Holiday research? Try topic lists

As we approach the final weeks of Fall semester, we also approach the charming, challenging world of research papers and deadlines. Remember reading about those 10-12 page essays on the syllabus in September? They’re real, and they’re coming home for the holidays. You might want to make room at the dinner table.

Like end-of-semester research papers, the Woodrow Wilson School fountain can be a good clue that the holidays are near. Especially when it’s frozen.

Of course, we haven’t hit December yet, so maybe it’s too early for holiday plans. But it’s not too early to start thinking about those final essays – even if the topics haven’t been assigned. Based on your engagement with a particular course during the semester, you can probably guess which themes might appear in the professor’s prompt. You can also easily notice where these themes intersect with your interests, and begin considering arguments without the pressure to immediately develop them. This might seem unrealistic, but it works: the questions you naturally raise about your day-to-day experiences make a great list of potential topics for future research papers.

I’ve always been guilty of raising a lot of questions, but it wasn’t until recently that I began keeping them in lists. After a marathon of bride shows on TLC, I put a note in my iPhone about how social psychological principles might influence dress choices. Barely a week later, my social psychology professor assigned a short paper that asked us to apply social psychological principles to an event we noticed in our lives. You might think this is an unlikely coincidence, but so is thinking of the primacy effect while watching Something Borrowed, Something New. In truth, aren’t all research questions just unlikely coincidences – some spontaneous realization of “wait, what’s going on here?” If you’re lucky enough to have this momentary insight, it’s a good idea to write it down. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to make the most of it.

As my notes app reveals, I’m currently wondering how policy changes in baseball affect national policy debates, how the political issues featured at music award shows affect public opinion, and how recent Disney movies consider stereotypes and racial identity. I happen to be in a policy class and African American studies class, so these topics could come in handy soon. But even if they don’t, with 2.5 years left at Princeton, I’m sure I’ll find an opportunity to explore them further.

In the meantime, at least I’ve got some great conversation starters for that holiday dinner table. Is it December yet?

— Melissa Parnagian, Social Sciences Correspondent