Research: Have Fun With It!

The second time I met with my independent Junior Paper adviser this semester, I was nervous. I had decided following our first meeting that I wanted this JP to be the continuation of research I had, at that point, started nearly two years before (that project on the 1848 revolutions that keeps popping up in my posts), and I was apprehensive to present ideas that I felt might be stale; at the time, I struggled to think of ways to expand the project to something more mature than what I had begun as a first year student. Plus, I was feeling reluctant to be finishing up a project I had been working on for most of my college career.

My adviser and I discussed some of these concerns of mine, and right before I left, he smiled and said, “Alec, have fun with it.” He repeated this phrase at many of our weekly meetings, especially if I came feeling overwhelmed by often self-imposed worries. It was usually paired with a reassuring statement: “You know more than you think you know.” I knew more than I think I knew, and I was going to have fun. 

Me “having fun” with my research, back in the summer of 2018!
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Finding Funding for Unpaid Internships

We spend a lot of time finding and deciding what internships and jobs to pursue over the summer. There are quite a few posts on this blog alone that help with that process, including this one. After exploring my options, I think I know what I’ll be doing this summer: staying on campus to do research in a neuroscience lab (an experience I’ll talk more about in a future post).

However, knowing what I’ll be doing this summer isn’t all there is to finalizing my summer plans. For one, I don’t know how my experience will actually be funded. Second, I’m unsure where I’ll be staying for the duration of my research.

To better finalize my plans, I turned to SAFE, the Student Activities Funding Engine. SAFE is a website where students can apply for funding for internships and other activities. In addition to finding a relevant funding source for my summer plans, I came across many other interesting funding opportunities for students who have secured unpaid internships over the summer. I’ve gone ahead and summarized a few of them below.

The Student Activities Funding Engine Website (SAFE)
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Coursework and Independent Work: Using One to Guide the Other

Choosing a topic for independent work can be a challenging task. It can be difficult to narrow down the seemingly infinite research topics to one that you find compelling (see my post here with tips on how to do that), and on top of that, you have to juggle your research with coursework that may be unrelated. It isn’t always easy to switch gears between, say, literary criticism and your STL. That said, your coursework need not be totally separate from your independent work, and need not even parallel your independent work at the exact time you are conducting it. With courses for the spring semester just released, I want to suggest ways that you can structure your selections to complement (and even supplement!) your own research. This way, next semester, your own independent work may not actually be so “independent” after all. Continue reading Coursework and Independent Work: Using One to Guide the Other

Summer Anxiety? A Case for Pursuing Research

It’s officially November here at Princeton: the leaves have changed, midterms are over, and fall break is but a blissful memory. If you’re anything like me, this means that you’ve finally settled into the rhythm of the semester. However, it also means that the question you’ve likely been avoiding since the beginning of the year–what will I do this summer?–is becoming harder and harder to ignore, as deadlines that once seemed distant are now imminent. 

As a first-year, I remember that this pressure seemed terrifyingly intense. I was surrounded by sophomores, juniors, and seniors who were anxiously applying to dozens of positions, interviewing, and accepting offers–while I was still busy trying to make friends and adjust to the demands of Princeton’s fast-paced schedule. How could I know what I wanted to do with my summer when I wasn’t even confident in my extracurriculars or my concentration?  

If you relate to this sentiment at all, don’t fret. The answer to your woes? Spend a summer doing research! Princeton provides an incredible number of summer research opportunities that span a wide range of fields. If you’re uncertain of your major (like I was!) or don’t know what you want to do with your life, I’d argue that a summer spent doing research can be beneficial for a wide variety of reasons.

Continue reading Summer Anxiety? A Case for Pursuing Research

How to Schedule a One-on-One with a Professor

As a sophomore planning on declaring in neuroscience, I’ve been wondering a lot about the types of research projects neuroscience majors do for their independent work and senior thesis. To get a better feel for these projects, I’ve been reaching out to neuroscience faculty, sometimes via cold emails – a task made easier with the help of this post. However, I recently wanted to reach out to one of my current neuroscience professors in particular, both to hear more about his undergraduates’ research projects and to develop a better relationship with him.

Building positive relationships with your professors is important and rewarding. It’s easy to regard getting to know professors as a purely professional opportunity: that is, for the purposes of soliciting a recommendation or finding a lab position. However, this process is rewarding in other equally important ways: for example, I enjoy when professors explain the trajectory of their own careers, since it has helped me clarify my own academic and extracurricular interests. Often times my meetings with professors have developed into personally meaningful friendships that I hope will extend beyond my time at Princeton.

A Coffee Chat at Prospect House

Although most of us would agree its important to build relationships with professors, it can be more difficult to know how to accomplish that. How do you approach a professor? Where and when do you meet? And what do you actually say to them? All of these questions ran through my head as I wondered how I would go about meeting the neuroscience professor I mentioned above. Meeting professors can be nerve-wracking – that’s why I’ve put together the eight tips I used that streamlined the process.

Continue reading How to Schedule a One-on-One with a Professor

Alone in Berlin: Making the Most out of my Unstructured Hospital Internship

Taking a photo on my last day with two 6th year medical students

This summer, I worked at a hospital in Berlin for an internship through the Summer Work Program (SWP), a German-department summer activity similar to IIP. As I walked in, I had no idea what department I was supposed to be in, who I was supposed to talk to, or what my responsibilities would be. I desperately introduced myself to people in varying colors of scrubs, hoping that someone would recognize my name as an intern who was supposed to be there. After a half hour I found a tiny HR office, and they loosely directed me to the general surgery department, where my new colleagues’ responses weren’t any more comforting: “Ah, hello Artem! Weren’t you supposed to arrive here next month?” (My name is not, in fact, Artem).

At this point I was worried – did I even have an internship this summer? After explaining to them that I was an intern from Princeton they finally realized who I was, and despite this initial bureaucratic nightmare, my experience turned out to be incredibly rewarding. In fact, in many ways, it was because of this lack of organization and structure that my internship felt special: in this post, I’ll explain how I catered my experience to my interests and what my days looked like at the hospital.

Continue reading Alone in Berlin: Making the Most out of my Unstructured Hospital Internship

The Senior Thesis: Start Early!

The infamous Senior Thesis is a source of stress and anxiety for many students. Although there are information sessions galore for juniors, I didn’t feel like I actually understood the process until I started it. This summer, I began my thesis research process by traveling to Norway to collect observational data on the country’s prison system.

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Summer Experiences: Gaining Perspective Through Interdisciplinary Research

I’ve known that I wanted to do science research since the age of sixteen, when I spent my first summer in a neuroscience lab. My time in the lab taught me many new skills and enabled me to immediately apply them to unsolved problems–what other summer job could be more interesting than that? Though my specific interests have shifted slightly (I’m now a chemical and biological engineer rather than a neuroscientist), I’ve devoted every summer since to benchwork of some sort.

Consequently, when I started to look for laboratory opportunities last year, I immediately gravitated towards biology research. I had loved the past three summers–why not experience another? In the winter, I applied to internships through Princeton’s International Internship Program (IIP), and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to study the mechanisms of Shigella (a bacterium that causes dysentery) infection at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. I accepted immediately, thrilled that I’d be spending my summer abroad–and on Princeton’s dime!

But as the year wore on, I started to consider what the added value of another summer of wet-lab research would be, especially since time constraints would limit my contribution. I felt like was narrowing in on my chosen field too early. Wouldn’t I be bored?

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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.

 

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

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:

Continue reading So Many Sources: How to Manage the Seemingly Unmanageable