In the fall of my first year I wanted to join a neuroscience research lab. I was hoping to contribute to meaningful research, network with helpful mentors, and develop new skills and qualifications. In retrospect I should have waited to adjust to Princeton and my new course-load before even beginning to think about labs. I didn’t, though, and as I sent a flurry of emails to lab directors, I soon ran into a barrier: I found it incredibly difficult to be accepted into a lab.
In their response to my email, one lab director told me that they preferred students with significant experience in the programming language Matlab. Although I’d used Matlab before, my trial subscription had long expired. Using the free software links available through the Office of Information Technology (OIT) website, however, I was able to download and use Matlab once more. I soon realized that a laboratory setting wasn’t necessary for me to conduct my own research. In fact, I actually felt empowered by the ability to choose my own research topic.
The infamous Senior Thesis is a source of stress and anxiety for many students. Although there are information sessions galore for juniors, I didn’t feel like I actually understood the process until I started it. This summer, I began my thesis research process by traveling to Norway to collect observational data on the country’s prison system.
Independent research at Princeton has given several students the opportunity to conduct exciting new studies, including traveling to other countries in order to get first-hand experience engaging in other cultures. Just a few months ago, I even flew out to Los Angeles to interview television producers for my thesis. While the opportunity to meet new people and learn about their life-stories is undoubtedly a transformative experience, these types of projects wouldn’t be possible without one particular group’s approval: the IRB.
To conduct any research that involves human subjects, Princeton’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) has to review your study in order to ensure the safety of the participants. For instance, if a study involves at-risk individuals (e.g. children or prisoners) the IRB will need to check the parameters of the study in order to make sure no one gets hurt or feels coerced into participating. But with 15 sections worth of information to fill out, the IRB form can be quite intimidating to go through–it even scared me away from including human subjects in my junior paper! But after some encouragement from my adviser, I partnered with a fellow SOC major and worked through the seemingly endless document.
Having completed the process, here are a few tips that I think will make the form easier to navigate:
I made a goal this year to take more time to relax and gain new perspectives outside of campus. This means different things for different people. For me, it entails jumping on opportunities to step away from the insulation and pressures of Princeton. As much as I love going to NYC and Philly for daycations, SEPTA and NJ Transit costs add up, both in time and money.
Instead, I’ve been actively looking for alternative ways to escape campus, without ever setting foot off of it. Let me explain.
Since I study French and International Relations, my schedule is packed with humanities and social sciences classes. This leaves little room for natural science courses. Therein lies a problem—I’ve had a passion for space since I was a kid. But I don’t have the room in my schedule or the prerequisite knowledge necessary to take an astrophysics course. Solution: I bought several books to feed my curiosity. Reading about astronomy allows me to momentarily escape the limits of my Princeton schedule while cultivating a longtime personal interest.
After eight amazing weeks in Europe, I’m back in the U.S. and just starting to process my time abroad. Interning at the European Roma Rights Centre taught me so much about Roma people and the systematic racism many of them face. I also learned about efforts to combat this racism through litigation and advocacy. I greatly value the knowledge I gained through this experience — and now, as I prepare for another year of research at Princeton, I’m also thinking about the process behind the knowledge. Some of the most useful and thought-provoking lessons from my time abroad concerned how to effectively prepare for field research.
During my second-to-last week in Budapest, I went with four colleagues to a conference in Belgrade, Serbia. The three-day conference functioned as a training workshop to prepare seven organizations to conduct field research on stateless Roma (Roma individuals who aren’t legally affiliated with any nation.) These organizations were based in countries all throughout Eastern Europe and the West Balkans, where statelessness is a particularly significant issue among Roma populations. The ERRC led the workshop — and I got to play a role in the research trainings. Continue reading My Lesson in Research Rehearsal
Mechanical Turk, more commonly known as “MTurk”, is a popular site created by Amazon to help researchers collect data from human subjects. As a student who had never heard of this site before starting my thesis, I’ve decided to share my knowledge about what the site is and how it can be helpful for independent research at Princeton.
What exactly is MTurk?
MTurk is basically a marketplace where researchers can upload various tasks and have other people complete them for money. These tasks range from having people take a survey to having people grade responses or transcribe segments of text. Basically, anything that someone can do on a computer can be turned into a task on MTurk.
No matter how you look at it, spring semester is about making choices. The first few weeks involve choosing which classes to switch into (or, less happily, out of). The next few months will see sophomores choosing their major, and seniors choosing the direction of their post-graduation lives. Of course, there is one other choice embedded in this half of the year: what internship/program/job each of us will do over the summer.
Since most summer opportunities require some level of research skills, PCUR wanted to help you decide what kind of researcher you’d like to be between May and August (and possibly beyond). We created Resources for Researchersto point you in the right direction. Our new page – which you’ll also find in our menu bar – includes where to look for research programs, who to contact, and how to get funding. We’ve surveyed Princeton-sponsored opportunities as well as those from outside organizations. Whether you’re interested in science, engineering, health, government, policy, humanities, arts, or culture, there’s some useful information waiting for your perusal.
A final note: Resources for Researchers is not exclusively devoted to summer programs. It also covers fall-spring research opportunities and independently-designed projects. So, no matter what kind of researcher you’d like to be, take a look at the Resources available here – and make whatever choice feels right for you.
With Princeton ranked as the No. 1 school in America, it’s easy to assume that everything here is the best that it can be: We have great professors, amazing resources, and will graduate with a degree that is highly esteemed around the world. Surrounded by all of the University’s accolades, we oftentimes forget how important the student voice is to the University’s growth and development. Over these past few weeks, however, I’ve discovered how integral students are to improving academic and social life here on campus.
On the last Friday before fall break, as each of my friends packed up their belongings and boarded New Jersey Transit to head home for the week, I found myself preparing for an entirely different experience. One of the courses I am taking, a seminar called The Arts of Urban Transition, took a five-day-long field trip to Detroit over break as part of an interdisciplinary urban studies program at Princeton. This program, entitled the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism & the Humanities, is a three-year project that allows students to examine these areas of study through project-based interdisciplinary courses. My class focuses on the roles of art and artists in urban environments undergoing change. Detroit has been a major focal point in the curriculum, which is why I found myself boarding a plane headed to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
Just because it’s called “independent work” doesn’t mean that you’re alone. PCUR knows we’ve reached a very research-heavy time of the semester, and we have some words of wisdom for anyone tackling a new project – whether it’s your first or fifteenth at the college level. Watch below to hear our advice; and remember, if you have a specific question, we’re never more than a contact us form away.