Presenting Like a Pro: Three Tips for the Freshmen Research Conference and Princeton Research Day

Often, the second half of the semester calls for students to present their research findings in class, or in front of professors/advisers evaluating independent work. Presentations are a different kind of assignment than, say, fifteen-page research papers — and they require a different set of skills. At this time last year, I found myself facing a new and unexpected presentation project: My fall writing seminar professor had asked me to revisit my final research paper and present it at the Quin Morton ‘36 Conference.

Engaging your audience during a presentation can seem like a daunting task, but with some thoughtful preparation, you’ll be sure to command their attention.

Now called the Mary W. George Freshmen Research Conference, this event is an opportunity for freshmen to share their writing seminar research with a wider audience through ten-minute presentations. I encountered many challenges while breaking down my paper—a feminist perspective on evaluations of sexuality in films— into slides and bullet points. However, I also learned a lot about presentations through the process. While this year’s participants are gearing up for the conference in early April, students presenting at Princeton Research Day are in the midst of similar preparation. In light of these upcoming events, and since many students will have to present their research as spring semester comes to a close, I have decided to offer some advice on research presentations. Below I throw in my two (three) cents on the topic.

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Fighting Imposter Syndrome and Finding My Confidence at Princeton

Even though they said I belonged, I felt like I was hiding a flawed interior - that I was an imposter among the many high achievers.
Even though they said I belonged, I felt like they had only seen the veneer over a flawed interior – that I was an imposter among the many high achievers.

When I was a freshman, President Shirley Tilghman stood on the stage in McCarter Theater and told us, a crowd of alert and excited newly enrolled students: “If you’re wondering whether you belong here, you do. We don’t make mistakes.”

I wanted very hard to believe that. I was in awe of all of my classmates who seemed so talented and brilliant. I loved talking to them, but at the end of the day, I felt inadequate. I spent a lot of time wondering whether President Tilghman’s words really applied to me.

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Q&A with HackPrinceton Directors

Every year, students across the country come to campus for HackPrinceton, the biannual hackathon event that boasts thousands of visitors. While I’ve never attended a hackathon in my life, quite a few of my friends attend them regularly. They gather in small teams to work on technology and engineering projects (colloquially called “hacking”) at the event, which culminates in group presentations of the projects they’ve created. I’ve noticed that the hackers who are involved in research or entrepreneurship find the hackathon experience especially rewarding. So, this spring, I plan to try out my first hackathon at HackPrinceton. In preparation for the April 1-3 session. I decided to learn a little more about hackathons and how they relate to research in general.

Here’s a snippet of my Q&A with 2015-16 HackPrinceton Directors Zach Liu ’18 and Monica Shi ’18, who helped run the incredibly successful HackPrinceton Fall 2015.

A great perk of being a HackPrinceton competitor – lots of free swag! Swag Credit to Monica!

Me (Kavi): What exactly is a Hackathon?

Monica: Essentially it’s an event where people come together to think of and build projects. Traditionally, these projects are divided between software and hardware, but there are hackathons for other things – like design projects. It’s a great way for people to learn about programming and technology by getting together with a group of like-minded students to build a project for 24-36 hours. It’s kind of like a marathon where you have any and all the materials you need to build your project. The hackathon organizers will do their best to make sure you’re able to hack with all the resources you need – including all the food you need to keep you satisfied. At the end, teams get feedback from a panel of judges, and the top projects win awesome prizes!
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Are We Robots or Are We Dancers?

Princeton’s Dance Department and Robotics Program might seem like polar opposites to the average student: The former attracts the most creative and artistically inclined of the student body while the latter is deeply math-science oriented. Over the past three weeks, however, I have seen one student challenge these assumptions by bridging the arts-science divide.

Dana Fesjian ’17 is an undergraduate in the Electrical Engineering (ELE) Department, who is participating in a Lewis Center for the Arts initiative called Performance Lab. Known informally as P-Lab, this initiative allows dancers to explore independent work that connects dance with a different field. The culmination of this exploration is a performance in early March where the participants showcase their choreography and explain their independent work. Dana—whom I dance with in Princeton University Ballet—is using sound-sensitive robots to create dance movements and patterns that will eventually be performed by humans. She asked me to be one of the dancers in her project and I happily agreed to do so.

Dana’s robots reacted to sound signals from a jazz song to map out the pattern above. In her P-Lab piece, the dancers will trace this exact pattern and five other ones created using different songs.

Throughout our rehearsals over the past three weeks, I have had the chance to learn more about Dana’s independent work, and decided to cover her experience for my post this week.

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#ResearchGoals: The Story of Football Star and Mathematician John Urschel

I have so much respect for the professional football players who sacrifice so much for their team and fans. But, after reading one particular story, I've started to respect football players for reasons beyond their on-field performances.
I have so much respect for the professional football players who sacrifice so much for their team and fans. But, after reading one particular story, I’ve started to respect football players for reasons beyond their on-field performances.

Over intercession break, I went back home to Charlotte – which is probably the happiest city in America right now. Our very own Carolina Panthers just punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, something the franchise hasn’t accomplished in over 10 years. The day after we clinched our Super Bowl berth, I was laying in bed watching football analysts apologize for estimating the Panthers, when a headline caught my eye. “Ravens’ John Urschel Accepted into PhD program at MIT”. It was one of those tiny headlines in the news ticker, and not a story they were actually covering. So I went on my computer and sure enough, there it was. Baltimore Ravens center John Urschel was just accepted into MIT’s PhD program in mathematics to study spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra, and machine learning. Now, having talked to some of my own math professors about their research, I know how difficult it is to do novel research in such advanced topics, especially in the seemingly inaccessible world that is math. But to do all of that while enduring the physical and mental pressures of playing football for an NFL team? I couldn’t believe it.

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LAST CHANCE to be in Princeton Research Day!

By now, you might have seen posters, social media advertisements, and even blog posts by Stacey and Melissa about Princeton Research Day this May. Princeton Research Day is a university-wide “research fair”: a day for students to present their research and learn about others’ work. PRD is for student research at all levels– whether a freshman seminar paper or a senior thesis project. The application deadline is THIS FRIDAY at 5 pm, so I wanted to write a post about the value of PRD and the ease of the application!

This could be you if you apply NOW to present at Princeton Research Day!

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The Project That Made Me a Researcher: 8 Things Infancy Teaches Us About Research

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project That Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Bennett shares his story.

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This is hardly the conventional idea of a research project: for one thing, I don’t remember it, and it’s hardly a lab or an archive project. But, unlike the writing seminar paper I wrote on Osama bin Laden, or my first lab experience with yeast genetics, this is a project every PCUR reader has gone through. So here’s baby Bennett, to take you through the first and most exciting research project any of us has participated in: discovering the world as an infant.

1. Bury Yourself In The Literature

I don’t mean that literally, silly.

You can’t start a research project without a deep background on the question you’re asking in the first place. That’s pretty difficult for an illiterate baby: the best I could do was crawl into the papers in my Dad’s briefcase, and hope some knowledge rubbed off, or that I would at least get a better understanding of how the world around me was shaped. If you’re literate, then you’ve got a huge advantage: read everything you can (even if you don’t understand it all at first – we’ll get to that later).

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The Rewards of Discussing Research

One of the most memorable experiences from my high school years was being the chief editor of a student-run research journal that my classmates and I founded. The journal, named the Broad Street Scientific (after a neighboring street), was in its 3rd year when I became chief editor. It showcased some of the most innovative and insightful research projects conducted by students at the school across a wide range of disciplines.

The Volume of the Broad Street Scientific that we published during my senior year.
The volume of the Broad Street Scientific that we published during my senior year.

What I enjoyed most about running the publication was the opportunity to both learn about authors’ research and help authors showcase their research at the same time. Proofreading people’s research papers made me more knowledgeable (beyond just the surface level) on a wide array of research fields, ranging from nanomedicine to hydroelectricity. But after a few weeks of reading over research papers, I caught myself falling asleep on the job. The papers were still super interesting, but editing them alone wasn’t a very engaging process.

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5 research lessons from Social Media Day (as illustrated by the PU Art Museum)

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“You’ve got to be kidding me.” (Detail of The Four Evangelists by Abraham Bloemaert)

That’s probably your face as you read this title. To be sure, our typical experiences with research usually have little to nothing to do with social media. But we have to remember that, at the end of the day, research is interesting because of its power to change lives. It’s our job as researchers to show how that can happen — by making our work accessible and relevant. And who knows how to be accessible and relevant better than social media experts?

Somewhat surprisingly, that’s where art comes in. Princeton’s recent Social Media Day started with an interactive demonstration—an early morning tour of the collection in Princeton University Art Museum, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Chief Digital Officer, Sree Sreenivasan, offering tips on how to share art on social media. This tour was modeled after the “#emptymet” tours that showcase the Met’s artwork online, which helps maintain public interest in the works.

So taking a page out of that book, let’s recap the best quotes from Social Media Day, as illustrated by artwork from the Princeton University Art Museum.

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Speak to the World: Communicate your work to others at Princeton Research Day

The audience for your research is the world.
The audience for your research is, quite literally, the world.

By now, you’ve probably received one of the numerous campus-wide emails promoting Princeton Research Day, a new initiative by the University to celebrate student research right here in the Orange Bubble. I must admit that even though I spend a large amount of time talking about my own research for the PCUR blog, I was initially hesitant to apply. It’s odd to think that I feel more pressure having to present my work in layman’s terms to the larger university community compared to presenting to the professors in my department for a grade!

Still, when I stepped back and considered the number of times I’ve talked about my thesis in regular conversation, I felt reassured that I’d be prepared for Princeton Research Day. As a senior, I’ve noticed the standard ice-breaker among my classmates has become “So what are you doing for your thesis?” Even though my thesis is certainly something that’s constantly on my mind, I still have to think about the best way to describe my work in 10 seconds to make it interesting enough for a conversation. It’s hard to get into all the details and nuances of a continuously evolving project (that I’ll spend the entire academic year working on!) while highlighting what’s important and relevant about it.

I think that’s really why Princeton Research Day is appealing to me. This is what research is all about  conveying your work to peers and fellow researchers, who often might not have a good idea of why you’re doing what you are. Continue reading Speak to the World: Communicate your work to others at Princeton Research Day