next semester I am planning to focus more on off-campus students and advisors so I can compare the two. 

Do you have a favorite SIR that you have interviewed?

There’s a lot of SIRs, but one that I think is really interesting is Mr. Kearney’s SIR which is econometrics and I think it’s really interesting because there’s this stereotype that all SIRs are science-based, but his is more statistical and politically based. They do a lot of discussions about the current political climate and issues similar to that. I think if I wasn’t doing the SIR I am doing right now, I would probably be doing that one.

As this is a new SIR as of this year, did you create the concept for it?

No, I was actually going to do an internship, but my friend Shruti, a current senior and the president of ISP (IMSA Student Productions), is obviously very familiar with media and related processes. She talked to me over the summer and thought I would be good for this “documentary SIR” that she wanted to try, but she already had her own SIR and couldn’t do both. 

Do you hope to continue this SIR in the future?

Yes, for sure. I really hope that this becomes a 2-year SIR for me and I really hope to gain some good documentary skills from it so I am continuing to create films that can answer questions of our community.

Francesca plans to release her short films in the 2020-2021 school year. This eye-opening SIR will soon provide the IMSA community with heightened knowledge on SIR, making the process easier for teachers, parents, and students.

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