Looking for an Impactful Summer Research Internship? PEI Delivers

The summer after my first year, I worked for the Pringle Lab as an ecological research assistant in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. I have always loved the natural world, and my internship in Gorongosa allowed me to combine that love with my passion for scientific research. Camping for eight weeks amongst vervet monkeys, warthogs and baboons, and working with researchers in the savanna amidst antelopes, elephants, and lions made the internship a dream come true. That dream was made possible by the Princeton Environmental Institute.

The author, knee-deep in a seasonal waterhole in Gorongosa National Park, dredging the water in search of a downside to his internship… he still hasn’t found any!

Each year, PEI offers numerous established internships in locations around the world. These opportunities cover a range of environmental topics that address complex global issues related to energy and climate, sustainable development, health, conservation, and sustainability. All the internships last at least 8 weeks, are funded by PEI, and are mentored by a professional organization or Princeton professor. In addition to established internships, PEI also offers an opportunity to design your own internship with a professor if you are interested in a specific research topic.

My PEI internship provided me with real world experience in topics I was learning in classes and taught me how research works in the field.

My PEI internship provided me with real world experience in topics I was learning in classes and taught me how research works in the field. I worked alongside three Princeton Ph.D. students, studying the diet of large mammalian herbivores, identifying trees on termite mounds, and surveying floodplain vegetation protected from herbivory with enclosures. Working with the small community of researchers in the park, I developed research skills such as how to plan field projects and take thorough field notes, while also strengthening my interpersonal skills. Much of our work related to the restoration of Gorongosa’s ecosystem following the ecologically catastrophic civil war in Mozambique, and I witnessed first-hand many of the issues that impact modern conservation and humanitarian efforts in developing countries.

If you likewise have a passion for environmentally related research, you can find detailed internship descriptions and application information on the PEI website. The final deadline for established internships is March 27th, but applications are considered on a rolling basis until positions are filled–so apply as soon as possible!

While it takes a little more effort to make a non-established internship happen, it really is all about taking initiative. My internship in Gorongosa was student-initiated and began simply with a couple of students asking Professor Pringle after class if we could intern with his lab. So if you are interested in creating a student-initiated internship, don’t be afraid to ask–talk to a professor or graduate student about creating an internship and get the ball rolling, and read about past internship projects to get ideas and understand what type of project will succeed. For advice on connecting with faculty members, see this recent PCUR post.

For students who are interested in summer research opportunities in non-environmental fields, the office of undergraduate research offers a student-initiated internship program over the summer called OURSIP. The priority deadline is March 1st, then applications are accepted on a rolling basis until April 1st.

— Alec Getraer, Natural Sciences Correspondent

Advice on Reaching Out to Faculty

Sitting in the back of a lecture can make your professor seem distant. Reaching out via email, discussed below, can help you get to know them better.

In my last post, I ended with a suggestion: reach out to faculty members. This post is an assortment of advice on how to go about doing that. More precisely, this post is about how to get in touch with faculty for the first time. Yes, dear readers, today we discuss the joy that is the cold email.

There are several situations in which cold emailing can be in your interest. You might want to get to know the faculty member better, or to do research with them. You might also want their advice on research at other institutions, summer programs, or independent work. Whatever your individual case, however, certain general principles apply when reaching out to faculty.

If cold emails are new or intimidating to you, fear not. The advice contained below will (hopefully) make this menacing task feel much more manageable.

Continue reading Advice on Reaching Out to Faculty

Mapping the Stars: An Interview with Reilly Bova ’20

Reilly Bova ’20 is a Bachelor of Science and Engineering (B.S.E) Computer Science (COS) major with a strong interest in Physics. He spent this past summer conducting research in Princeton’s Physics department. His work included the visualization of deep universe galaxy clusters.

A snapshot from Reilly’s work of the Cosmic Microwave Background projected onto the edge of the observable universe.

Reilly took data on some of the oldest and farthest discovered galaxies (several billion light-years away) and mapped them onto a computational model of the observable universe. He also added to the visualization extremely precise maps of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which is radiation from about 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Right after the Big Bang, the universe was so hot that nothing—not even photons—could travel unimpeded, which rendered the universe opaque. Around year 380,000, the universe had cooled enough that neutral atoms could form, rendering it transparent (i.e., photons could now travel through it) and releasing an enormous amount of energy which we now call the CMB. This Cosmic Microwave Background has been traveling through the universe for billions of years. As the universe expands, the wavelength of the CMB radiation lengthens (i.e., “redshifts”). We can generate a map of what the universe looked like very early in its life by measuring  these redshifts.

I recently had the exciting opportunity to interview Reilly and find out more about his research experience.

Continue reading Mapping the Stars: An Interview with Reilly Bova ’20

Internship Step One: Reaching Out

A few weeks ago, I participated in an event hosted by Princeton’s Peer Career Advisers called an “Insider’s Look at Internships.” I was there as an ambassador for OURSIP—the Office of Undergraduate Research’s Student Initiated Internships Program. OURSIP makes it possible for Princeton students to pursue unpaid research opportunities over the summer, such as my own, by providing funding to cover anticipated expenses.

Use professors and advisers as resources to help find summer opportunities

The unique thing about OURSIP is that it asks students to take it upon themselves to secure their own internship before asking Princeton for help with funding. As opposed to other Princeton programs, like PICS or IIP, which also assist students in the internship search process as part of the program. As students came up to speak to me about OURSIP at the event, I found that their first question was always, “So what is OURSIP?” and after hearing my description their second, more hesitant question was always, “But how did you find your internship?”

Continue reading Internship Step One: Reaching Out

Why Research Immigration? Recapping Previous Experiences and Moving Forward

What I’m most passionate about is immigration. How do people move? Why do they move? And what can we do to assist immigrant communities? While I’m not an immigrant myself, I’m the child of Chinese immigrants who came at a time when Chinese immigration was almost entirely restricted on a racial basis. When my grandparents came to America, only 105 Chinese immigrants per year were permitted entry into the United States. While I acknowledge that I speak from a position of natural-born citizenship, it is the struggles of modern undocumented immigrants that truly fuel my desire to research this field of policy.

The author’s grandfather came to America on this ship in 1949.

Continue reading Why Research Immigration? Recapping Previous Experiences and Moving Forward

First-Years & Sophomores: How to Find Your (Re)Match

At the start of this school year, in a frenzy of self-improvement, I deleted all of my dating apps.

The ReMatch Meet and Greet I attended at CAF

To be honest, I didn’t think I would write about my relationship quandaries on this blog. But weirdly enough, they’ve actually started to help me understand my research experiences. Just keep reading…

By the end of Week 1, I had downloaded all of the apps again and even organized them into a folder on my phone automatically titled “Social.” For all of the (very real) criticisms of this industry, there really is something so satisfying about getting that match notification on your lock screen. We all have days when rejection and loneliness cloud our vision, and it can feel weirdly reassuring to know that a stranger is interested in getting to know you. Continue reading First-Years & Sophomores: How to Find Your (Re)Match

45 Days in the Life of a Researcher: An Invaluable Summer

The developmental social neuroscience lab studies how neural changes promote social, emotional, and cognitive development

As early as November of my freshman year, I remember hearing conversations around campus about summer plans. These conversations were not about the anticipation of vacation and relaxation, but rather the frantic and stressful search for the perfect summer opportunity to pad their resumes. It was safe to say that I was freaking out.

But this pressure motivated me to learn about my options, which ultimately allowed me to further explore my interests and participate in an incredibly rewarding research opportunity. After many meetings with my amazing academic advisers and career advisers at Career Services, I secured a position as a research assistant at a developmental neuroscience lab at UNC Chapel Hill.

This position consisted of nine consecutive weeks of unpaid, nine to five workdays, and the occasional shift on evenings and weekends. Sound draining? Yes, but I loved every second of it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of work. But what was so enlightening about the experience was the fact that I actually enjoyed doing the work. I found something I was passionate about and I had the opportunity to engage with it every single day.

The first day was a blur—meeting everyone in the lab, getting familiar with the lab space, moving into my office (my own office!!!), and running around campus collecting my various parking permits and ID badges. After taking care of these logistical details, I hit the ground running.

Continue reading 45 Days in the Life of a Researcher: An Invaluable Summer

When Research Gets Too Real, Too Soon

This past summer, my research made me cry.

At Princeton, academic research often felt extraordinarily low stakes. Even an argument with a strong motive could feel comfortably removed from the realities of my life. In the academy, we aim for empirical arguments, not personal ones. And though this presented challenges of its own, it was easy to forget how safe it feels to be merely an observer, the omniscient narrator to someone else’s story.  Last semester, for instance, my research focused on medieval history and African-American poetry, two topics firmly removed from my day-to-day reality as a white person in the 21st century.

My research focused on the history of Bears Ears, a sacred landscape in danger

Continue reading When Research Gets Too Real, Too Soon

Celebrating Senior Theses: An Interview with Nadia Diamond ’17

In our spring series, Senior Theses: A Celebration, we take a moment in the interlude between thesis deadlines and graduation to appreciate the diverse, personal, and impactful work of seniors’ capstone research projects.

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For her senior thesis in History, Nadia Diamond wrote about the Magdalen laundries in the Republic of Ireland.

Established at Catholic convents in the 18th century, Magdalen laundries were “rehabilitative” asylums, where sex workers and “fallen women” were put to work cleaning clothes. With the establishment of the Republic in 1922, the laundries lost their rehabilitative nature, and transformed into a form of slave-like punishment for “sinful” women, most of whom were not sex workers, but instead unmarried mothers, sexual assault survivors, or sexually active single women who had been ostracized by their communities. The women worked long hours under supervision of the nuns to wash people’s laundry, without financial compensation, and without freedom to exit the institution. The last of these laundries finally closed in 1996. In her thesis, Nadia focuses on three different laundries — in Dublin, Limerick, and Galway. She explores themes of community disengagement and considers the power that art can play in grappling with this horrific history.

Former Magdalen laundry run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin.

What did you want to learn from this project?

The question that sparked my research was: Why did it take so long for the laywomen who had once been incarcerated to start having their voices heard, and for there to actually be some heat put on the state, the church, and larger society for letting this happen for so long? To do that I decided to look at newspaper archives and trace public discussion in search for any reference of the laundries throughout the 20th century in order to provide historical background for the general societal silence in the 21st century. The laundries were mentioned a lot, but it was all pro-Church, with no voice given to the women inside.

What led you to this topic?

In the summer after my freshman year, I took a global seminar called Performing Irishness, taught by professors Jill Dolan and Stacy Wolf. We were looking at Irish theater as a form of commentary and a method for processing and developing Irish identity. One of the productions we learned about was called Laundry. It was performed in 2011 in the dilapidated laundry in Dublin. The director, who I interviewed this summer, said there were still pieces of furniture, high chairs and things in the building, because it was the last of the laundries to close in 1996. She said it was “as if they just got up and left.” And the artists used these found objects in addition to oral histories to develop performance pieces. Learning about this, I was blown away.

Then Junior Spring an Irish journalist, Fintan O’Toole, taught a seminar called The Arts, Literature, and Cinema of Coercive Confinement in Modern Island, in which we talked about the laundries and other institutions, like mental asylums and industrial schools where kids were sent. We discussed how arts and literature could wrestle with the experiences of an individual and of the greater community.

Did you complete any previous projects about this topic?

I wrote my spring semester JP on a documentary called States of Fear, about the industrial schools where children were forced into labor, which featured survivor testimony and gave me good background. For my thesis I realized I wanted to focus back on the women. Because this documentary came out about the industrial schools and the government put out a 2500 page report specifically about state involvement in the industrial school system that were run by the Catholic religious orders, they collected testimonials, and started a system of reparations for people who had suffered abuse. But that didn’t happen with the Magdalen laundries. There was a report that came out that didn’t address any survivor testimonies, that said that none of the religious orders made any profit, which archivists and historians and activists who have investigated records say is not true.

Continue reading Celebrating Senior Theses: An Interview with Nadia Diamond ’17

Why Independent Work is Different

And what is classroom learning good for, anyways?

It is Tuesday morning. From the back of the classroom, I squint at the pictures of fish being projected on the board, and scribble in a spiral notebook. Queen angelfish: yellow ring on head, I write as the instructor describes the species’ habitat. She flips to the next slide. Townsend angelfish, I write, less common.

A school of doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus) near one of the reefs I studied last summer. Doctorfish can be identified by the dark vertical bars lining the middle of their bodies.

Slipping into the room, with its rows of desks, overhead projector, and professorial monologue – had felt like donning my own old, well-worn clothes. Sixteen years of traditional education have made this role as a student a familiar one.

Yet this time, the circumstances are unusual, and entering the room as a pupil feels suddenly bizarre. It is mid-June, my third week on the island of Bermuda. Just down the hill from this classroom, the turquoise ocean plays against the research station dock. I am at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences to conduct a field research project assessing how polluted groundwater affects the chemistry and ecology of near-shore coral reefs. Over breakfast, someone had mentioned that a summer course instructor would be lecturing her class on fish identification today. I have been planning to conduct fish surveys on the coral reefs I am studying, but (rather critically) first need to learn to identify all the fish. The timing of the lecture couldn’t be more perfect, so here I am: hunched over a table in the very back of the classroom, listening and scribbling notes like my thesis depends on it.

Continue reading Why Independent Work is Different