This semester, I took my first graduate seminar in philosophy–Rationality & Irrationality with Professor Thomas Kelly. I went into the class without any knowledge of epistemology and some apprehension about my meager philosophical background compared to other students.
At the same time, I wanted the challenge and growth opportunities of an environment where students were fully invested in the material and subject matter covered. As a senior, I also wanted to see if I would want to pursue graduate work in philosophy. So, I swallowed my hesitations and enrolled.
In middle school, I remember being told that the best way to write an essay is with an outline. We would receive five-paragraph-essay worksheets, complete with a thesis statement, sub-arguments, and important supporting information. It was direct, simple, and structured.
In this post, I hope to advocate for a different sort of writing. Outlines are certainly helpful organizational tools. But as I delve into my thesis, I find myself taking a more free-form approach. As I have previously written, I am writing on the legacy of pioneer Brazilian art therapist Nise da Silveira. Based on two months of ethnographic research, my thesis is about how da Silveira’s image is evoked and utilized by people who continue similar work. I have lots of interesting ideas, but no single, unifying argument. While writing an outline might be useful down the road, right now it would impose a limiting structure on my thought process.
Instead, I have decided to do what my friend Lily calls “Frankensteining.” To her, writing an essay is like creating Frankenstein’s monster: you have to find all the parts before you can sew them together and create a body. Lily explains:
“I think you need to Frankenstein when you’re developing any kind of complex argument because you can’t know what you’re going to say until you start figuring it out and seeing how different insights fit together. It’s writing as a nonlinear process — you don’t brainstorm and then write. They happen at the same time.”
It’s officially December, which means it’s one month closer to Dean’s Date. This also means that the time you have to gather your secondary sources, otherwise known as the preexisting literature on your research topic, is quickly dwindling down. I’m sure I speak for myself and several other independent researchers when I say that juggling multiple sources can be not only overwhelming, but also confusing. With so many articles focused on similar topics, how can one keep up with all of the new information?
Princeton’s resource network, like Firestone Library under construction, is so big and complex you could spend hours inside it but only see a small part, never knowing what you’re missing. Here are 3½ of campus’ most under-the-radar resources, and a guide to using them.
1a. Data and Statistical Services: Lab edition What: The original inspiration for this post, the DSS Lab is literally underground. A well-lit room of big-screen PC’s, the lab is run by two incredibly friendly statistical consultants who can help you download, format, reshape, or analyze data. Where: The A floor of Firestone – see this map. How: The lab consultants’ schedule is available here. Walk-in hours are available from 2-5 p.m. on weekdays through December 16. Underground tip: For brief, specific questions, send an email to the consultants at email@example.com.Continue reading Princeton Underground: A researcher’s guide to lesser-known resources
Recently ranked the best university in the country by US News and World Report, Princeton has a lot to gloat about. Yet on the list of resources and opportunities that make Princeton exceptional, rarely are the students themselves mentioned. While my classes here have been enlightening, my relationships with classmates have had the greatest impact on me.
Every day, Princeton students take in a wealth of knowledge, and it’s only natural that we share it with each other. I have a friend interning at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab down the road who discussed her project with me over dinner. She’s looking at data from four different satellites orbiting Earth to study magnetic reconnection events, or in other words, when solar winds (streams of high-energy charged particles from the sun) disrupt the magnetic field around Earth. I had never been exposed to this field, but in just a few minutes was able to understand several technical terms from a field of study completely different from mine.
And yet, most of my conversations aren’t outright academic. Amongst friends, there’s no pressure to turn conversations into precept. I’ve found that this balance between casual and academic actually aids my studies.
Tortoise is an annual journal that publishes excerpts from Princeton undergraduate and graduate student research, featuring interdisciplinary work that emphasizes the writingprocess. With Tortoise’s “early action*” deadline coming up on December 16th at 5 PM, I sat down with senior editor Sahand Keshavarz Rahbar to learn what the journal is about.
Going into fall break, reality set in for myself and several other juniors in the Sociology Department as we wrote our first official proposals for our Junior Papers. While writing my draft, I had to answer several questions for myself and my professor. What was my choice of methodology? Where did I plan on finding my data? How was my research significant to others? And on top of those explanations, the most daunting question of all—what was my intended timeframe of completion?
My initial thought was that I should have plenty of time; the final paper isn’t due until January 10th and I already have a game plan for how I want to conduct my research. But as I began to create the deadlines for gathering my secondary sources, analyzing my data, writing the paper, and more, I soon realized that I needed to get started on several tasks within a matter of days if I didn’t want to end up scrambling at the last minute. So after deciding on my umpteenth deadline, I finally found myself going into a state I’m sure we are all familiar with: panic mode.Continue reading Is It Time to Panic Yet?
Does your work suddenly feel trivial? Meaningless? Low-priority? How can you do your readings or work on your thesis when it feels like the world is crumbling around you? Regardless of how you feel about the elections, you might be finding it hard to concentrate on anything but politics. You are not alone. So many of us have experienced this before, caught between our simultaneous needs for self-care and academic productivity. With that in mind, I have compiled a short list of tips that might help you with your academics as you go through tough times.
1. Ask for extensions on assignments. Princeton students sometimes forget about this. I have personally asked multiple times, and have never been turned down. Professors want to receive quality work, and if you feel an assignment won’t be up to standards by the deadline, it is okay to ask for more time. Extensions are not to be abused, but they can give you the time you need to complete assignments on a less stressful schedule.
2. Every little bit counts. Sometimes, you don’t have the energy to do more than a few pages of reading. That’s okay! If you can space out your work and do a little bit at a time, you will have less to catch up on later when you are in an easier state of mind.
3. Do something that puts you in a good mood. Read a novel. Get ice cream. See a play. Personally, I like to go on long walks with friends. As Vidushi wrote in a recent post, taking time for things you find enjoyable fosters healthier work habits without compromising productivity. Stepping away from your assignments will let you recharge and be better prepared to work afterwards. Continue reading Five Tips for Studying During an Apocalypse
This is what Amanda Wilkins, director of the Writing Program, told me at the beginning of this fall: not the kind of teeth that draw blood, but certainly the kind that instill a little fear.
When immediate priorities are vying for our attention and long-term project deadlines are in the faraway future – perhaps a final paper that is weeks away, a JP not due until Reading Period, or a full thesis not due before April of next year, for crying out loud – it’s easy to push the long-term tasks off to another day, and then another.
Friendly teeth: progress deadlines with bite.
Insert friendly teeth: the intermediate accountability standards, made and enforced to keep us on track between now and the distant future. Also known as progress deadlines with bite.
I have a year to write my thesis – I don’t want to be just getting started in March. Heck, I want to be done by March, and spend the last month before my deadline deciding between fonts.
Kidding. The only acceptable font for a thesis is Times New Roman, size 12.
And one other problem: I am almost never early.
Call me a chronic time optimist – I consistently underestimate how long it will take to get from outline to paper, or to walk across campus to meet a friend, or to shower, brush my teeth, do my readings, and teleport to class. Chronic time optimism runs in my family, and was reinforced growing up in Hawaii, home of “island time.”
After looking at the midterm essay prompt for my French class, I was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of readings I would have to review and analyze. Dozens of articles, books, and excerpts loomed on the syllabus, and I had no idea where to begin. I often run into this problem. Synthesis is a meaningful combination of several sources, and can be difficult to do when everything seems important. The pressure to come up with a unifying and relevant thesis makes these initial stages of finding information even more stressful. Having experienced this struggle several times, I’ve come up with a few ways to organize sources that will hopefully be useful in the writing process!
Writing begins with a research question. That question might come from a given prompt, or from a personal interest. Either way, it provides a loose focus that will help eliminate irrelevant information when you’re reviewing and searching for sources. To speed up this process, make sure that if you’re reviewing sources you’ve already read in the semester, you’re just reviewing and not re-reading! You’ve already done the brunt of the work: simply skim through the readings to select ideas and passages that relate to your research question. Also, don’t feel pressured to use every source you’ve skimmed. Ultimately sources should function to bolster your own conclusions, so instead of crowding your paper with them, further analyze the ones most relevant to your research focus.