Getting Involved in Research Early

As I near the end of my first two years at Princeton, I thought that it would be useful to reflect on my time here so far, and how I prepared (or often did not prepare) myself to take advantage of research and internship opportunities. As I mentioned in my last post, one of the most useful parts of my internship search this year was talking with the preceptor of one of my classes, as I had the chance to learn from the experience of an older student. Here, I thought I might try and put my own advice into practice by flipping it around: while I cannot claim to have anywhere near the same experience of our graduate counterparts, I thought that my experience might still be useful to current and future first-year students. These are some of the pieces of advice from my time here.

Take advantage of the faculty that we have at Princeton. We have such a large and diverse group of professors who have had a great variety of career paths. While they might not directly provide you with research opportunities, their advice is still invaluable. In fact, I would advise you to make it a priority to take at least one class with a professor who has experience in a field or career that you are considering within their first couple of semesters. For example, in my case, as an economics student who was and still is interested in macroeconomic policy, this was what helped me decide between taking ECO 101 (Macroeconomics) or ECO 100 (Microeconomics) in the fall. As it turns out, in the fall semester ECO 101 is taught by Professor Alan Blinder, who is a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve. This ended up being a really important experience for me, as Professor Blinder chose to structure his course more around policy, specifically around the Great Recession, and I had the chance to learn more about the process of analyzing and formulating macroeconomic policy. While it may not be so easy to find courses with a specific professor for you, I would still recommend it (even if it means pushing a general education requirement class back) as it can be really helpful in starting to think more about your future research and career path at a less superficial level.

Start assisting in research early, even if it means being relegated to what is seemingly grunt work. In my case, at the end of the fall semester of my first year, with the help of one of my teachers, I managed to find a position as a data entry assistant for a graduate student. While this may seem dull and menial, it was actually an incredible opportunity for me as I had the chance to learn more about the research that they were doing and about how they gathered and prepared data for analysis. In particular, I had a chance to meet with the student several times for training and as part of this I learned about the type of analysis she was doing as that was relevant to how I was supposed to enter and group data. This was really interesting and very helpful as I began to think about the research process both in and outside of classes. After the data entry was complete, I also had the chance to meet with her and ask questions about her career in economics and the skill she found most valuable, which helped shape how I chose my course load.

While data entry can seem menial, it is an important part of research and can be both a step towards other work as well as insightful itself

My last piece of advice regards something I wish I had thought about more previously: applying to shorter internship opportunities like Princeternships or Winter Internships. These are amazing chances to explore fields and disciplines or careers without having to make a large commitment. While I myself did not take advantage of them, many of my friends did, learning about fields like investment banking or marketing that they were interested in but not sure about. This helped them clarify their interests while not being an entire summer long, something that can be especially beneficial to students who are not yet sure about what field they want to major in or what career path they want to pursue. As a result, I highly recommend these to you as you explore your options.

While figuring out research and internships can be difficult, especially as a first-year or soon-to-be sophomore, I hope that the reflections and advice will be helpful as you consider your options and trajectory here at Princeton. 

– Abhimanyu Banerjee, Social Sciences Correspondent