Post-Princeton Life: An Interview with Bennett McIntosh ’16

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Nanako shares her interview.

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In my last post, I wrote about how to get the most out of your short-term research internship. In this post, I provide some more insight I got about how to get the most out of my summer internship— this time from a more credible source: a Princeton alumnus. I interviewed Bennett McIntosh ’16, who used to write for PCUR, about his Princeton research experience.

Here’s a bit about Bennett:

Bennett McIntosh ’16 studied chemistry at Princeton and is currently a freelance science writer.

Bennett McIntosh is a freelance science writer and reporter living in Boston, covering the intersections of scientific research, technological change, and social welfare. He is currently helping to relaunch Science for the People, a magazine of science and politics whose first iteration grew out of the 1960s anti-war movement.  While studying chemistry at Princeton, he wrote opinion columns for the Daily Princetonian, science stories for Innovation, and lousy jokes for the Princeton University Band.

 

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First-Years and Sophomores: It’s Time to Start Thesis-ing!

Before senior year, the senior thesis can feel worlds away. For me, thinking about my senior thesis has always felt like imagining potential careers—impractical fantasies rather than realistic plans. Wouldn’t it be cool to…? What if I…?

But just a few weeks ago, I received an email from my department, reminding me that thesis funding application deadlines were approaching. If I wanted to receive summer funding for thesis research, I needed to have an adviser, a research question, and a summer research itinerary solidified by the end of spring break.

I felt somewhat blindsided by this deadline. I’m still a junior. I just started my second Junior Paper. I had given almost no thought to selecting my thesis adviser, let alone constructing a research plan for my still non-existent thesis project.

My thesis research proposal involves visiting an archive in Jerusalem. It’s never too early to start planning.

But for years, I’ve heard stories about the University’s generosity in supporting thesis projects. I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity.

Fortunately, I was able to select an adviser and write a project proposal before the funding deadline. Even so, I wished someone had warned me sooner about the timeline for thesis projects.

As I’ve learned, it is never too early to start thinking about thesis ideas.  Because thesis ideas can gestate for a long time, it can be helpful to maintain a few lists of ideas, models, and resources. You can add to them when you get inspired and consult them when the time finally comes to select a topic.

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Preparing for your Senior Thesis Before your Senior Year: Tips on Finding a Thesis Adviser

 

Students in the Woodrow Wilson School—and other majors!—start preparing for their theses in their junior year.

If you’re caught up on some of my earlier posts, you’ll remember that I’ve been working on my Junior Papers all year, ultimately gearing up towards the independent work that my senior thesis will require. However, as an underclass student, I was definitely unclear about what the senior thesis process would entail. I thought it was something I wouldn’t have to worry about until my last year at Princeton when, in reality, it starts much earlier than that (scary!!).

 

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Macs, Tablets, Photoshop and More: Exploring the Digital Learning Lab

Have you ever wanted to learn Photoshop or make a 3D model? Maybe you’re trying to edit a video or record a podcast?

This year, I have become a frequent visitor to the Digital Learning Lab (DLL), an interdisciplinary, digital creative space located in Lewis Library. I first visited the DLL in the fall in order to borrow a drawing tablet to make a digital illustration for an issue of Nassau Weekly. Since my first introduction to the DLL, I have continued to learn more about all that is offered there, and I had to share!

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De-Mystifying the Black Box Part 2: Research Abroad and Narrowing Everything Down

I went to Paris! Not just for fun—although it’s a dope city—but to get some thesis research done to narrow down a topic. In the first part of this series, I mentioned how I submitted an application for funding to research advertisements in museum archives and libraries in Paris. My goal was to narrow down the initial research question I had at the very beginning of my research process: how Public Service Announcements (PSAs) subvert the capitalist practices within traditional commercial advertising. My goal was to see the advertisements that inspired the French theorists I’ll be drawing from in my thesis. But, alas, there was one problem—when faced with an entire archive of advertisements, where do I even begin??

Some pretty iconic French ads I was inspired by at the Museum of Decorative Arts

I spent most of my time at the Bibliothèque Forney, a library specializing in design and the decorative arts. I emailed ahead of time to speak with one of the librarians, who wanted to get a sense of my argument and which advertisements he could direct me into researching according to my response. After explaining my general thesis topic and the research I had done in my previous two JPs (pro-tip: explaining a thesis topic in a foreign language is a good marker for how well you understand it—or rather how much you don’t), he responded bluntly: “You really need to narrow this down.” My face fell. That’s exactly what I was trying to do, the very reason I was in that library. I didn’t have a corpus of ads, which is what I was in search for in Paris. I had kind of hoped to look at a vast layout of ads and just be naturally drawn to an era, a medium, a theme, or product, but I quickly realized it was far too unrealistic to be able to survey three hundred years of French advertisements and just hope that a few of them would speak to me so I could write eighty pages about them. The librarian asked me how much time I had to write my thesis, suggesting one to two years, and I chuckled, slightly panicked, and said “six months.”

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Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview with Molecular Biology Professor Zemer Gitai

This winter, for our seasonal series entitled “Professorship and Mentorship,” PCURs interview a professor from their home department. In these interviews, professors shed light on the role that mentorship has played in their academic trajectory, including their previous experiences as undergraduate and graduate students as well as their current involvement with mentorship as independent work advisers for current Princeton undergraduates. Here, Nanako shares her interview.

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As one can see from the many PCUR posts on Junior Papers

Professor Gitai wants students to be open minded about doing independent work. 

and Senior Theses, independent work is a huge part of the junior and senior experience here at Princeton. However, everyone has different views on why this process is important, and different departments have different requirements. For this Winter Seasonal Series, I decided to interview Professor Gitai, who I met when I took MOL214: Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology in the fall of my first year at Princeton. Read on to learn more about the thesis writing process for concentrators in molecular biology, and how to make sure you get the most out of this process!

 

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Get to Know your Department Before Concentration Declaration

The spring semester is in full swing, and, for sophomores, concentration declaration is quickly approaching. Obviously, choosing a major is a big decision which will dictate what discipline you study in most of your courses and possibly direct your professional career. However, your department will also define your academic experience as an upperclass student in other ways; each department has different requirements for independent work, different research opportunities for undergraduates, and a different type of community. I found that considering all of these variables helped me to choose my major, but doing so may necessitate a bit of investigating.

So if you are a sophomore about to choose your concentration, what can you do over the next couple months to get to know the department(s) you are interested in?

Here are some tips to get you started, with examples from my beloved home Department of Geosciences:

Members of the geosciences department on a field trip to Iceland in 2016. Undergraduates planned and led this trip which brought together graduate students, post-docs, professors, and administrators. The close-knit community and emphasis on undergraduates are two of the main reasons I declared GEO. Before you declare your major, I encourage you to do some research into the departments you are interested in and find out more about their communities and what kind of opportunities are open to undergraduates.

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Trust the Qualitative: An interview with Sheila Pontis about Field Research

When we think of academic research, we often think of libraries or labs. We might imagine flipping through books, reading articles, or running lab experiments, but there is a branch of research that looks much different than this. In fact, it looks like the real world.

This branch is field research. Researchers from various fields apply this method of research, but in this post, I’ll be focusing on field research in design. Design is a big field with a wild range of applications. Design spans from information design (think infographics, instructions, maps) all the way to User Interface design (think apps and websites), but what’s at the root of design is a need to communicate effectively with people and facilitate understanding. The goal in design is to create systems that are effective–ones that work for their users. Accordingly, when designers conduct field research, they go out in the world and record qualitative data on people’s needs and experiences: What information are they searching for? What do they want out of a product? What parts of the current product are helpful? Which are frustrating and confusing?

In this interview, Sheila Pontis, a lecturer in the Keller Center, talks about her work and encourages designers and student researchers to embrace field research and trust qualitative data.

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How to Survive Major Declaration Season

As spring semester gradually picks up the pace, there are many things to think about depending on your class year. As a senior, you might be thinking about your thesis deadline that is quickly approaching. Juniors might be focused on their Junior Papers. First-year students are preoccupied with mastering a new semester they’ve never experienced. Sophomores have a whole different challenge to tackle: major declaration (check out related posts here and here).

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Research Support Beyond Your Adviser

I love my spring JP adviser. For one, he knows the biggest challenge of independent work is avoiding procrastination. As such, he’s preemptively strict with me on deadlines—pushing me to work on my JP for twenty minutes every day, and to meet with him at least twice a month to report on my progress. When we meet, he asks difficult questions, and provides incisive feedback.

However, like any adviser, there is a limit to what he can provide. My JP project—which focuses on a series of maps produced in twentieth-century Yiddish memorial books— is actually quite distant from his area of expertise. He researches early modern Europe, a period nearly five hundred years before my topic’s. Additionally, I want my JP to engage with scholarship outside of the conventional boundaries of my discipline—particularly memory studies and theories of urbanism.

My spring JP focuses on urban maps produced by Holocaust survivors in the immediate postwar years, like this one of Lomza, a town in northeastern Poland.

But at a university like Princeton, a mismatch between your independent research and your adviser’s area of expertise is by no means a dead end. Because of the diversity of Princeton’s academic program, there are almost definitely people on campus—whether graduate students or faculty—who can supplement your adviser’s mentorship.

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