Celebrating Senior Theses: An interview with Alex Ford ’17

In our spring series, Senior Theses: A Celebration, we take a moment in the interlude between thesis deadlines and graduation to appreciate the diverse, personal, and impactful work of seniors’ capstone research projects.

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Alex Ford, a senior from Los Angeles

On Thursday, April 20th, the University Student Government presented Zanmim, a short film by Alex Ford ’17 who is a concentrator in Sociology and has a certificate in film studies. After completing both of his theses (a film and a research paper on Haiti), Alex agreed to sit down with PCUR  to talk more about his work. Here’s what he had to say:
Continue reading Celebrating Senior Theses: An interview with Alex Ford ’17

Productivity Apps: Which Ones Can Help You Through the Rest of the Semester

My favorite productivity app!

With the end of the semester and summer around the corner, it is hard to keep track of work when all you want to do is spend time outside. That said, there are still ways of staying on top of your daily tasks while keeping your plans to lounge in the grass. As opposed to giving tips on how to make your work sessions as efficient as possible, this week, I’d like to recommend a few apps to help manage your work.

Continue reading Productivity Apps: Which Ones Can Help You Through the Rest of the Semester

Effective Study Habits for Independent Work

Taking a study break to color!

April has finally arrived, which means that the deadlines for theses and junior papers are quickly approaching (cue the dramatic music)! While teachers and advisers may be reminding you to pace yourselves and to still find time to relax, this post is for those who are grinding through their work and may even be (dare I say it) binge writing. Whether you fall into this category or not, brushing up on some effective work habits can be helpful in all parts of academic life. With that said, here are a few strategies that I have found make my writing sessions as efficient as possible: Continue reading Effective Study Habits for Independent Work

Self-Management: Strategies for Staying On Top of Your Independent Work

Making time for my independent work! (click on the image to see how I’ve planned my schedule)

It’s halfway through the semester now and the deadline for junior papers and theses is quickly approaching. Since we’ve just had midterms and are now facing another six weeks of hard work, it’s no wonder campus-wide motivation is at an all-time low. You may even be starting to fall behind on your independent work (like me!). But if you’re worried about how to keep holding yourself accountable, there’s still hope! Out of the several options available, I’ve come up with three simple steps for a quick solution. Here’s how taking 20-30 minutes today will help set you up for the rest of your independent project this spring:

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Mount Illusion: Finding My Research Question…While Doing Research

Since the day I learned how to write a research paper, I always assumed I needed to use the same research question throughout my project. To me, the question seemed to be the metaphorical guiding light in the darkness of independent work, the go-to reference for determining what information is relevant or what can be put aside. It wasn’t until I started conducting my own study that I realized my initial assumption was wrong. It turned out that the more I learned about my topic, the more I learned about what I actually wanted to figure out. In hindsight, I now see that my search for a research question followed the path of Mount Stupid, or as I’ve renamed it, Mount Illusion.

My journey over Mount Illusion to find my research question!

For those who are unfamiliar with this comic, Mount Stupid is a graphic that originally appeared on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. The comic is an illustration of a chart in which the x axis measures one’s knowledge of a topic and the y axis measures one’s willingness to give his or her opinion on it. The small hump in the middle of the graph is called Mount Stupid, otherwise known as the place where people who think they know a lot about a topic are actually not that knowledgeable on the subject. 

In my case, I’ve repurposed Mount Stupid so that the y axis measures how close I was to finding my research question and the hump, Mount Illusion, measures when I believed I finally found it (needless to say, I was wrong). As the illustration above shows, I didn’t actually find my question until I was well into the research process. Here’s how I finally figured it out:

Continue reading Mount Illusion: Finding My Research Question…While Doing Research

Recycling Content: How to Expand Your Fall Semester JP for the Spring

All of the sources I was about to get rid of…before I realized I could use them again!

One of the most rewarding parts of conducting independent research is finishing it. After spending several months finding a topic, looking for a research question, keeping track of sources, and writing up a semester’s worth of work, you can’t help but be proud (or simply relieved) to finally turn in your Junior Paper. That being said, there is a downside to completing your first independent project: having to start over. If you’re like me, you’re required to write another JP for the spring semester. And perhaps, also like me, you dread having to let go of your previous hard work and starting from scratch. Well, maybe you don’t have to!

The beauty of research is that there is no limit to how many times and ways you can study the same material. More importantly, building upon pre-existing work can help you better understand your topic and plan for future studies. This could entail conducting new research that tries to eliminate limitations from the original study or research that compares the results of the original study with the those of a new one. For that reason, with departmental permission, your spring semester JP could be an extension of your fall semester research! Here are three ways you could expand your old research: Continue reading Recycling Content: How to Expand Your Fall Semester JP for the Spring

Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Dumpster Diving with Alex V. Barnard ’09

This semester, 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.

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Alex V. Barnard, Class of 2009

Alex V. Barnard ‘09 was a Sociology Major during his time at Princeton. Now a graduate student in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, he studies the comparative politics of mental health in Europe and the U.S. In addition to attending graduate school, Alex continued to work on his thesis after completing his undergraduate education. He recently published all of his hard work in his new book, Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America.What is a “freegan,” you may ask? Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with the author himself. Here’s what Alex had to say in his interview with PCUR about how his thesis impacted his life: 

Continue reading Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Dumpster Diving with Alex V. Barnard ’09

Need to Keep Track of Sources? Create a Reference Guide

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My stack of sources keeps getting bigger!

It’s officially December, which means it’s one month closer to Dean’s Date. This also means that the time you have to gather your secondary sources, otherwise known as the preexisting literature on your research topic, is quickly dwindling down. I’m sure I speak for myself and several other independent researchers when I say that juggling multiple sources can be not only overwhelming, but also confusing. With so many articles focused on similar topics, how can one keep up with all of the new information?

Based on my professor’s advice, I created a handy-dandy excel spreadsheet to keep track of my secondary sources. Here are the important points I made note of for each author in my secondary source reference guide: Continue reading Need to Keep Track of Sources? Create a Reference Guide

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

Going into panic mode!
Going into panic mode!

Going into fall break, reality set in for myself and several other juniors in the Sociology Department as we wrote our first official proposals for our Junior Papers. While writing my draft, I had to answer several questions for myself and my professor. What was my choice of methodology? Where did I plan on finding my data? How was my research significant to others? And on top of those explanations, the most daunting question of all—what was my intended timeframe of completion?

My initial thought was that I should have plenty of time; the final paper isn’t due until January 10th and I already have a game plan for how I want to conduct my research. But as I began to create the deadlines for gathering my secondary sources, analyzing my data, writing the paper, and more, I soon realized that I needed to get started on several tasks within a matter of days if I didn’t want to end up scrambling at the last minute. So after deciding on my umpteenth deadline, I finally found myself going into a state I’m sure we are all familiar with: panic mode. Continue reading Is It Time to Panic Yet?

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research: What’s the Difference and How Do I Choose?

Deciding Between Quantitative and Qualitative!
Deciding between a quantitative and qualitative research method!

It’s almost November now, and if you’re a junior, you’re used to everyone asking you the same question: How’s your junior paper going? If your experience has been anything like mine, your initial reaction may be, “It’s great!” I’ve finally come up with a JP topic that interests me, I’ve already talked to (and received incredible advice from) my professors, and I’m in the process of mastering my Magic Research Statement. Getting started on my JP feels like a walk in the park!

But as November creeps nearer, my reaction to the JP question is a little less confident and a little more like, “Ummmm……” For me, this pause and sense of apprehension grow from two measly words that have plagued the minds of researchers for years: quantitative and qualitative. Sure, I may know what I want to research, but that still leaves me with the challenge of choosing my research method. How does one go about choosing between quantitative versus qualitative research anyways? Continue reading Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research: What’s the Difference and How Do I Choose?