We all acknowledge a need to look beyond the Orange Bubble. Particularly since the election, I’ve felt it even more necessary to keep up with the world. At the start, I found myself engrossed by news stories on Facebook, Google, and iNews. Quickly, though, I realized I was in another sort of bubble, as these are all limited by your friend networks, political leanings, and past searches. Hearing others express similar concern, I reached out to a number of friends to see what strategies they use to look outside the bubble while also balancing a busy work schedule. The following tips are some ideas I got from them.
Listen to short news stories when walking places. Lots of people listen to music while walking to class. Why not plug in your headphones and listen to the news? One friend uses the NPR app to listen to 3-8 minute long stories while on the way to class: a simple means of following current events.
Listen to podcasts. For longer news stories, it’s easy to download podcasts from NPR or other major news outlets. One friend told me about “Pod Save America,” maintained by former Obama speechwriters. Podcasts are ideal for lengthier activities: listen while you exercise, as you get ready in the morning, or when you’re on a long train ride.
In the Woodrow Wilson School, theses are always due the first week of April. Many other departments have deadlines in late April or May. Depending on who you ask, having an early thesis deadline is either the best or worst thing. But everyone agrees that it is a real thing – and it makes March pretty hectic for WWS majors like me.
I’ve noticed, however, that March seems to be pretty hectic for all Princeton students. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are looking for summer internships. Seniors are figuring out their post-grad plans. And everyone is gearing up for midterms… which seem to arrive faster in the spring than they do in the fall.
Since the day I learned how to write a research paper, I always assumed I needed to use the same research question throughout my project. To me, the question seemed to be the metaphorical guiding light in the darkness of independent work, the go-to reference for determining what information is relevant or what can be put aside. It wasn’t until I started conducting my own study that I realized my initial assumption was wrong. It turned out that the more I learned about my topic, the more I learned about what I actually wanted to figure out. In hindsight, I now see that my search for a research question followed the path of Mount Stupid, or as I’ve renamed it, Mount Illusion.
For those who are unfamiliar with this comic, Mount Stupid is a graphic that originally appeared on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. The comic is an illustration of a chart in which the x axis measures one’s knowledge of a topic and the y axis measures one’s willingness to give his or her opinion on it. The small hump in the middle of the graph is called Mount Stupid, otherwise known as the place where people who think they know a lot about a topic are actually not that knowledgeable on the subject.
In my case, I’ve repurposed Mount Stupid so that the y axis measures how close I was to finding my research question and the hump, Mount Illusion, measures when I believed I finally found it (needless to say, I was wrong). As the illustration above shows, I didn’t actually find my question until I was well into the research process. Here’s how I finally figured it out:
I’ve always struggled with citations: remembering where I should put commas, how to format journal names, how many authors I should list before writing et al (or was it et. al.?). Last year, my roommate caught me using my freshman year copy of A Pocket Style Manual as I complained my way through the tedious formatting of my junior paper citations.
“You don’t use Mendeley?” she asked me. “Oh, wow. Let me help you.”
After saving many tedious hours with the help of a citation manager, I’m passing my roommate’s wisdom on, by way of a 12-minute guide that can get you started using Mendeley. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll never go back!
Mendeley and Zotero, the two most popular free citation management programs, store sources and create formatted in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies. I use Mendeley, which has the benefit of allowing you to highlight and annotate PDFs within its desktop app. But I also have friends who swear by Zotero, which is better with non-PDF sources. (If you’re torn, you can check out this helpful comparison.)
I’m not overly stressed right now … and it feels weird. Last semester, I got used to the combo of my procrastination and taking three seminars, so I was always drowning in last minute readings and response papers. But this semester, things changed: I’m deliberately managing my time better because I don’t want to experience the frenzy I went through in the fall.
It feels odd not to be under crushing stress. It’s almost as if I fear things will get gradually harder and I won’t be able to keep up. That said, I discovered I really like this calm state I’m in. I’m more focused and engaged, probably because I’m making an effort not to put myself in the same procrastination- stress-burning out cycle. My work is getting more demanding each week, but I’m still maintaining an equilibrium.
I realized I’d like to maintain this mentality as long as possible, especially when midterms and finals weeks hit. Here are some tips I have–whether you feel crushing pressure or just feel like you’re coasting through–on how to stay relaxed and optimistic even as your work becomes more demanding.
At one point or another, we’ve all logged into TigerHub more than we should have in a 24-hour period.
Reasons for this vary. Perhaps you were checking grades. Perhaps you were trying to switch classes. Or perhaps you were checking to see what room your classes were in — something that has surprising power over where and when you’ll grab lunch during the semester. It’s amazing how “Location: TBA” is suspenseful enough to justify repeated trips through the Central Authentication Service.
I can’t say I’m immune to the suspense. As Intersession faded away, and neither of my two classes had room assignments, I kept checking to see if they’d been posted.
The first finally appeared: HIS 361: The United States Since 1974 — McCosh 50
Then the second: SOC 223: Hustles and Hustlers – McCosh 50
And just like that, I became a second semester senior with two classes in the same room, two hours apart. I found this to be an amusing coincidence. But it was also a nostalgic coincidence, because my last two Princeton classes would be in the same room as one of my first –I’d taken Econ 101 in McCosh 50 during my freshman fall.
“We can all remember a time we procrastinated and it really paid off. We hang onto that like gold.”
My ears perked up. I was driving home from the supermarket when Dr. Tim Pychyl, director of Carleton College’s Procrastination Research Group in Canada, appeared on NPR to discuss “Why We Procrastinate.” My thesis, never far from my thoughts, immediately came to mind. I listened closely as Pychyl explained procrastination: what it is, why we do it, and whether it gives us what we want.
Pychyl highlights a common misconception: that we work best under pressure. I know graduates who wrote the bulk of their theses in the final two weeks, justified by the notion that productivity and creativity are most accessible when facing a tight time constraint. Stress, however, according to Pschyl, doesn’t produce the best work — it just forces us to complete tasks. He discusses an experiment where students were made to text in their feelings about work throughout the school week. Earlier on, students justified their procrastination with the common myth of last-minute creativity. However, as deadlines approached, nearly all wished they had started earlier.
So why is procrastination such a common practice? Pychyl says it has to do with rewards processing. If we do well on a task that we complete last minute, that behavior is reinforced. Success remains fresh in our mind, while stress fades in our memories. It masks the fact that we might have done even better — and slept a whole lot more — had we allowed ourselves more time.
As spring quickly approaches and the 2017-2018 school year becomes a not-so-far-off reality, PCUR is starting our annual search for new correspondents! If you are a freshman or sophomore looking to hone your research and writing skills, PCUR could be a great fit for you. Below, each PCUR Correspondent offers their own perspective on what they enjoy about PCUR and why you should apply to join us:
“I love being a part of a close-knit community of student researchers from whom I am constantly learning. PCUR has helped me grow tremendously as a researcher, writer and team member and has pushed me to be more reflective and purposeful in my research. If you are passionate about research and wish to learn more about its role in the Princeton undergraduate experience, PCUR is right for you!”
This semester, each PCUR will interview a Princeton alumnus from their home department about his/her experience writing a senior thesis. In Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Alumni Perspectives, the alumni reveal how conducting independent research at Princeton influenced them academically, professionally and personally. Here, Vidushi shares her interview.
Lindy Li ‘12 is a familiar name for many students on our campus. A philosophy major who served as USG Class President for all four of her years at Princeton, Lindy Li ran for Congress in 2016 at the age of twenty-four. When we chatted on the phone as part of this semester’s seasonal series, I was struck by her genuine enthusiasm and the way she has woven lessons from her undergraduate research in philosophy into her current career in politics.
While listening to an astrophysics podcast, I stumbled into an epiphany about my course of study at Princeton. It was Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk, and two female astrophysicists had been invited on the show to discuss women in the field. About halfway through the episode, I asked myself why I wasn’t pursuing astronomy as a major, especially since I’ve had a fascination with space since childhood. I circled back to high school for an explanation. I had gotten an A- in pre-calculus for the year, and since I was immersed in the high school mindset of perfectionism, I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough at math to pursue anything in the STEM fields. My fellow PCUR blogger Vidushi wrote about how this same feeling I had of lacking “innate brilliance” creates gender gaps in fields like astrophysics. She writes, “Women who don’t see themselves as innately brilliant mathematicians, musicians, or philosophers often do not give themselves the chance to pursue these disciplines.”
When it came time to apply to Princeton, I looked for things I thought I’d be “better” at, and that’s when I started looking into social sciences. I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of politics and had always enjoyed French in high school, so I decided to pursue these once I got to college. This course of study has not been easy by any means; however, I sometimes felt like I had settled into these fields because I wasn’t confident enough to pursue other ones. Complaints from my peers about the difficulty of the math and physics courses necessary to study astrophysics overwhelmed me, so I denied myself the opportunity to explore them. I also had this realization at the end of sophomore fall–right before having to declare a concentration in the spring. If you’re struggling with what you want to study at Princeton, hopefully I can give you some encouragement!