Worried About a Lack of In-Person Research Experience? Don’t Be. Here’s Why.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of in-person internships and research positions for students have been transitioned to remote opportunities. Last summer after my first year of college, I opted to take online classes over the summer because in-person opportunities were not a possibility. For this upcoming summer, I was hoping to gain laboratory experience in person, but my internship was also transitioned online. With only one summer left before I apply to graduate school, this left me with a looming question: will I have enough in-person research experience before I apply to graduate school?

Although this question bothered me for a while, I realized that I was approaching this issue from the wrong perspective. I feel as though many students are probably dealing with similar issues now that many summer opportunities have been canceled or moved online due to the pandemic. In this article, I am going to walk through the reasoning behind why you should not worry too much about lacking in-person research experience and also include some additional opportunities you should be on the lookout for. 

In-person research positions may not be available right now, but you can still take advantage of your remote research experiences.
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How to Write a Research Proposal as an Undergrad

As I just passed the deadline for my junior independent work (JIW), I wanted to explore strategies that could be helpful in composing a research proposal. In the chemistry department, JIW usually involves lab work and collecting raw data. However, this year, because of the pandemic, there is limited benchwork involved and most of the emphasis has shifted to designing a research proposal that would segue into one’s senior thesis. So far, I have only had one prior experience composing a research proposal, and it was from a virtual summer research program in my department. For this program, I was able to write a proposal on modifying a certain chemical inhibitor that could be used in reducing cancer cell proliferation. Using that experience as a guide, I will outline the steps I followed when I wrote my proposal. (Most of these steps are oriented towards research in the natural sciences, but there are many aspects common to research in other fields).

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On “Choosing Sides” in an Academic Debate: The More Precise, the Better

An amusing remark on academics, itself attributed to several different academics, goes something like this: In academia, disputes take on such huge proportions precisely because the stakes of them are so small. Whether this observation is or is not true, I have found that its general sentiment is passed down to undergraduates, if inadvertently so. Of course, there are pedagogical reasons for instilling this impression; when we are learning about debates on a given subject within a discipline, it can help to read the most absolute positions on either side, if only to distill the terms of argument.

But the impression that such debate must necessarily be black and white, and must be of great intensity, can be daunting to accept as an undergraduate writer. Who am I, I wonder to myself, to so totally challenge the work of an established academic researcher? Even if I might disagree with their broader argument, have they not done far more research than I have? Relatedly, what if their research offers some quite usable background information– am I not just a little hypocritical to use it while arguing against the position it was intended to support? Or, what if I agree with smaller asides or observations by the researcher, but not the thrust of their whole argument? In a word, need the division be so absolute within the scholarly conversation? 

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A Guide to Princeton Libraries during a Pandemic

A view of the North Study section of the new Engineering Library underneath Fine Hall.

Last school year, during my first year at Princeton, I rarely ventured out to study in the libraries, instead preferring to stay in the comfort of my dorm room. However, after spending the fall semester at home, I realized just how much I missed the Princeton libraries, and I regretted not taking advantage of this amazing resource more often while on campus.

Going into spring semester, I challenged myself to explore the many incredible study spaces on campus that I had never been to. I was partly inspired by this post on the best study spaces on campus, and I wanted to provide an update on how studying on campus during a pandemic is like. A lot of the logistics around studying in the libraries have changed due to new Covid-19 regulations. So, in this article, I am going to lay out the changes to the Princeton library system and provide an update on some of the best new study spaces on campus.

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The Gem of Cross-Disciplinary Thesis Advice

For better or worse, the university is internally cloistered as an academic institution. Walls literal and metaphorical separate the departments. This is perhaps most apparent to students on an administrative level; each department has its own academic guidelines, grading policies, and research expectations. Deeper differences, though, may present in modes and content of knowledge production. Disciplines often preclude interdisciplinarity. Divergent methodologies might be applied to the same subject matter to produce different results; within a department, the range of expertise might end up applying similar methods to wildly different subjects. 

I, for one, think that these disciplinary divisions often do more to stifle than to encourage intellectual growth or humanistic inquiry (on the problems and politics of the academic disciplines, see my interview with Daniela Gandorfer here). But, as things are, attempting to explain research across disciplines can be quite difficult– like speaking to someone in a different language without a translator. Seniors writing their theses are certainly familiar with this issue when trying to explain their work to people outside their department, or in some cases, anyone other than their adviser. When it comes to feedback on thesis work, then, it makes immediate sense to gravitate towards people with background in whatever you are writing about. They indeed might be able to give very pointed advice.

That said, there is still great value to turning towards those beyond the official borders of your discipline. A lack of familiarity with the subject matter can indeed be an asset– especially in terms of providing feedback on your writing and your writing/research process.

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A Quick Crash Course in Statistics: Part 2

Most people’s New Years Resolutions, I imagine, are not about improving their knowledge of statistics. But I would argue that a little bit of knowledge about statistics is both useful and interesting. As it turns out, our brains are constantly doing statistics – in reality, our conscious selves are the only ones out of the loop! Learning and using statistics can help with interpreting data, making formal conclusions about data, and understanding the limitations and qualifications of those conclusions.

In my last post, I explained a project in my PSY/NEU 338 course that lent itself well to statistical analysis. I walked through the process of collecting the data, using a Google Spreadsheet for computing statistics, and making sense of what a ‘p-value’ is. In this post, however, I walk through how I went about visualizing these results. Interpretation of data is often not complete before getting a chance to see it. Plus, images are much more conducive than a wall of text when it comes to sharing results with other people.

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A Quick Crash Course in Statistics: Part 1

In PSY/NEU 338, From Animal Learning to Changing People’s Minds, my group recently presented our capstone project for the course: we researched irrationality, trying to understand when humans make irrational decisions, how that is implemented in the brain, and if certain things might actually be incorrectly labeled as ‘irrational’. Our emotions are a leading example: although some call them irrational, in practice, they play a key role in fine-tuning our decision-making and reasoning abilities. When you’re happy, for example, everything might be going more positively than expected. Your mood is thus encouraging you to continue the behaviors that led to those rewards, since that positive trend might continue (for a neuroscientific discussion of this topic, see this paper).

To demonstrate this phenomenon first-hand, we had students in the class play what is known as the Ultimatum Game:

You are the proposer. You have been given $100. You are tasked with splitting your money with a stranger, the responder. If the responder accepts the split that you propose, you both keep the money after the game ends. If the responder does not accept, no one keeps the money.

The question: how much money do you decide to offer the responder?

After reading this, students had five seconds to provide their answer. They were then asked to report their mood. The question we wanted to answer was simple:

Is the amount of money people offered statistically different between those who reported “positive” versus “negative” moods?

In this post, I’ll explain some of the basic statistics I used to formally answer this question, bolding some key terms in the field along the way. In my next post, I’ll walk through the programming aspect for visualizing those statistics. 

In Google Spreadsheet, I calculated the mean dollar amount for the “positive” and “negative” categories, equaling $32.2 and $66 respectively. The “equals” sign indicates a function, and D51:D55 corresponds to the cells containing the data for the “positive” category.
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Coming Back to Campus in January? A Look into a Hybrid Semester and its Challenges

Like most students at Princeton, I am really looking forward to next semester.  Having taken into account the pandemic and the Princeton community’s well-being, the university is offering all undergraduates the option to return to campus, even though most classes will still largely be held online. Consequently, Spring 2021 will be the second time since the pandemic began where we can experience a different side of Princeton – a hybrid semester, where there will be a mix of in-person and virtual classes. A hybrid semester presents a lot of opportunities to enhance the educational experience from a fully virtual semester like the one we had this fall. Next semester, I am looking forward to the small things — like seeing more students outside of classes and interacting with them as guidelines allow. However, it is likely that there will be new and old challenges for students on and off-campus. Although it is difficult to predict exactly how the semester will unfold, I outline three challenges that stand out to me, so that we can prepare for them beforehand.

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Lost and Confused? Create a Map!

It’s said that a picture tells a thousand words; a map, however, can tell you a million.

To me, maps are not just tools for navigation. They have a variety of uses, enabling their creators to visualize a vast array of data efficiently and quickly. From questionable election forecasts to the location of monuments in a city, anything of your choosing can be mappable. Maps, in my experience, can be one of the most powerful tools in your research toolbox. Thus, I want to show you how you can use maps in your research, and the power they hold!

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Time Management Tips for Navigating Zoom University

Oh, it’s unfortunate that your classes are all online now… But all the extra free time must be nice, right?

Actually, no. Somehow, I have ended up in a place where I’m busier than I was back when school was offline. And that’s without Powerlifting Team practices, the thirty-minute dinners that consistently turned into three-hour-long social gatherings, and all of the hours I spent working on-campus jobs.

I’ve realized it has to do with my relationship with time. In the past, I didn’t need to be very intentional with my free time: it always just happened. Nowadays I think back fondly to my naïve visits to the Rocky Common Room for pre-bedtime cereal-breaks, only to end up practicing handstands on the rug by the piano with my friends until 2 am. 

Without spontaneous social interaction, I ended up filling up all of my time with work, clubs, projects, and research. Unfortunately for first-year students, these challenges are only compounded by the transition to college academics in general. Whether or not you feel like you’re busier this semester, I believe we can all benefit from evaluating how we make time for ourselves: below are five tips I’ve implemented to help facilitate a productive and sustainable semester this fall.

As an extension of last Spring, Princeton classes are once again remote for the Fall of 2020-2021.
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