When you’re about to graduate, you spend a lot of time thinking about the future. But you also spend a lot of time thinking about the past.
Often, this can slip into abstract nostalgia (which I am certainly guilty of). Other times, however, this is focused on something oddly specific. Something you spent a lot of time on. Something like … well, PCUR.
Over the past few days, I’ve thought a lot about the posts I’ve written since my sophomore year. I figured it would be fun to retrace my research journey with the benefit of hindsight.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the environments in which I work best, and I have made some important self discoveries that have allowed me to be more focused and productive in my work. A couple months ago I wrote a post about how my peers have shaped my Princeton experience. I’m someone who values social interaction, and I think dialogue and exchange of ideas are absolute necessities within an academic environment. Conversations with my friends can be a saving grace when I’m in an especially tough spot. However, this semester I’ve given myself a lot more time to be alone, and that has contributed positively to my Princeton experience.
I’m not overly stressed right now … and it feels weird. Last semester, I got used to the combo of my procrastination and taking three seminars, so I was always drowning in last minute readings and response papers. But this semester, things changed: I’m deliberately managing my time better because I don’t want to experience the frenzy I went through in the fall.
It feels odd not to be under crushing stress. It’s almost as if I fear things will get gradually harder and I won’t be able to keep up. That said, I discovered I really like this calm state I’m in. I’m more focused and engaged, probably because I’m making an effort not to put myself in the same procrastination- stress-burning out cycle. My work is getting more demanding each week, but I’m still maintaining an equilibrium.
I realized I’d like to maintain this mentality as long as possible, especially when midterms and finals weeks hit. Here are some tips I have–whether you feel crushing pressure or just feel like you’re coasting through–on how to stay relaxed and optimistic even as your work becomes more demanding.
While listening to an astrophysics podcast, I stumbled into an epiphany about my course of study at Princeton. It was Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk, and two female astrophysicists had been invited on the show to discuss women in the field. About halfway through the episode, I asked myself why I wasn’t pursuing astronomy as a major, especially since I’ve had a fascination with space since childhood. I circled back to high school for an explanation. I had gotten an A- in pre-calculus for the year, and since I was immersed in the high school mindset of perfectionism, I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough at math to pursue anything in the STEM fields. My fellow PCUR blogger Vidushi wrote about how this same feeling I had of lacking “innate brilliance” creates gender gaps in fields like astrophysics. She writes, “Women who don’t see themselves as innately brilliant mathematicians, musicians, or philosophers often do not give themselves the chance to pursue these disciplines.”
When it came time to apply to Princeton, I looked for things I thought I’d be “better” at, and that’s when I started looking into social sciences. I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of politics and had always enjoyed French in high school, so I decided to pursue these once I got to college. This course of study has not been easy by any means; however, I sometimes felt like I had settled into these fields because I wasn’t confident enough to pursue other ones. Complaints from my peers about the difficulty of the math and physics courses necessary to study astrophysics overwhelmed me, so I denied myself the opportunity to explore them. I also had this realization at the end of sophomore fall–right before having to declare a concentration in the spring. If you’re struggling with what you want to study at Princeton, hopefully I can give you some encouragement!
How many times have you had to research a topic outside of your area of interest? Whether you are fulfilling a distribution requirement or testing out a new field, developing sound arguments in areas that are new to you can be intimidating. With that in mind, I’ve compiled some tips that always help me when my I’m especially unfamiliar with my research topic:
Look for a rebuttal argument: Rebuttal articles usually clarify and outline the argument you’re researching in order to argue against it. This helps clarify some of your own ideas while also giving material to complicate your own arguments. I do this early in the research process, as it helps me solidify a direction with my paper when I have a lot of general ideas. I recently used this technique while writing a paper on Evangelical
environmentalism. I struggled to develop an argument until I read a text explaining why this framework would not be economically feasible. I used this rebuttal in conjunction with articles on viable economic models of Evangelical environmentalism to help me jumpstart my argument. Without the rebuttal article, I would have had a less clear understanding of the topic and would have approached my paper with a more limited perspective. Continue reading Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone: How to Sound Like an Expert on an Unfamiliar Topic
This semester, I took my first graduate seminar in philosophy–Rationality & Irrationality with Professor Thomas Kelly. I went into the class without any knowledge of epistemology and some apprehension about my meager philosophical background compared to other students.
At the same time, I wanted the challenge and growth opportunities of an environment where students were fully invested in the material and subject matter covered. As a senior, I also wanted to see if I would want to pursue graduate work in philosophy. So, I swallowed my hesitations and enrolled.
Recently ranked the best university in the country by US News and World Report, Princeton has a lot to gloat about. Yet on the list of resources and opportunities that make Princeton exceptional, rarely are the students themselves mentioned. While my classes here have been enlightening, my relationships with classmates have had the greatest impact on me.
Every day, Princeton students take in a wealth of knowledge, and it’s only natural that we share it with each other. I have a friend interning at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab down the road who discussed her project with me over dinner. She’s looking at data from four different satellites orbiting Earth to study magnetic reconnection events, or in other words, when solar winds (streams of high-energy charged particles from the sun) disrupt the magnetic field around Earth. I had never been exposed to this field, but in just a few minutes was able to understand several technical terms from a field of study completely different from mine.
And yet, most of my conversations aren’t outright academic. Amongst friends, there’s no pressure to turn conversations into precept. I’ve found that this balance between casual and academic actually aids my studies.
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.
This fall has been my most enjoyable semester at Princeton thus far by an incontestable margin. My days seem rich and balanced.In the span of just a few weeks, I have made meaningful new friendships and picked up a few new hobbies–swing dancing, playing guitar, and longboarding, among others. I’m happy.
In stark contrast, a year ago, I was perhaps the most stressed I’ve ever been at Princeton. I felt like I was running from one assignment to the next. Often, when people asked what I did during a certain week, I’d be at a loss. I don’t have less work now than before—fellowship applications, a thesis, and four courses keep my plate full. So what changed?
I excelled in math in high school, rising to the top of the tiered class track and dabbling in multivariable calculus before college. I, however, immediately and subconsciously faltered in confidence when I reached Princeton. I was deterred from trying a proof-based math class by the thought that these were only for “math people” – students who had excelled in extracurricular math competitions from a young age or who already had exposure to “real math” beyond AP calculus. The kinds of students, who, when presented with a problem, could scribble across a blackboard and find the answer with a spark of genius.
That student wasn’t me, and so I decided that I must not be a “math person.” I still took college math, but instead of enrolling in a proof-based class, I pushed through Math 201 (multivariable calculus) and 202 (linear algebra), required courses for engineers. The exams were still notoriously difficult, and it wasn’t unusual for average scores to hover around 65%. This seemed to me like a strategy the department used to allow it to separate star students from “the rest of the pack.” Linear algebra during my freshman spring was the last math class I took in college.
Three years later, I’m studying philosophy – a subject with gender ratios comparable to mathematics. Many people know about the lack of females in STEM departments, but this issue slips under the radar in fields like philosophy and music composition. Philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie’s research helps connect the dots.