Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: A Conversation with Teri Tillman ’16

In a continuation of last year’s seasonal series, this winter, each PCUR will interview a Princeton alumnus from their home department about his/her experience writing a senior thesis. In Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Alumni Perspectives, the alumni reveal how conducting independent research at Princeton influenced them academically, professionally and personally. Here, Taylor shares her interview.


Teri Tillman ’16, now pursing a law degree at Cornell University!

Teri Tillman graduated in 2016 with a degree in Sociology and a certificate in American Studies. Now in her second year at Cornell Law School, she’s the academic chair for Cornell’s Black Law Students Association, the co-president for Cornell’s Sports & Entertainment Law Society, as well as a student associate in Cornell’s Labor Law Clinic. During her time at Princeton, her thesis helped her develop the confidence to conquer any large assignment, and this determination has carried over into her graduate work. Here’s what she had to say about her experience with independent work:

What was your thesis about?

My thesis was an interdisciplinary investigation of the purposes and functionality of cross-cultural racial parody, in which I compared Japanese American performances in blackface with African American performances in yellowface. I used gender theory, performance theory, and critical race theory to analyze plays, movies, music videos, and television performances with these kinds of acts. While some performances were simply examples of cultural appropriation and ridicule, others uncovered the possibility for the reconceptualization and reterritorialization of minstrel traditions. Specifically, some culturally empathetic performers used existing male-orientalist and white-supremacist structures to disidentify and repurpose their cross-cultural racial performances as cites of revolutionary Afro-Asian exchange.

What was the most challenging part of doing independent work at Princeton?

The hardest part of the process was narrowing my topic. I knew I wanted to engage in a thesis involving Afro-Asian studies, but as I learned more through my research, it took me time to figure out the exact direction I wanted to take. I found that using materials from my courses helped me get a better grasp on which parts of my research were most significant to me.

If you could go back to your senior year and give yourself one piece of thesis-related advice, what would it be?

I would have been even more diligent about meeting the deadlines I set for myself. Doing that would have made my senior year a lot more manageable.

How do you think writing a thesis influenced you academically, professionally, and/or personally?

Researching and writing my senior thesis

Teri Tillman during her time at Princeton!

made me realize just how much I enjoy independent projects. I worked with my adviser, Kim Lane Scheppele, who provided me with the theoretical and sociological texts necessary to my analysis, utilized Princeton’s expansive resources, and learned about a very important, but underrepresented niche in academia. Achieving such a feat has given me the confidence and tools necessary to tackle future research papers.




— Taylor Griffith, Social Sciences Correspondent