Research Support Beyond Your Adviser

I love my spring JP adviser. For one, he knows the biggest challenge of independent work is avoiding procrastination. As such, he’s preemptively strict with me on deadlines—pushing me to work on my JP for twenty minutes every day, and to meet with him at least twice a month to report on my progress. When we meet, he asks difficult questions, and provides incisive feedback.

However, like any adviser, there is a limit to what he can provide. My JP project—which focuses on a series of maps produced in twentieth-century Yiddish memorial books— is actually quite distant from his area of expertise. He researches early modern Europe, a period nearly five hundred years before my topic’s. Additionally, I want my JP to engage with scholarship outside of the conventional boundaries of my discipline—particularly memory studies and theories of urbanism.

My spring JP focuses on urban maps produced by Holocaust survivors in the immediate postwar years, like this one of Lomza, a town in northeastern Poland.

But at a university like Princeton, a mismatch between your independent research and your adviser’s area of expertise is by no means a dead end. Because of the diversity of Princeton’s academic program, there are almost definitely people on campus—whether graduate students or faculty—who can supplement your adviser’s mentorship.

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Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview with Geosciences Professor Frederik Simons

This winter, for our seasonal series entitled “Professorship and Mentorship,” PCURs interview a professor from their home department. In these interviews, professors shed light on the role that mentorship has played in their academic trajectory, including their previous experiences as undergraduate and graduate students as well as their current involvement with mentorship as independent work advisers for current Princeton undergraduates. Here, Alec shares his interview.

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Princeton takes great pride in its focus on undergraduate independent work, and the expectations of original research and mentorship define the academic experience of juniors and seniors. However, everyone has their own model for mentoring and their own ideas of what undergraduate research should focus on. As part of our Winter Seasonal Series, I interviewed Geosciences Professor Frederik Simons to understand the role of mentorship in his life and share his perspective on undergraduate research at Princeton. I know Frederik from our many conversations in the GEO department and I took his class GEO 422: Data Models and Uncertainty in the Natural Sciences. He is the second reader for my independent work.

Mentorship is a state of mind… You need to get into someone’s mind and understand their perspective. If you see someone who is distressed or struggling, help out a little bit.

Geoscience Professor Frederik Simons enjoys mentoring students: “It makes me feel good.”

What role has mentorship played in your career, and what role does it play in your life now?

I was blessed with mentors throughout my career, a willingness to listen to advice, and the audacity to ignore it. I experienced mentorship in the form of many people looking out for me; it’s essentially about providing opportunity. Mentorship is lifelong; you are still being taken care of by other people whatever you achieve. Now I try to teach undergraduates what I think they should know and connect graduate students with opportunities.

Mentorship is a state of mind. ‘Mentor’ is from the Latin ‘mens’ for mind. You need to get into someone’s mind and understand their perspective. If you see someone who is distressed or struggling, help out a little bit. I have always enjoyed explaining stuff and helping out; it makes me feel good.

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The Writing Center as an Independent Work Resource

If you’re caught up on some of my previous posts, you’ll remember that I wrote my fall Junior Paper about shackling pregnant inmates in New York women’s prisons after the 2009 anti-shackling bill. I recently submitted my Junior Paper at the beginning of January, and it’s safe to say that it was a wild ride. To name a few challenges: I had to completely change my topic, I navigated tough interviews, and I spent a LOT of time editing my essay. Although I wrote a post about how to work efficiently during winter break, I pretty much ignored all of my own advice and ended up working on my JP each night, making my winter break anything but carefree and relaxing. However, I came back to school with a paper I was proud of.

The Writing Center is an incredible resource to utilize for independent work

But the challenges did not stop there. This JP was my first encounter with a substantial piece of independent work, and it included a whole lot of revisions after I had completed my first full draft. After reading through the paper, I scheduled a phone conference with my professor that left me with a plethora of edits to make in a very short amount of time. I made the changes, going through the paper with a fine-toothed comb, and the day after I got back to Princeton, I went to my first-ever appointment at the Writing Center.

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How to Incorporate an Interview into a Class Project

You might not have a fancy podcast studio such as this at your disposal, but don’t let that hold you back from conducting an interview! All you really need is a willing interviewee, a phone (to record), and a flexible list of thoughtful questions.

When we think of research, we tend to picture someone sitting in the library surrounded by stacks of books. While it’s true that books (and textual materials accessed via the web) remain incredibly important to the research process, not everything research-worthy comes in book form. Indeed, for certain types of research, such as ethnography, journalism, and oral history, going out into the broader world outside the library doors is essential. This was the case for me recently as I worked on a podcast for a History of Science class; an interview with a molecular biology professor about their work on the Human Genome Project was central to my endeavor. So, in light of this recent experience and in the spirit of diversifying the types of sources we use as researchers, I will share in this post some thoughts on how to incorporate an interview into a class project or research paper. Continue reading How to Incorporate an Interview into a Class Project

Qualitative Research: The Interview

If you are caught up on my latest posts, you will remember that I have had some ups and downs in my research process for my Junior Paper. I think it is safe to assume that most students experience difficulties with their JPs. However, the difficulties differ from student to student.

Interviewing experts is a great source of information, but sometimes it can be challenging!

In the Woodrow Wilson School, you choose–or, sometimes, it is chosen for you if you are enrolled in a seminar that specifically focuses on quantitative or qualitative research–whether you would like to do a quantitative or qualitative analysis of your JP topic. While most of the quantitative students are focusing on coding and analyzing existing datasets, the qualitative researchers analyze literature, conduct interviews, and gather information on their own. My biggest challenge so far has been the interviews.

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Art as a Way of Knowing: Integrating the Art Museum in Your Research and Studies

If you were to take a tour of Princeton’s campus, your tour guide would point out various things that are unique to Princeton’s campus. For example, we have the third largest university chapel in the world, and Frist Campus Center used to be Einstein’s laboratory. But, something that is incredibly special about Princeton’s campus–and I feel we don’t talk enough about –is the fact that Princeton has an amazing art museum directly on campus.

The Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM), whose collections hold works by artists ranging from Cézanne to Basquiat, is a great spot for tourists and community members to visit. However, it is arguably an even greater spot for students.

This week I share a little bit about my experiences at the art museum and interview Juliana Ochs Dweck, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Engagement, to talk about the different ways the PUAM can serve as a resource for research and studies at Princeton. After all, as Dweck notes about the university museum, “the whole point is to be a teaching museum.”

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Library Guides: Your Princeton Research Bible

I recently discovered yet another lifesaving research resource on campus: Library Guides. Compiled by Princeton’s subject librarians, these free online guides tell you everything you need to know about researching your field – and I mean everything. If you haven’t yet explored the available Library Guides, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Even after a few years at Princeton, the library system can feel overwhelming. Locating the relevant databases, citation formats, and reference books is always a challenge – especially at the start of a project.

Library Guides helped me sort through the shelves of journals in the Architecture Library.

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Guide to the Rare Books and Special Collections

On Friday morning, I encountered a manuscript no historian had studied before. I was on the C Floor of Firestone in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room, finding it hard to believe my luck. I had asked Gabriel Swift, the Reference Librarian for Special Collections, if he knew of any interesting primary sources connected to my Junior Paper topic, an 1805 Lenape religious revival led by a woman named Beate. In response, he connected me with this new acquisition, a handwritten journal from 1774. Just this year, he explained, the University had purchased it at auction in Paris. And because it was from a private collection, the source was previously unknown to academics.

“‘Journal of the Expedition down the River Ohio Under the Command of his Excellency John Earl of Dunmore Lieutenant and Governor General of his Majesty’s Colony and Dominion of Virginia 1774.”

This is just one example of the magic of Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC).

According to the RBSC website, “its holdings span five millennia and five continents, and include around 300,000 rare or significant printed works.”

With just a few simple steps, you can see one of the first “Wanted” posters for John Wilkes Booth, Beethoven’s music manuscripts, or Woodrow Wilson’s love letters. It is one of the most fabulous and underutilized research resources on campus – especially for historians. As undergraduates, we have nearly complete access to the collections. Continue reading Guide to the Rare Books and Special Collections

Finding a JP Topic (On Your Own)

Personally examining the items around a book you’ve found is a great way to find related works on a given subject.

For many first year and sophomore students, fall break is a true respite from the academic demands of college life. For many juniors and seniors, however, it is a time of simultaneous relief and moderated despair as Princeton’s independent work requirements loom large. This is the position I find myself in. So gather round, friends, it’s time to talk independent work—specifically, how I found a general research area for my first JP. New to the JP game as I am, I feel rather unqualified to offer advice on how to “conquer” it or plan a totally coherent project right from the start. This will not be that kind of post. Rather, I’ll share some thoughts on beginning my own JP research process, which should illuminate some of the methods I used to cut down the uncertainty around my project and to find something like a workable topic. While I hope this is a useful guide for anyone facing the JP, I should note that it will probably be the most applicable to those in departments where fall independent work is not structured around a research seminar.

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Dealing with Stress

At Princeton I often find myself overwhelmed by my workload, behind on assignments and readings, and struggling to prepare for exams. When work piles up, it is necessary to work as efficiently as possible to meet deadlines, but it can be really challenging to work productively when you are feeling overworked. Princeton’s heavy workloads are often a source of stress–here are a few strategies that help me when I am struggling:

Conducting good research requires many skills which we learn throughout our Princeton careers. Self care is one of the most important skills, but it is easy to overlook with so many other academic demands.

Go outside and exercise:

If you can’t concentrate on your work or feel low energy, taking a half hour break from working to go for a walk or a jog can help clear your head while also jump-starting your blood flow. Being outside gets me back in contact with the rest of the world and helps me escape coursework induced myopia. I like to go to Mountain Lakes nature preserve, which has a small network of hiking trails and a few picturesque ponds. The ponds are great for a (very) cold swim, and the forest has beautiful foliage in the fall.

I first visited Mountain Lakes preserve my freshman fall, while doing a field project in EEB 321 Ecology: Species interactions, biodiversity, and society. Now it is my go-to place to get off  campus, go for a run or a swim, and check out beautiful fall foliage.

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