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.

Introduce Yourself

As you pick courses, look for summer internships, or begin independent research, the department representative and undergraduate administrator will be able to guide you. Introduce yourself to them as soon as possible, as they have all of the information about the department and can provide you with appropriate resources. When I first declared CBE, I was hesitant to introduce myself because I did not have any immediate questions to ask. But the representatives and coordinators will be more than happy to meet you even without specific questions. They will tell you information you didn’t even know you needed. Developing a relationship with them will be incredibly helpful as you continue your Princeton experience.

Getting familiar with your department will help you learn about different opportunities and answer questions you did not even know you had.

Talk to Other Undergrads

To learn more about CBE, I also spoke with other undergraduates about their experiences. I found this useful because a lot of students had taken courses I was interested in or participated in research opportunities I was considering. Asking questions about their experiences in the department helped me understand different opportunities better. In addition, speaking with other students allowed me to find a community within CBE. From attending office hours together to taking study breaks in the CBE lounge, I found a great group of friends in the department.

You will learn the most by interacting with other students in your department at symposiums, study breaks, etc.

Attend Department Seminars

Every week, the CBE department hosts speakers from different universities to speak about their research. Attending these seminars helped me learn about research in the field. Although the speakers are not from Princeton, a large number of professors also attend the event, so I have met professors and learned about their specific research interests at these seminars. Often, there are light refreshments afterwards, and both speakers and professors are happy to talk with students. Attend seminars and talks within your department, as these relationships will help you navigate the rest of your Princeton experience.

Attend Graduate Student Research Presentations

Attending graduate seminars will prepare you for senior thesis poster sessions as well as other research presentations

In October, the CBE department held a symposium where graduate students presented their research through oral and poster presentations. This event allowed me to meet various graduate students, many of which worked under the same professor. From this, I learned how distinct research topics can be, even for students under the same professor. Similar to this, throughout the year, Ph.D. students completing their work give final oral presentations that are open to the public. In these presentations, Ph.D. students must defend their theses, something which undergrads will eventually have to do for their senior theses. Not only will attending a presentation help you learn more about a specific research topic, you can also take notes on how to present more effectively. Though I am not a senior yet, attending these presentations prepared me for my presentation at the Andlinger Center annual meeting

To begin engaging with your department, the department’s website is a great place to start. Through the website, you can find information about events and begin connecting with the department representatives and coordinators. Knowing your department will guide you to different opportunities and get you answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.

–Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent