From Paper to Presentation: Completing the Research Journey

Moving from the paper to a presentation.
Moving from the paper to a presentation.

Most of us consider the submission of our bound theses to be the end of the Princeton road. While this is definitely a huge accomplishment and a major milestone along the path (congratulations!), we shouldn’t forget that many of us are still required to communicate our findings as a presentation to the wider community. In fact, this last step is arguably even more important than the bound thesis itself – what good is your hard-earned discovery if no one knows about it?

But the presentation brings with it some unique challenges – how do you communicate your findings to a general (or at least wider) audience? How do you condense one year’s worth of work into just 10 minutes? Continue reading From Paper to Presentation: Completing the Research Journey

To those still in Thesis Life…

Those tanks can be flipped soon... (Photo by Yuem Park)
Those tanks can be flipped soon…

Congratulations to all seniors who have finally attained the legendary PTL! After four challenging (but hopefully rewarding) years, you deserve the relaxation that post-thesis life affords you.

But there are still many seniors who can only dream of such relaxation. And, as “#PTL” floods social media and the black tanks rapidly turn orange, it’s hard to not feel a twinge of jealously for our carefree friends.

Don’t let these friends distract you from the final push! These last few day are crucial for your thesis. As with all deadlines, the final approach is almost always the most work-intensive (even if you’ve been working diligently throughout the year).

In an attempt to keep you all motivated, here are a few words of advice: Continue reading To those still in Thesis Life…

Some Quick Tips on Making Figures

Part of a figure I am working on.
Part of a figure I am working on.

For my fellow seniors – the end is in sight.

At least in theory, we’re at that stage when we’re polishing up our theses, making sure that our words make sense and our figures are intelligible.

But, it is also important to make sure that our theses look nice – nothing shouts amateur more than a pixelated figure hastily scribbled freehand in MS Paint.

Don’t know where to begin? You’ve come to the right place. Below I’ve briefly outlined a few quick tips to making your thesis look like the work of a seasoned professional… even if it’s not. Some examples are tailored more toward those with quantitative data, but hopefully there is enough below to be useful to anyone, whether you’re making bar graphs, diagrams, or anything in between!  Continue reading Some Quick Tips on Making Figures

An Affirmation of an Ambivalent Decision

Thumbs up or down? (Photo by Yuem Park)
Thumbs up or down?

There are moments in life when we are faced with a major decision. Whom should I ask to be my thesis adviser? Which department should I concentrate in? Should I get queso or guac with my chips? In some of these cases, there is a clearly correct decision for everyone (guac), or a clearly correct decision for you (the Geosciences Department, in my case). But there are also a substantial number of cases in which there isn’t a clearly correct decision, and you are forced to weigh pros and cons for all options. I currently find myself in such a dilemma, trying to decide which graduate school I should attend.

It is of course encouraged that I seek out advice from third parties, and sometimes they say something along the lines of, “I see that you’ve got a tough decision, but you should try to pick what’s right for you.”  But how do you know what’s right for YOU, especially since YOU haven’t actually experienced all the options yet? Continue reading An Affirmation of an Ambivalent Decision

The Power of Fresh Perspectives

It often becomes clearer when you change your perspective…

As winter break rolled in, I finally had the opportunity to focus on my thesis and make substantial progress. However, as always, it wasn’t going to be easy.

Generally speaking, the problem sets assigned in class have a solution.  You know that if you focus and spend time on them, it is (at least in theory) possible to come to the correct answer and complete the problem set. The challenge with research, however, is the very real possibility that the ultimate solution is unattainable with the methods/data that you have available to you.

It was precisely this problem that I encountered over the winter. Continue reading The Power of Fresh Perspectives

GoPro: The Life of a Geologist

Research is often stereotyped as a boring intellectual pursuit, or for people who say things like “If my calculations are correct…” every day. But it certainly isn’t! Research is exciting, and often performed outside of the lab. For example, I spent the last summer hiking in the North Cascades, WA to examine the rapid exhumation of a rock unit along a major fault zone. Here is a short video montage of that field season…


To learn more about what the geosciences can offer you, visit the department webpage, reach out to any of us in the department, or consider taking a class with us!

Up in the clouds (Photo by Sean Muleady '17)
Up in the clouds…

— Yuem Park, Natural Sciences Correspondent

Applications: Get (and Stay) Excited!

The excitement of post-graduate opportunities!

Last week, Stacey gave some great advice about productive things to do when you’re forced to pause for some part of your project, such as waiting on shipments or lab analyses. But what about the other end of the spectrum? What if you have so much to do that you feel overwhelmed and lose motivation to do any of it? Or if you’ve been working on your project for so long that you begin to lose interest?

I found myself in a similar situation a short while ago. I’m currently applying to various grad schools, and a major component of these applications is the  “Statement of Interest” or “Personal Statement”, in which you basically say why you’re interested in that particular program and how your past experiences have prepared you for it. And at first, it’s exciting! You’re reading about the schools/programs/research you’re potentially going to be spending the next few years immersed in, and the whole situation is one of promise and novelty. So you’re motivated to write, and you work hard on your statements.

But then, as you start working through the second statement, then the third, then the fourth, fifth, sixth… and the school work and extracurriculars start piling on, the initial feeling of promise and novelty wears off, and the task becomes a chore, even though you know it shouldn’t be.

So how do you put your mind back on track? How do you regain the motivation you had at first? Continue reading Applications: Get (and Stay) Excited!

Keeping Up is Hard to Do…

Keep working through the months! (Photo by Yuem Park)
Keep working through the months!

What did I never expect to be challenging about the senior thesis? Its relative lack of deadlines.

As Princeton students, we’re busy. On top of the vast quantities of course work that we have, many of us take on multiple extracurricular activities such as sports or dance, and each week becomes a battle to meet deadlines for problem sets or readings. And through the trials and tribulations of our first few semesters here, we get better each day at balancing our commitments and meeting deadlines until they become normal parts of our lives.

But your senior thesis will throw you a curve-ball. By this point we’ve been so thoroughly conditioned to work around deadlines that, at first, it can be a little confusing as to how to react to the unexpected freedom of independent work. It’s very tempting to throw down your pen triumphantly when you see that your first deadline is at the end of the semester, and forget about your thesis until one week before that date. But of course, it’s not that easy – after all, a senior thesis is expected to exhibit the cumulative work of an entire year (which cannot be achieved one week before the deadline!).  Continue reading Keeping Up is Hard to Do…

Funding Proposals – A Salesperson’s Approach

What I needed funding for last year – the electron microprobe at MIT.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” And indeed, funding and supporting research projects is a priority for Princeton as well as many other institutions. But just because our society values research, it doesn’t mean that it’s a walk in the park to get a project funded. In fact, in many cases, it’s actually very difficult to get a project funded, even if it’s a highly worthwhile one.

However, this doesn’t mean that your chances of getting funding are beyond your control – the better your funding proposal, the better your chances are of getting your project fully funded. Of course that’s beyond obvious, but how exactly do you write a well-executed funding proposal? Below are a few tips that I’ve picked up: Continue reading Funding Proposals – A Salesperson’s Approach

The Rocky Road: Not Always a Flat Trail

A picture tells a thousand words, but even then it is often not the whole story. Geologic field research is frequently idealized in many people’s minds by the scenic landscape photographs that we take – open forests in beautiful river valleys, lush meadows along the tops of ridges, picturesque deserts, unbelievable views at the peaks of mountains… and, at its best, field research is indeed conducted in places like these. Last summer, for example, I spent 6 weeks gathering data for my senior thesis in the North Cascades, WA:

Looking at rocks (Photo by Sean Muleady)
Looking at rocks…

But amazing landscapes, although of course some of the best parts of our research, are only a small and arguably inconsequential part of the big picture.

Almost the entirety of the research that goes on in geology fails to be captured in the idealized photographs that most people see. To just touch upon some of the work that goes on behind the scenes, researchers have to prepare funding proposals, read the literature that relates to the problem at hand, manage a budget, analyze samples in a lab, and collaborate with other researchers. Although each of these components of research are critically important, today I want to explore one particular challenge that I grappled with over my field season this past summer. Continue reading The Rocky Road: Not Always a Flat Trail