This semester, I am doing junior independent work in the Arnold lab group at Princeton, which is based in the MAE department but also focuses on materials science, which is what I am interested in. My project investigates creating graphene aerogels from protein precursors, which basically means that I get to select different proteins of interest, freeze-dry them, pyrolyze them, and then see if they create graphene by examining them under a scanning electron microscope (SEM). These graphene aerogels are interesting materials because of their high porosity and conductivity, making them promising for applications to energy storage, which is why we are interested in researching them.
I thought it might be interesting to highlight a week in my life (well, actually two weeks) to give some insight on what lab-based independent work can look like during the school year. I want to note that this is only my experience as a CBE major, and independent work can look very different for other majors. If you’re an underclassman interested in doing junior independent work or just curious about what that could entail, I hope that this post can provide some insight.
As a B.S.E junior doing independent work for the first time, I am already anticipating the stressful cram at the end of the semester that comes with senior thesis and junior independent work deadlines. As busy Princeton students, we often don’t think that we have enough time in the week to work consistently on our independent work, and thus, a lot of it inevitably gets pushed off to the weeks (and days) before the deadline. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Putting together a comprehensive plan to organize and budget your time at the beginning of the semester can save so much hassle down the road. Therefore, I think it will be helpful to walk through how to create a plan for independent work over the course of the semester.
Before this summer, I had never heard of Zotero, Mendeley, or any reference management applications, and instead, I usually turned to APA or MLA style guidelines and did my citations by hand. However, it can be cumbersome to manage all the references at once, especially when writing papers that have a seemingly never-ending list of references. This is where Zotero or Mendeley can help out. I first started using Zotero during my summer internship when I was writing two biomaterials review papers, which I mentioned in my last post. Both of these papers had around 120 references, making a reference manager like Zotero an essential tool for keeping track of all the citations.
I would highly recommend using a reference manager for longer projects or papers, such as for junior independent work or senior theses, because it helps with organization and saves you time when adding references. In this post, I put together a guide for using reference managers, specifically Zotero because I am most familiar with it. However, take a look at this previous post on using Mendeley if you want to learn more about that.
An important part of research is writing and publishing papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. Through a Princeton-alumni sponsored internship last summer, I was fortunate enough to co-author and publish two materials science review papers, one in a journal called Gels and the other in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, both a part of the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, or MDPI. Since the publishing process was entirely new to me, I thought it would be helpful to give some insight into what publishing looks like, which is helpful especially if you are interested in pursuing research in graduate school. I will note that although having published papers is helpful for admission to graduate school, it is by no means required.
Whether you are thinking about applying to summer programs or graduate school, you most likely will need to ask for letters of recommendation for the application. Last year, I applied to various summer programs, but I didn’t start thinking about letters of recommendation until January, although most of my deadlines were in mid-February. Having only a month to ask for letters of recommendation was barely enough time, so this year, I am beginning to think about asking for letters of recommendation much earlier. Recommenders usually appreciate not being rushed, so don’t wait too long if you are also thinking about asking for letters of recommendation – one month is the minimum time. Here are some additional tips that are good to keep in mind when thinking about asking for letters of recommendation.
With midterms being in full swing this week, you’ve most likely started reviewing concepts and studying for these exams. However, another crucial part of the preparation process is to readjust to the in-person exam experience. After a year and a half of taking exams virtually, it is important to recognize that exams in the classroom will look and feel very different, so don’t let that take you by surprise. Whether you are studying for midterms or want to start thinking about final exams, here are a few key tips when it comes to taking exams at Princeton in person:
As a first-year B.S.E student with little to no previous research experience, the idea of writing an eighty-page senior thesis based on my own lab-based research seemed like an extremely daunting task. Now, into the first semester of my junior year, the thought of having to write a thesis next year still seems like a challenge, although a lot less intimidating than two years ago. The main reason for this is because I have participated in multiple research-based summer internships through Princeton, which have helped me feel better prepared to do lab-based junior independent work and a senior thesis in the coming semesters.
You may also be wondering how early you can get involved with lab-based research at Princeton. Although there is certainly no pressure to do research as a first-year or sophomore if you do not want to, Princeton does make sure that opportunities are available for those who do want to be involved early. Here’s a timeline of some of the different lab-based opportunities available, and when you can start getting involved.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of in-person internships and research positions for students have been transitioned to remote opportunities. Last summer after my first year of college, I opted to take online classes over the summer because in-person opportunities were not a possibility. For this upcoming summer, I was hoping to gain laboratory experience in person, but my internship was also transitioned online. With only one summer left before I apply to graduate school, this left me with a looming question: will I have enough in-person research experience before I apply to graduate school?
Although this question bothered me for a while, I realized that I was approaching this issue from the wrong perspective. I feel as though many students are probably dealing with similar issues now that many summer opportunities have been canceled or moved online due to the pandemic. In this article, I am going to walk through the reasoning behind why you should not worry too much about lacking in-person research experience and also include some additional opportunities you should be on the lookout for.
Last school year, during my first year at Princeton, I rarely ventured out to study in the libraries, instead preferring to stay in the comfort of my dorm room. However, after spending the fall semester at home, I realized just how much I missed the Princeton libraries, and I regretted not taking advantage of this amazing resource more often while on campus.
Going into spring semester, I challenged myself to explore the many incredible study spaces on campus that I had never been to. I was partly inspired by this post on the best study spaces on campus, and I wanted to provide an update on how studying on campus during a pandemic is like. A lot of the logistics around studying in the libraries have changed due to new Covid-19 regulations. So, in this article, I am going to lay out the changes to the Princeton library system and provide an update on some of the best new study spaces on campus.