Behind the Scenes at Princeton Research Day: A Call for Student Judges

Last year, I was invited to be a judge for Princeton Research Day (PRD) as a veteran of the Mary W. George Freshman Research Conference.  If there was one thing I loved about this conference, it was hearing my peers’ interesting research conclusions. I was excited to see this happen on an even larger scale at PRD, but I was also nervous; I felt that I had little authority to judge the work of upperclassmen (and graduate students!) with only a semester’s worth of experience under my belt. However, the event organizers were incredibly encouraging in this respect, valuing our nonspecialist input.

One of several poster presentations taking place at Frist!

Before PRD, the judges held a brief meeting to go over logistics and judging criteria. I felt that, rather than encouraging harsh criticism, the criteria really emphasized the purpose of PRD as a celebration and opportunity to share the hard work done by Princeton researchers. Scores were mostly based on how well people could relay information, translate their complex findings (no chart goes unexplained!), and engage an audience that has no experience in their field. This criteria eased a lot of my apprehension: I might not be able to judge the correctness of a data set, or rebut conclusions about culture in Georgian England, but I can judge how well these were communicated to me.

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Lessons from Princeton’s Day of Action

Over the past few months, students and academics across the Princeton campus community have been reckoning with the new reality of America under the Trump presidency. To encourage productive post-election dialogue, the Princeton Citizen Scientists sponsored a Day of Action last Monday, March 6th. The Day of Action brought together hundreds of students, faculty, and community members for dialogue with teach-ins on topics ranging from Intersectional Activism to Science in the Public Sphere. Local organizations like the Citizens Climate Lobby and the Coalition for Peace Action also tabled for the event.

My involvement with the Day of Action began early in the morning, as I was walking to class when I noticed a woman carrying a large basket of books and pamphlets near my room. We chatted on our way to Frist, where she was tabling with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network that organizes white people to fight with multi-racial minorities for social change. After I showed her to the campus center, I cocooned myself in a library to prepare for my own teach-in at the Day of Action, “Making Political Disagreement Productive: Mitigating Confirmation Bias.”

Participants at my teach-in during the Day of Action. Photo by Jonathan Balkind.

My teach-in was the first time I had presented my thesis to a public group. The motivation? Partisan antipathy and political polarization has doubled among both Democrats and Republicans, with about forty percent of members of each party reporting “very unfavorable” opinions of the other. Polarization exacerbates unproductive political disagreement, as partisans succumb to confirmation bias and immediately discount positions counter to their own. I presented lessons from psychology and philosophy to explore the causes of, and possible mitigants to self-serving political bias.

Sharing space on the Day of Action program with names like Cornel West and Max Weiss, I expected only a handful of people at most to attend my teach-in. I was stunned–and happy– when I entered the room to find a full audience of students, professors, and community members. During my ~20 minute presentation, I was interrupted often by questions. When I couldn’t come up with answers, I found new angles to examine my own work from.

The discussion flowed freely after my talk. People from Tennessee and Missouri shared personal stories and advice about engaging with their family members about politics. A conservative student and a liberal professor of Religion had a wonderful exchange about the need to reach across the aisle to those from the other side who are willing to listen. A Princeton resident alerted me about a political discussion project in the town library, and another student pointed me to a book that I’ve since found helpful in my work. My experience at the teach-in embodied the collective knowledge-sharing that the organizers of the Day of Action were aiming for.

I left the room buzzing with energy and thankful that I had decided, on a whim, to participate in the event.  I had spent so long discussing my thesis only with a few professors and friends that I had not realized how valuable publicly presenting it could be for my thought process and motivation. Seeing my academic research received with such enthusiasm in a collaborative environment reaffirmed my desire to continue pursuing the offshoots of my thesis work after graduation. Consider presenting or participating in a future Day of Action or finding other ways to showcase your academic work on campus too, like the annual Princeton Research Day each spring.
— Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent

Princeton Research Day: Spotlight on Costume Designer Julia Peiperl ’17

Princeton Research Day (PRD) is an annual celebration of the research and creative endeavors by Princeton undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The campus-wide event serves as an opportunity for researchers to share their work with the community and includes research from the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, the arts and humanities. In this post series, PCUR correspondents cover a range of topics relating to PRD and highlight the valuable lessons this event has to offer.

This year, PRD will be taking place on Thursday, May 11, 2017. You can learn more about participating in or attending Princeton Research Day by visiting the official PRD website here.

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The idea of research often conjures up images of scientists with microscopes and lab coats. But, for many researchers, the process looks very different. Take theater student Julia Peiperl ’17, for example. Rather than wearing the coat, she designs it.

An example of the research that went into Julia’s designs for Elektra.

“Lots of people don’t realize how much research goes into theatrical design,” she told me as we sat down to chat about her experiences at Princeton Research Day last May. Presenting on her costume designs for the Lewis Center’s February 2016 production of Sophocles’ Elektra — which she had developed in a class on Advanced Theatrical Design — she hoped to showcase the detail and research that goes into such a creative endeavor. As an actor in the play, I was excited to learn more.

As a maid in the Greek Chorus, I was lucky enough to wear one of Julia’s costumes!

 

Clothing, after all, tells worlds about a person. A costume designer may spend weeks or months researching images that suggest a time period, an archetype, or even an emotion. For Elektra, a Greek tragedy, Julia found inspiration in the image of a 1950s “brush doll” provided to her by the lead actress: brush on the bottom, doll on the top. Much like a document might inspire a historian to turn to the archives, this image led Julia to do more pictorial research, eventually settling on a time period (the 1950s) and a color scheme (pastels). After designs were presented to the show’s director, they were given to the Lewis Center Costume Shop to make a reality. This was not the end. In the coming weeks, just as a researcher continues to make changes and discoveries throughout the writing process, Julia worked with each cast member to refine the pieces and make them comfortable to wear. For my character — a maid in the two-person Greek Chorus — the director wanted me to seem “otherworldly.” Hoping to convey this through aesthetics, Julia would bring in new costume and makeup ideas, even in the few days leading up to the show.

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Presenting at Princeton Research Day 2017!

Princeton Research Day (PRD) is an annual celebration of the research and creative endeavors by Princeton undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The campus-wide event serves as an opportunity for researchers to share their work with the community and includes research from the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, the arts and humanities. In this post series, PCUR correspondents cover a range of topics relating to PRD and highlight the valuable lessons this event has to offer.

This year, PRD will be taking place on Thursday, May 11, 2017. You can learn more about participating in or attending Princeton Research Day by visiting the official PRD website here.

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This May will mark the second Princeton Research Day (PRD), a campus-wide celebration of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research. PRD allows researchers and artists to hone their presentation skills and share their work with the campus community, with the chance of winning awards for excellent presentations.

In anticipation of this year’s application cycle, I asked three students who participated in the inaugural PRD last year about their experiences. I interviewed Allison Simi, a graduate student in CBE who won the Gold Research Talk Award last year, PCUR alumni Stacey Huang ’16 who presented an electrical engineering project, and Jared Lockwood ’19, the only freshman to present.

Kujegi Camara ’16 presents work at the first annual Princeton Research Day. 

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SUBMIT to Tortoise, Princeton’s Journal of Writing Pedagogy!

Tortoise is an annual journal that publishes excerpts from Princeton undergraduate and graduate student research, featuring interdisciplinary work that emphasizes the writing process. With Tortoise’s “early action*” deadline coming up on December 16th at 5 PM, I sat down with senior editor Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar to learn what the journal is about.

The Tortoise staff! L-R: Harrison Blackman, Myrial Holbrook, Ron Martin Wilson, Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar, Ryan Vinh, Regina Zeng, Natalie Berkman,
The Tortoise staff! L-R: Harrison Blackman, Myrial Holbrook, Ron Martin Wilson, Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar, Ryan Vinh, Regina Zeng, Natalie Berkman.

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On Action and Optimism: Notes from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium

In the summer of 2016, it is difficult to find optimism in the field of environmental science.

Yet last month, I gathered with a throng of 2,500 coral reef scientists for the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu. Knowing the extent of the tragic coral bleaching and death that has unfolded on coral reefs this year, I expected a week of doom and gloom. But, to my surprise, the conference gave me more cause for hope than for pessimism.

A wasteland of dead coral on Lizard Island, the Great Barrier Reef, this June. High temperatures have caused record bleaching and coral death this year.
A wasteland of dead coral on Lizard Island, the Great Barrier Reef, this May. High temperatures have caused record coral bleaching and death this year.

This is not because the situation facing coral reefs is any better than I’d thought – if anything, it’s worse. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations, warming waters, and stagnant politics have put the biodiversity of coral reefs, along with many other ecosystems, into a sharp decline. On the Great Barrier Reef – a vibrant ecosystem so structurally significant that, unlike the Great Wall of China, it can be seen from space – nearly 25% of coral is dead, from this year’s bleaching alone. At one panel at ICRS, researchers shared photographs and time-lapse footage of coral bleaching and subsequent death around the world. As they flicked through photo after photo, the conference hall adopted the atmosphere of a funeral.

No, things are not looking good for coral reefs, or for many other ecosystems struggling to keep up with the whirlwind of environmental change that stems from human overpopulation, consumption, and industrialization. One scientist, Peter Sale, called coral reefs a “canary” in the proverbial coal mine that is our changing earth. “There are a whole bunch of canaries that are at risk,” Dr. Sale said. “And when the canaries go, our civilization goes.” Continue reading On Action and Optimism: Notes from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium

Moving Out: A Nostalgic Reminder of the Power of Research Stories

Although I was very excited to be done with finals, I was definitely not-so-thrilled about packing and storing my things before summer. After discovering that we lose access to our rooms two days earlier than expected, I’ve had to ‘prepone’ my packing plans (aka I realized that I needed to start packing early). So, in the midst of finals, I decided to take a study break and start cleaning out my desk so that I didn’t have to pull an all-nighter after my last final (which would be dreadfully ironic).

While going through my drawers I found something that I hadn’t actually seen since move-in day of freshman year: a hand-made lidden mini-basket. It took me a few seconds to remember how I had obtained it, but when it came to me, I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia.

The Rwandan hand-made basket that reminded me of an incredibly moving story I heard two summers ago.

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Five Reasons to Download Mendeley Desktop!

As thesis season draws to a close, the last group of seniors are proofreading their final drafts and preparing for the moment they become #PTL forever! Often, the very last thing seniors review is their very, very long bibliography. Bibliographic sources are primarily used in literature reviews, which summarize the relevant work and background in a field. While bibliographies may serve as the last page of theses and research papers, they can also prove to be a huge headache for the researcher who has neglected them. Among several other potential issues, missing in-text citations and/or incorrectly citing sources can negatively impact the credibility of a research paper. Keeping an organized bibliography throughout the whole research process can work wonders to prevent this kind of confusion.

Two summers ago, I learned this lesson firsthand when I spent hours trying to find and cite sources for the intro section of a chemistry research paper. My lab supervisor suggested I download an application called Mendeley Desktop, and it has probably ended up saving me hundreds of hours since then.

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Imagine trying to cite all of these sources by hand! With the help of Mendeley, you won’t have to!

Mendeley is an online and desktop program that lets users upload research papers, publications, journals, etc. and manage them in an organized library. It is probably best known for its referencing features, which help users generate citations by simply uploading the relevant research papers. In high school, that’s what I primarily used Mendeley for; my research partners and I created our own account where we stored all of the relevant literature in one library. But just last week, I re-downloaded the latest version of Mendeley and was pleased to see some awesome new features. Below, I’ve detailed the top 5 features that I find most useful:

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Princeton Research Day: Something for Everyone

Looking through the recently released program for Princeton Research Day, I am reminded that research is not just conducted by people in lab coats. It is conducted by everyone.

The 162 projects represent over 50 departments and programs. Nearly 200 dfr_pfd_newsletter_masthead_4x6undergrads, grad students, and postdocs will present — everyone from artists to biologists to computer scientists to sociologists to policy makers. And that’s not to mention all the interdisciplinary overlap!

I know that we are all busy this Reading Period, writing papers and studying for exams. But give Research Day a chance! There is such value in stepping away from our own work to appreciate the passion and dedication that these students are putting into theirs. I’m not going to push any one project on you. But, why not take a look for yourself? Skim the program and see if any presentations spark your interest. Come see a few of them as a well-deserved study break on May 5th. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a topic you never knew you liked. I can promise you that, at the very least, you’ll learn something new by attending #PRD16.

— Dylan Blau Edelstein, Humanities Correspondent

Do’s and Don’ts for Research Writing

Don't let bad grammar plague your writing!
Don’t let bad grammar plague your writing!

In the thick of doing research, it’s easy to forget about the ultimate goal of writing and publishing. Thankfully, about once a month, the Princeton University Laser Sensing Lab holds what we call a “literature review”: Everyone brings in papers they’ve come across for their own research, and shares techniques that could be useful for the group at large.

At our last meeting, someone changed things up. Instead of bringing in a paper that contained interesting ideas, he brought one that he declared “the worst paper I’ve ever read”.

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