One of the major differences between the A.B. and B.S.E. courses of study at Princeton is that A.B. students are required to take (or test out of) at least four semesters of a language class. Studying a foreign language is, therefore, an essential part of studying the humanities at Princeton. There are many good reasons for studying a foreign language (besides simply needing to fulfill the language requirement)— perhaps you want to live or study in a different country, you might envision some professional advantages from knowing a foreign language, or you simply see studying languages as a new way to connect with others. Many Princeton alumni have successfully put their language skills to use in these sorts of pursuits. I’d like to offer another reason in addition to these: studying a foreign language at Princeton can prepare you to do exceptional research.
Albert Lee ‘24 is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Chair at Colonial Club, a member of the Students for Prison Education, Abolition, and Reform (SPEAR), and former Senior Writer for The Daily Princetonian.
As a junior, a hot topic for many of my friends lately has been their junior research and senior theses. In brainstorming ideas for this piece, I also thought about the incredible amount of learning that takes place in just a semester. That’s when I got the idea for this paper—to hear from seniors about their recent experiences conducting research for their Junior Papers. So, I reached out to Albert Lee ‘24, a senior majoring in Sociology and pursuing a certificate in Journalism.
As course selection begins, you might find yourself searching endlessly through the Course Offerings webpage, trying to craft the perfect schedule for next semester. You’re probably weighing a number of different factors— the professor, the class topic, the reading list, the different requirements it fulfills— and trying to balance these in the best way possible.There is another possibility here, which you can’t find in the course offerings: reading courses. Not advertised on department websites or listed with course offerings, reading courses are some of Princeton’s hidden academic gems. The University defines a reading course as a specially designed course not normally offered as part of the curriculum that is arranged between a student and a faculty member. These courses count for academic credit, and focus on a topic of the student’s choosing. If you’ve ever dreamed about designing your own course, this is your opportunity.
If you want to take your research in the humanities to the next level while here at Princeton, one of the best ways you can do that is by availing yourself of Princeton’s Special Collections. Home to vast stockpiles of manuscripts, rare books, coins, and other materials, Special Collections is a great place for students who want to pursue rigorous and impressive humanities research while making use of the excellent resources that Princeton has to offer. Many of these articles were donated by benefactors or acquired by the university specifically so that they could be researched by professors, students, and other researchers. In this article, I’ll present some reasons why you might consider checking out Special Collections, and then follow that up with a basic “how to” for when you visit.
A manuscript of an Ethiopic Synaxarion in Special Collections
When doing research as an undergraduate, sometimes the work you are doing and topics you study may be very familiar to you, other times you may be totally unfamiliar with what is going on. Maybe you even have some previous experience but the topic of the project is way above anything you’ve done before—you might be working with a physics professor on something really advanced like quantum field theory or condensed matter, which you have never taken a class on and are expected to now work on and understand what’s going on during your project. This can happen a lot in any field, not just STEM, where your professor may have spent years studying something that you are expected to contribute to after having taken maybe a few classes in it, if that. Some professors may work more often with graduate students, so they may assume that you know “basic” things about your field that you as an undergrad have just encountered for the first time: you could be working with an Art History professor who focuses on Late Antiquity, and they start throwing around terms and common symbols that you aren’t able to easily recognize.
Regardless of the circumstances, this situation comes up a lot in undergraduate research. The fortunate thing is that tons of professors are willing to work with students who have no prior experience in the subject, but you still have to wrestle with “catching up” as you try to somewhat understand anything that you’re actually doing. Here are some tips to try to get acclimated with difficult, unfamiliar topics that may be well above your current depth as an undergraduate.
Most people probably know Trustee Reading Room as that large room with big glass windows on the first floor of Firestone, where you go when you want a really quiet study space. Perhaps you’ve recently studied for midterms or worked on a paper in its sacred silence. Maybe you’ve wondered if there’s more to Trustee than simply providing a quiet atmosphere for study. The answer to that question is: yes, there is. It is the primary reference room of Firestone library– and if you read to the end of this article you will learn how to make the most of this tremendous resource.
Trustee Reading Room in Firestone Library has many reference works
When I first walked through the doors of Theodore Sedgwick Wright Library at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) on a sweltering September day a few weeks ago, I was struck by three things: the great size of the library, the small number of students there, and its remarkably-strong air conditioning. As I set my things down and cooled off in a quiet study area, I began to work on an assignment for one of my classes. My gratitude for the engineers who designed the building’s cooling system was quickly superseded by my admiration for those who worked together to produce the largest theological library in America and the second largest in the world after the Vatican Library in Rome.
Theodore Sedgwick Wright Library is the main library at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Imagine that you’ve been working on a research project for months. Now you’re standing in front of a crowd of professors, some of which probably know more about your topic than you do. If you do research working in an academic department, it can be a stressful experience if you have to eventually present your work to that department. Trying to talk about what you’ve done with your own adviser can be enough sometimes, and showing work that you may not be 100% comfortable with for a whole crowd of professors is a whole new level of daunting. They all have years of experience and may know more about aspects of your presentation than you do, so trying to seem like you know what you’re talking about while possibly being asked questions far out of your depth may seem impossible for an undergraduate to do.
Nonetheless, whether it’s theses, JPs, internships, or summer projects, all undergraduates here are going to find themselves in this position. So how do you do it?
The Princeton Perspective Project (PPP) is an initiative by Princeton students against the expectation of “effortless perfection.” Our seasonal series in partnership with PPP interviewed professors, undergraduate students, and graduate students to hear their thoughts on expectations, challenges, failures, and growth through it all. In this segment of our Seasonal Series, we hear from Cara Khalifeh, the Treasurer of the Princeton Perspective Project.
I’ve always loved reading through senior thesis titles and thinking “Wow, that’s clever,” “That’s genius,” “I wonder how they came up with that.” The senior thesis, which many seniors refer to as a full-blown novel, is supposed to be a senior’s finest work and proudest possession. It looks impressive in its black book with gold font. It is 115 pages. It has fancy acknowledgments. As a first-year/sophomore, and even as a high schooler on tour, I was in awe at how seniors could create such a perfect paper. It isn’t until now that I know the answer: hard work.