A Summer of Surprises in the Windy City

When I hopped on my flight to Chicago a few weeks ago, I was surprisingly calm and collected about spending 10 weeks as an intern in a whole new city by myself. This seemed odd to me, because I’m normally extremely nervous about leaving my house for any longer than a week. I still remember how terrified I was during my first few months at Princeton. I worried about everything — The fact that the laundry room was located six entryways away scared me. Were my awful laundry habits going to leave me perpetually clothes-less?

But going to Chicago, I felt somewhat prepared. It’s probably because I pictured Chicago as a smaller version of New York City, which I had grown comfortable with during my two years at Princeton. While several of my friends were traveling to exotic, exciting places around the globe, Chicago seemed comparatively boring to me.

Now, I think back to my pre-Chicago mindset and can’t believe how terribly wrong I was.

My first view of Chicago’s skyline which I captured 5 minutes before I landed.

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Moving Out: A Nostalgic Reminder of the Power of Research Stories

Although I was very excited to be done with finals, I was definitely not-so-thrilled about packing and storing my things before summer. After discovering that we lose access to our rooms two days earlier than expected, I’ve had to ‘prepone’ my packing plans (aka I realized that I needed to start packing early). So, in the midst of finals, I decided to take a study break and start cleaning out my desk so that I didn’t have to pull an all-nighter after my last final (which would be dreadfully ironic).

While going through my drawers I found something that I hadn’t actually seen since move-in day of freshman year: a hand-made lidden mini-basket. It took me a few seconds to remember how I had obtained it, but when it came to me, I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia.

The Rwandan hand-made basket that reminded me of an incredibly moving story I heard two summers ago.

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Five Reasons to Download Mendeley Desktop!

As thesis season draws to a close, the last group of seniors are proofreading their final drafts and preparing for the moment they become #PTL forever! Often, the very last thing seniors review is their very, very long bibliography. Bibliographic sources are primarily used in literature reviews, which summarize the relevant work and background in a field. While bibliographies may serve as the last page of theses and research papers, they can also prove to be a huge headache for the researcher who has neglected them. Among several other potential issues, missing in-text citations and/or incorrectly citing sources can negatively impact the credibility of a research paper. Keeping an organized bibliography throughout the whole research process can work wonders to prevent this kind of confusion.

Two summers ago, I learned this lesson firsthand when I spent hours trying to find and cite sources for the intro section of a chemistry research paper. My lab supervisor suggested I download an application called Mendeley Desktop, and it has probably ended up saving me hundreds of hours since then.

Imagine trying to cite all of these sources by hand! With the help of Mendeley, you won’t have to!

Mendeley is an online and desktop program that lets users upload research papers, publications, journals, etc. and manage them in an organized library. It is probably best known for its referencing features, which help users generate citations by simply uploading the relevant research papers. In high school, that’s what I primarily used Mendeley for; my research partners and I created our own account where we stored all of the relevant literature in one library. But just last week, I re-downloaded the latest version of Mendeley and was pleased to see some awesome new features. Below, I’ve detailed the top 5 features that I find most useful:

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Hackademics and Principedia: Upgraded Course Evaluations

This past Saturday, I ventured to Whitman Dining hall for a delicious Saturday Brunch (featuring my favorite breakfast burritos)…but, more importantly, I went to the McGraw Center’s Spring 2016 Hackademics workshop. Hacakademics is a relatively recent initiative that helps Princeton students crowdsource in-depth analyses of the courses offered here. Each participant in the “hackathon” contributes by choosing a course that hasn’t already been documented during previous Hackademics, and analyzing it in-depth to help students who plan to take the course in the future.

On Saturday, I joined 20 other students at Whitman Private Dining Room to participate in the McGraw Center’s Spring Hackademics Workshop!

The workshop started with Nic Voge, the associate director of McGraw’s Learning Program, giving us an overview of how the hackathon would work. He talked about the need for great course analyses and introduced us to Principedia, the online database of all the course analyses done at past Hackademics. Previously, I thought that the only organized resources we had for choosing classes were the mandatory course evaluations on TigerHub. While those course evaluations are helpful, they frequently present readers with conflicting pieces of undetailed information; I could really see the motivation behind Principedia. Plus, all Hackademics participants got to take lots of cool swag — and they raffled off two coffee machines!

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Underclassmen: Make the Most of Thesis Season!

March Madness takes on a whole new meaning for Princeton seniors, who are working hard to stay ahead of upcoming thesis deadlines. With submission dates as early as next week, many seniors spent their spring breaks finishing up data collection, editing their drafts, and attending thesis-geared events (like bootcamps).

The pollen on my doorstep scared me multiple times over break.

I spent my break watching basketball, being terrified of pollen every time I left my house, and sleeping for over 12 hours a day… But, now that I’m back on campus I thought it would be a good idea to ask seniors a few questions about their projects. Until this semester, I knew almost nothing about the thesis process that defines senior life in the months before graduation. Previously, most of my conversations with my senior friends would go something like:

Me: Hey, how’s the thesis coming along?

Senior: (Groan)

Me: You’ll get through it! Only a few more weeks!

And so I thought it might be time for me to ask more meaningful questions (given that my previous interactions only seemed to remind everyone of all the work they had left).

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Q&A with HackPrinceton Directors

Every year, students across the country come to campus for HackPrinceton, the biannual hackathon event that boasts thousands of visitors. While I’ve never attended a hackathon in my life, quite a few of my friends attend them regularly. They gather in small teams to work on technology and engineering projects (colloquially called “hacking”) at the event, which culminates in group presentations of the projects they’ve created. I’ve noticed that the hackers who are involved in research or entrepreneurship find the hackathon experience especially rewarding. So, this spring, I plan to try out my first hackathon at HackPrinceton. In preparation for the April 1-3 session. I decided to learn a little more about hackathons and how they relate to research in general.

Here’s a snippet of my Q&A with 2015-16 HackPrinceton Directors Zach Liu ’18 and Monica Shi ’18, who helped run the incredibly successful HackPrinceton Fall 2015.

A great perk of being a HackPrinceton competitor – lots of free swag! Swag Credit to Monica!

Me (Kavi): What exactly is a Hackathon?

Monica: Essentially it’s an event where people come together to think of and build projects. Traditionally, these projects are divided between software and hardware, but there are hackathons for other things – like design projects. It’s a great way for people to learn about programming and technology by getting together with a group of like-minded students to build a project for 24-36 hours. It’s kind of like a marathon where you have any and all the materials you need to build your project. The hackathon organizers will do their best to make sure you’re able to hack with all the resources you need – including all the food you need to keep you satisfied. At the end, teams get feedback from a panel of judges, and the top projects win awesome prizes!
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A Pledge to Repay my Debt to Laboratory Research

Why aren’t lab researchers paid better?

To this date, I have asked myself this question over a hundred times, and still haven’t come up with a particularly satisfactory answer. My curiosity started in middle school when one of my teachers put into practical perspective my new ambition to become a chemist. It was my first lesson on risk and reward. The risks of pursuing a career as a chemist were plentiful and the reward was limited (in terms of both career and financial success).

But I didn’t let that sway me, and in high school, I continued to stay true to my beliefs. My closest friends and I worked in labs for nearly two years. We wrote several research papers, ran a student-led research magazine, and spent long nights in the lab working on our projects (which ranged from making new optical fiber cables to biodegradable nitrate filters).

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 4 years since my friends and I last presented our lab research projects.

Yet today it’s entirely different. Every single one of us has drifted away from the passion that bonded us. And, while it may be that our interests have evolved over time, we are all aware of the unspoken but overarching reason behind the change. We tend to blame the hours and the frustration involved in being a researcher; but in all honesty, we always loved working long hours on experiments that failed 90% of the time. We were mentally invested in our projects. It’s the financial stability of the profession that has cut our ties with the lab.

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#ResearchGoals: The Story of Football Star and Mathematician John Urschel

I have so much respect for the professional football players who sacrifice so much for their team and fans. But, after reading one particular story, I've started to respect football players for reasons beyond their on-field performances.
I have so much respect for the professional football players who sacrifice so much for their team and fans. But, after reading one particular story, I’ve started to respect football players for reasons beyond their on-field performances.

Over intercession break, I went back home to Charlotte – which is probably the happiest city in America right now. Our very own Carolina Panthers just punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, something the franchise hasn’t accomplished in over 10 years. The day after we clinched our Super Bowl berth, I was laying in bed watching football analysts apologize for estimating the Panthers, when a headline caught my eye. “Ravens’ John Urschel Accepted into PhD program at MIT”. It was one of those tiny headlines in the news ticker, and not a story they were actually covering. So I went on my computer and sure enough, there it was. Baltimore Ravens center John Urschel was just accepted into MIT’s PhD program in mathematics to study spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra, and machine learning. Now, having talked to some of my own math professors about their research, I know how difficult it is to do novel research in such advanced topics, especially in the seemingly inaccessible world that is math. But to do all of that while enduring the physical and mental pressures of playing football for an NFL team? I couldn’t believe it.

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Study Groups: A Proven Way to Conquer Finals

Around this time last year, I took my first final exams at Princeton. Like many other freshmen, I left exam rooms in disbelief of how hard tests were, especially in some of my more quantitative classes. The time constraints, the amount of material covered, and the insightfulness required to answer questions always make Princeton exams challenging – something that every student learns quickly.

But what I didn’t pick up on was the incredible advantage of having a study group. In high school, exams weren’t as difficult, and consequently, I could get through classes by studying alone. I would sit in my room, take in all the material days before an exam, and feel confident that I knew it. During my first year at Princeton, I tried to emulate this same strategy but would just end up feeling overwhelmed. And for a long time, I couldn’t pinpoint any solutions to my stress.

As the weather gets cooler and finals period starts, a great way to escape loneliness is finding a study group!

Inspiration came during office hours last spring, when my friend and I went to pick up our math exams. Our instructor remarked that between us, we solved all of the problems on the test, even though individually we hadn’t performed as well. While walking back to my dorm, I thought about this more. If my friend and I had simply taken the time to study together, we would’ve not only done better on the test, but also thoroughly learned the material.

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The Rewards of Discussing Research

One of the most memorable experiences from my high school years was being the chief editor of a student-run research journal that my classmates and I founded. The journal, named the Broad Street Scientific (after a neighboring street), was in its 3rd year when I became chief editor. It showcased some of the most innovative and insightful research projects conducted by students at the school across a wide range of disciplines.

The Volume of the Broad Street Scientific that we published during my senior year.
The volume of the Broad Street Scientific that we published during my senior year.

What I enjoyed most about running the publication was the opportunity to both learn about authors’ research and help authors showcase their research at the same time. Proofreading people’s research papers made me more knowledgeable (beyond just the surface level) on a wide array of research fields, ranging from nanomedicine to hydroelectricity. But after a few weeks of reading over research papers, I caught myself falling asleep on the job. The papers were still super interesting, but editing them alone wasn’t a very engaging process.

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