Self-Management: Strategies for Staying On Top of Your Independent Work

Making time for my independent work! (click on the image to see how I’ve planned my schedule)

It’s halfway through the semester now and the deadline for junior papers and theses is quickly approaching. Since we’ve just had midterms and are now facing another six weeks of hard work, it’s no wonder campus-wide motivation is at an all-time low. You may even be starting to fall behind on your independent work (like me!). But if you’re worried about how to keep holding yourself accountable, there’s still hope! Out of the several options available, I’ve come up with three simple steps for a quick solution. Here’s how taking 20-30 minutes today will help set you up for the rest of your independent project this spring:

Continue reading Self-Management: Strategies for Staying On Top of Your Independent Work

March Forward

Robertson Hall, the home of the Woodrow Wilson School.

In the Woodrow Wilson School, theses are always due the first week of April. Many other departments have deadlines in late April or May. Depending on who you ask, having an early thesis deadline is either the best or worst thing. But everyone agrees that it is a real thing – and it makes March pretty hectic for WWS majors like me.

I’ve noticed, however, that March seems to be pretty hectic for all Princeton students. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are looking for summer internships. Seniors are figuring out their post-grad plans. And everyone is gearing up for midterms… which seem to arrive faster in the spring than they do in the fall.

With all this in mind, March is a good time for tips on dealing with hectic moments. Continue reading March Forward

Mount Illusion: Finding My Research Question…While Doing Research

Since the day I learned how to write a research paper, I always assumed I needed to use the same research question throughout my project. To me, the question seemed to be the metaphorical guiding light in the darkness of independent work, the go-to reference for determining what information is relevant or what can be put aside. It wasn’t until I started conducting my own study that I realized my initial assumption was wrong. It turned out that the more I learned about my topic, the more I learned about what I actually wanted to figure out. In hindsight, I now see that my search for a research question followed the path of Mount Stupid, or as I’ve renamed it, Mount Illusion.

My journey over Mount Illusion to find my research question!

For those who are unfamiliar with this comic, Mount Stupid is a graphic that originally appeared on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. The comic is an illustration of a chart in which the x axis measures one’s knowledge of a topic and the y axis measures one’s willingness to give his or her opinion on it. The small hump in the middle of the graph is called Mount Stupid, otherwise known as the place where people who think they know a lot about a topic are actually not that knowledgeable on the subject. 

In my case, I’ve repurposed Mount Stupid so that the y axis measures how close I was to finding my research question and the hump, Mount Illusion, measures when I believed I finally found it (needless to say, I was wrong). As the illustration above shows, I didn’t actually find my question until I was well into the research process. Here’s how I finally figured it out:

Continue reading Mount Illusion: Finding My Research Question…While Doing Research

Recycling Content: How to Expand Your Fall Semester JP for the Spring

All of the sources I was about to get rid of…before I realized I could use them again!

One of the most rewarding parts of conducting independent research is finishing it. After spending several months finding a topic, looking for a research question, keeping track of sources, and writing up a semester’s worth of work, you can’t help but be proud (or simply relieved) to finally turn in your Junior Paper. That being said, there is a downside to completing your first independent project: having to start over. If you’re like me, you’re required to write another JP for the spring semester. And perhaps, also like me, you dread having to let go of your previous hard work and starting from scratch. Well, maybe you don’t have to!

The beauty of research is that there is no limit to how many times and ways you can study the same material. More importantly, building upon pre-existing work can help you better understand your topic and plan for future studies. This could entail conducting new research that tries to eliminate limitations from the original study or research that compares the results of the original study with the those of a new one. For that reason, with departmental permission, your spring semester JP could be an extension of your fall semester research! Here are three ways you could expand your old research: Continue reading Recycling Content: How to Expand Your Fall Semester JP for the Spring

Need to Keep Track of Sources? Create a Reference Guide

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My stack of sources keeps getting bigger!

It’s officially December, which means it’s one month closer to Dean’s Date. This also means that the time you have to gather your secondary sources, otherwise known as the preexisting literature on your research topic, is quickly dwindling down. I’m sure I speak for myself and several other independent researchers when I say that juggling multiple sources can be not only overwhelming, but also confusing. With so many articles focused on similar topics, how can one keep up with all of the new information?

Based on my professor’s advice, I created a handy-dandy excel spreadsheet to keep track of my secondary sources. Here are the important points I made note of for each author in my secondary source reference guide: Continue reading Need to Keep Track of Sources? Create a Reference Guide

Princeton Underground: A researcher’s guide to lesser-known resources

Princeton’s resource network, like Firestone Library under construction, is so big and complex you could spend hours inside it but only see a small part, never knowing what you’re missing. Here are 3½ of campus’ most under-the-radar resources, and a guide to using them.

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The DSS Lab in Firestone: literally underground.

1a. Data and Statistical Services: Lab edition
What: The original inspiration for this post, the DSS Lab is literally underground. A well-lit room of big-screen PC’s, the lab is run by two incredibly friendly statistical consultants who can help you download, format, reshape, or analyze data.
Where: The A floor of Firestone – see this map.
How: The lab consultants’ schedule is available here. Walk-in hours are available from 2-5 p.m. on weekdays through December 16.
Underground tip: For brief, specific questions, send an email to the consultants at data@princeton.edu. Continue reading Princeton Underground: A researcher’s guide to lesser-known resources

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

Going into panic mode!
Going into panic mode!

Going into fall break, reality set in for myself and several other juniors in the Sociology Department as we wrote our first official proposals for our Junior Papers. While writing my draft, I had to answer several questions for myself and my professor. What was my choice of methodology? Where did I plan on finding my data? How was my research significant to others? And on top of those explanations, the most daunting question of all—what was my intended timeframe of completion?

My initial thought was that I should have plenty of time; the final paper isn’t due until January 10th and I already have a game plan for how I want to conduct my research. But as I began to create the deadlines for gathering my secondary sources, analyzing my data, writing the paper, and more, I soon realized that I needed to get started on several tasks within a matter of days if I didn’t want to end up scrambling at the last minute. So after deciding on my umpteenth deadline, I finally found myself going into a state I’m sure we are all familiar with: panic mode. Continue reading Is It Time to Panic Yet?

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research: What’s the Difference and How Do I Choose?

Deciding Between Quantitative and Qualitative!
Deciding between a quantitative and qualitative research method!

It’s almost November now, and if you’re a junior, you’re used to everyone asking you the same question: How’s your junior paper going? If your experience has been anything like mine, your initial reaction may be, “It’s great!” I’ve finally come up with a JP topic that interests me, I’ve already talked to (and received incredible advice from) my professors, and I’m in the process of mastering my Magic Research Statement. Getting started on my JP feels like a walk in the park!

But as November creeps nearer, my reaction to the JP question is a little less confident and a little more like, “Ummmm……” For me, this pause and sense of apprehension grow from two measly words that have plagued the minds of researchers for years: quantitative and qualitative. Sure, I may know what I want to research, but that still leaves me with the challenge of choosing my research method. How does one go about choosing between quantitative versus qualitative research anyways? Continue reading Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research: What’s the Difference and How Do I Choose?

The “Magic Research Statement”—Turning a Topic into a Research Question

#LikeAGirl Ad from Always!
#LikeAGirl Ad from Always!

We all know that trying to find a topic for a Junior Paper can feel like dragging your feet through quicksand. So when you eventually settle on the right topic, you feel like running to the top of a hill and shouting, “I’m unstoppable!”

…That is, until you stop and ask yourself, “Now what?” This is precisely where I found myself after determining that my Junior Paper for the Sociology Department would focus on gender progressive advertisements. Sure, I had finally discovered a topic that I was passionate about, but how could I transform that into a a reasonable research question? Continue reading The “Magic Research Statement”—Turning a Topic into a Research Question

How to Pick a Research Topic

Struggling to pick a research topic? We’ve all been there. Starting can be one of the hardest parts of research. There’s so much pressure to have a good topic that finding one becomes difficult. With that in mind, I’ve compiled some tips to ease this process.

1. Consider your personal interests. If this is a JP or thesis, you will be spending between a semester and an entire year delving into your topic. Make sure you like it! Finding something that genuinely piques your interest will help keep you engaged months down the road. I am lucky to have found Brazilian art therapy pioneer Nise da Silveira, whose work — after writing a JP about her and conducting my senior thesis research abroad on her — continues to keep me curious.

As I develop my thesis research, I hope that I continue to be interested in learning more. After all, just this summer, even before stepping foot in Firestone, I accrued this stack of books!
Crossing my fingers that my thesis topic continues to intrigue! After all, just this summer, even before stepping foot in Firestone, I accrued this stack of books!

2. Read a little about something that fascinates you. Interested in learning more about Mayan basket-weaving traditions? Find a few books or articles about it and start reading! Afterward, assess your feelings. Are you intrigued to learn more, or did you get bored halfway through? Read these signs — they can help you distinguish between topics that pique your interest at first, and those that will give you the stamina to keep reading months later.

 

3. Set up a meeting with your professors. I’ve written before about how helpful it can be to tap into what your professors might think. For my thesis, I knew that I was interested in a community project in Rio that used art to foster mental health, but wasn’t sure where to start. So I set up a meeting with a professor to talk about it. He suggested I look into Nise da Silveira, and I haven’t looked back since.

Continue reading How to Pick a Research Topic