From Law to Coding: Writing my SPIA Quantitative Junior Paper

Photo depicts grand Princeton building at night time, with ivy climbing up brick that appears reddish in the lighting.
From courses at SPIA to starry nights at Nassau Hall, there are many opportunities to reflect on what type of research is meaningful to you

There are many reasons why I chose to major in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), ranging from the impact that we have through service and the focus on policy and law. One unique feature of SPIA is the ability for concentrators to take more qualitative courses such as SPI333: Law, Institutions, and Public Policy and quantitatively-based courses, such as POL346: Applied Quantitative Analysis. During the Fall of my junior year, I wrote a more qualitative junior paper on risk assessment tools in the pretrial adjudication system and analyzed whether or not they make more biased decisions than do humans (see here to read more about my experience). Headed into my junior spring, I was presented with the choice of writing another qualitative paper or joining a quantitative research lab. Thankfully, I felt confident in my coding abilities due to past courses I had taken which prepared me for this moment (see here to read about how I gained a quantitative background in R as a SPIA major). I chose the lab without hesitation and my spring semester independent research journey began.

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Experiences in the ReMatch+ Program: An Interview with Kasey Shashaty ’23 – Part 1

Kasey Shashaty is a junior majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering. She began working at the PULSe (Princeton University Laser Sensing) Lab in the summer of 2021 and has been working with them since. In this interview, Kasey and I discuss how she got involved in this lab through the ReMatch+ program, her experiences working in the lab both virtually and in-person, and where she is taking her experiences in the future. 

Kasey Shashaty ’23
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A look into Princeton Independent Research: Presenting Proposals to Congressmember Bush

Our task force meeting Congressmember Bush last semester.
She was truly inspirational.

     When you are a first-year, you hear about the Senior Thesis, the Junior Paper, and independent research. While these may seem daunting and unexciting, they are actually some of the most unique and amazing parts of the Princeton experience. Most juniors do independent research within their respective majors. As a SPIA major, I took a Task Force in the fall, where I worked with a professor and team of SPIA students to achieve a policy mission, and I am now in a Research Seminar, where I am doing more quantitative research on a new policy issue. In this post, I would like to share my experiences in my task force last semester in order to help you gain an understanding of what independent research could look like, and how truly incredible it can be.

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A Week in My Life Doing Materials Science Research

This semester, I am doing junior independent work in the Arnold lab group at Princeton, which is based in the MAE department but also focuses on materials science, which is what I am interested in. My project investigates creating graphene aerogels from protein precursors, which basically means that I get to select different proteins of interest, freeze-dry them, pyrolyze them, and then see if they create graphene by examining them under a scanning electron microscope (SEM). These graphene aerogels are interesting materials because of their high porosity and conductivity, making them promising for applications to energy storage, which is why we are interested in researching them.

I thought it might be interesting to highlight a week in my life (well, actually two weeks) to give some insight on what lab-based independent work can look like during the school year. I want to note that this is only my experience as a CBE major, and independent work can look very different for other majors. If you’re an underclassman interested in doing junior independent work or just curious about what that could entail, I hope that this post can provide some insight.

The inside of Bowen Hall, the hub of the Princeton Institute of Materials and where my research lab is.
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Lessons from Junior Independent Work in MAE

In the fall of 2021, I worked in the Computational Turbulent Reacting Flow Laboratory under the guidance of Professor Michael Mueller. In the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) department, junior independent research is optional. I enrolled in MAE339: Junior Independent Work in the fall and am currently continuing my research this spring semester. Research was an integral part of my high school experience, and I was excited to start working on independent research in my junior year of college in a different setting. Now, I want to share a few of the lessons I learned from this past semester with you:

Logo of the Computational Turbulent Reacting Flow Laboratory.
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Lessons from My First Major Research Essay

As I dive into my second junior paper, I’ve begun to realize how much more serious this paper is than the first one. Gone are the safety rails once provided by Princeton’s History department; instead of a course with concrete deadlines, I am now in the metaphorical Wild West, negotiating with my advisor on a whole bunch of elements: deadlines, research content, framing, among others. Even though it is only February when I write this, the April deadline eyes me ominously. With four classes and an array of extracurricular activities, whatever will I do to survive my second JP? How can I even anticipate the thesis?

At PCUR, we’ve done plenty of reflections on our prior research experiences. The more I think about it, the best thing to do is to reflect on my first JP. In that paper, I explored the attitudes and ideologies of consumption that post-war consumers held, particularly in relation to an acute shortage of nylon stockings. Sifting through dozens of articles in local newspapers, I identified many letters to the editor that female consumers sent in to voice their opinion about how nylons should be distributed, who deserves them, and how the shortage was affecting their everyday lives. 

Although I am undoubtedly proud of the final product, there were many things I could improve about it. From the way I kept sources and my reading schedule to my writing method and the final editing process, I could enumerate an endless list. For now, I will highlight two of the biggest takeaways from my first JP, which will be particularly useful given the abbreviated timeline of the second paper. 

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Get Your Independent Work Done Without Stress

As a B.S.E junior doing independent work for the first time, I am already anticipating the stressful cram at the end of the semester that comes with senior thesis and junior independent work deadlines. As busy Princeton students, we often don’t think that we have enough time in the week to work consistently on our independent work, and thus, a lot of it inevitably gets pushed off to the weeks (and days) before the deadline. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Putting together a comprehensive plan to organize and budget your time at the beginning of the semester can save so much hassle down the road. Therefore, I think it will be helpful to walk through how to create a plan for independent work over the course of the semester.

Inside Firestone Library, where many students will be writing the bulk of their independent work this semester.
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Tips on Finding, Joining and Thriving in a Research Lab!

With the COVID-19 pandemic, my ability to participate in lab work, which I had imagined would be a key part of my university experience, was quite limited. While my remote research experiences taught me many interesting skills, such as using computational tools like Gaussian and PyMol, I was eager to start lab work in-person once restrictions allowed for undergraduate research. With my previous remote internship during the Leach Summer Scholars Program, I continued working with the Knowles lab with my summer mentor on a new project. I wanted to share the lessons I’ve been learning after my first few months in the lab which I hope will be helpful and relevant for you!

The chemistry labs are all housed in the beautiful Frick Chemistry building!
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New to Zotero? A Guide to Using Reference Management Applications

Before this summer, I had never heard of Zotero, Mendeley, or any reference management applications, and instead, I usually turned to APA or MLA style guidelines and did my citations by hand. However, it can be cumbersome to manage all the references at once, especially when writing papers that have a seemingly never-ending list of references. This is where Zotero or Mendeley can help out. I first started using Zotero during my summer internship when I was writing two biomaterials review papers, which I mentioned in my last post. Both of these papers had around 120 references, making a reference manager like Zotero an essential tool for keeping track of all the citations.

I would highly recommend using a reference manager for longer projects or papers, such as for junior independent work or senior theses, because it helps with organization and saves you time when adding references. In this post, I put together a guide for using reference managers, specifically Zotero because I am most familiar with it. However, take a look at this previous post on using Mendeley if you want to learn more about that.

The homepage of my Zotero application
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Being in the Archive: Navigating the Space and Etiquette

Ricardo Barros, PAW
The Reading Room on the C-level of Firestone, where one can read and view items from Princeton’s Special Collections.

In the first article of this archival tour, I talked about the process of identifying the proper archives to further your research. But what happens next, once you have the archive, the collection, or the item you want? How do you proceed from there? For the purposes of this article, I will assume you are physically at the archive because we already have some great articles about requesting items from archives that you cannot physically be in. Here, then, I’ll talk about navigating the spaces of the archive and their uses, as well as some facts about archive etiquette.

Instead of dallying around, let’s jump back into the archive!

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