PCUR Embarks on Year 3

This fan is by far the best part of my new dorm room.

Greetings from my swelteringly hot dorm room! I am back on campus and finally moved in after nine harrowing hours of unpacking amid a heat advisory. Needless to say, I felt some nostalgia for my air-conditioned underclassmen dorm. But my days of AC are behind me and as I start junior year, I know that I’m headed for bigger and better (but maybe hotter) things.

Just like me, PCUR is embarking on its third year at Princeton! The blog has come a long way since its start in 2014 largely due to the incredible work of the bloggers. A HUGE shout-out to Melissa, who has been our fearless leader for the past year. Melissa’s guidance has helped us deliver great content, reach a wider audience and become a more closely-knit community.

As Melissa begins her senior year and thesis-related work, she is passing the Chief Correspondent baton to me. I’m thrilled to fill this role and to help PCUR grow throughout year three. I’d also like to welcome new PCURs Elise Freeman ’19 and Taylor Griffith ’18 who will start contributing to the blog this fall.

You know you’re back in the Orange Bubble when this is the view from your bedroom window.

As always, we will aim to be the best resource we can be for the largest audience possible. To that end, I’d love to see us engage more with the Princeton student body. What are you dying to know about undergraduate research? Let us know! You can reach us by clicking Contact Us under the About PCUR tab on our home page. This year PCUR will also have its very own Facebook page, which we hope will serve as another means of communicating with students. You can use Facebook to send us questions, share research-related content and tell us about all the amazing research you do!

I may no longer have AC, but something tells me year three will be the ~coolest~ year yet.

 

— Emma Kaeser, Chief Correspondent

The Post-Summer Catch Up

The site of most post-summer catch ups.

How was your summer?

You’ve probably heard this question more than once since arriving on campus. Your semi-memorized response perfectly celebrates your summer adventures without being boastful. It’s a response you expect to repeat often over the next few days, as you greet old friends and make new ones.

Whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, you knew the summer question was coming, and that’s a big reason why you’re prepared for it. But the 2016-2017 school year will also raise questions you aren’t expecting — and that’s where PCUR comes in. Blogging about our research across class years and divisions, we’re here to demystify the research process and help you get through it. We also work to put research in context, as both a part of the Princeton experience and a contribution to the real world.

We’re thrilled to enter our third year as a for-students-by-students resource. And when it comes to fall semester, we’re in the same position as you are: enriched by our summer adventures and ready to tackle whatever comes next. So let’s stay connected throughout the journey. You can subscribe using the box at the top right of your screen, email us through this form, and visit us at select research-related events around campus.

As I begin my senior year (and all the thesis-related work that comes with it), I’m excited to pass the Chief Correspondent baton to Emma Kaeser ’18. Emma and a cast of new and returning PCURs (including me!) will keep sharing our reflections on the research process. Together, we’ll help make this school year even better than the last — which, by the way, should lay the foundation for a spectacular summer 2017.

— Melissa Parnagian, Chief Correspondent 

Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

As I write, I’ve just finished my first real job as a summer analyst for PRINCO, the company charged with investing Princeton’s endowment. Being a rising senior, I’ve enjoyed many inevitable conversations with friends, colleagues, and family that start with the innocuous What are you studying? and soon progress to my plans after graduation.

Upon hearing my decision to intern at PRINCO, many friends and family members were incredulous. How could someone like me be interested in investing? I felt dangerously close to being judged a “sell-out,” someone who was abandoning her passions to climb a ladder of wealth and ambition.

Their dismissals, however, weren’t all that new. I’ve sensed the same judgements from others who discover that I major in the “impractical” field of philosophy–what an idealist! Both these judgements can be as chafing as they are simplistic. As a result, I often tailor my answers about my post-graduation plans to who, exactly, is asking. I alternate between saying I plan to explore graduate study in philosophy, or build my business experience while pursuing projects in educational entrepreneurship. In truth, I would love to do both.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

Continue reading Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

My Lesson in Research Rehearsal

After eight amazing weeks in Europe, I’m back in the U.S. and just starting to process my time abroad. Interning at the European Roma Rights Centre taught me so much about Roma people and the systematic racism many of them face. I also learned about efforts to combat this racism through litigation and advocacy. I greatly value the knowledge I gained through this experience — and now, as I prepare for another year of research at Princeton, I’m also thinking about the process behind the knowledge. Some of the most useful and thought-provoking lessons from my time abroad concerned how to effectively prepare for field research.

Here I am in with the other conference participants, all of whom work with organizations that research statelessness in Central and Eastern Europe.

During my second-to-last week in Budapest, I went with four colleagues to a conference in Belgrade, Serbia. The three-day conference functioned as a training workshop to prepare seven organizations to conduct field research on stateless Roma (Roma individuals who aren’t legally affiliated with any nation.) These organizations were based in countries all throughout Eastern Europe and the West Balkans, where statelessness is a particularly significant issue among Roma populations. The ERRC led the workshop — and I got to play a role in the research trainings. Continue reading My Lesson in Research Rehearsal

Science, the Absurd

It was Wednesday, the final round of my second day of water sampling, when I hit a bump in the road with the rolling cooler I was pulling behind me. The second cooler of water samples, which had been stacked on top, toppled to the asphalt. Eight ice packs and 54 water sample bottles careened out of the cooler and across the road.

I’m using a PVC stick to photograph the reef from a fixed height, in order to take standardized photos of the reef for ecological analysis. This procedure is otherwise known as The Aquatic Gandalf.

This, I thought to myself, throwing my hands up in the air like a cartoon character, is absurd. I scooped the samples up from the pavement, picking a few out from the grassy verge where they’d fallen, and shoved them back into the cooler (carefully packing ice back over the top). I reminded myself, as I have often these past six weeks: This is science.

I’m in Bermuda for two months this summer, studying how polluted groundwater discharge is affecting near-shore coral reefs. The field season has been exciting, fulfilling, challenging, and full of slightly ridiculous situations. I’ve gone swimming along the reef like an aquatic Gandalf, carrying a camera mounted on a PVC stick. I’ve attached equipment to the reef by looping zip-ties through holes in the rocks, and so have spent hours poking these zip-ties into crevasses and attempting to pull them through on the opposite side. Continue reading Science, the Absurd

Post-Fieldwork Blues

The end of fieldwork evokes strange sensations of both pride and loss.

Returning to New York after two months in Rio de Janeiro (studying psychiatrist Nise da Silveira’s life and legacy), I know I accomplished a lot. But I can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that there was so much more I could have done, and so much that I left behind. Just as I was acquiring an understanding of the nature of da Silveira’s impact, just as I was beginning to map the important people and projects she influenced, just as my interviews were becoming particularly poignant — it was time to pack my bags.

At the colorful Casa das Palmeiras, pictured above, I attended a Jungian study group, founded by da Silveira to bring intellectuals together across fields.
At the colorful Casa das Palmeiras, pictured above, I attended a Jungian study group that Nise da Silveira founded to bring together intellectuals from across fields.

It’s one of the most bizarre parts of learning. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t. That idea became clearer the more I conducted my research, as da Silveira’s work spanned many fields. She collaborated not just with psychiatrists, but also with painters, philosophers, writers, astrologers, actors, and people from many other fields. Her influence is wide-reaching. And while I never expected to reach everyone, I sometimes felt inadequate knowing there were so many more interesting people I hadn’t interviewed.

Continue reading Post-Fieldwork Blues

On Action and Optimism: Notes from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium

In the summer of 2016, it is difficult to find optimism in the field of environmental science.

Yet last month, I gathered with a throng of 2,500 coral reef scientists for the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu. Knowing the extent of the tragic coral bleaching and death that has unfolded on coral reefs this year, I expected a week of doom and gloom. But, to my surprise, the conference gave me more cause for hope than for pessimism.

A wasteland of dead coral on Lizard Island, the Great Barrier Reef, this June. High temperatures have caused record bleaching and coral death this year.
A wasteland of dead coral on Lizard Island, the Great Barrier Reef, this May. High temperatures have caused record coral bleaching and death this year.

This is not because the situation facing coral reefs is any better than I’d thought – if anything, it’s worse. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations, warming waters, and stagnant politics have put the biodiversity of coral reefs, along with many other ecosystems, into a sharp decline. On the Great Barrier Reef – a vibrant ecosystem so structurally significant that, unlike the Great Wall of China, it can be seen from space – nearly 25% of coral is dead, from this year’s bleaching alone. At one panel at ICRS, researchers shared photographs and time-lapse footage of coral bleaching and subsequent death around the world. As they flicked through photo after photo, the conference hall adopted the atmosphere of a funeral.

No, things are not looking good for coral reefs, or for many other ecosystems struggling to keep up with the whirlwind of environmental change that stems from human overpopulation, consumption, and industrialization. One scientist, Peter Sale, called coral reefs a “canary” in the proverbial coal mine that is our changing earth. “There are a whole bunch of canaries that are at risk,” Dr. Sale said. “And when the canaries go, our civilization goes.” Continue reading On Action and Optimism: Notes from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium

Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

As I head into the second half of my internship at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, I find myself equipped with a more focused understanding of my research— and, curiously, a wider understanding of my research. This may sound strange at first. How can my perspective become narrower and broader simultaneously? It might seem paradoxical, but I’ve realized that digging deeper into a research project often entails zooming in and stepping back.

Here I am standing on Liberty Bridge and looking at Budapest from across the Danube River–a zoomed out view if you will.

Continue reading Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

A Summer of Surprises in the Windy City

When I hopped on my flight to Chicago a few weeks ago, I was surprisingly calm and collected about spending 10 weeks as an intern in a whole new city by myself. This seemed odd to me, because I’m normally extremely nervous about leaving my house for any longer than a week. I still remember how terrified I was during my first few months at Princeton. I worried about everything — The fact that the laundry room was located six entryways away scared me. Were my awful laundry habits going to leave me perpetually clothes-less?

But going to Chicago, I felt somewhat prepared. It’s probably because I pictured Chicago as a smaller version of New York City, which I had grown comfortable with during my two years at Princeton. While several of my friends were traveling to exotic, exciting places around the globe, Chicago seemed comparatively boring to me.

Now, I think back to my pre-Chicago mindset and can’t believe how terribly wrong I was.

My first view of Chicago’s skyline which I captured 5 minutes before I landed.

Continue reading A Summer of Surprises in the Windy City

Four Tips for Summer Research

Greetings from Rio de Janeiro!

Back in April, I shared some tips about how to prepare for summer research. Now we’re well into summer, and I’m on the ground in Brazil — conducting my thesis research on psychiatrist Nise da Silveira (1905-1999) and her legacy in Rio. I have made several trips to da Silveira’s psychiatric institute, particularly to visit the Hotel da Loucura — a creative space where artists and the institute’s clients come together to make theater. With two weeks of research completed, I thought I would share some summer research tips that have helped me so far.

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Mural of Nise da Silveira in the Hotel da Loucura

1 – Plan in increments. For me, the most daunting — and most exciting — part of tackling a long-term project is the need for flexible and evolving goals. Especially for an ethnographic and interview-based project like mine, I cannot predict what will come up. So far, I have found it most useful to take things a week at a time. I make weekly objectives: attend one theater workshop, conduct two interviews, make a visit to da Silveira’s archives, etc. This allows me to break down the immensity of a two month long research project into smaller, reachable goals.

2 – Write something everyday. I am discovering something new everyday: about Rio, about the people I meet, about art’s ability to heal — and, of course, about Nise da Silveira. I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go, jotting down notes, observations, and questions as I sit on my daily bus home from the psychiatric institute. Back in my apartment, I use these notes to write a short journal entry on my computer: a 15-minute exercise that not only gets me thinking critically about my research experiences, but also produces material that may be used months down the road in my thesis.

Continue reading Four Tips for Summer Research