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.
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).
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).
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?
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).
This spring break, I remembered why I love going to the field.
I am currently taking Latino Global Cities, a Spanish class about how Puerto Ricans — both on the island and in diaspora communities — form and maintain identity in an increasingly globalized world. Over Spring Break we travelled to Puerto Rico to begin to understand the Caribbean island beyond the palm trees and hotels. We visited communities and attended discussions about the lived complexities of an American colony in a “post-colonial” age. These issues can only be fully understood with first-hand experience that can both complicate and concretize concepts that seem so distant in books.
Practicing what my professor calls “anti-tourism” — a more critical kind of travel — we visited Fanguito, a conglomerate of eight poor urban communities in San Turce, outside of San Juan. There, Melba, a local activist, guided us around the community with her 6-week old baby in tow, who represents the 5th generation in her family to live in the community.
Melba told us about her community’s most severe problem: water. Located on the Caño Martín Peña, far from the island’s tourist-filled beaches, Fanguito sits on one of Puerto Rico’s most important, and most polluted, waterways. Melba took us to the river to see the bags and water bottles strewn everywhere. It reeked of sewage, and she explained how toilets and sinks run directly into the water. This is a health hazard for everyone — plants, animals, and humans. Furthermore, the pollution has caused parts of the river to dry up, so that it is no longer navigable by boat.
Often, the second half of the semester calls for students to present their research findings in class, or in front of professors/advisers evaluating independent work. Presentations are a different kind of assignment than, say, fifteen-page research papers — and they require a different set of skills. At this time last year, I found myself facing a new and unexpected presentation project: My fall writing seminar professor had asked me to revisit my final research paper and present it at the Quin Morton ‘36 Conference.
Now called the Mary W. George Freshmen Research Conference, this event is an opportunity for freshmen to share their writing seminar research with a wider audience through ten-minute presentations. I encountered many challenges while breaking down my paper—a feminist perspective on evaluations of sexuality in films— into slides and bullet points. However, I also learned a lot about presentations through the process. While this year’s participants are gearing up for the conference in early April, students presenting at Princeton Research Day are in the midst of similar preparation. In light of these upcoming events, and since many students will have to present their research as spring semester comes to a close, I have decided to offer some advice on research presentations. Below I throw in my two (three) cents on the topic.
There are some things that department websites just don’t tell you.
For example: The History Department holds its mandatory senior thesis planning meeting one hour after spring junior papers are due. (“People hadn’t slept for days!” a friend told me recently.) The Spanish Department, on the other hand, hosts monthly department-wide dinners.
I am amazed — unfortunate scheduling and free food aside — by how much I didn’t know when I chose my major. Talking to other upperclassmen, I get the feeling that I’m not the only one. We all seem to have bumbled through the process, some better-informed than others. When April rolled around, we all picked something and moved on.
When I was a freshman, President Shirley Tilghman stood on the stage in McCarter Theater and told us, a crowd of alert and excited newly enrolled students: “If you’re wondering whether you belong here, you do. We don’t make mistakes.”
I wanted very hard to believe that. I was in awe of all of my classmates who seemed so talented and brilliant. I loved talking to them, but at the end of the day, I felt inadequate. I spent a lot of time wondering whether President Tilghman’s words really applied to me.
If you’re a sophomore at Princeton, this is an important semester. In April, you will finally declare your concentration, which may seem like one of the most daunting decisions you’ve had to make here. Will you lose out on opportunities by choosing one major over another? Will one department make you happier? Will another stimulate you more intellectually?
Today, I’m a junior happily enrolled in Spanish and Portuguese (SPO). But last year at this time, I was struggling with these same questions, and almost declared myself a Sociology (SOC) major. Ultimately, making the choice came down to seeking out advice and reflecting on what was best for me.
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.
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.
Pinpoint a research question. Develop a clear thesis. Support that thesis with foolproof evidence. Discredit any rebuttals.
This is how many of us approach research papers — because ever since elementary school, teachers have told us to pick an argument and stand by it. I have completed assignment after assignment using this strategy, but recently I had the opportunity to break out of the single-argument box and experience a new writing technique.
For my French class last semester, I had to write a final paper about a current event of my choosing in the style of a typical French essay. My professor explained that in France, academic writing commonly diverges from the structure I described above. Students are encouraged to report on current events by investigating all of the different perspectives, components, and opinions at hand. Instead of crafting a specific argument to articulate and support, students offer thorough descriptions of multiple perspectives, the reasoning behind them, and their sources. As the paper develops, the writer must depict the similarities and differences of each perspective and describe how they interact to affect each other and to shape the greater context.