Lessons from Princeton’s Day of Action

Over the past few months, students and academics across the Princeton campus community have been reckoning with the new reality of America under the Trump presidency. To encourage productive post-election dialogue, the Princeton Citizen Scientists sponsored a Day of Action last Monday, March 6th. The Day of Action brought together hundreds of students, faculty, and community members for dialogue with teach-ins on topics ranging from Intersectional Activism to Science in the Public Sphere. Local organizations like the Citizens Climate Lobby and the Coalition for Peace Action also tabled for the event.

My involvement with the Day of Action began early in the morning, as I was walking to class when I noticed a woman carrying a large basket of books and pamphlets near my room. We chatted on our way to Frist, where she was tabling with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network that organizes white people to fight with multi-racial minorities for social change. After I showed her to the campus center, I cocooned myself in a library to prepare for my own teach-in at the Day of Action, “Making Political Disagreement Productive: Mitigating Confirmation Bias.”

Participants at my teach-in during the Day of Action. Photo by Jonathan Balkind.

My teach-in was the first time I had presented my thesis to a public group. The motivation? Partisan antipathy and political polarization has doubled among both Democrats and Republicans, with about forty percent of members of each party reporting “very unfavorable” opinions of the other. Polarization exacerbates unproductive political disagreement, as partisans succumb to confirmation bias and immediately discount positions counter to their own. I presented lessons from psychology and philosophy to explore the causes of, and possible mitigants to self-serving political bias.

Sharing space on the Day of Action program with names like Cornel West and Max Weiss, I expected only a handful of people at most to attend my teach-in. I was stunned–and happy– when I entered the room to find a full audience of students, professors, and community members. During my ~20 minute presentation, I was interrupted often by questions. When I couldn’t come up with answers, I found new angles to examine my own work from.

The discussion flowed freely after my talk. People from Tennessee and Missouri shared personal stories and advice about engaging with their family members about politics. A conservative student and a liberal professor of Religion had a wonderful exchange about the need to reach across the aisle to those from the other side who are willing to listen. A Princeton resident alerted me about a political discussion project in the town library, and another student pointed me to a book that I’ve since found helpful in my work. My experience at the teach-in embodied the collective knowledge-sharing that the organizers of the Day of Action were aiming for.

I left the room buzzing with energy and thankful that I had decided, on a whim, to participate in the event.  I had spent so long discussing my thesis only with a few professors and friends that I had not realized how valuable publicly presenting it could be for my thought process and motivation. Seeing my academic research received with such enthusiasm in a collaborative environment reaffirmed my desire to continue pursuing the offshoots of my thesis work after graduation. Consider presenting or participating in a future Day of Action or finding other ways to showcase your academic work on campus too, like the annual Princeton Research Day each spring.
— Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent

Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Lindy Li ’12 from Philosophy to a Career in Politics

This semester, 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, Vidushi shares her interview.

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Lindy Li ‘12 is a familiar name for many students on our campus. A philosophy major who served as USG Class President for all four of her years at Princeton, Lindy Li ran for Congress in 2016 at the age of twenty-four. When we chatted on the phone as part of this semester’s seasonal series, I was struck by her genuine enthusiasm and the way she has woven lessons from her undergraduate research in philosophy into her current career in politics. 

Here’s what I learned:

Lindy Li at the Women’s March in Philadelphia!

Continue reading Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Lindy Li ’12 from Philosophy to a Career in Politics

Presenting at Princeton Research Day 2017!

Princeton Research Day (PRD) is an annual celebration of the research and creative endeavors by Princeton undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The campus-wide event serves as an opportunity for researchers to share their work with the community and includes research from the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, the arts and humanities. In this post series, PCUR correspondents cover a range of topics relating to PRD and highlight the valuable lessons this event has to offer.

This year, PRD will be taking place on Thursday, May 11, 2017. You can learn more about participating in or attending Princeton Research Day by visiting the official PRD website here.

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This May will mark the second Princeton Research Day (PRD), a campus-wide celebration of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research. PRD allows researchers and artists to hone their presentation skills and share their work with the campus community, with the chance of winning awards for excellent presentations.

In anticipation of this year’s application cycle, I asked three students who participated in the inaugural PRD last year about their experiences. I interviewed Allison Simi, a graduate student in CBE who won the Gold Research Talk Award last year, PCUR alumni Stacey Huang ’16 who presented an electrical engineering project, and Jared Lockwood ’19, the only freshman to present.

Kujegi Camara ’16 presents work at the first annual Princeton Research Day. 

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Graduate Seminars: Why Not?

A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall.
A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall. 

This semester, I took my first graduate seminar in philosophy–Rationality & Irrationality with Professor Thomas Kelly. I went into the class without any knowledge of epistemology and some apprehension about my meager philosophical background compared to other students.

At the same time, I wanted the challenge and growth opportunities of an environment where students were fully invested in the material and subject matter covered. As a senior, I also wanted to see if I would want to pursue graduate work in philosophy. So, I swallowed my hesitations and enrolled.

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SUBMIT to Tortoise, Princeton’s Journal of Writing Pedagogy!

Tortoise is an annual journal that publishes excerpts from Princeton undergraduate and graduate student research, featuring interdisciplinary work that emphasizes the writing process. With Tortoise’s “early action*” deadline coming up on December 16th at 5 PM, I sat down with senior editor Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar to learn what the journal is about.

The Tortoise staff! L-R: Harrison Blackman, Myrial Holbrook, Ron Martin Wilson, Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar, Ryan Vinh, Regina Zeng, Natalie Berkman,
The Tortoise staff! L-R: Harrison Blackman, Myrial Holbrook, Ron Martin Wilson, Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar, Ryan Vinh, Regina Zeng, Natalie Berkman.

Continue reading SUBMIT to Tortoise, Princeton’s Journal of Writing Pedagogy!

Live Uncertainty- Learning Abroad in Brazil

I spent my fall break last week in São Paulo, Brazil, visiting a variety of art museums and community spaces with a focus on the 32nd São Paulo Bienal, themed Incerteza Viva—live uncertainty. The trip was part of my art history seminar, Contemporary Art: The World Picture. University-sponsored travel, whether through classes, workshops, or independent work, has been the highlight of my Princeton experience, and my time in Brazil was no exception.

A view of the São Paulo Bienal from above!
A view of the São Paulo Bienal from above!

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Balance in the Bubble- And Outside of it, too

This fall has been my most enjoyable semester at Princeton thus far by an incontestable margin. My days seem rich and balanced. In the span of just a few weeks, I have made meaningful new friendships and picked up a few new hobbies–swing dancing, playing guitar, and longboarding, among others. I’m happy.

In stark contrast, a year ago, I was perhaps the most stressed I’ve ever been at Princeton. I felt like I was running from one assignment to the next. Often, when people asked what I did during a certain week, I’d be at a loss. I don’t have less work now than before—fellowship applications, a thesis, and four courses keep my plate full. So what changed?

My view this weekend, rock climbing in Vermont with friends I met in New Zealand!
My view this weekend, rock climbing in Vermont with friends I met in New Zealand!

Continue reading Balance in the Bubble- And Outside of it, too

Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

I excelled in math in high school, rising to the top of the tiered class track and dabbling in multivariable calculus before college. I, however, immediately and subconsciously faltered in confidence when I reached Princeton. I was deterred from trying a proof-based math class by the thought that these were only for “math people” –  students who had excelled in extracurricular math competitions from a young age or who already had exposure to “real math” beyond AP calculus. The kinds of students, who, when presented with a problem, could scribble across a blackboard and find the answer with a spark of genius.

That student wasn’t me, and so I decided that I must not be a “math person.” I still took college math, but instead of enrolling in a proof-based class, I pushed through Math 201 (multivariable calculus) and 202 (linear algebra), required courses for engineers. The exams were still notoriously difficult, and it wasn’t unusual for average scores to hover around 65%. This seemed to me like a strategy the department used to allow it to separate star students from “the rest of the pack.” Linear algebra during my freshman spring was the last math class I took in college.

Three years later, I’m studying philosophy –  a subject with gender ratios comparable to mathematics. Many people know about the lack of females in STEM departments, but this issue slips under the radar in fields like philosophy and music composition. Philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie’s research helps connect the dots.

What I imagine when I think 'mathematician' -- a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. Image by Dimitry Dzhus, Creative Commons.
What I imagine when I think “mathematician” — a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. 

Continue reading Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

As I write, I’ve just finished my first real job as a summer analyst for PRINCO, the company charged with investing Princeton’s endowment. Being a rising senior, I’ve enjoyed many inevitable conversations with friends, colleagues, and family that start with the innocuous What are you studying? and soon progress to my plans after graduation.

Upon hearing my decision to intern at PRINCO, many friends and family members were incredulous. How could someone like me be interested in investing? I felt dangerously close to being judged a “sell-out,” someone who was abandoning her passions to climb a ladder of wealth and ambition.

Their dismissals, however, weren’t all that new. I’ve sensed the same judgements from others who discover that I major in the “impractical” field of philosophy–what an idealist! Both these judgements can be as chafing as they are simplistic. As a result, I often tailor my answers about my post-graduation plans to who, exactly, is asking. I alternate between saying I plan to explore graduate study in philosophy, or build my business experience while pursuing projects in educational entrepreneurship. In truth, I would love to do both.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

Continue reading Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

Researching Abroad? Here’s some advice!

Most Princeton students have been done with school for a while, but I just wrapped things up in New Zealand.  Two weeks ago, I was packing up to leave my flat in Dunedin. I finished my last final on that Tuesday, submitted my JP on Thursday, and then flew out of Dunedin on Saturday.  This week, I’ve been spending time with family before I start my job at PRINCO, Princeton’s endowment fund. At PRINCO, I’ll shadow and help different teams that manage Princeton’s endowment investments in different areas, like fixed income/cash, private equity, real assets, etc.

My favorite hike in NZ-- French Ridge Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park!
My favorite hike in NZ– French Ridge Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park!

Since my summer job hasn’t yet started, I thought I’d write about my experience doing JP research abroad.  My advice here is relevant and easily applicable to any student researching abroad. Many of my thoughts in this earlier post have held true throughout the research process, but my topic and experiences changed significantly throughout the semester. As a bit of background, I focused most of my JP on the following asymmetry between aesthetic and moral admiration:

Aesthetic: Henry knows nothing about Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Jill tells him that Las Meninas is an aesthetically praiseworthy painting and lists its qualities, providing evidence for by citing its physical characteristics. Henry comes to admire Las Meninas.

Moral: Henry knows nothing about Mahatma Gandhi. Jill tells him that Gandhi was a morally praiseworthy man and lists his qualities, providing evidence by citing stories about his deeds. Henry comes to admire Gandhi.

My intuition dictated that, in the above example, Henry’s moral admiration seems warranted — but his aesthetic admiration based on testimony does not. The moral qualities relevant to admirability seem communicable by testimony, whereas the aesthetic qualities relevant to admirability do not. Why?

In tackling my research on this topic in New Zealand, I found the following tips useful: Continue reading Researching Abroad? Here’s some advice!