An Interview with Haider Abbas ’17: How to Make an Impactful Senior Thesis

As senior thesis season approaches, Haider Abbas offers advice that will help you produce a thoughtful, successful, and influential thesis.

Haider Abbas ‘17 is a Princeton alumni who recently published his inspirational senior thesis which he created while in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Many Princeton seniors are now beginning to dive deeper into their theses, therefore I think that hearing from Abbas would be very helpful. Thankfully, a few weeks ago, I was able to interview Abbas and he offered key insight into why he chose his thesis topic, how he was able to produce his thesis, and most significantly the impact that his thesis will have beyond his years at Princeton. I hope that you can learn from his experience and develop a thesis that you feel passionate about!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Preparing for your Senior Thesis Before your Senior Year: Tips on Funding your Research

My most recent post focused on gearing up towards your senior year and finding a thesis adviser. I decided to continue this mini “preparing for your senior thesis” series by providing some tips on funding your research! The infamous senior thesis is such a daunting thing to think about as a junior because it is not always clear how early you should begin to plan for it and what steps you should take. At the beginning of the year, I attended an information session through the Woodrow Wilson School regarding thesis research funding. During that meeting, the speakers told students that they should start working on applications for funding as soon as possible if they wanted to receive money for their endeavors.

The Student Activities Funding Engine (“SAFE”) offers many opportunities to apply for funding!

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Preparing for Academic Work in Foreign Languages

Last summer, I visited my native country, Honduras, for the first time in 10 years. Because I did not get to experience a lot of the culture while I was living there during my childhood, my family and I planned a trip across some of the most historically rich landmarks in the country, including the Mayan ruins. 

To learn the most during the trip, I knew I would have to complete some preliminary research on my own to acquaint myself with the history and culture in general, which of course meant reading research papers and articles in Spanish. I knew this task would be difficult, because despite the fact that I lived in Honduras for 10 years and had been speaking Spanish at home my entire life, I had never read or written academic work in Spanish. 

Whether you are reading sources in other languages, preparing to go abroad for research, or writing for a class or independent work in a foreign language, completing this task will be different than completing an assignment in English. In this post, I will highlight my two biggest take-aways on how to prepare to engage with scholarly work in another language. 

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Alone in Berlin: Making the Most out of my Unstructured Hospital Internship

Taking a photo on my last day with two 6th year medical students

This summer, I worked at a hospital in Berlin for an internship through the Summer Work Program (SWP), a German-department summer activity similar to IIP. As I walked in, I had no idea what department I was supposed to be in, who I was supposed to talk to, or what my responsibilities would be. I desperately introduced myself to people in varying colors of scrubs, hoping that someone would recognize my name as an intern who was supposed to be there. After a half hour I found a tiny HR office, and they loosely directed me to the general surgery department, where my new colleagues’ responses weren’t any more comforting: “Ah, hello Artem! Weren’t you supposed to arrive here next month?” (My name is not, in fact, Artem).

At this point I was worried – did I even have an internship this summer? After explaining to them that I was an intern from Princeton they finally realized who I was, and despite this initial bureaucratic nightmare, my experience turned out to be incredibly rewarding. In fact, in many ways, it was because of this lack of organization and structure that my internship felt special: in this post, I’ll explain how I catered my experience to my interests and what my days looked like at the hospital.

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The Senior Thesis: Start Early!

The infamous Senior Thesis is a source of stress and anxiety for many students. Although there are information sessions galore for juniors, I didn’t feel like I actually understood the process until I started it. This summer, I began my thesis research process by traveling to Norway to collect observational data on the country’s prison system.

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Summer Experiences: Gaining Perspective Through Interdisciplinary Research

I’ve known that I wanted to do science research since the age of sixteen, when I spent my first summer in a neuroscience lab. My time in the lab taught me many new skills and enabled me to immediately apply them to unsolved problems–what other summer job could be more interesting than that? Though my specific interests have shifted slightly (I’m now a chemical and biological engineer rather than a neuroscientist), I’ve devoted every summer since to benchwork of some sort.

Consequently, when I started to look for laboratory opportunities last year, I immediately gravitated towards biology research. I had loved the past three summers–why not experience another? In the winter, I applied to internships through Princeton’s International Internship Program (IIP), and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to study the mechanisms of Shigella (a bacterium that causes dysentery) infection at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. I accepted immediately, thrilled that I’d be spending my summer abroad–and on Princeton’s dime!

But as the year wore on, I started to consider what the added value of another summer of wet-lab research would be, especially since time constraints would limit my contribution. I felt like was narrowing in on my chosen field too early. Wouldn’t I be bored?

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Post-Princeton Life: An Interview with Bennett McIntosh ’16

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Nanako shares her interview.

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In my last post, I wrote about how to get the most out of your short-term research internship. In this post, I provide some more insight I got about how to get the most out of my summer internship— this time from a more credible source: a Princeton alumnus. I interviewed Bennett McIntosh ’16, who used to write for PCUR, about his Princeton research experience.

Here’s a bit about Bennett:

Bennett McIntosh ’16 studied chemistry at Princeton and is currently a freelance science writer.

Bennett McIntosh is a freelance science writer and reporter living in Boston, covering the intersections of scientific research, technological change, and social welfare. He is currently helping to relaunch Science for the People, a magazine of science and politics whose first iteration grew out of the 1960s anti-war movement.  While studying chemistry at Princeton, he wrote opinion columns for the Daily Princetonian, science stories for Innovation, and lousy jokes for the Princeton University Band.

 

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Going on a Research-Intensive Study Abroad: Oxford-Princeton Biochemistry Exchange

As a sophomore, I’ve finally started to get better at navigating Princeton, and there are many perks that come with that. But at the same time, this is when things can start to feel monotonous. During the winter, I started to look for ways to rid myself of this feeling, and one of the ways that I thought of was to study abroad. This week, I decided to interview Leslie Chan, a junior in the molecular biology department, about her experience going abroad to Oxford University in her junior fall.

The Oxford-Princeton Biochemistry Exchange is a program where selected juniors from the molecular biology department exchange places with an Oxford student for a semester and do research in a laboratory setting — it’s distinctive in that the students don’t take classes at Oxford, but rather become full-time lab members at a Biochemistry laboratory at Oxford. You still get transfer credit though, so you get to graduate on time!

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Class Trip to Japan: Immersive Experiences, Changing Topics, and the Importance of Reflection

This year, I spent my spring break traveling around Japan with my art history seminar course, ART 429 Visual Japan: Past and Present. It was an absolutely transformative experience, both academically and personally. I’m here to share a little bit about how I learned to use experiences to inspire research and find answers through reflection.

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Trust the Qualitative: An interview with Sheila Pontis about Field Research

When we think of academic research, we often think of libraries or labs. We might imagine flipping through books, reading articles, or running lab experiments, but there is a branch of research that looks much different than this. In fact, it looks like the real world.

This branch is field research. Researchers from various fields apply this method of research, but in this post, I’ll be focusing on field research in design. Design is a big field with a wild range of applications. Design spans from information design (think infographics, instructions, maps) all the way to User Interface design (think apps and websites), but what’s at the root of design is a need to communicate effectively with people and facilitate understanding. The goal in design is to create systems that are effective–ones that work for their users. Accordingly, when designers conduct field research, they go out in the world and record qualitative data on people’s needs and experiences: What information are they searching for? What do they want out of a product? What parts of the current product are helpful? Which are frustrating and confusing?

In this interview, Sheila Pontis, a lecturer in the Keller Center, talks about her work and encourages designers and student researchers to embrace field research and trust qualitative data.

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