Mid-Semester Reflections: An Introspective Research Project

For me, the flight home is always a relaxing time to reflect on the first half of another semester at Princeton.
For me, the flight home is always a relaxing time to reflect on the first half of another semester at Princeton.

Alas, fall break is over; but it’s not too soon to reminisce. During our time off, the semester finally began to decelerate (at least until finals come around). For the first time in over 6 weeks, I had time to catch up with friends whom midterms shielded me from. I was able to relax and watch Sunday Night Football without the stack of problem sets on my desk reminding me of my academic responsibilities. And perhaps most importantly, fall break presented an opportunity for me to take on a new kind of research project, as I reflect on yet another quarter at Princeton.

So far, these mid-year “introspective research” projects have really helped me improve my overall experience here. While classes are in session, I usually can’t afford to take a few days off to reflect on life, but when I get the opportunity, I take it immediately. Just as scientific researchers go through several trials to improve their projects, I find it immensely helpful to periodically sit back and think about how I can continuously improve my quality of life in the Orange Bubble. After all, the subject of this ‘project’ is me – I’m the experiment that can be infinitely refined. But unlike laboratory research where finding novel ideas is difficult, it’s really quite simple to give oneself effective advice going forward. All it takes is a little bit of self-reflection and time spent towards developing a plan for the future.

Not unlike the other sophomore engineering students at Princeton, I have found this semester to be incredibly challenging – and not just academically. There’s a lot of social pressure involved in being a second year student at Princeton. As a sophomore you’re expected to have friends. You’re expected to have your major figured out. You’re expected to be committed to several clubs and activities. You’re expected to be somewhat of a mentor to the freshmen. And academically, it’s certainly not easier as we concentrate more on departmental and certificate-related courses. Striking that balance between my social life, extracurricular activities, and a progressively harder courseload is something I’ve certainly struggled with so far.

So this break has been all the more relieving to me. I like to think of it as a halftime break, where I get to coach myself about what I have and haven’t been able to accomplish this semester. For example, I was certainly not happy with myself over midterms week when I neglected a few meals and trips to the gym. Did I really benefit from that extra one hour of studying? Truth is, I really didn’t and catching an extra meal or hour of sleep before my exams would’ve probably helped me more.

As a result, I decided to make a list of mid-semester resolutions going forward. Here are just a few of mine:

  • Attend more on-campus events, performances, lectures, football games etc. One of the main advantages of going to Princeton is the vibrant and diverse community we have here. It’s important to be able to make the most of that by learning to appreciate what others excel at – whether that’s break-dancing or improv comedy. Not only is this a great study break, it’s also an excellent way to meet new people.
  • Plan finals studying ahead of time. Although reading period will make this a lot easier than it was during midterms, it’s important to make sure you have enough time committed to each one of your exams. The last thing you want to do is neglect preparation for an exam and go in cold. Make sure you also allocate enough time for sleep, exercise, and meals, which studying shouldn’t jeopardize.
  • Try doing something new. Join a new club. Audition for a dance team (you may have to wait until spring). Start a side project. Talk to a professor about research opportunities with them. Go out of your comfort zone. It’ll always bring rewards, especially at a place like Princeton.

Readers and researchers: What are some of your mid-semester reflections? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

— Kavi Jain, Engineering Correspondent