Learning from What Isn’t

With May finally here, we’ve reached the home stretch of the 2014-15 school year. Make no mistake: This is an achievement. You deserve to celebrate. Grab an extra fro-yo cone next time you’re in the dining hall, and enjoy knowing the machine has more handles than there are weeks remaining in the semester.

Here’s hoping your fro-yo cone turns out better than mine.

After that *debauchery*, ease back into the research world with a reflexive book – like Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing, which was recommended in my African American Studies class last semester. As the title makes clear, it’s a series of short sentences about how to approach the writing process. Klinkenborg replaces oft-repeated mechanical suggestions with much more useful ideological ones. My favorite appears on page 29: “Every sentence could have been otherwise but isn’t.”

Following Klinkenborg’s words, every sentence in your research papers is a deliberate choice. Every argument could have reached a different conclusion, but did not. As you question, test, and analyze facts in your independent work, a crucial step is to recognize why you chose a particular arrangement of information. This goes beyond mere adherence to a thesis. Why did you pursue one research lead, and not another?   Continue reading Learning from What Isn’t

Senior Thesis Spotlight: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

What would the world look like if you were a giant?

Joseph Bolling ’15 (left) and Ankush Gola ’15 (right) with their project. (Image used with permission of Joseph Bolling and Ankush Gola)

For their senior thesis in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Joseph Bolling and Ankush Gola are creating a system to find  the answer to that question. In a way similar to how our brain stitches together two slightly offset images from each eye to create a 3D image, Bolling and Gola are using two quadcopters with mounted cameras to recreate the same effect on a much larger scale. Quadcopters, which are like helicopters but with four rotors instead of only one, have recently become popular among commercial and recreational drone operators.

“We want to not only enhance the user’s depth perception, but elevate their eyes,” said Gola.

Bolling and Gola drew inspiration for their project from a cartoon titled “Depth Perception” by the science comic XKCD, in which the character describes a way of using distantly spaced webcams to view clouds in his eyeglasses. In their system, Bolling and Gola plan to integrate the virtual reality headset Occulus Rift to allow users to view the world from any angle they wish, as if they were giants towering above. Aside from producing an interesting effect, the project could be especially helpful in surveying and modeling territory.

“The aerial perspective [of the quadcopter] lends itself very nicely to this type of visual effect,” explained Gola, “and quadcopter filming itself is becoming very popular, so we think will fit in well.” Continue reading Senior Thesis Spotlight: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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!

Undeclared, Undecided–Still Eligible for Departmental Funding!

By late March of my freshman year, I was wholly undecided about my major. I had taken classes in a wide range of departments including geoscience, math, comparative literature, and philosophy. I had not taken a single Classics course. But I still decided–and succeeded–in applying for funding from the Classics department and gaining exposure to a new ancient language last summer.


Before I applied for Classics funding, I felt unprepared about my summer plans. I had taken two “mandatory” class trips during my fall and spring break, to Cyprus and Greece respectively, so I was used to the thrill of university-sponsored travel. I had assumed that I would spend my summer abroad and counted on attending a global seminar. After being rejected from my choice global seminar, however, I dreaded speaking to people about my nonexistent plans. I doubted that I had time to find and apply to international summer programs. I reset my sights around my home near New York City and thought about what I really wanted to learn. Continue reading Undeclared, Undecided–Still Eligible for Departmental Funding!

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