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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So Many Sources: How to Manage the Seemingly Unmanageable

Last week, a librarian at the University of Cape Town emailed me some scanned items from their archives which I requested for my Junior Paper research. I’ve looked through them, and I can see that they will be quite useful for my work.

While I am glad that I have access to these sources now, they also add to a problem I had before I received them: in the research work I have been doing, I have what seems like too many materials to work with. During my time over spring break at the New York Public Library and Center for Jewish History, I amassed literally hundreds of newspaper and journal articles as primary sources.

At first, I was unsure of what to do with all of them. It simply seemed an overwhelming task to sift through them to figure out what was needed for my work (this is where having a clear yet flexible research question comes in handy; see my post here on that). A similar thing had happened to me this summer when I was working on a research project likewise involving hundreds of newspaper articles, and I do not think I dealt with it as well as I could have then. So, reflecting on these mistakes, I worked out some strategies to make things more manageable this time around. I hope these to be helpful for any student researcher who feels like they’re buried under a mound of potential sources:

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Maybe Research Isn’t My Thing – A Few Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Give Up on Research

 

This computer and gel scanner were my best friends during my summer internship – I took many, many pictures of DNA samples and made many, many mistakes over the four week period.

As the weather gets warmer and summer gets closer, a lot of people’s minds are on their upcoming summer research internships. I know from my personal experience that doing research over the summer can be quite frustrating — it seems like you’ll never get any results and it’s so easy to say that “research just isn’t my thing.” In this post, I want to highlight a few things to think about before you decide that pursuing research as a profession isn’t for you.

 

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How to Take Summer Classes

As summer approaches, it is time for us to begin finalizing summer plans. An important summer option that many Princeton students forget to consider is taking courses at other institutions over the summer. This option allows you to take prerequisites and certain AB distributional requirements outside of Princeton and free your schedule to take other interesting electives during your time here. In this post, I will outline the process of getting approval for summer courses and suggest possible funding opportunities to cover course tuition.

Taking courses over the summer is an important option that we do not hear much about.

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How to Prepare for an Internship

As Princeton students begin to finalize internship plans, excitement and anticipation begin to take over, and we start to think about how to make the most out of our experience. Whether you are preparing for a summer internship or a one-day princeternship in the spring, you will learn the most if you begin preparing ahead of time. In this post, I will give a few tips on how to best prepare for an internship.

Students finalizing internship positions are eager to begin learning, and prior preparation can make a difference in that experience.

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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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Learning from Summer Experiences – Redefining Research

Since many of you (including myself) have probably started thinking about your upcoming summer plans, in this post, I wanted to do a reflection on my past summer and how my perception of research changed through that experience.

At the Kyoto Symposium, scholars from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University met up for a poster presentation. This is at the Nijo Castle.

This past summer, I spent 11 weeks in Japan, which was something that was only possible thanks to Princeton’s incredibly long summer. (For readers unfamiliar with Princeton’s schedule — this happens because Princeton starts the fall semester later than most schools.)

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What To Do When You’re Rejected From Both PICS and IIP

We’re done with half the academic year and you’ve probably started to think about what you’re going to do this upcoming summer. Many of you have probably taken advantage of two of the largest summer internship programs sponsored by Princeton: Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) and International Internship Program (IIP). Some of you may be lucky enough to have gotten a positive response. However, some of you, like me as a first year, were probably told that your application “unfortunately did not work out this year.”

One of the locations I interned at was the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan.

But have no fear! While I was rejected from both PICS and IIP as a first year, I still managed to participate in two great internships (one eight weeks and the other four weeks) that led to a spectacular summer — in this post, I’d like to share how. (For another great post about Princeton summer opportunities, look at this post by fellow correspondent Raya!)

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Art as a Way of Knowing: Integrating the Art Museum in Your Research and Studies

If you were to take a tour of Princeton’s campus, your tour guide would point out various things that are unique to Princeton’s campus. For example, we have the third largest university chapel in the world, and Frist Campus Center used to be Einstein’s laboratory. But, something that is incredibly special about Princeton’s campus–and I feel we don’t talk enough about –is the fact that Princeton has an amazing art museum directly on campus.

The Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM), whose collections hold works by artists ranging from Cézanne to Basquiat, is a great spot for tourists and community members to visit. However, it is arguably an even greater spot for students.

This week I share a little bit about my experiences at the art museum and interview Juliana Ochs Dweck, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Engagement, to talk about the different ways the PUAM can serve as a resource for research and studies at Princeton. After all, as Dweck notes about the university museum, “the whole point is to be a teaching museum.”

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Highlights and Reflections from the Andlinger Center Annual Meeting

Every year, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment organizes a conference where students, faculty, and industry professionals discuss research and innovations related to clean energy and other environmental solutions. The event features keynote speakers, faculty panels, poster presentations, amongst other sessions to introduce and highlight the work of different professionals. The purpose of this event is to educate students and professionals on new advances in energy technologyand to encourage even further research.

This year, I attended my first annual meeting, where I learned more about the clean energy research at Princeton and in New Jersey. In this article, I will reflect on some of the highlights from the event.

Phil Murphy’s Keynote Address

Along with fellow students from New Jersey, I met with Phil Murphy as he spoke about our role in energy and environmental research in the state.

This year, the keynote speaker was Phil Murphy, the Governor of New Jersey. In his speech, Murphy addressed challenges in clean energy reforms, and suggested that innovation is essential to create environmental advances. He encouraged people to work together, because at these conferences, individuals can share ideas. Others can then step in and say “we can help.”

At the address, I sat next to fellow students from New Jersey, the CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), Ralph Izzo, and the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Emily Carter. Seeing individuals from different backgrounds coming together around a common goal reminded me of the importance of collaboration in research. While one lab cannot solve all of the energy problems in the state, the efforts of multiple people can. As institutional researchers, we are responsible for driving innovation and developing new technologies in our fields, thus it is important for us to collaborate in the lab and across the academic sector. 

Faculty and Industry Panels

Kris Ohleth from Orsted speaks about current work on wind energy developments in New Jersey.

Amongst the discussions, faculty in various departments spoke about their research. Representatives from other universities and companies such as Orsted and ExxonMobil were also present to speak about energy visions and advances at their companies. The topics discussed ranged from ocean wind turbines to innovative approaches to produce biofuels and even new technologies for clean transportation. These panels were useful to observe where we stand in energy research and where we plan to go.

Poster Presentations

The event concluded with poster presentations where undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs presented their research.

 

Undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdocs from different engineering and natural science departments presented their research in a symposium-style poster session. I presented on the research I did during my summer internship with the Andlinger Center.

Throughout the event, I spoke with some of the presenters situated around me. I heard from a postdoc in the mechanical engineering department, Guang, about research in fluid dynamics to harvest energy. I also heard from a senior in the chemistry department, Gabriella, about electrochemistry reactions related to energy. In addition to learning about interesting research, I learned that Guang had been a TA for MAE305, a course which I am currently taking, and Gabriella had taken multiple courses in the Portuguese department, where I am interested in getting a certificate.

As I heard this, I thought back to what Phil Murphy had mentioned. The purpose of academic conferences is to connect people and encourage collaborations. Not only are we researchers, we are also students that continue learning from others.

The Andlinger Center Annual Meeting is designed to further conversation on research and innovation. Regardless of your academic background, these issues impact the community as a whole, and it is important to learn about the future of energy and environmental concerns.

If you could not attend (or even if you did), I hope that my reflections serve to inform you about some of the conference highlights and I encourage you to attend events at the Andlinger Center throughout the year. In addition, learning through collaboration in research is not limited to the science field. You can also look for similar events and opportunities to learn through collaborative research in other departments by visiting the Office of Undergraduate Research event calendar

–Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent