Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

As I head into the second half of my internship at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, I find myself equipped with a more focused understanding of my research— and, curiously, a wider understanding of my research. This may sound strange at first. How can my perspective become narrower and broader simultaneously? It might seem paradoxical, but I’ve realized that digging deeper into a research project often entails zooming in and stepping back.

Here I am standing on Liberty Bridge and looking at Budapest from across the Danube River–a zoomed out view if you will.

Continue reading Zooming In and Stepping Back: A Two-Sided Approach to Research

A Summer of Surprises in the Windy City

When I hopped on my flight to Chicago a few weeks ago, I was surprisingly calm and collected about spending 10 weeks as an intern in a whole new city by myself. This seemed odd to me, because I’m normally extremely nervous about leaving my house for any longer than a week. I still remember how terrified I was during my first few months at Princeton. I worried about everything — The fact that the laundry room was located six entryways away scared me. Were my awful laundry habits going to leave me perpetually clothes-less?

But going to Chicago, I felt somewhat prepared. It’s probably because I pictured Chicago as a smaller version of New York City, which I had grown comfortable with during my two years at Princeton. While several of my friends were traveling to exotic, exciting places around the globe, Chicago seemed comparatively boring to me.

Now, I think back to my pre-Chicago mindset and can’t believe how terribly wrong I was.

My first view of Chicago’s skyline which I captured 5 minutes before I landed.

Continue reading A Summer of Surprises in the Windy City

Four Tips for Summer Research

Greetings from Rio de Janeiro!

Back in April, I shared some tips about how to prepare for summer research. Now we’re well into summer, and I’m on the ground in Brazil — conducting my thesis research on psychiatrist Nise da Silveira (1905-1999) and her legacy in Rio. I have made several trips to da Silveira’s psychiatric institute, particularly to visit the Hotel da Loucura — a creative space where artists and the institute’s clients come together to make theater. With two weeks of research completed, I thought I would share some summer research tips that have helped me so far.

Mural of Nise da Silveira in the Hotel da Loucura

1 – Plan in increments. For me, the most daunting — and most exciting — part of tackling a long-term project is the need for flexible and evolving goals. Especially for an ethnographic and interview-based project like mine, I cannot predict what will come up. So far, I have found it most useful to take things a week at a time. I make weekly objectives: attend one theater workshop, conduct two interviews, make a visit to da Silveira’s archives, etc. This allows me to break down the immensity of a two month long research project into smaller, reachable goals.

2 – Write something everyday. I am discovering something new everyday: about Rio, about the people I meet, about art’s ability to heal — and, of course, about Nise da Silveira. I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go, jotting down notes, observations, and questions as I sit on my daily bus home from the psychiatric institute. Back in my apartment, I use these notes to write a short journal entry on my computer: a 15-minute exercise that not only gets me thinking critically about my research experiences, but also produces material that may be used months down the road in my thesis.

Continue reading Four Tips for Summer Research

Stage 1 of my Summer Internship Abroad: Exploring Budapest’s Present and Past

The Chain Bridge spans the Danube River, connecting the Buda and Pest sides of the city.

Hello (Szia) from Budapest, Hungary! In a few days, I will start my internship with the European Roma Rights Centre, where I will be working with the legal team and doing research on anti-Roma discrimination. But for now, I am busy exploring the city and getting acclimated to my temporary home. As I wrote in April (and as Princeton’s IIP program suggested), interning abroad can be thought of as a comprehensive research experience — a time to collect “data” on our surrounding environments. Fellow PCUR blogger Vidushi gave similar advice during her study abroad experience in New Zealand, where she talked about taking courses relevant to New Zealand culture. Following everyone’s “immerse-yourself-in-the-culture” suggestion, I used my first few days in Budapest to do some informal “research” on the city. Continue reading Stage 1 of my Summer Internship Abroad: Exploring Budapest’s Present and Past

Mentorship in Research: An ode to the grad student (and one grad student in particular)

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, Zoe shares her story.


Mentorship in Research 1
Cleo and I liked this display at the turtle museum of Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica.

The mentorship series asks us to examine the role of mentors in our lives as undergraduate researchers. Earlier this semester, Jalisha discussed the challenges and value of professors’ mentorship, and Emma reflected on peers as mentors. This post is an ode to the graduate student – actually, an ode to my favorite grad student, Cleo Chou.

I met Cleo the summer after my freshman year, when I was an intern through the Princeton Environmental Institute. Cleo’s Ph.D project is a field study of rainforest trees and how they respond to nutrient enrichment and limitation. This question has crucial implications for how we predict tropical rainforests’ responses to climate change.

I spent a month working with Cleo in Princeton, and then six weeks at her field site in Costa Rica, hiking through the rainforest and surveying the saplings in her study. Cleo and I were together 23 hours a day, every day, with my daily hour-long run our only substantial time apart. In the long hours of rainforest hiking, tree-finding, leaf-counting, and trunk-measuring, we talked about everything from our career aspirations to food to our families and friendships. Continue reading Mentorship in Research: An ode to the grad student (and one grad student in particular)

Moving Out: A Nostalgic Reminder of the Power of Research Stories

Although I was very excited to be done with finals, I was definitely not-so-thrilled about packing and storing my things before summer. After discovering that we lose access to our rooms two days earlier than expected, I’ve had to ‘prepone’ my packing plans (aka I realized that I needed to start packing early). So, in the midst of finals, I decided to take a study break and start cleaning out my desk so that I didn’t have to pull an all-nighter after my last final (which would be dreadfully ironic).

While going through my drawers I found something that I hadn’t actually seen since move-in day of freshman year: a hand-made lidden mini-basket. It took me a few seconds to remember how I had obtained it, but when it came to me, I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia.

The Rwandan hand-made basket that reminded me of an incredibly moving story I heard two summers ago.

Continue reading Moving Out: A Nostalgic Reminder of the Power of Research Stories

Failure at Princeton: A Conversation with Graduating Seniors

Over the past few weeks, Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer has received a lot of attention for his CV of Failures, in which he chronicles his lack of success in various academic pursuits. Many have called Professor Haushofer’s CV inspiring — because most of us rarely hear about the trials and tribulations of acclaimed individuals.

We also rarely hear about the trials and tribulations of graduating seniors. Our default is to view graduating seniors as 100% successful in all their endeavors,  especially those who receive prestigious awards and fellowships. I thought it would be great to sit down with some award-winning members of the class of 2016 to hear their thoughts on the topic of failure.

Big thanks to seniors Andrew Nelson, Jack Mazzulo, and Cameron Bell for contributing to this conversation. But the conversation around failure doesn’t have to stop here! Consider reaching out to RCA’s, Peer Advisors, and friends to have meaningful conversations about success and failure.

— Jalisha Braxton, Natural Sciences Correspondent


3 Steps to a Fulfilling Summer Research Experience

The weather might make you feel like summer is impossibly far off (as I’m writing this, it’s a depressingly chilly 37 degrees), but move-out day is less than two months away! Given June’s swift approach, now is an excellent time to start thinking about how you can get the most out of your summer experiences.

Whether your summer plans involve flying to another continent or staying on campus to do research, some introspective preparation can truly ~elevate~ your experience.

This summer, I will be doing an IIP internship at a public interest law organization in Budapest, Hungary. I’m currently in the process of solidifying travel and housing details, but logistics aren’t the only thing to plan for. Last week, for example, all summer IIP students attended a meeting to get advice on how to make the most of our internships. Many of the speakers’ suggestions involved logistical preparation, echoing the tips Dylan wrote about a few weeks back. But they also focused on introspective preparation and encouraged us to reflect on where our research fits into our lives — and on what kinds of researchers we aim to be. Here are three of the tips that we discussed: Continue reading 3 Steps to a Fulfilling Summer Research Experience

Five Steps to Prepare for Summer Research

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s spring again, and we only have a month to go before finals. As summer approaches, many Princetonians are getting ready for jobs, internships, and — if they’re lucky — vacation. Others, like me, are prepping to do research.

This has been on my mind a lot recently. I am a PIIRS Undergraduate Fellow, which means I am receiving funding and guidance to conduct my thesis research abroad this summer. Recently, I submitted my final proposal. I hope to explore Brazilian psychoanalyst Nise da Silveira’s legacy outside of the realm of psychology. Known for using artistic expression as a means of treatment for schizophrenic patients, da Silveira’s teachings serve as a source of inspiration for some artists in Brazil. Finishing my proposal forced me to prepare for my time in Rio. Here, I thought I would share the five steps I found most helpful.

A plus about doing my summer research in Rio? Seeing this view from the plane!

1) Think about your personal goals and interests. Reflect a little. What do you want to get out of your independent work? For me, I know I want to become a better ethnographer, improve my fluency in Portuguese, and immerse myself in Rio’s art world. My project is designed to address these goals by placing me in constant contact with artists. Locating your areas of interest and desired growth is important if you haven’t picked a topic yet, too; find something that excites you! After all, independent work is more than a torturous graduation requirement—it’s your time to grow intellectually and hone in on something enthralling!

2) Talk to professors. I know this is something we write about a lot on PCUR, but that’s because professors are such valuable resources. Once I had my initial ideas to explore art and mental stigma, I spoke to two professors about the topic. I left these meetings not only with ten books to take out of the library and myriad themes to begin exploring, but also with the confidence that this project was a good one. Continue reading Five Steps to Prepare for Summer Research

Fighting Imposter Syndrome and Finding My Confidence at Princeton

Even though they said I belonged, I felt like I was hiding a flawed interior - that I was an imposter among the many high achievers.
Even though they said I belonged, I felt like they had only seen the veneer over a flawed interior – that I was an imposter among the many high achievers.

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.

Continue reading Fighting Imposter Syndrome and Finding My Confidence at Princeton