Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone: How to Sound Like an Expert on an Unfamiliar Topic

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:

  1. 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
    YouTube is good for more than procrastinating! Alternative sources like videos can explain complicated material.

    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

Graduate Seminars: Why Not?

A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall.
A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall. 

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.

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“The People Make It”: How My Peers Have Shaped My Princeton Experience

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.

Magnetic reconnection is responsible for the Aurora Borealis. Things you learn over dinner!
Magnetic reconnection is responsible for the Aurora Borealis. Things you learn over dinner!

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.

Continue reading “The People Make It”: How My Peers Have Shaped My Princeton Experience

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

Balance in the Bubble- And Outside of it, too

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?

My view this weekend, rock climbing in Vermont with friends I met in New Zealand!
My view this weekend, rock climbing in Vermont with friends I met in New Zealand!

Continue reading Balance in the Bubble- And Outside of it, too

Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

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.

What I imagine when I think 'mathematician' -- a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. Image by Dimitry Dzhus, Creative Commons.
What I imagine when I think “mathematician” — a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. 

Continue reading Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

Five Reasons to Download Mendeley Desktop!

As thesis season draws to a close, the last group of seniors are proofreading their final drafts and preparing for the moment they become #PTL forever! Often, the very last thing seniors review is their very, very long bibliography. Bibliographic sources are primarily used in literature reviews, which summarize the relevant work and background in a field. While bibliographies may serve as the last page of theses and research papers, they can also prove to be a huge headache for the researcher who has neglected them. Among several other potential issues, missing in-text citations and/or incorrectly citing sources can negatively impact the credibility of a research paper. Keeping an organized bibliography throughout the whole research process can work wonders to prevent this kind of confusion.

Two summers ago, I learned this lesson firsthand when I spent hours trying to find and cite sources for the intro section of a chemistry research paper. My lab supervisor suggested I download an application called Mendeley Desktop, and it has probably ended up saving me hundreds of hours since then.

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Imagine trying to cite all of these sources by hand! With the help of Mendeley, you won’t have to!

Mendeley is an online and desktop program that lets users upload research papers, publications, journals, etc. and manage them in an organized library. It is probably best known for its referencing features, which help users generate citations by simply uploading the relevant research papers. In high school, that’s what I primarily used Mendeley for; my research partners and I created our own account where we stored all of the relevant literature in one library. But just last week, I re-downloaded the latest version of Mendeley and was pleased to see some awesome new features. Below, I’ve detailed the top 5 features that I find most useful:

Continue reading Five Reasons to Download Mendeley Desktop!

Hackademics and Principedia: Upgraded Course Evaluations

This past Saturday, I ventured to Whitman Dining hall for a delicious Saturday Brunch (featuring my favorite breakfast burritos)…but, more importantly, I went to the McGraw Center’s Spring 2016 Hackademics workshop. Hacakademics is a relatively recent initiative that helps Princeton students crowdsource in-depth analyses of the courses offered here. Each participant in the “hackathon” contributes by choosing a course that hasn’t already been documented during previous Hackademics, and analyzing it in-depth to help students who plan to take the course in the future.

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On Saturday, I joined 20 other students at Whitman Private Dining Room to participate in the McGraw Center’s Spring Hackademics Workshop!

The workshop started with Nic Voge, the associate director of McGraw’s Learning Program, giving us an overview of how the hackathon would work. He talked about the need for great course analyses and introduced us to Principedia, the online database of all the course analyses done at past Hackademics. Previously, I thought that the only organized resources we had for choosing classes were the mandatory course evaluations on TigerHub. While those course evaluations are helpful, they frequently present readers with conflicting pieces of undetailed information; I could really see the motivation behind Principedia. Plus, all Hackademics participants got to take lots of cool swag — and they raffled off two coffee machines!

Continue reading Hackademics and Principedia: Upgraded Course Evaluations

Mentorship in Research: Getting by with a little help from my friends

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Emma shares her story.

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Shout out to my friends for helping me make smart decisions.

While many professors and advisers have offered me invaluable guidance throughout my academic career, my most helpful and memorable mentorship experiences have actually been with friends. Not that my friends and I often sit down and have formal discussions about our research paths. Rather, most of their advice comes in the form of consolations when I’m feeling unsure of my decisions regarding work and research.

I know what you are thinking. “Is support from friends really a form of mentorship?” I understand why this might seem confusing at first, but I truly believe that friends can often be the best mentors. My friends probably know better than anyone else what interests and excites me. Unlike with a professor or adviser, I don’t feel the need to impress my friends or worry about their impression of my choices. Plus, my friends are the ones who listen to all of my complaints about projects or commitments I’m not interested in. Seeing me at my best and my worst gives them valuable insight: They wouldn’t let me take on a project they didn’t think I would find engaging (if for no other reason than because they don’t want to hear me complain).

Continue reading Mentorship in Research: Getting by with a little help from my friends

Underclassmen: Make the Most of Thesis Season!

March Madness takes on a whole new meaning for Princeton seniors, who are working hard to stay ahead of upcoming thesis deadlines. With submission dates as early as next week, many seniors spent their spring breaks finishing up data collection, editing their drafts, and attending thesis-geared events (like bootcamps).

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The pollen on my doorstep scared me multiple times over break.

I spent my break watching basketball, being terrified of pollen every time I left my house, and sleeping for over 12 hours a day… But, now that I’m back on campus I thought it would be a good idea to ask seniors a few questions about their projects. Until this semester, I knew almost nothing about the thesis process that defines senior life in the months before graduation. Previously, most of my conversations with my senior friends would go something like:

Me: Hey, how’s the thesis coming along?

Senior: (Groan)

Me: You’ll get through it! Only a few more weeks!

And so I thought it might be time for me to ask more meaningful questions (given that my previous interactions only seemed to remind everyone of all the work they had left).

Continue reading Underclassmen: Make the Most of Thesis Season!