Stage 1 of my Summer Internship Abroad: Exploring Budapest’s Present and Past

The Chain Bridge spans the Danube River, connecting the Buda and Pest sides of the city.

Hello (Szia) from Budapest, Hungary! In a few days, I will start my internship with the European Roma Rights Centre, where I will be working with the legal team and doing research on anti-Roma discrimination. But for now, I am busy exploring the city and getting acclimated to my temporary home. As I wrote in April (and as Princeton’s IIP program suggested), interning abroad can be thought of as a comprehensive research experience — a time to collect “data” on our surrounding environments. Fellow PCUR blogger Vidushi gave similar advice during her study abroad experience in New Zealand, where she talked about taking courses relevant to New Zealand culture. Following everyone’s “immerse-yourself-in-the-culture” suggestion, I used my first few days in Budapest to do some informal “research” on the city. Continue reading Stage 1 of my Summer Internship Abroad: Exploring Budapest’s Present and Past

3 Steps to a Fulfilling Summer Research Experience

The weather might make you feel like summer is impossibly far off (as I’m writing this, it’s a depressingly chilly 37 degrees), but move-out day is less than two months away! Given June’s swift approach, now is an excellent time to start thinking about how you can get the most out of your summer experiences.

Whether your summer plans involve flying to another continent or staying on campus to do research, some introspective preparation can truly ~elevate~ your experience.

This summer, I will be doing an IIP internship at a public interest law organization in Budapest, Hungary. I’m currently in the process of solidifying travel and housing details, but logistics aren’t the only thing to plan for. Last week, for example, all summer IIP students attended a meeting to get advice on how to make the most of our internships. Many of the speakers’ suggestions involved logistical preparation, echoing the tips Dylan wrote about a few weeks back. But they also focused on introspective preparation and encouraged us to reflect on where our research fits into our lives — and on what kinds of researchers we aim to be. Here are three of the tips that we discussed: Continue reading 3 Steps to a Fulfilling Summer Research Experience

Finding a Home for my Independent Work Abroad

Abroad this semester at the University of Otago, my independent work has felt far from home.

Before leaving Princeton, I talked to my fall JP adviser about how to expand my fall paper, and had a few meetings with my spring adviser. Once I arrived in New Zealand, however, life became a whirlwind of flight transfers, international orientation, and a packed introduction to my new home.

In the midst of all this, I had underestimated how much harder it would be to coordinate with professors at Princeton from a timezone sixteen hours away. Communication suddenly slowed down to a snail’s pace–instead of walking into someone’s office, I found that it could take anywhere from days to weeks to go from one email to the next.

It was discouraging and unexpected. My fall JP had gone as well as I could have hoped. My topic was new and exciting, and my semester was full of stimulating conversations with professors and graduate students (during office hours and even over email from overseas). By the end of the writing process, I felt that I had made a non-trivial contribution to philosophical literature, even as a third-year university student. Abroad, however, I found myself torn between exploring a new place and having to piece together advice from various emails to create a plan for my JP.

The philosophy department at the University of Otago on a sunny morning!
The philosophy department at the University of Otago on a sunny morning!

Continue reading Finding a Home for my Independent Work Abroad

Field Notes from Costa Rica: The Best and Hardest Part

It’s Wednesday night, July 23, 2014. I am sitting with Cleo Chou – a Ph.D candidate and my summer mentor – on the porch of La Selva Biological Research Station in Costa Rica. We are taking slow, musing bites of leftover birthday cake and talking through a problem.

In theory, it’s easy to find the area of a leaf if it’s photographed on a white background of known size. In practice – not so simple! Cleo and I collected hundreds of photos like this. (And yes, sometimes made faces when we got in the pictures.)

Among other things, while in the field, we’ve been taking photos of the leaves of Cleo’s study trees. The goal? To determine the leaves’ size using a jerry-rigged computer analysis. I had taken advantage of our one non-field day this week to use the lab’s leaf area meter to check the accuracy of the computer program. Unfortunately, it turns out our calculated areas aren’t very accurate at all, and we don’t know why. Does the digital camera warp the photos? Is there something wrong with how we’re scaling them in the processor? The nocturnal forest chorus of cicadas and frogs is a soothing background to a worrisome problem. Every day we work in the field, more photos accumulate. It will already be an analysis marathon, but now we are additionally pursued by the specter of inaccuracy, the fear that our fastidious, hard-won photo samples will not tell us anything meaningful at all. Continue reading Field Notes from Costa Rica: The Best and Hardest Part

Being Uncomfortable in the Classroom

I’ve spent the past two weeks in New Zealand on a steady adventure rush.

Scarcely a day has passed without me sleeping under the stars, exploring a beach, or hiking up a mountain. Today, however, was my first time exploring the study part of my study abroad experience — the first day of class.

I attended a computer science course on artificial intelligence, philosophy of biology, and another course on Pacific geopolitics in the 21st century. Initially, these seemed very similar to classes I’ve taken at Princeton: They all follow a lecture/precept format, with a few papers or projects and exams at the end of the term. The language of instruction is English, and there are a few international students in each class. But, to my surprise, I had never felt so out of place in a classroom before.

The walkway along one of Otago's oldest buildings, on my way to class this morning! Image by Vidushi Sharma.
The walkway along one of Otago’s oldest buildings, on my way to class this morning!

Continue reading Being Uncomfortable in the Classroom

Seeing the world through its study

Bermuda is built on the backs of corals. Or it would be, if corals had backs.

Low-lying, wind-resistant vegetation thrives on the island's sandy cliffs.
Low-lying, wind-resistant vegetation thrives on the island’s sandy cliffs.

They don’t. Coral don’t have vertebrae, or heads, or eyes. An entire coral organism – a polyp – is one single, tentacle-ringed cavity, one cavern that is mouth, stomach, and anus combined. Yet these tiny animals are powerful: together, their colonies can grow meters tall, producing hard, rock-like skeletons that form the backbones of coral reefs.

Though perhaps better known for its pink-sand beaches and international banking, Bermuda is also home to spectacular coral reefs. And the low-lying rock island is a monument to the power of calcifying organisms and geological time.

Bermuda from above: the island's northern tip, with outlying patch reefs (the dark spots) visible under the water.
Bermuda from above: the island’s northern tip, with outlying patch reefs (the dark spots) visible under the water.

This is how my adviser, Anne Cohen, explained it to me when I first arrived in Bermuda. It became the way I saw the island, and changed how I saw coral: I began, like Anne and many other researchers, to see my study organisms as the center of my world. Continue reading Seeing the world through its study

Taking Thematic Classes Abroad

Greetings from Dunedin, New Zealand, my home till June this semester as I study at the University of Otago!

I flew in yesterday morning after a quick orientation in Auckland, where I met the other students in my study abroad program, run by the Institute for Study Abroad at Butler University. During the orientation, our friends and mentors from New Zealand (called “kiwis”!) stressed the importance of taking at least one class related to the culture, languages, or history of New Zealand. In retrospect, this seems obvious– but I hadn’t thought about this throughout my Princeton course approval process.

A peek inside a Maori meeting house in the Auckland War Memorial Museum!
A peek inside a Maori meeting house in the Auckland War Memorial Museum! Image by Vidushi Sharma. 

Continue reading Taking Thematic Classes Abroad

Sorcery or Science? The Value of Subjective Research

In an ideal world, research is pretty straightforward. Evidence is collected, synthesized, and analyzed. Meaning emerges. Results point to objective truth.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from the first two weeks of ANT 301 (The Ethnographer’s Craft), it’s that research is often far from this ideal. Ethnography, at its core, is a subjective science. But that does not discount its intellectual value.

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We recently read Harry G. West’s Ethnographic Sorcery, an account of West’s research in Mueda, Mozambique, where he studied sorcery as a prominent belief system. In short, Muedans believe that there are sorcerers among them who turn into lions and claim innocent lives. Early in the book, West recounts a conference he held to bounce his ideas off of community members. There, he presented a theory: we may understand these lion-people as metaphors for power play in society. An awkward hush took over the room before a schoolteacher spoke up. “I think you misunderstand,” he said. “These lions that you talk about … they aren’t symbols — they’re real.”

The case of the lion-people as metaphors reveals a problem of subjectivity: interpretations are often based on vastly distinct epistemologies, or ways of understanding the world. West acknowledges that calling lion-people metaphors is a fallacy because it dismisses local belief systems. In other words, viewing aspects of other cultures as metaphors rather than truth is a way of holding Western values above others.

Continue reading Sorcery or Science? The Value of Subjective Research

The Project That Made Me a Researcher: Rain in the rainforest

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, Zoe shares her story.

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The flooded trail
Fording the flooded trail on our first morning in the field.

It was my first full day in Costa Rica. The dawn chorus of howler monkeys and quavering calls of Great Tinamou awakened us to a morning of intermittent showers, but no thunder — a good start, by rainforest standards.

Shouldering our backpacks, Cleo (my summer mentor) and I headed to the field, biking along the forest trail until a fallen tree forced us to leave our bikes and walk to the mud-slick path where some of Cleo’s study saplings grew. She had been tracking these trees for a year and half as part of her Ph. D.

Everything that morning felt strange and new: my heavy snakeproof boots, the dripping forest canopy, the squish of mud and fallen leaves beneath my feet. This was not my first time in a forest, nor my first time doing research. But it was my first time doing research like this – research that I lived from dawn until I fell asleep. Continue reading The Project That Made Me a Researcher: Rain in the rainforest

Getting Ready to Research Abroad!

Last semester, Jalisha studied abroad in London and wrote about her experiences on the PCUR blog. Aside from finishing up papers and exams, I’m getting ready to head abroad myself — to the University of Otago in New Zealand! I wanted to share some tips on how to choose your study abroad location, and how to prepare for a semester of research away from Princeton (both of which add to Jalisha’s great advice).

Lake Marian in Fiordland National Park, NZ! My friend Hema Lochan '16 took this photo during her semester abroad.
Lake Marian in Fiordland National Park, NZ! My friend Hema Lochan ’16 took this photo during her semester abroad.

Continue reading Getting Ready to Research Abroad!