Tips on Preparing a Research Funding Proposal

At Princeton, we are fortunate to have pretty much unrestricted access to a huge variety of research resources through our libraries– access which is free (or, at least, “free” after tuition…). However, as I have written before on this blog (see here and here), there may be situations where Princeton’s library system does not have the information you need for your research, and you have to venture outward to other libraries and archives, or, in some cases, engage in field work of some kind. Now, access to these resources, unfortunately may not be free. Usually the biggest expense here would be travel, but even given our current no-travel circumstances, research expenses remain in the form of document scans, books, photocopies, and human subject payment (all of which are acceptable uses of funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) as of now).

If you relate to this concerned student, have no fear– research funding is accessible with a well-done research proposal!
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Archival Research in the Age of COVID-19: Requesting Document Scans from Libraries

When I first applied for departmental senior thesis funding early this spring, everyone was still uncertain about how long the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would last. It seemed departmental administrators were optimistic: funding requests could still be made for summer travel. In my application, I detailed my intent to travel to university and state archives throughout the U.S. south for a thesis examining how antebellum Mississippi Valley planters conceptualized the idea of labor. But before I even heard back about whether I was to receive support, the department updated its funding parameters to prohibit summer travel and I had to redo my application in turn. My summer plans, of course, were not the first academic casualty of the strange 2020 world; nor would they be the last. Fortunately, though, there were ways to work around my newfound limitations: all of the archives that I wanted to visit offered services for resident librarians to scan and send materials from their collection, so I updated my application to ask for funds to pay for associated fees. Here, I’ll be sharing some tips for requesting archival materials to be scanned, which I hope will be helpful to any researcher unable to travel (pandemic or not).

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Write On, Write Well: Lessons From a Semester Abroad

This spring semester, I am enrolled as a visiting student at Hertford College, University of Oxford. While now I am back home on Long Island taking my Oxford courses online (just as Princeton students are Zooming into their own lectures and precepts in these strange times of COVID-19), I was able to spend about two months in Oxford. It was a truly wonderful experience; the city is beautiful, the people kind, and the academics engaging and rigorous.

The course of study at Oxford is quite different from that at Princeton. There, students do attend lectures, and sometimes seminars, but most of their academic work is conducted in preparation for tutorials. Tutorials meet most weeks each term, and consist of an hour-long meeting with a professor, either one-on-one or with one or two other students. For each tutorial, students must write an essay of around 2,000-2,500 words to discuss with their professors. Professors give the prompt in advance, and students are expected to craft a response based upon weekly reading lists. These lists are usually quite long, and students are by no means meant to read each item (this would be almost impossible; my reading lists for history courses usually had around ten prescribed primary sources, and thirty or so books and articles suggested for further reading). Rather, students must explore the different sources, be selective, and find works which are relevant to the argument they wish to make. Even though this curriculum differs notably from Princeton’s, it still taught me valuable lessons about my writing process that will help me at Princeton and beyond. Working on tutorial papers, in sum, has made me approach my writing with better time management, more confidence, and more appreciation for the craft of the essay.

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Research: Have Fun With It!

The second time I met with my independent Junior Paper adviser this semester, I was nervous. I had decided following our first meeting that I wanted this JP to be the continuation of research I had, at that point, started nearly two years before (that project on the 1848 revolutions that keeps popping up in my posts), and I was apprehensive to present ideas that I felt might be stale; at the time, I struggled to think of ways to expand the project to something more mature than what I had begun as a first year student. Plus, I was feeling reluctant to be finishing up a project I had been working on for most of my college career.

My adviser and I discussed some of these concerns of mine, and right before I left, he smiled and said, “Alec, have fun with it.” He repeated this phrase at many of our weekly meetings, especially if I came feeling overwhelmed by often self-imposed worries. It was usually paired with a reassuring statement: “You know more than you think you know.” I knew more than I think I knew, and I was going to have fun. 

Me “having fun” with my research, back in the summer of 2018!
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Tips for Planning a Research Trip

As I have written on this blog before, you unfortunately may not find all the material you need for a research project in Princeton’s own library system. Borrow Direct and Interlibrary Loan may  help bring items from elsewhere to Princeton, but often with primary historical sources, you may find that you need to travel to an archive to view them. This is especially the case if the source you need is only available in its original form (and thus may be difficult for a peer institution to duplicate or send directly to Princeton), or if you are unsure of precisely what sources are available, and need to browse a collection in full.

I found myself in this position just a few weeks before fall break. As I explained here, I had just expanded my JP topic to consider a broad range of American antislavery responses to the Paris June Days rebellion of 1848. My adviser suggested I look through the manuscript collections of a number of prominent activists of the time. Many of them— such as Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Theodore Parker— worked out of Boston, and, as I discovered, a number of institutions there now hold their papers. I soon realized I would have to make a trip over fall break if I wanted to view all of these collections.

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Coursework and Independent Work: Using One to Guide the Other

Choosing a topic for independent work can be a challenging task. It can be difficult to narrow down the seemingly infinite research topics to one that you find compelling (see my post here with tips on how to do that), and on top of that, you have to juggle your research with coursework that may be unrelated. It isn’t always easy to switch gears between, say, literary criticism and your STL. That said, your coursework need not be totally separate from your independent work, and need not even parallel your independent work at the exact time you are conducting it. With courses for the spring semester just released, I want to suggest ways that you can structure your selections to complement (and even supplement!) your own research. This way, next semester, your own independent work may not actually be so “independent” after all. Continue reading Coursework and Independent Work: Using One to Guide the Other

Research Refreshment: Changing Your Topic at a Dead End

For quite a few months now, I have been sharing my experience on PCUR about a project I began last summer on New York City press reporting on a June 1848 workers’ rebellion in Paris, which I am now turning into my second Junior Paper (see my posts here, here, and here). Typing that descriptive phrase of my research indeed feels all too familiar. It seems, however, that this post may be the last time that I repeat it. As of last week, I am changing the focus of my JP: I am now moving on from New York newspapers, and instead examining the broader national antislavery movement’s response to the very same rebellion. Though this seemingly small change is pretty specific to both my discipline and my project, research in any field can benefit from critical examination and reframing. Continue reading Research Refreshment: Changing Your Topic at a Dead End

Finding Your Space in the “Scholarly Conversation”

As I have written for the PCUR blog before, choosing a topic for an open-ended research project can be challenging. Even once you have narrowed your search and settled on an idea you would like to pursue, you may find that other scholars have already written about it. There is indeed a finite number of possible research subjects (even if it seems, as I suggested in my earlier post, that there is infinite possibility), and as undergraduates many of us have yet to find our research niche. This by no means should discourage you! Just because there is existing literature does not disqualify you from making your own contribution. Of course, we are told this in our first-year writing seminars, where we discuss the different “scholarly moves” one can make (“piggybacking” on another scholar’s work, “picking a fight” with a scholar, and many others, as helpfully delineated in this paper).

In this post, however, I do not merely want to rehash what these “moves” are, but rather suggest how one goes about making any intervention, especially in determining what kind of intervention one wants to make. The following are some methods I have found useful in my research: Continue reading Finding Your Space in the “Scholarly Conversation”

Post-Princeton Life: Interview with Jalisha Braxton ’16

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Alec shares his interview.

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Jalisha Braxton ‘16 was a member of PCUR during her junior and senior years at Princeton. She concentrated in Psychology, with a certificate in Neuroscience. She is now a third-year PhD student in psychology at the University of Chicago, where she studies cognitive psychology with Professors Sian Beilock and Susan Levine. Her research focuses on math anxiety and math education. I spoke to Jalisha over the phone to discuss her work as a grad student, and how her experience as an undergraduate student at Princeton informed her post-grad plans. I found a lot of what she said to be quite helpful, as I personally am considering pursuing a PhD after graduation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jalisha Braxton ’16 is a third-year psychology PhD student at the University of Chicago.

Continue reading Post-Princeton Life: Interview with Jalisha Braxton ’16

So Many Sources: How to Manage the Seemingly Unmanageable

Last week, a librarian at the University of Cape Town emailed me some scanned items from their archives which I requested for my Junior Paper research. I’ve looked through them, and I can see that they will be quite useful for my work.

While I am glad that I have access to these sources now, they also add to a problem I had before I received them: in the research work I have been doing, I have what seems like too many materials to work with. During my time over spring break at the New York Public Library and Center for Jewish History, I amassed literally hundreds of newspaper and journal articles as primary sources.

At first, I was unsure of what to do with all of them. It simply seemed an overwhelming task to sift through them to figure out what was needed for my work (this is where having a clear yet flexible research question comes in handy; see my post here on that). A similar thing had happened to me this summer when I was working on a research project likewise involving hundreds of newspaper articles, and I do not think I dealt with it as well as I could have then. So, reflecting on these mistakes, I worked out some strategies to make things more manageable this time around. I hope these to be helpful for any student researcher who feels like they’re buried under a mound of potential sources:

Continue reading So Many Sources: How to Manage the Seemingly Unmanageable