Notes on a New Semester

The winter months (and wintry weather!) at Princeton present the opportunity to get organized for the upcoming spring semester. 

Welcome back, my fellow Princetonians! I hope that this finds you refreshed and rejuvenated as we begin the second semester. And if it doesn’t, fear not: this time of year has its own challenges, including bicker (for students who opt to join selective eating clubs), course shopping, and independent work deadlines. Thankfully, this post is aimed at a wide audience. In it, I will share a few reflections on the start of a new semester, which I hope will be of use both to the rested-and-ready as well as to the I-never-had-a-breakers among us. So, if you’re interested in beginning of the semester musings from someone who has now been through the process six times, read on! Continue reading Notes on a New Semester

The Writing Center as an Independent Work Resource

If you’re caught up on some of my previous posts, you’ll remember that I wrote my fall Junior Paper about shackling pregnant inmates in New York women’s prisons after the 2009 anti-shackling bill. I recently submitted my Junior Paper at the beginning of January, and it’s safe to say that it was a wild ride. To name a few challenges: I had to completely change my topic, I navigated tough interviews, and I spent a LOT of time editing my essay. Although I wrote a post about how to work efficiently during winter break, I pretty much ignored all of my own advice and ended up working on my JP each night, making my winter break anything but carefree and relaxing. However, I came back to school with a paper I was proud of.

The Writing Center is an incredible resource to utilize for independent work

But the challenges did not stop there. This JP was my first encounter with a substantial piece of independent work, and it included a whole lot of revisions after I had completed my first full draft. After reading through the paper, I scheduled a phone conference with my professor that left me with a plethora of edits to make in a very short amount of time. I made the changes, going through the paper with a fine-toothed comb, and the day after I got back to Princeton, I went to my first-ever appointment at the Writing Center.

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Reflections on Sophomore Fall: The Guilt of Not Constantly Working

As Princeton students, we generally like hectic schedules. As much as we complain about impossible p-sets, extensive readings, and multiple extracurriculars, we often feel as if we need to constantly be busy. Thus, we fill up every minute of our schedules because a packed schedule makes us feel as if we are pushing ourselves to constantly operate at full potential.

I intended to pack my schedule like this last semester by joining the bioengineering lab where I researched the metabolic pathways of yeast cells over the summer. (You can read more about my experience by looking at some of my previous posts).  It seemed logical for me to continue working in the lab during my sophomore year, as this would provide me with both experience and extra preparation for junior independent work and eventually my senior thesis. But because of scheduling problems and sophomore funding issues, I was not able to continue working during the fall.

As students, we tend to fill up our schedules so that we are constantly working on something.

Continue reading Reflections on Sophomore Fall: The Guilt of Not Constantly Working

Asking Your Professors for Feedback

After late hours on the B-floor and that last-minute citation dash, you never want to see that Dean’s Date paper again. I know the feeling. Over the past few years, I’ve developed the terrible habit of sending in my papers before reading them over – in a short-sighted attempt to avoid confronting my mistakes. But sometimes, as I’ve learned, the final draft can offer the most important learning opportunities.

It can be hard to revisit your final work. Sometimes I even avoid my Dean’s Date Firestone carrel for a few weeks after Dean’s Date.

In my experience, very few professors share feedback on final papers beyond the letter grade. And there is something satisfyingly simple about the “grading machine” – send a paper in one end and receive a letter grade on the other. However, this process obscures some of the more personal and pedagogical elements of an instructor’s grading.

Professors dedicate a significant chunk of their time each semester to reviewing and grading students’ work. They’re expert readers, writers, and researchers – you don’t want to miss this opportunity to receive their feedback. Each professor’s approach to feedback is different, but I can almost guarantee that they’ll have something insightful to say about your final project.

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How to Make a Successful Research Presentation

Turning a research paper into a visual presentation is difficult; there are pitfalls, and navigating the path to a brief, informative presentation takes time and practice. As a TA for GEO/WRI 201: Methods in Data Analysis & Scientific Writing this past fall, I saw how this process works from an instructor’s standpoint. I’ve presented my own research before, but helping others present theirs taught me a bit more about the process. Here are some tips I learned that may help you with your next research presentation:

More is more

In general, your presentation will always benefit from more practice, more feedback, and more revision. By practicing in front of friends, you can get comfortable with presenting your work while receiving feedback. It is hard to know how to revise your presentation if you never practice. If you are presenting to a general audience, getting feedback from someone outside of your discipline is crucial. Terms and ideas that seem intuitive to you may be completely foreign to someone else, and your well-crafted presentation could fall flat.

Less is more

Limit the scope of your presentation, the number of slides, and the text on each slide. In my experience, text works well for organizing slides, orienting the audience to key terms, and annotating important figures–not for explaining complex ideas. Having fewer slides is usually better as well. In general, about one slide per minute of presentation is an appropriate budget. Too many slides is usually a sign that your topic is too broad.

GEO/WRI 201 teacher Amanda Irwin Wilkins introduced me to the iceberg analogy: like the iceberg, the vast majority of research stays ‘beneath the water’; only a select portion is visible to audiences. Achieving this balance is not easy. It can be frustrating to present only a fraction of your work and difficult to identify which aspects belong above water. But in the end, you want to be presenting with the happy penguins on top of the ice, not flailing in the water.

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Working With Books in Preparation for Finals

Our friend, the humble bookshelf. I find that browsing shelves sparks my curiosity, causing me to pick up books that I might not even find in a standard keyword search.

Books are, in many ways, at the center of the college experience—particularly for my fellow students of the humanities and social sciences. At Princeton in particular, books are both the subject of many conversations and the object of much loathing (“Can you believe Professor X assigned us a whole book on top of next week’s reading?”). So, inspired by my own recent work with books in preparation for reading period and finals, I thought I’d use my post this week to discuss some ways to digest and analyze these valuable sources of information.  Continue reading Working With Books in Preparation for Finals

What To Do When You’re Rejected From Both PICS and IIP

We’re done with half the academic year and you’ve probably started to think about what you’re going to do this upcoming summer. Many of you have probably taken advantage of two of the largest summer internship programs sponsored by Princeton: Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) and International Internship Program (IIP). Some of you may be lucky enough to have gotten a positive response. However, some of you, like me as a first year, were probably told that your application “unfortunately did not work out this year.”

One of the locations I interned at was the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan.

But have no fear! While I was rejected from both PICS and IIP as a first year, I still managed to participate in two great internships (one eight weeks and the other four weeks) that led to a spectacular summer — in this post, I’d like to share how. (For another great post about Princeton summer opportunities, look at this post by fellow correspondent Raya!)

Continue reading What To Do When You’re Rejected From Both PICS and IIP

How to Incorporate an Interview into a Class Project

You might not have a fancy podcast studio such as this at your disposal, but don’t let that hold you back from conducting an interview! All you really need is a willing interviewee, a phone (to record), and a flexible list of thoughtful questions.

When we think of research, we tend to picture someone sitting in the library surrounded by stacks of books. While it’s true that books (and textual materials accessed via the web) remain incredibly important to the research process, not everything research-worthy comes in book form. Indeed, for certain types of research, such as ethnography, journalism, and oral history, going out into the broader world outside the library doors is essential. This was the case for me recently as I worked on a podcast for a History of Science class; an interview with a molecular biology professor about their work on the Human Genome Project was central to my endeavor. So, in light of this recent experience and in the spirit of diversifying the types of sources we use as researchers, I will share in this post some thoughts on how to incorporate an interview into a class project or research paper. Continue reading How to Incorporate an Interview into a Class Project

How to Get to Know Your Department

Every department offers wonderful opportunities. For instance, departments offer seminars, special lectures, opportunities for internships or grants, study abroad programs, amongst other things. But to take advantage of these opportunities, it is important to know your department well. As a sophomore, one of the biggest challenges for me this year has been familiarizing myself with my own department, chemical and biological engineering (CBE).

In this post, I will provide some tips on how to get to know your department by describing how I engaged with CBE.

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Qualitative Research: The Interview

If you are caught up on my latest posts, you will remember that I have had some ups and downs in my research process for my Junior Paper. I think it is safe to assume that most students experience difficulties with their JPs. However, the difficulties differ from student to student.

Interviewing experts is a great source of information, but sometimes it can be challenging!

In the Woodrow Wilson School, you choose–or, sometimes, it is chosen for you if you are enrolled in a seminar that specifically focuses on quantitative or qualitative research–whether you would like to do a quantitative or qualitative analysis of your JP topic. While most of the quantitative students are focusing on coding and analyzing existing datasets, the qualitative researchers analyze literature, conduct interviews, and gather information on their own. My biggest challenge so far has been the interviews.

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