Now that my thesis has been turned in, I’m starting to prepare for my oral thesis defense to complete my graduation requirements for the Woodrow Wilson School (WWS). It’s certainly going to be a challenge to fit everything from my nearly 100-page thesis into that ten-minute-long presentation, but the WWS Program Office is very helpful in assisting students prepare for the defense. So, with this post, I hope to help demystify the whole thesis defense process for the PCUR audience.
This semester, in our spring series, PCURs will interview a graduate student. In Graduate Student Reflections: Life in Academia, interviews with graduate students shed light on the variety of paths one can take to get to graduate school and beyond, and the many insights gained along the way from research projects and mentors. Here, Nicholas shares his interview with Mike Hepler, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
I’ve gotten to the point with my thesis at which I’m both writing new content and struggling to edit the ever-expanding volume of work I’ve already written. At times, this seems like an insurmountable task. How am I supposed to finish editing my literature review while also doing the data collection and drafting of my main chapters of my thesis?
Data collection isn’t always the most exciting stage of a research project, but the payoff can make everything worth it. I’m currently deep into the data analysis portion of my thesis, running up against my draft deadline on March 1, and the dreaded Woodrow Wilson School deadline of April 3. I’m writing about asylum approval rates in the European Union and the United States for unaccompanied child migrants, or unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in the legal parlance. If the same law is applied across all regions, in theory, there should not be substantial variation in asylum grant rates — but the research literature and my preliminary findings demonstrate otherwise. Pulling together the data to calculate these preliminary findings, though, was much more difficult than I had anticipated — and I had to make a tough call about my data collection as I wrote up these findings. Continue reading Deluged in Data: Overcoming Obstacles in Data Collection
When working with historical sources, particularly secondary sources, one has to consider the levels of mediation that the historical narrative has gone through before it finally reaches the researcher. We all have to use primary and secondary sources in our work. But something often overlooked is the extent to which there are degrees of truth, or what Stephen Colbert famously called “truthiness,” in the sources that we encounter. We learn in English class about the idea of the unreliable narrator. Well, the exact same thing applies when studying history. Except, with history, everyone is unreliable to some degree, as demonstrated by my reading of The Battles of Coxinga.
In a continuation of last year’s seasonal series, this winter, 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, Nicholas shares his interview.
Chris Lu ’88 was a member of the Obama administration, where he served as a Deputy Secretary of Labor, White House Cabinet Secretary, and Assistant to the President. He is now a Senior Strategy Advisor at FiscalNote and an At-Large Member of the Democratic National Committee. He also served as the senior news editor for the Daily Princetonian during his time at Princeton. With a long career in public service, he has some useful insights for those seeking to pursue careers in public affairs. I had the opportunity to speak with Chris about his experience writing a senior thesis in the Woodrow Wilson School and the enduring impact that policy research has had on his career. Here’s what he had to say:
Research allows us to uncover the uncomfortable truths about our surroundings, or even our homes. I’m currently in AAS 350, an African American Studies class with Professor Keeanga Yamahatta-Taylor about the politics and policy of housing in the United States. It’s something that might seem straightforward at first — how complicated is building a house? But in reality, American housing policy and attitudes towards housing often perpetuate and preserve racist biases in the ways in which we build our communities.
What I’m most passionate about is immigration. How do people move? Why do they move? And what can we do to assist immigrant communities? While I’m not an immigrant myself, I’m the child of Chinese immigrants who came at a time when Chinese immigration was almost entirely restricted on a racial basis. When my grandparents came to America, only 105 Chinese immigrants per year were permitted entry into the United States. While I acknowledge that I speak from a position of natural-born citizenship, it is the struggles of modern undocumented immigrants that truly fuel my desire to research this field of policy.
The research process comes full circle — less than a year after finishing my Woodrow Wilson School task force as a junior writing a Junior Paper, I’m now serving as a Senior Commissioner for a task force about federal policy and poverty reduction in the United States. The job of the Senior Commissioner is to help lead class discussions, to assist juniors in the research process, and to collate everyone’s junior papers into a final briefing book at the end of the semester. Having been through the whole task force process before, it gives me a unique perspective to help guide juniors through their first steps into independent work.
For me, and for most other Princeton students, a thesis is the longest thing you’ll have written at this point in your life, a particularly daunting task. No matter what happens, there’s no reason to panic or despair about the task at hand. Take a deep breath — everything will turn out fine.