U student researches impact of perspective

Annika Pecchia-Bekkum
Annika Pecchia-Bekkum

Annika Pecchia-Bekkum is anything but a traditional student. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English before the age of 18, she is now completing her second degree in chemistry and is on the path to getting her doctorate in chemistry and doing research in literature.
She took English professor Alf Seegert’s class about the virtualization of nature last year and became interested in the relationship between virtualization and fairy tales. She had not considered doing research before, but Seegert supported the expansion on some of the work she had done for the class.
Her primary interest is in different perspectives of narratives, such as scientific or fairy-tale, and to observe the impact the perspectives have on viewers’ relationships and interactions with nature.
With her science background, she is able to look at the topic from an interdisciplinary approach. She easily sees ties between literature and chemistry concerning technology.
“A lot of the focus on the changes in technology runs parallel to the changes that I see in chemistry,” she said. “I want to combine virtuality, fairy tales and science in a single project and then see what happens when they interplay in a text.”
She has not seen a lot of research with all of these disciplines coming together, so she is hopeful that her work will be novel. She has received funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program for two semesters and is excited to have her own project when she leaves college.
Pecchia-Bekkum’s research involves watching films like “Grizzly Man” and “The Troll Hunter,” then studying critical theorists and re-watching from their perspectives. She is fascinated that within texts, separate characters interpret events in their own way. Sometimes, main characters interpret the world from a fairy-tale view to deal with their problems.
“[Fairy tales] have their own rules, and you can step into it. It’s a world that provides enchantment, but you have to take a form of virtualization to get there,” she said.
Seegert said nature is becoming more and more virtualized every day.
“Everything is framed as a picture — everything exists to be scenery. When we look at nature now we think, ‘Oh, that’s good Instagram.’ [Pecchia-Bekkum] is good at raising these questions that need to be asked right now of what state does nature have as its own, and to what degree is it being framed by humans to fit into our narratives,” he said.
Though always interested in medicine, Pecchia-Bekkum’s research has helped open her mind to a possible career in medicinal anthropology. When telling people about her research and her hopes for the future, she gets a mixed response.
“There’s usually a laugh. And then people ask me why I would even do English,” she said. “I’ve loved literature my whole life, and I think this research is as worthy as chemistry research and has as much applicability.”
There is still much to do in the field because she has not answered all of her initial questions, but flexibility is something she has taken away from her research experience. She has discovered some of her own opinions on topics and learned to embrace issues from different perspectives.
“Characters themselves usually see things from one perspective, so I think if you can embrace different viewpoints, you can get a much more holistic perspective on anything. It could be in text or a problem in society,” she said.
Whether a fairy-tale character or someone in the real world, Pecchia-Bekkum believes the lens people take on experiences can really make a difference and is worth studying.