The Eternal Struggle Between Academics and Extracurriculars

It’s the beginning of a new semester, and I’m sure many students are asking themselves the same question I ask myself time and time again: How much can I realistically take on? Balancing academics and extracurricular activities is always delicate. And even though it feels particularly strained right now as I prepare to write my spring JP, I know how important it is to find time for what I love to do. The purpose of this post is not to provide some cure-all for your scheduling woes — because everyone works differently — but rather to talk about what has worked for me.

Snapshot from PUP’s Fall ’14 production of Little Shop of Horrors, in which I played Seymour — a botanist who must murder to feed his man-eating plant.

Most of my time outside of class is dedicated to theater. I have performed in many productions on campus and serve as the Princeton University Players’ Vice President. Beyond the immense joys I find in making theater, it has taught me how to effectively manage my time: an invaluable skill for big research projects. Since rehearsals often run late, I’ve had to learn to speed-read during 10-minute breaks and work productively during time off. Luckily, there is support in the struggle to get everything done. McGraw has resources to help us develop more effective time management strategies and to make our time more productive.

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The Post-JP Slump: When Dean’s Date Feels Wrong

On Tuesday, I turned in my JP, a 34-page labor of love that was half a year in the workings. And now some real talk: After that experience, writing Dean’s Date papers feels wrong.

My JP was, perhaps, my single biggest academic accomplishment at Princeton. Submitting it was the culmination of six months of work that began this summer in Juchitán de Zaragoza, a rural city in Oaxaca, Mexico. Juchitán, as I’ve written about before, is widely known for the indigenous Zapotec culture’s acceptance of a third gender option, muxe (pronounced “moo-shay”), and for the myth that it is a “matriarchal” society.

There, I conducted a series of in-depth interviews with activists and NGO workers, seeking to understand their work, how they define their communities, and what they believe to be the greatest issues facing women and LGBTQ+ people in the region. These interviews were the basis of my JP: ethnographic non-fiction, in which I told my story — the process of getting to know a culture so distant from my own — while telling others’.

In Juchitán's center, just outside of an office where I performed an interview
In Juchitán’s center, just outside of a government office where I conducted an interview.

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The Project That Made Me a Researcher… Sort Of

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project that Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Dylan shares his story.


The Project That Made Me a Researcher. Hmm. It’s a loaded topic for me because it makes a big assumption: Am I a researcher? It feels awkward to ascribe the word to myself, like a shirt that doesn’t quite fit right.

I definitely do research. And I definitely love doing it. But a researcher? Something about it seems so … prestigious, perhaps? Important? World-changing? Where do I fit in all this?

Located in Lincoln Center in New York City, the NYPL for the Performing Arts is an excellent resource for anyone researching theater, dance, or other forms of live performance.

The project that comes to mind is my freshman writing sem paper. I looked at how La Cage Aux Folles — the first Broadway musical to portray a gay couple at its center — tamed its queerness for a commercial 1983 audience. It was the first time I’d discovered that my niche interests could be considered academic, and I felt compelled to go out of my way to learn more than I might otherwise have. My ambition pushed me out of Princeton — twice — to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where an extensive archive of video recordings of theatre is maintained. There, wedged into a small cubicle with an archaic looking TV screen, I watched the original 1983 production and, on a second trip, the 2004 revival. Sitting there, surrounded by a smorgasbord of theater junkies fixated on their own little screens, I had an epiphany: research is fun.

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Accessing Princeton’s Resources: Just an Email Away

Princeton has an incredible wealth of resources dedicated especially to undergrads. But where are these resources, really? And how do we gain access to them? In my experience, the key to getting resources and advice is to simply ask.

Towards the end of my freshman year, I knew I was going to do the month-long Princeton in Brazil language program in Rio de Janeiro. I wanted to spend the rest of the summer there, too, but wasn’t sure how to do it. I couldn’t afford three months abroad by myself — and, even if I had the money, how would I fill the time?

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I spent the summer after my freshman year and had my first experience traveling outside of North America!

My Portuguese professor knew I was interested in queer studies, and recommended I talk to Professor James Green, a visiting professor from Brown with the Program in Latin American Studies. She told me he was an expert in the field. I felt awkward reaching out to a professor I didn’t know, but I sent an email introducing myself, explaining my interests, and hoping to set up a time to talk.

He agreed to meet with me a week later, and — much to my surprise — I walked out of his office with an offer to be his research assistant for the summer in Rio. It was an exciting opportunity — and exactly what I needed to apply for summer funding.

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Independent Work: Prepare to Pace Yourself

If there is anything I have learned from junior independent work, it’s the following: Pace yourself!

Juchitán’s main market, located in the central plaza, is perhaps the city’s busiest area. On breaks from research, I would come here to try local foods and people watch.

I’m writing my JP about Juchitán de Zaragoza, a city of around 70,000 in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. For those interested in issues of gender and sexuality, Juchitán is notable for the indigenous Zapotec culture’s acceptance of a third gender identity, “muxhe” (pronounced “moo-shay”). Additionally, many visitors to the city, noting the strength and visibility of women in the society, have declared Juchitán a matriarchy. I spent some time there this summer, and visited a few organizations to talk to activists about the problems facing their communities, hoping to explore why perceptions of Juchitán as a queer and feminist paradise don’t match up with the city’s reality.

Last week, as I approached a deadline for class, I was forced to face a reality I’d put off since returning to campus: I had to transcribe the hours and hours of interviews recorded in Juchitán. Word for word — with every “um”, “uh” and “like”. The chore was doubly daunting because the interviews were in Spanish — my second language. Then I’d have to translate them into English.

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Lost in Translation

Princeton is known for its small classes, but imagine taking this to the extreme. Last semester, I took SOC 310, Gender and Development in Latin America. Total students: one.

Not all classes fill up a lecture hall!

Following an odd turn of events last spring that saw all other students drop the course, I was handed an incredible opportunity: a one-on-one course crafted around my interests.

Much of the class was dedicated to discussing LGBTQIA themes in Latin America. There’s a lot I could write about, but for the purposes of this blog I will focus on one particular oddity. In several articles, I remember coming across the word “transvestite”. I am a peer educator at Princeton’s LGBT Center, and as I had learned in training, many consider this word to be pejorative and outdated. Shouldn’t a sociologist studying queer issues know better?

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Open Questions, Surprising Answers: Venturing into the Unknown

We’ve all been taught the importance of putting our research in context. For me, when I took SPA 230 — Contemporary Spain in Context — this “context” took the form of a fully funded Spring Break trip to Madrid and Barcelona, during which each student was required to perform field research on a topic of choice.

When I first set foot in Spain, I had a two questions in mind: How has theater in Spain been able to survive the nation’s economic crisis? Why, in times of crisis, is theater important?

Studying the theater of the Spanish economic crisis, I saw multiple shows and interviewed actors, directors, founders of theater companies, and other theater professionals. While I started the research process with the above questions firmly constructed, I found that my most exciting, surprising discoveries came when my fieldwork forced me to shift my focus and expand to incorporate the unforeseen.

Out to lunch with actors from Los Absurdos Teatro, an alternative theater company in Madrid.

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