“The People Make It”: How My Peers Have Shaped My Princeton Experience

Recently ranked the best university in the country by US News and World Report, Princeton has a lot to gloat about. Yet on the list of resources and opportunities that make Princeton exceptional, rarely are the students themselves mentioned. While my classes here have been enlightening, my relationships with classmates have had the greatest impact on me.

Every day, Princeton students take in a wealth of knowledge, and it’s only natural that we share it with each other. I have a friend interning at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab down the road who discussed her project with me over dinner. She’s looking at data from four different satellites orbiting Earth to study magnetic reconnection events, or in other words, when solar winds (streams of high-energy charged particles from the sun) disrupt the magnetic field around Earth. I had never been exposed to this field, but in just a few minutes was able to understand several technical terms from a field of study completely different from mine.

Magnetic reconnection is responsible for the Aurora Borealis. Things you learn over dinner!
Magnetic reconnection is responsible for the Aurora Borealis. Things you learn over dinner!

And yet, most of my conversations aren’t outright academic. Amongst friends, there’s no pressure to turn conversations into precept. I’ve found that this balance between casual and academic actually aids my studies.

Last year, a conversation with friends about the TV show Ghost Hunters sparked my paper on parapsychology for my Writing Seminar. We debated whether or not it was a “reality” show, which led to discussion about the viability of apparitions, psychics, and mediums. I had to write about a piece of “haunted technology” for my essay, and immediately thought back to this conversation. I decided to pursue parapsychology, or the study of paranormal psychic phenomena, as my topic. I completed a ten-page research paper and had a fun debate to thank for its inspiration!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my friends are my windows to the outside of the bubble that keep me updated on the world with a constant stream of news. It’s easy for academia to overshadow current events, but being an academic in a social setting allows me to relate my work to the real world. For example, a few friends were filling me in on the devastation in Aleppo, Syria and U.S. intervention in the country. This led to a conversation on the United States’ stance in global politics, and our views on Islamophobia and terrorism. Since I study French and politics, Islamophobia in France, heightened since the Paris attacks, is a common subject. Tying this to France and America’s involvement in Syria pushed me to think about how I could use my knowledge of the French language and culture to become a sort of communications liaison between France and the U.S. to make sure no message is lost in translation. I’m not sure if this job exists or not, but my friends certainly inspired me to look for one!

Being surrounded by a highly intelligent community is far more enriching than intimidating. Just by interacting with my peers, on an intellectual or casual level, I extend what I learn in class. Student conversation, whether about Princeton-based research, current events in the US and abroad, or even about our favorite TV shows, is, amongst our laboratories and Nobel Prizes and other things that dazzle U.S. News, the simplest but most impactful aspect of my Princeton experience.

— Elise Freeman, Social Sciences Correspondent