What are First-Years Researching? An Interview With My Legendary Zees

My zees (Kyung and Jaehee) and I getting ready for Clash of the Colleges. Whales love research!!!!!

     On campus, I am a Residential College Adviser in Whitman College. It is by far the most meaningful part of my Princeton experience and I am thankful every day to have such amazing advisees (zees). In the fall, I decided to interview some of my zees on the incredible research that they have done on campus and how they became involved in this research. My freshmen show that research does not always mean working in a lab or on a senior thesis like many often assume. There are so many different ways to become involved with research on campus, whether it’s through writing a paper or joining an academic club. My hope is that seeing the research that my zees did last semester will inspire you to do your own and also show you what research on campus can look like for first years. So, without further ado, here is the research conducted by the most legendary zees of all time:

Cynthia Nwankwo ‘25

     I did research in my Freshman Seminar, which is about the way we view failure in different contexts, what the different types of failure are, how we can utilize it for the better and approach success, and generally just what are some of the key points in responses to failure (apology, forgiveness, humility, personal freedom, etc.).

Daniel Shaw ‘25

     Over the summer, I conducted public policy research for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a local fiscal policy think tank, and built a historical database of the SDCTA’s past and current policy positions, beginning a digitization of our archives. Specifically, I researched the potential social and economic effects of Measure A, San Diego’s Affordable Housing bond, contributing to the SDCTA’s report in favor of the bond.

Jason Luo ‘25

     I wrote a paper for the Humanities Sequence about the leadership and charisma of the Roman general Germanicus during the reign of Claudius, as recounted in a passage from the Annals of Roman historian Tacitus. In sum, it was a close reading and analysis of Germanicus putting down a rebellion of mutineering soldiers, and how the resulting violence reflected on the state of the greater Roman empire at the time.

Kyung Eun Lee ‘25

     In my first semester, I took the Love and Social Change Writing Seminar in which I acquired the skills to conduct scholarly and academic research and write a paper on topics of interest. For my second paper, I analyzed the 2018 royal wedding and its ideological significance in relation to British politics. By looking at the scholarship by Julia Carter (2021) and Laurie Essig (2019), I was able to understand how the themes of love and tradition upheld in weddings allow for the perpetuation and reproduction of heteronormative power structures such as gender roles and racial inequalities. Finally, I was able to see this relationship reflected in the royal wedding. I was able to conduct this research with the help of my writing seminar peers as well as my professor, Joy Arroyo. Furthermore, Princeton’s resources such as Firestone Library and other faculty and staff made it easy for me to find the necessary information for my research. The academic support given by the Princeton community has allowed me to become familiar with various research methods, which I will be able to use in the future as I continue my studies here. 

Mark Gazzerro ‘25

     I’m currently working on a research paper about advertising effectiveness that focuses on the way that companies can appeal to a consumer’s emotions in order to connect with a consumer’s subconscious. For this paper, I found a very successful Budweiser advertising campaign, which aired during two successive Super Bowls, that makes absolutely no claims about Budweiser, but, rather, tells a heartwarming story about the budding love/friendship between a puppy and a horse. In doing so, this commercial decided to appeal solely to consumer emotions, so I wanted to investigate why, since it is ranked the most popular Super Bowl commercial ever. I had to look for scholarship using online resources I got from Firestone and found a lot about emotions in advertising, including one scholar (Robert Heath) who focused on the psychology involved in learning, and claimed that studies show humans potentially retain information better when they have an emotional response to something (so are not actively trying to learn) than when they are literally studying. This has huge implications for advertising as this suggests that appealing to consumer emotions is in fact the most effective way to leave a lasting impression with consumers. I then tried to see if Budweiser’s commercial was financially successful (as opposed to just popular with audiences), so I consulted data@princeton.edu to try to get a hold of some financial statistics for the company. I ended up finding there was a pretty large spike in their quarterly revenue (~2mil), which does at least support the idea that their ad was financially successful as well.

Ruqaya Kareem ‘25

     I wrote a paper on the dehumanization of Henry G Molaison in Writing Seminar for my R2. I discussed how he is referenced as a patient, amnesties, and valued for his brain, in that people (researchers and the public) do not perceive him as fully human anymore and his struggles of dealing with an untreatable disease are rarely mentioned. This paper made me have a wider outlook on research as I was able to perceive the research process. If I participate in any research in the future or during my stay at Princeton, I would make sure that the decisions I take are the best for my research participants and I would portray the research participants or even animal models as best as I can.

Sunrit Panda ‘25

    I wrote a paper on an ethical role model in finance for my midterm essay for my Ethics in Finance class. More specifically, I wrote about Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered micro-finance. I analyzed the choices he made in life and argued why they were ethical decisions.

Vanessa Herrera ‘25

     I’m writing about the presidential crisis in Venezuela for my Writing Seminar research paper. I became interested in it because when it was first happening, I heard a lot about how it was affecting Ecuador. So, when I got the opportunity in my Writing Seminar to pick my own topic, I figured that would be a good option and it was something I was interested in. As I did more research on Venezuela, I realized that a lot of what happened in the recent years with the presidential crisis (or Venezuela having two presidents) was because of Hugo Chavez and so I’m looking into that and trying to zero in on how the presidential crisis was able to occur (how can a country have two presidents?), and the effects that it’s had on the country and other South American countries.

Vincent Jiang ‘25

     In the past, I investigated the political and strategic motivations behind the Truman administration’s decision to refuse recognition to the PRC in 1949. I concluded they were pressured by domestic Congressional factions into making a strategic miscalculation. And then at Princeton, for my final policy paper in SPI 316: China’s Foreign Policy, I’m looking into policy recommendations for the State Department to retain competitive leverage against the PRC in Myanmar after the recent coup d’etat.

*Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and interviews were conducted in the fall

When I reached out to my zees asking for their research experiences, many of them worried that they didn’t have any. But I believe that our interviews show that all first-years do research, even when they don’t realize it–whether it’s through classes, such as writing seminars and freshman seminars, or through programs that they have discovered. There are many ways for first years to jump into research (see here for how to get started) and numerous opportunities for them and you to share your findings and get more involved, such as through Princeton Research Day, summer research courses, the Office of Undergraduate Research Student Initiated Internship Program, and the fall semester ReMatch program. Most importantly, I believe that my zees show that all research is impactful, regardless of what the research is on. Furthermore, I know that their research now can transform one day into a Junior Paper, a Senior Thesis, or maybe even a groundbreaking discovery. During our time at Princeton, we can explore such a diverse range of topics and really set out to make a difference. My zees are dedicated researchers and inspiring individuals, and you can be too.

My zees and I looking forward to a year of research and fun!

– Ryan Champeau, Social Sciences Correspondent