A Look into the Publishing Process for Academic Journals

An important part of research is writing and publishing papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. Through a Princeton-alumni sponsored internship last summer, I was fortunate enough to co-author and publish two materials science review papers, one in a journal called Gels and the other in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, both a part of the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, or MDPI. Since the publishing process was entirely new to me, I thought it would be helpful to give some insight into what publishing looks like, which is helpful especially if you are interested in pursuing research in graduate school. I will note that although having published papers is helpful for admission to graduate school, it is by no means required.

One of the review papers that I co-authored and published through my summer internship
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Jumping In and Out of Virtual Research

When I entered my sophomore year in the fall of 2019, I was determined to get more hands-on engineering experience. I applied for a High Meadows Environmental Institute Internship to do research on a robotic tuna at the Princeton Gas Dynamics and Fluid Dynamics Lab. I was fortunate enough to have been accepted to the internship, and I spent the early part of 2020 getting ready to work under the tutelage of Professor Alexander Smits and postdoctoral scholar Dr. Liuyang Ding. The project was to conduct an experiment where we would measure the generated thrust force, power, and efficiency of a robotic tuna.

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Virtual simulation of the robotic tuna in ANSYS Fluent
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NCBI: An Invaluable Tool for Life Sciences Classes and Research!

Have you ever come across something in class that you wish you could get a better Have you ever been wondering more about how proteins are made in the body? Or have you ever been looking for a specific type of lab experiment protocol for your independent work? If yes, then look no further than the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website! It contains dozens of resources, some of which I have found to be very handy in my own research and school experiences. The site is tailored for students in the life-sciences field, but there is a lot of breadth in the resources available—you’ll be able to find useful tools regardless of whether you’re a MOL or CHM major, or if you’re interests lie in researching chemically synthesis mental health, or neurodegenerative diseases.

The NCBI Logo, as it appears on the website

A very useful tool on the NCBI website is Bookshelf. There is a search bar at the top of the website where you can input some topic, book title, or field name, and the program will return a variety of different reference materials relating to the query, including full scientific textbooks, book chapters, studies. On the side, there are often figures and graphs that may relate to your search. 

Some sample search results within Bookshelf if I look up “synaptic plasticity”
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Writing a Literature Review? Some Tips Before You Start

Writing the literature review section for a scientific research article can be a daunting task. This blog post is a summary of what I have personally found to best help when writing about scientific research. I hope some of these tips can help make the process an easier and more fulfilling experience!

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How to Get Involved with Lab-Based Research at Princeton

As a first-year B.S.E student with little to no previous research experience, the idea of writing an eighty-page senior thesis based on my own lab-based research seemed like an extremely daunting task. Now, into the first semester of my junior year, the thought of having to write a thesis next year still seems like a challenge, although a lot less intimidating than two years ago. The main reason for this is because I have participated in multiple research-based summer internships through Princeton, which have helped me feel better prepared to do lab-based junior independent work and a senior thesis in the coming semesters.

You may also be wondering how early you can get involved with lab-based research at Princeton. Although there is certainly no pressure to do research as a first-year or sophomore if you do not want to, Princeton does make sure that opportunities are available for those who do want to be involved early. Here’s a timeline of some of the different lab-based opportunities available, and when you can start getting involved.

The scanning electron microscope in Princeton’s Imaging and Analysis Center, where I am doing research with a material science lab on campus.
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Doing Research in a Pandemic, an Interview with Professor Yael Niv

For this Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Doing Research in a Pandemic, each correspondent has selected a researcher to interview about the impact of the pandemic on their research. We hope that these interviews document the nuanced ways the pandemic has affected research experiences, and serve as a resource for students and other researchers. Here, Ryan shares her interview.

Professor Niv at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

For this seasonal series, I decided to interview Yael Niv, a Professor in Neuroscience and Psychology at Princeton University. Professor Niv has conducted key research on reinforcement learning and decision-making and she continues to contribute to this field at her lab at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. I decided to interview Professor Niv because I have taken two courses with her (FRS172: Our Subjective Reality and PSY338: From Animal Learning to Changing Minds) and have truly been inspired by the work she has done and the positive attitude that she brings to the classroom every day. I know that we can all learn from Professor Niv, especially at a time like right now. In our interview, we discuss the importance of hallway encounters, research opportunities during the pandemic, and the future of her lab.

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Visualizing COVID-19 Mutations Using PyMOL, a University Provided Resource

These days, it seems like every day we learn of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). However, it’s hard to understand what a variant is and how it changes the virus. In this post, I wanted to introduce PyMOL, a program that students have access to through the University. This program can be used to see what the spike protein and its mutations actually look like.

But first, here’s some background on SARS-CoV-2: COVID-19 is a disease caused by a strain of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus gets inside the human cells by using something called a spike protein. This spike protein binds to a receptor on the human cell called the ACE2 receptor, and this allows the virus to infiltrate the cell. The variants of SARS-CoV-2 that we keep hearing about typically have different mutations on the spike protein. In the case of the B.1.1.7 variant, which is a variant that is thought to be 30-50 percent more infectious than other variants in circulation, the mutations are at a location that allow the spike protein to bind better to the ACE2 receptor. If you bind better to the receptor, you’re better at infiltrating the cell. The spike is also the target of the vaccine and our natural immune system.

Now, let’s try and look at where these mutations actually are.

This is an illustration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus published by the CDC. The spikes are in red, labeled with a white arrow.
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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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How to Make Progress on Your Lab-Thesis Outside of the Lab

When writing a research manuscript or a lab report, I have been conditioned to complete all of my experiments first and then start by writing the results section. My mentors have always encouraged me to start with the section that ‘writes itself’, given that when you obtain your experimental results, you cannot alter them. I started the school year thinking I would use this approach for my thesis – focus strictly on experiments during the fall and the start of spring semester and transition into the written portion of the thesis during late spring semester. However, while I was at home and outside of the lab between Thanksgiving break and early February, I knew I could not spend more than 2 months without thesis progress. Although I did not have my results nearly ready by that point, I began to brainstorm different ways in which I could work on my lab-based thesis without access to the lab. In this post, I will highlight ideas and resources that can help you make progress on your thesis, even while you are outside of the lab. 

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