Through Thick and Thin: Going over PSETs during Remote Learning

Getting PSETs done over Zoom can be a combination of awkward and challenging. To assist with that task, fellow PCUR Correspondent Ryan Champeau recently wrote a post with suggestions for working on PSETs in the age of remote learning. A great tip in that article is to collaborate with friends when permitted under a course’s collaboration policy. However, given that students can’t meet in person to work on assignments anymore, I’ve found the process of checking over PSETs to be a bit more difficult than usual.

Specifically, I’m taking QCB 455, an introductory course to quantitative and computational biology in which there are four total problem sets. As a neuroscience major in a class filled with computer science majors and some graduate students, I didn’t really know many people in the course. Going over the first PSET with people I didn’t know over Zoom felt a bit strange, but I’ve since found that there are actually a few benefits to going over PSETs that are specific to the remote experience. In this post, I’ll go over the three strategies I’ve started to use when collaborating on PSETs for my classes:

Photo by Max. G.
One of my favorite places to get PSETs done back when students were on campus – the couch at the heart of Murray-Dodge Café.
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Turning a Laboratory-Based Research Proposal into a Remote Project

Last spring semester, I was completing my junior independent work in a bioengineering lab on campus. My project was lab-heavy, as I was investigating the extent of DNA damage (measured as type and frequency of breaks occurring in the DNA) that occurs in persister subpopulations (cell populations with non-inherited tolerance to antibiotics) of E.Coli cells when treated with antibiotics and other DNA damaging agents. I had prepared a series of experiments to test these conditions, most of which would be performed after returning from spring break. However, those plans changed in March, when students were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Like many other lab researchers, I was left with incomplete experiments and an upcoming deadline to present my work. Independent research for the chemical and biological engineering (CBE ) department is only one semester long, and I spent most of the first half of the semester doing literature review, planning experiments and learning lab techniques. With only eight weeks left before my final paper and presentation deadline, I worried about the possibility of having to change my entire research topic into something that could be completed remotely. However, along with the lead researcher of the lab, or principal investigator (PI), and graduate student mentor, we developed a plan to easily transition the project I had already been working on into a remote project. In this post, I will give tips on how to conduct laboratory research remotely.

Conducting laboratory-heavy research remotely can be challenging. However, due to the collaborative nature of research, a laboratory project can successfully be modified to be conducted remotely.
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Doing Research Projects in the Wake of COVID-19

Recently, we’ve all had to do our best to adapt our coursework, extracurriculars, and past times to a remote format. Some activities – like hands-on research in a lab – may be difficult, or even impossible, to do over Zoom. For those of you looking to fill the gap, hackathons may be the solution. Hackathons are short programming events designed for students to learn new skills, meet new people, develop solutions to everyday problems, and win prizes. And because of the COVID-19 situation, many hackathons are turning virtual

To hear a little more about what exactly hackathons are and who they might be a good fit for, I interviewed Princeton sophomore and Director of the TechTogether New York hackathon, Soumya Gottipati. For those of you who have recently hard your internships canceled, Soumya also let me know about internship opportunities you might be interested in!

Hackathons often involve coding, but coding experience isn’t needed!
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Graduate School Application Process (Part I): Deciding to Apply

This semester, as I return to writing for PCUR, I will be publishing a series of posts describing my experience with the graduate school application process, applying to a variety of developmental psychology PhD programs. Throughout the process, I was fortunate enough to have guidance from my independent work adviser and other senior members of my research lab on campus. However, even with this support, I often found that the process was incredibly opaque. I spent hours searching for answers to seemingly simple questions, often never coming to a definitive conclusion. I hope to use this series of posts to shed some light on the many facets of the process. Although I can only speak to my personal experience, I hope to provide valuable information that can be helpful to students from a variety of disciplines.

The author posing with a picture book she wrote for her thesis study. She spent the summer before her senior year working in her lab full-time to collect data.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of the application process itself, the first step is deciding whether or not you want to go to graduate school in the first place. Graduate school, especially PhD programs, are long, so before you commit to spending up to 6 years in a program, it is important to make sure grad school is the right path for you.

Continue reading Graduate School Application Process (Part I): Deciding to Apply

Securing Funding to Attend a Conference

In a recent post, I wrote about submitting an extended version of my R3 to the Gender, Work, and Organization Conference in the United Kingdom. Although I’m very excited to attend the conference, a new challenge has recently presented itself to me: securing funding.

In this post, I’ll detail some of my experiences finding funding for my conference. Considering that many of you have recently applied for Princeton Research Day and may be considering submitting your manuscripts for publication in a journal or for a conference, I hope this post is helpful!

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Preparing for a Lab-Heavy Semester

As I began choosing my courses for next semester, I knew I had to take CBE core lab, as this is a requirement for the concentration during the spring semester of junior year. In addition, I was really excited about conducting independent work in a new bioengineering lab, which I am hoping will be the lab that I stay in for my senior thesis. With both 7 hours of core lab per week and an expectation of 20 hours of independent work per week, I know I will be spending a lot of time in the lab next semester, so I have started to prepare for that. If you are also taking core lab while doing independent work, or if you are enrolled in multiple lab-courses, such as chemistry, molecular biology and physics at the same time, you will likely need to plan ahead. In this post, I will offer tips on how to prepare for a lab-heavy semester: 

Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite (2013)
Lab hours can quickly add up, especially if you are not organized with your time. Begin planning your schedule for a lab-heavy semester early in order to set your own expectations for you project.
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Finding Funding for Unpaid Internships

We spend a lot of time finding and deciding what internships and jobs to pursue over the summer. There are quite a few posts on this blog alone that help with that process, including this one. After exploring my options, I think I know what I’ll be doing this summer: staying on campus to do research in a neuroscience lab (an experience I’ll talk more about in a future post).

However, knowing what I’ll be doing this summer isn’t all there is to finalizing my summer plans. For one, I don’t know how my experience will actually be funded. Second, I’m unsure where I’ll be staying for the duration of my research.

To better finalize my plans, I turned to SAFE, the Student Activities Funding Engine. SAFE is a website where students can apply for funding for internships and other activities. In addition to finding a relevant funding source for my summer plans, I came across many other interesting funding opportunities for students who have secured unpaid internships over the summer. I’ve gone ahead and summarized a few of them below.

The Student Activities Funding Engine Website (SAFE)
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Research on Campus: Not Just for Juniors and Seniors!

Colleges like Princeton love to brag about their high rates of student involvement in research: our admissions pamphlets are peppered with student testimonials about the accessibility of professors and the university’s commitment to undergraduate research. But although Princeton does provide incredible resources, doing research with professors doesn’t always feel accessible. Especially as a first-year or sophomore student, it can be challenging to find research opportunities outside of classes (except during the summer).

As a first-year student, I definitely felt this pressure in the fall semester. I knew I wanted to be a part of research on campus as soon as possible, but I worried that no professor would want to work with me. After all, I was less experienced than many older students, and as a CBE major, I knew that quantitative and technical skills were of paramount importance in my field. Though I was afraid of being ignored (or worse, rejected!) by professors, I decided to reach out anyway. I emailed my MOL214 professor (who runs a lab in CBE) hoping that he would help give me an introduction to the department. When I went to his office for a simple discussion, he ended up offering me a position, and I’ve been working in his lab ever since! Continue reading Research on Campus: Not Just for Juniors and Seniors!

Staying Up-to-Date with Lab Literature Readings

Lab readings can be less time consuming than simply opening up a science journal and reading through every abstract for papers relevant to your research! 

When beginning a new lab project, whether it is a summer internship, independent work, or a senior thesis, your mentors will likely present you with academic papers relevant to your topic. This will help you begin to frame your experiments and the overarching goals of your research.

But once you understand enough background to begin, staying up to date with recent papers can be difficult, especially when you are balancing course work, extracurriculars, and other commitments in addition to planning and conducting experiments. In my experience, I found it difficult to sit down and do broad scholarly searches on a research topic as I first did when starting a new project. However, strategies such as using library resources and speaking with others in the department facilitated this process. In this post, I will give tips on how to stay current with laboratory news and advances, specifically with STEM research. 

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Working as a Latino History Research Assistant: An Interview with Emily Sanchez ’22

While students usually choose to seek research internships over the summer, some research opportunities are also available during the semester, such as working under a professor or graduate student to aid with their academic research. However, among these choices, it may often feel like there are especially limited research opportunities available for students pursuing majors in the humanities or social sciences. We often imagine research assistants as collecting and analyzing statistical data, examining Petri dishes in a lab, developing computer programs, and so forth, and so we may be more skeptical as to what kind of research non-STEM majors could possibly partake in. 

To learn more about research opportunities during the semester in the humanities and social sciences, I interviewed Emily Sanchez ’22, who is currently working as a research assistant under Professor Rosina Lozano. Professor Lozano, an Associate Professor of History at Princeton, specializes in Latino history and the study of Latino cities in the U.S. As a research assistant, Emily has been examining 19th-century Spanish newspapers from the Southwest to understand more about the historical ties between ethnic Mexicans and indigenous communities in the region. 

Here’s what Emily shared about her experience as a research assistant: 

Continue reading Working as a Latino History Research Assistant: An Interview with Emily Sanchez ’22