I’ve handed in my thesis and my lab notebooks to my advisor. I’ve cleaned up the equipment I’ve piled in the corner of the methane sensor cabinet in the lab. I’ve explained my system, with all its lingering imperfections, to my group members. I’ve told them to give my lab screwdriver a new home.
That was how my time in the Princeton University Laser Sensing Lab came to a close. Graduation seems to be a time to celebrate all our successes, and to (already!) feel nostalgic for the good times we’ve had at Princeton. That’s natural. But after such a long and difficult journey, only remembering where I’ve gone right seems oddly one-sided. I wouldn’t be capturing some of the most important takeaways from Princeton if I only remembered the happy times.
I came to Princeton because I planned on being a research scientist, probably in academia. I knew what came next, and it was exciting: four years of undergrad, five years of PhD, and a two-year post-doc, so I could have a real job by the time I was 30. That meant I needed research experience, and boy oh boy did Princeton provide research experience.
Research is about exploring the unknown, and from the beginning I did just that. As a student in the Integrated Sciences Curriculum (ISC), I had to learn MATLAB, LaTeX, ImageJ, JAVA, and countless other acronyms and jargon. And I had to learn them fast, using them to solve problems and write about them, in an ordeal I described as “drinking the nectar of Olympus—from a fire hose.”
Over the past few weeks, Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer has received a lot of attention for his CV of Failures, in which he chronicles his lack of success in various academic pursuits. Many have called Professor Haushofer’s CV inspiring — because most of us rarely hear about the trials and tribulations of acclaimed individuals.
We also rarely hear about the trials and tribulations of graduating seniors. Our default is to view graduating seniors as 100% successful in all their endeavors, especially those who receive prestigious awards and fellowships. I thought it would be great to sit down with some award-winning members of the class of 2016 to hear their thoughts on the topic of failure.
Big thanks to seniors Andrew Nelson, Jack Mazzulo, and Cameron Bell for contributing to this conversation. But the conversation around failure doesn’t have to stop here! Consider reaching out to RCA’s, Peer Advisors, and friends to have meaningful conversations about success and failure.
Most Princeton students are worried about similar things. We covet internships as gateways to jobs after graduation. We seldom forget that graduate and professional school applications loom. We see post-grad options as neatly divided among four categories: corporate careers, graduate/professional degrees, fellowships, and (for a few) nonprofit work.
After five semesters at Princeton, this mentality has rubbed off on me. But my time studying in New Zealand has changed the way I see my options after graduation.
Two weeks ago, during my Easter break, I embarked on the Milford Walk, arguably New Zealand’s most famous hike. My favorite part of the four-day, three-night walk was the people I met along the way — Their experiences expanded what I saw as possible post-Princeton pathways. I met recent graduates from the United States, Israel, France, and Australia who were working abroad. Two Vanderbilt graduates worked in the hotel industry in Queenstown. A young woman from Pennsylvania took time to pursue art while working in the North Island’s tourism industry. A group of men who had finished serving in the Israeli Defense Force took a break before resuming life at home. Many of them moved to New Zealand without a set plan and used this work-travel time as a respite from college and professional life, where they could start to realize what kinds of careers really excited them.
I’m sure part of it is because I just turned in my thesis, the longest written work I’ve ever completed. Another part, I’m sure, is my recent decision to go to grad school for science writing. While I’ve always enjoyed writing, I still find it difficult enough that it’s strange and terrifying to think I may soon do it for a living.
But even if you’re not taking that crazy leap like me, writing is a necessary part of research (among many, many other things). And like every other skill, writing only gets better through practice. But how you practice matters, and so — while much of the advice below can be summed up as “just keep writing, all the time” — here are three particular strategies that have worked for me.
If you’re stuck, just keep writing. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to make sure you have the best outline (and writing really is easier when you’re fleshing out an outline instead of pushing ahead blindly without any guidance). But even an outline can sometimes feel like too big of a step when you’re faced with the blank page.
Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Jalisha shares her story.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about advisers and mentors, trying to determine whether a distinct difference exists between the two. From my personal musings, I’ve concluded that the two are very different — It seems mentors invest more time and energy into learning your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions so that they can help you succeed. I decided to ask around campus to see what other students had to say about the topic, and found that many others had similar opinions:
Sophomore Malachi Byrd said that advisers push you academically while mentors tend to meet you where you’re at.
Junior Kushal Dalal remarked that mentors take you under their wing and go beyond the role of an adviser.
Senior Dennisse Calle stated that, unlike advisers, mentors take every part of your life into account
These conversations made me question the relationships I’ve formed with Princeton professors. While I’ve had many wonderful advisers who have helped shaped me academically (and who I’m extremely grateful for), very few of these relationships felt personal enough to call them “mentors”.
The rapid loss of coral reefs is both heartbreaking and personal for me. I cannot visualize the future of coral reefs without feeling a tug of despair.
In January, I wrote about the heat wave that has devastated coral reefs in my home state of Hawaii since last year. Temperatures somewhat subsided in Hawaii over the winter, but summer has hit the Southern Hemisphere hard. What is now being called the 2014-2016 global bleaching event – the third and longest such event ever recorded – is taking a breathtaking toll around the world. Continue reading Confronting environmental tragedy
Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Bennett shares his story.
When I say “networking,” what do you think of?
Affluent, well-dressed extroverts? Annoying emails from the LinkedIn account you signed up for Freshman year (out of a vague sense of professional obligation)? Shallow, self-serving conversations? The old boys’ club?
There are a lot of negative associations that spring up around the word “networking.” And I understand that – there’s definitely something reflexively uncomfortable about conversations where the participants have ulterior motives. As someone who shuns both uncomfortable social interaction and formal wear, it would be understandable if I wrote networking off as an awkward, greedy affair.
But here’s the thing – that’s not what networking is.
One of the best ways I’ve heard it put goes as follows: what if instead of calling it “networking” we called it “learning from each other”?
Because that’s what networking is. And that’s why this post is part of the mentorship series – if you think of networking as finding and consulting mentors, it becomes a lot more approachable and a lot less uncomfortable.
Many Princeton students dream of attending graduate school, but don’t actually know much about the process, or what graduate school visits are like. Unlike school visits for prospective undergraduates, graduate school visits typically occur after you’ve applied but before you’ve been accepted into a graduate school program. Interviews and visits for graduate school happen simultaneously: if a school is interested in accepting you, you’ll be invited to a “prospective student weekend” where you’ll visit the campus while also interviewing for the program. I’ve spent a good portion of this semester visiting graduate schools around the country and have developed a list of helpful things to know before embarking on your first graduate school visit!
How would you like to travel to six of the country’s most famous National Parks for your senior thesis?
My friend Eve Barnett, a senior in the politics department, did just that. Eve, who also leads Outdoor Action trips and rock-climbs with the Princeton Climbing Team, found a way to combine her academic training with her love of the outdoors. Her thesis focuses on how the Park Service addresses a controversial issue within the climbing community: fixed anchors, metal bolts pushed into a cliff face for climbers to clip into. Should they be allowed in National Parks because they increase access, or banned because they’re a permanent change to the rock face? I sat down with Eve to learn more about her research journey.
How did you decide on a research topic? Was it related to your previous independent work?
It was totally unrelated! My fall JP was about international ocean conservation commissions, and my spring JP was about the different political experiences of high-income and low-income college students. I asked my thesis adviser what he thought about continuing with the college student project, but he recognized that it wasn’t really my project since it was a small portion of a professor’s ongoing research. He told me he believed my thesis topic should be something I have ownership of. So I started thinking, what do I love?