Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: A Conversation with Kristin Schwab ’09

This semester, each PCUR will interview a Princeton alumnus from their home department about his/her experience writing a senior thesis. In Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Alumni Perspectives, the alumni reveal how conducting independent research at Princeton influenced them academically, professionally and personally. Here, Zoe shares her interview.

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Kristin with her hosts at a church service in Accra, Ghana, in 2008.

At Princeton, Kristin Schwab ‘09 was a year-round student-athlete: a striker on the field hockey team, a midfielder on the lacrosse team, and an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major with interests in medicine and global health. Her independent work on Ghanaian vaccine policy took her halfway around the world, and ignited a passion that continues to shape her work and career.

I relate to Kristin’s path: I also compete year-round (on the cross-country and track teams), and I’ve also done fieldwork abroad for my senior thesis in EEB. Listening to Kristin reflect, I heard some familiar themes – the role of athletics in shaping her Princeton experience, the challenge and meaning she found in fieldwork. Yet Kristin also shared a refreshing perspective on how research has continued to shape her career and personal growth, even now, 8 years after handing in her thesis. Continue reading Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: A Conversation with Kristin Schwab ’09

Live Uncertainty- Learning Abroad in Brazil

I spent my fall break last week in São Paulo, Brazil, visiting a variety of art museums and community spaces with a focus on the 32nd São Paulo Bienal, themed Incerteza Viva—live uncertainty. The trip was part of my art history seminar, Contemporary Art: The World Picture. University-sponsored travel, whether through classes, workshops, or independent work, has been the highlight of my Princeton experience, and my time in Brazil was no exception.

A view of the São Paulo Bienal from above!
A view of the São Paulo Bienal from above!

Continue reading Live Uncertainty- Learning Abroad in Brazil

On Fieldwork

In conversation with Alice Frederick ‘17

I sat down last week over tea with Yun-Yun Li and Alice Frederick, who each did fieldwork last summer in foreign cultures and outside of their mother tongues. Last week, I shared Yun-Yun’s insights on finding a meaningful research question and working through self-doubt. This week, Alice takes us to another continent and another research topic. Here, she reflects on conducting fieldwork in a new language, and finding her feet as an autonomous researcher. 

Alice (left) with her roommate at an Esperanto congress in Japan.
Alice (left) with her roommate at an Esperanto congress in Japan.

Alice is an Anthropology concentrator investigating the past and present of the international community of Esperanto speakers. She spent portions of her summer at – among other places – the central office of the Universal Esperanto Association in the Netherlands, and the Austrian National Library’s Department of Planned Languages in Vienna. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Continue reading On Fieldwork

On Fieldwork

In conversation with Yun-Yun Li ‘17

Fieldwork is often – at least in my experience – a perfect storm of challenge. Our time is limited, our advisers are distant, and we are immersed in unfamiliar cultures and experiences. Fieldwork has given me some of my most dramatic and overwhelming challenges – and also my most transformative learning experiences.

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Yun-Yun (center) with her interview enumerator (right) and friend (left) in a Dai temple in Xishuangbanna.

I was one of many rising seniors who spent time in the field this past summer, collecting the data which will (if all goes according to plan) serve as the foundation of my senior thesis. I wanted to understand better how fieldwork shapes other seniors’ personal growth and research paths. This week, I sat down over tea with Yun-Yun Li and Alice Frederick, who each did fieldwork last summer in foreign cultures and outside of their mother tongues. We talked about the experiences and lessons we have brought back to Princeton after spending the summer in the field. 

Yun-Yun is an EEB concentrator researching the social, economic, and environmental factors that affect rubber farmers in southern China. Here, we talk about how she found her research question and worked through self-doubt in the field.

Continue reading On Fieldwork

Summer Never Dies! Tips on Keeping Your Summer Abroad Relevant

It’s a few weeks into the semester, yet your summer abroad feels like it was eons away. The good news is your international experiences will fit right in on campus.

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Les Baux-de-Provence, a medieval era outcrop

I spent four weeks this summer taking French 207 in Aix-en-Provence, France. Since this was a Princeton course, it was rigorous, but also enlightening. I wanted to bring that same immersive and novel environment back to campus and build upon it. Here are the four ways that I’ve found to be most helpful.

Language Classes

Take a course through one of Princeton’s several language departments to maintain or further develop your language skills. I’m currently enrolled in two French courses this semester. Not quite France, but it keeps my skills in practice.

Language courses are opportunities for you to form relationships with peers interested in the same foreign subjects as you. Form a study group to practice, share your international experiences, and get some meaningful discussions out of the process.

Didn’t enroll in a language class? Take a seat at a language table at dinner—they’re welcoming of any level! And of course enroll in a class in the spring!

Continue reading Summer Never Dies! Tips on Keeping Your Summer Abroad Relevant

My Lesson in Research Rehearsal

After eight amazing weeks in Europe, I’m back in the U.S. and just starting to process my time abroad. Interning at the European Roma Rights Centre taught me so much about Roma people and the systematic racism many of them face. I also learned about efforts to combat this racism through litigation and advocacy. I greatly value the knowledge I gained through this experience — and now, as I prepare for another year of research at Princeton, I’m also thinking about the process behind the knowledge. Some of the most useful and thought-provoking lessons from my time abroad concerned how to effectively prepare for field research.

Here I am in Belgrade, Serbia with the other conference participants, all of whom work with organizations that research statelessness in Central and Eastern Europe.

During my second-to-last week in Budapest, I went with four colleagues to a conference in Belgrade, Serbia. The three-day conference functioned as a training workshop to prepare seven organizations to conduct field research on stateless Roma (Roma individuals who aren’t legally affiliated with any nation.) These organizations were based in countries all throughout Eastern Europe and the West Balkans, where statelessness is a particularly significant issue among Roma populations. The ERRC led the workshop — and I got to play a role in the research trainings. Continue reading My Lesson in Research Rehearsal

Science, the Absurd

It was Wednesday, the final round of my second day of water sampling, when I hit a bump in the road with the rolling cooler I was pulling behind me. The second cooler of water samples, which had been stacked on top, toppled to the asphalt. Eight ice packs and 54 water sample bottles careened out of the cooler and across the road.

I’m using a PVC stick to photograph the reef from a fixed height, in order to take standardized photos of the reef for ecological analysis. This procedure is otherwise known as The Aquatic Gandalf.

This, I thought to myself, throwing my hands up in the air like a cartoon character, is absurd. I scooped the samples up from the pavement, picking a few out from the grassy verge where they’d fallen, and shoved them back into the cooler (carefully packing ice back over the top). I reminded myself, as I have often these past six weeks: This is science.

I’m in Bermuda for two months this summer, studying how polluted groundwater discharge is affecting near-shore coral reefs. The field season has been exciting, fulfilling, challenging, and full of slightly ridiculous situations. I’ve gone swimming along the reef like an aquatic Gandalf, carrying a camera mounted on a PVC stick. I’ve attached equipment to the reef by looping zip-ties through holes in the rocks, and so have spent hours poking these zip-ties into crevasses and attempting to pull them through on the opposite side. Continue reading Science, the Absurd

Post-Fieldwork Blues

The end of fieldwork evokes strange sensations of both pride and loss.

Returning to New York after two months in Rio de Janeiro (studying psychiatrist Nise da Silveira’s life and legacy), I know I accomplished a lot. But I can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that there was so much more I could have done, and so much that I left behind. Just as I was acquiring an understanding of the nature of da Silveira’s impact, just as I was beginning to map the important people and projects she influenced, just as my interviews were becoming particularly poignant — it was time to pack my bags.

At the colorful Casa das Palmeiras, pictured above, I attended a Jungian study group, founded by da Silveira to bring intellectuals together across fields.
At the colorful Casa das Palmeiras, pictured above, I attended a Jungian study group that Nise da Silveira founded to bring together intellectuals from across fields.

It’s one of the most bizarre parts of learning. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t. That idea became clearer the more I conducted my research, as da Silveira’s work spanned many fields. She collaborated not just with psychiatrists, but also with painters, philosophers, writers, astrologers, actors, and people from many other fields. Her influence is wide-reaching. And while I never expected to reach everyone, I sometimes felt inadequate knowing there were so many more interesting people I hadn’t interviewed.

Continue reading Post-Fieldwork Blues

Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

As I head into the second half of my internship at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, I find myself equipped with a more focused understanding of my research— and, curiously, a wider understanding of my research. This may sound strange at first. How can my perspective become narrower and broader simultaneously? It might seem paradoxical, but I’ve realized that digging deeper into a research project often entails zooming in and stepping back.

Here I am standing on Liberty Bridge and looking at Budapest from across the Danube River–a zoomed out view if you will.

Continue reading Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

Researching Abroad? Here’s some advice!

Most Princeton students have been done with school for a while, but I just wrapped things up in New Zealand.  Two weeks ago, I was packing up to leave my flat in Dunedin. I finished my last final on that Tuesday, submitted my JP on Thursday, and then flew out of Dunedin on Saturday.  This week, I’ve been spending time with family before I start my job at PRINCO, Princeton’s endowment fund. At PRINCO, I’ll shadow and help different teams that manage Princeton’s endowment investments in different areas, like fixed income/cash, private equity, real assets, etc.

My favorite hike in NZ-- French Ridge Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park!
My favorite hike in NZ– French Ridge Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park!

Since my summer job hasn’t yet started, I thought I’d write about my experience doing JP research abroad.  My advice here is relevant and easily applicable to any student researching abroad. Many of my thoughts in this earlier post have held true throughout the research process, but my topic and experiences changed significantly throughout the semester. As a bit of background, I focused most of my JP on the following asymmetry between aesthetic and moral admiration:

Aesthetic: Henry knows nothing about Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Jill tells him that Las Meninas is an aesthetically praiseworthy painting and lists its qualities, providing evidence for by citing its physical characteristics. Henry comes to admire Las Meninas.

Moral: Henry knows nothing about Mahatma Gandhi. Jill tells him that Gandhi was a morally praiseworthy man and lists his qualities, providing evidence by citing stories about his deeds. Henry comes to admire Gandhi.

My intuition dictated that, in the above example, Henry’s moral admiration seems warranted — but his aesthetic admiration based on testimony does not. The moral qualities relevant to admirability seem communicable by testimony, whereas the aesthetic qualities relevant to admirability do not. Why?

In tackling my research on this topic in New Zealand, I found the following tips useful: Continue reading Researching Abroad? Here’s some advice!