From Law to Coding: Writing my SPIA Quantitative Junior Paper

Photo depicts grand Princeton building at night time, with ivy climbing up brick that appears reddish in the lighting.
From courses at SPIA to starry nights at Nassau Hall, there are many opportunities to reflect on what type of research is meaningful to you

There are many reasons why I chose to major in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), ranging from the impact that we have through service and the focus on policy and law. One unique feature of SPIA is the ability for concentrators to take more qualitative courses such as SPI333: Law, Institutions, and Public Policy and quantitatively-based courses, such as POL346: Applied Quantitative Analysis. During the Fall of my junior year, I wrote a more qualitative junior paper on risk assessment tools in the pretrial adjudication system and analyzed whether or not they make more biased decisions than do humans (see here to read more about my experience). Headed into my junior spring, I was presented with the choice of writing another qualitative paper or joining a quantitative research lab. Thankfully, I felt confident in my coding abilities due to past courses I had taken which prepared me for this moment (see here to read about how I gained a quantitative background in R as a SPIA major). I chose the lab without hesitation and my spring semester independent research journey began.

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Navigating Princeton in COVID-19 Isolation

      Although things have been looking brighter on campus, with a decrease in COVID cases and happier weather, the threat of COVID-19 still remains and can be a daunting obstacle. I tested positive for COVID-19 last month, and I was lucky enough to get through it, but an extra stressor was definitely keeping up with my classes while being in isolation. Everyone’s experience is different, especially when it comes to symptoms and classes, but I hope that my advice can help you get through a tough time if it ever comes to it.

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A look into Princeton Independent Research: Presenting Proposals to Congressmember Bush

Our task force meeting Congressmember Bush last semester.
She was truly inspirational.

     When you are a first-year, you hear about the Senior Thesis, the Junior Paper, and independent research. While these may seem daunting and unexciting, they are actually some of the most unique and amazing parts of the Princeton experience. Most juniors do independent research within their respective majors. As a SPIA major, I took a Task Force in the fall, where I worked with a professor and team of SPIA students to achieve a policy mission, and I am now in a Research Seminar, where I am doing more quantitative research on a new policy issue. In this post, I would like to share my experiences in my task force last semester in order to help you gain an understanding of what independent research could look like, and how truly incredible it can be.

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Lessons from Junior Independent Work in MAE

In the fall of 2021, I worked in the Computational Turbulent Reacting Flow Laboratory under the guidance of Professor Michael Mueller. In the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) department, junior independent research is optional. I enrolled in MAE339: Junior Independent Work in the fall and am currently continuing my research this spring semester. Research was an integral part of my high school experience, and I was excited to start working on independent research in my junior year of college in a different setting. Now, I want to share a few of the lessons I learned from this past semester with you:

Logo of the Computational Turbulent Reacting Flow Laboratory.
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Get Your Independent Work Done Without Stress

As a B.S.E junior doing independent work for the first time, I am already anticipating the stressful cram at the end of the semester that comes with senior thesis and junior independent work deadlines. As busy Princeton students, we often don’t think that we have enough time in the week to work consistently on our independent work, and thus, a lot of it inevitably gets pushed off to the weeks (and days) before the deadline. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Putting together a comprehensive plan to organize and budget your time at the beginning of the semester can save so much hassle down the road. Therefore, I think it will be helpful to walk through how to create a plan for independent work over the course of the semester.

Inside Firestone Library, where many students will be writing the bulk of their independent work this semester.
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What are First-Years Researching? An Interview With My Legendary Zees

My zees (Kyung and Jaehee) and I getting ready for Clash of the Colleges. Whales love research!!!!!

     On campus, I am a Residential College Adviser in Whitman College. It is by far the most meaningful part of my Princeton experience and I am thankful every day to have such amazing advisees (zees). In the fall, I decided to interview some of my zees on the incredible research that they have done on campus and how they became involved in this research. My freshmen show that research does not always mean working in a lab or on a senior thesis like many often assume. There are so many different ways to become involved with research on campus, whether it’s through writing a paper or joining an academic club. My hope is that seeing the research that my zees did last semester will inspire you to do your own and also show you what research on campus can look like for first years. So, without further ado, here is the research conducted by the most legendary zees of all time:

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Graduate Studies and Careers in Public Service: an Interview with Professor Iqbal Zaidi – Part 1

In one of my previous posts about taking advanced courses in Princeton, I mentioned that I ended up taking two courses with Professor Iqbal Zaidi – ECO 353 (International Monetary Economics) and this fall, ECO 322 (Econometric Tools for Research in Macroeconomics) – both of which turned out to be some of my favorite experiences at Princeton. I recently interviewed him to know more about his career and how he came to specialize in international macroeconomics. After completing his Ph.D. from Princeton, Professor Zaidi worked for three decades at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), working in several positions and going on to serve on its Executive Board and manage IMF offices in Africa and Asia. He is now back at his alma mater, teaching specialized courses in macroeconomics. He also serves as an A.B. Academic Adviser.

I am dividing the interview into two parts. In the first part of my interview with Professor Zaidi, I concentrate on his career – specifically, what made him join the IMF after completing his Ph.D. at Princeton. The second part continues with his experience at the IMF and we then segue into his life in academia and what he loves about teaching and advising in Princeton.

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New to Zotero? A Guide to Using Reference Management Applications

Before this summer, I had never heard of Zotero, Mendeley, or any reference management applications, and instead, I usually turned to APA or MLA style guidelines and did my citations by hand. However, it can be cumbersome to manage all the references at once, especially when writing papers that have a seemingly never-ending list of references. This is where Zotero or Mendeley can help out. I first started using Zotero during my summer internship when I was writing two biomaterials review papers, which I mentioned in my last post. Both of these papers had around 120 references, making a reference manager like Zotero an essential tool for keeping track of all the citations.

I would highly recommend using a reference manager for longer projects or papers, such as for junior independent work or senior theses, because it helps with organization and saves you time when adding references. In this post, I put together a guide for using reference managers, specifically Zotero because I am most familiar with it. However, take a look at this previous post on using Mendeley if you want to learn more about that.

The homepage of my Zotero application
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Planning For Advanced Elective Courses at Princeton

One of the most exciting parts of the academic experience at Princeton is undoubtedly getting to take advanced (3-400 level) elective classes in your concentration. While all classes at Princeton are valuable, elective classes can provide a unique opportunity to have a more personalized learning experience – the classes are often much smaller, with some classes having as few as 5 students – while getting to learn about somewhat more niche disciplines that professors are both specialized in and are more passionate about. However, sometimes the embarrassment of riches can be a problem. The sheer number of truly incredible and interesting advanced courses that are offered at Princeton can make it difficult to choose which courses to take, especially when your course slots are taken up by concentration and certificate requirements as well as either the AB or BSE general requirements. I went through such an exercise myself, and in this post, I hope to offer some insight on how to choose courses based on my experiences at Princeton.

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Dear First Time Coders, You Can Do It

As a SPIA major, I was worried about coding for the first time. But, after taking POL345, I realized that I actually love statistics and computer science.

      “I can’t code,” I told my friends when I realized that I had to take a statistics course for my major that required coding. “I don’t understand it,” I told them. I had never coded before and the thought of creating algorithms on a computer sent shivers down my SPIA spine. I loved math in high school, and coding always seemed interesting to me, but rumors about Princeton math courses, as well as computer science courses, had me sprinting away from Fine Hall. But then, I realized I had to take a statistics course for SPIA. I had to face my fear of R, or the programming language that most SPIA statistics courses use for statistical computation. I didn’t think that I could do it, but I did. And, I ended up loving it. I faced my fears, learned how to code, and you can too.

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