Engineering a New Outlook: The BSE Path

Deciding to bear the mantle bestowed by the Electrical Engineering T-shirt.

Last week, Melissa told us about her ruminations on and approaches to deciding a major. This week, I wanted to offer some of my own thoughts and reflections on why I chose to stick to the path to BSE two years ago.

To many people, engineering seems to be the hard way through college. Engineering classes notoriously lower GPAs, cause intense stress, and work you to the bone. I can’t deny I’ve had a generous share of that, as someone who’s far from the sharpest mind in electrical engineering. Sometimes it can really take a hit on my self-esteem—and it’s no lie that I’ve experienced first hand how engineering classes make you work at your limits, force you to think differently, and labor at solving problems that don’t have set answers. But that’s because the end goal is to make a coherent working system that will perform a task, which is often immensely complex, while working within physically possible limits. In other words, rather than only thinking and planning, the result is something that really works and that can interact with society in some meaningful way. And successfully creating such a system is a very satisfying feeling indeed.

The difficulty people associate with engineering often clouds that end goal.While it’s true that engineering certainly isn’t for everyone, engineering offers you a different outlook and approach to life that can benefit you far beyond the academic field. Continue reading Engineering a New Outlook: The BSE Path

Tis the Season: Reorienting Your Research Goals

Even as the holiday season approaches, make sure you stay oriented with regards to your project. (Photo by Stacey Huang)
Even as the holiday season approaches, make sure you stay oriented with regards to your project.

Winter break is coming.

But that also means that, much as we would like to avoid it, reading period is also approaching more quickly than we might like. While that’s the last thing we want to be reminded of going into winter break, it helps to think ahead for planning. As a student doing independent work in the Electrical Engineering Department, I am required to submit a report during reading period summarizing what I have achieved during the semester. However, as that time draws closer and closer, I still don’t feel like there is necessarily a conclusive midway point in my research. I have to start asking myself: what exactly did I do this semester? What were my goals coming in and how far have I gone to reach them? Continue reading Tis the Season: Reorienting Your Research Goals

Stop and Smell the…Citations? Keeping Sharp Even in Stagnation

We all get into a lull sometimes.

Starting out on the path to research is always exciting. Poring over annals of literature and getting a taste of a mere fraction of the boundless knowledge the Internet and the library have to offer is very satisfying, and sometimes it feels like the stream of productivity and knowledge will last forever.

But what happens when you come to a roadblock? As the semester progresses, things can start to get slow, even feel like they’re coming to a standstill – that one piece of evidence you need to cite your argument just remains elusive, you end up waiting a week for a shipment for equipment you need to run some new experiments (as I currently am). Sometimes, you simply start getting tired of spending endless hours reading, writing, thinking, and then reading and writing again about the same topic. It can be difficult to maintain motivation in the face of those slow-moving moments. Continue reading Stop and Smell the…Citations? Keeping Sharp Even in Stagnation

Tales of Adventures: Keeping Detailed Records of Your Work

Notes can get messy very quickly. Photo by Stacey Huang)
Notes can get messy very quickly.

Whether you work in the sciences or humanities, it’s integral to keep track of your work. It sounds obvious – it did to me too – until I started flipping through some of my notes in my lab notebook, trying to figure out the tests and results for a few small tests last semester. I knew I had done the tests, but I just couldn’t figure out what exactly I had done. Eventually, I found a few numbers in my notebook but couldn’t decipher them. Maybe those notes made sense to me 5 months ago, but now they only look like random scrawls of numbers to me.

It isn’t always a lab notebook: it could be keeping track of papers you’ve read and researched, writing down ideas you’ve tossed around with classmates or your adviser, basically keeping a record of all the work you’ve done. Often it can get boring to record every little thing, and often it can feel unnecessary, but not keeping a detailed record or at least well-organized notes or data of your progress somewhere helps no one. It does your hard work no justice when you can’t look back on it in the future and save time by skipping what you’ve already done. It all saves you time in the future from looking at the same papers, doing the same tests. Continue reading Tales of Adventures: Keeping Detailed Records of Your Work

Research at Princeton: Independent But Not Alone

Research is a group effort. Photo by Chung-Ho Huang
Independent work and research research are by and far collaborative efforts.

It used to be easy to tell myself that I could do everything alone. That was the way I had mostly done things until college, and I never felt the need to change. It was no different when I began research at Princeton. It was easy to convince myself to not to ask questions, to simply turn to books or articles for help, for fear of pestering and disappointing my adviser and my labmates. As long as I kept my head down and worked, I believed I would know what was happening eventually.

But I don’t tell myself that anymore. In fact, it frustrates me when I look back a year ago to that time. I’m only now filling in the gaps of my incomplete knowledge, a problem that would easily have been solved had I had the audacity to speak up and ask the questions that really mattered. I was just unsure and afraid about what I was expected to know – and somehow, I translated that into the fact that I was somehow expected to know everything. Because of that fear, I ended up neglecting my greatest resources, my greatest friends – my adviser, my labmates, my peers.

Continue reading Research at Princeton: Independent But Not Alone

Back to the Basics: Transitioning from Student to Researcher

Time to hit the books again! (Photo by Stacey Huang)
Time to hit the books again!

Four years after I had begun my first incursion into the research world, I saw myself as a somewhat seasoned student researcher. At the very least, I had some confidence in my research and experimental abilities. But it was not until this year that I realized that through all the lofty jargon and fancy terminology I had been picking up along the way, there was something I had been urgently lacking: the basics.

One of the eye-opening incidents happened just this past summer, when my supervisor asked me to explain to him an optical gas sensing technique known as “2f wavelength modulation spectroscopy.” That day, I had been trying to calibrate a laser that we were planning on using for a methane sensor and had been experiencing some problems. As my supervisor always does when he troubleshoots, he wanted to start from the basics. After all, if we didn’t know how every bit of the sensor worked, how could we figure out the possible sources of problems? But usually he had been the one doing all the explaining, so I was surprised when he suddenly asked me: “Stacey, what is the signal that we’re measuring anyway?” Continue reading Back to the Basics: Transitioning from Student to Researcher