Get to Know your Department Before Concentration Declaration

The spring semester is in full swing, and, for sophomores, concentration declaration is quickly approaching. Obviously, choosing a major is a big decision which will dictate what discipline you study in most of your courses and possibly direct your professional career. However, your department will also define your academic experience as an upperclass student in other ways; each department has different requirements for independent work, different research opportunities for undergraduates, and a different type of community. I found that considering all of these variables helped me to choose my major, but doing so may necessitate a bit of investigating.

So if you are a sophomore about to choose your concentration, what can you do over the next couple months to get to know the department(s) you are interested in?

Here are some tips to get you started, with examples from my beloved home Department of Geosciences:

Members of the geosciences department on a field trip to Iceland in 2016. Undergraduates planned and led this trip which brought together graduate students, post-docs, professors, and administrators. The close-knit community and emphasis on undergraduates are two of the main reasons I declared GEO. Before you declare your major, I encourage you to do some research into the departments you are interested in and find out more about their communities and what kind of opportunities are open to undergraduates.

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How to Prepare for an Internship

As Princeton students begin to finalize internship plans, excitement and anticipation begin to take over, and we start to think about how to make the most out of our experience. Whether you are preparing for a summer internship or a one-day princeternship in the spring, you will learn the most if you begin preparing ahead of time. In this post, I will give a few tips on how to best prepare for an internship.

Students finalizing internship positions are eager to begin learning, and prior preparation can make a difference in that experience.

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Reflections on Sophomore Fall: The Guilt of Not Constantly Working

As Princeton students, we generally like hectic schedules. As much as we complain about impossible p-sets, extensive readings, and multiple extracurriculars, we often feel as if we need to constantly be busy. Thus, we fill up every minute of our schedules because a packed schedule makes us feel as if we are pushing ourselves to constantly operate at full potential.

I intended to pack my schedule like this last semester by joining the bioengineering lab where I researched the metabolic pathways of yeast cells over the summer. (You can read more about my experience by looking at some of my previous posts).  It seemed logical for me to continue working in the lab during my sophomore year, as this would provide me with both experience and extra preparation for junior independent work and eventually my senior thesis. But because of scheduling problems and sophomore funding issues, I was not able to continue working during the fall.

As students, we tend to fill up our schedules so that we are constantly working on something.

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How to Make a Successful Research Presentation

Turning a research paper into a visual presentation is difficult; there are pitfalls, and navigating the path to a brief, informative presentation takes time and practice. As a TA for GEO/WRI 201: Methods in Data Analysis & Scientific Writing this past fall, I saw how this process works from an instructor’s standpoint. I’ve presented my own research before, but helping others present theirs taught me a bit more about the process. Here are some tips I learned that may help you with your next research presentation:

More is more

In general, your presentation will always benefit from more practice, more feedback, and more revision. By practicing in front of friends, you can get comfortable with presenting your work while receiving feedback. It is hard to know how to revise your presentation if you never practice. If you are presenting to a general audience, getting feedback from someone outside of your discipline is crucial. Terms and ideas that seem intuitive to you may be completely foreign to someone else, and your well-crafted presentation could fall flat.

Less is more

Limit the scope of your presentation, the number of slides, and the text on each slide. In my experience, text works well for organizing slides, orienting the audience to key terms, and annotating important figures–not for explaining complex ideas. Having fewer slides is usually better as well. In general, about one slide per minute of presentation is an appropriate budget. Too many slides is usually a sign that your topic is too broad.

GEO/WRI 201 teacher Amanda Irwin Wilkins introduced me to the iceberg analogy: like the iceberg, the vast majority of research stays ‘beneath the water’; only a select portion is visible to audiences. Achieving this balance is not easy. It can be frustrating to present only a fraction of your work and difficult to identify which aspects belong above water. But in the end, you want to be presenting with the happy penguins on top of the ice, not flailing in the water.

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How to Get to Know Your Department

Every department offers wonderful opportunities. For instance, departments offer seminars, special lectures, opportunities for internships or grants, study abroad programs, amongst other things. But to take advantage of these opportunities, it is important to know your department well. As a sophomore, one of the biggest challenges for me this year has been familiarizing myself with my own department, chemical and biological engineering (CBE).

In this post, I will provide some tips on how to get to know your department by describing how I engaged with CBE.

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Dealing with Stress

At Princeton I often find myself overwhelmed by my workload, behind on assignments and readings, and struggling to prepare for exams. When work piles up, it is necessary to work as efficiently as possible to meet deadlines, but it can be really challenging to work productively when you are feeling overworked. Princeton’s heavy workloads are often a source of stress–here are a few strategies that help me when I am struggling:

Conducting good research requires many skills which we learn throughout our Princeton careers. Self care is one of the most important skills, but it is easy to overlook with so many other academic demands.

Go outside and exercise:

If you can’t concentrate on your work or feel low energy, taking a half hour break from working to go for a walk or a jog can help clear your head while also jump-starting your blood flow. Being outside gets me back in contact with the rest of the world and helps me escape coursework induced myopia. I like to go to Mountain Lakes nature preserve, which has a small network of hiking trails and a few picturesque ponds. The ponds are great for a (very) cold swim, and the forest has beautiful foliage in the fall.

I first visited Mountain Lakes preserve my freshman fall, while doing a field project in EEB 321 Ecology: Species interactions, biodiversity, and society. Now it is my go-to place to get off  campus, go for a run or a swim, and check out beautiful fall foliage.

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Tips to Succeed in Writing Seminar

Students engaging in a discussion.

Writing seminar is a unifying challenge for all first-years at Princeton.

If you are currently overwhelmed by the terms “motive”, “scholarly conversation”, and “literary sources”, you are probably tired of hearing “just get through it” when asking others for advice on how to navigate writing sem.

Although writing sem will probably challenge you more than any type of writing you did in high school, managing the coursework does not have to be overwhelming. Here are a few tips that helped me reduce the stress of writing seminar and gain the most from my experience:

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The Conference that Will Prepare You for Your Final Paper in Writing Seminar

Writing seminar is a demanding and rigorous rite of passage at Princeton. The packed schedule, along with the constant writing and peer editing, makes it seem like you’re taking two courses instead of one.

The Mary W. George Freshman Research Conference is a great resource for current and future writing seminar students.

But for all you first years, I promise (as a *hopefully wiser* sophomore) that there’s a lot that you can get out of this one course that Princeton requires all first years to take. Although writing seminar is a trying class, it really is the basis of writing for all your future classes at Princeton. (I know, I know, I sound like your writing seminar professor. I’m sorry!)

I still remember the dread I felt when I first heard about the R3, or revised essay #3. For the R1 and R2, the argument was, to a certain degree, provided by the professor. The R3 asked me to develop “an original argument,” and the possibilities for the research topic seemed endless. I had no idea where to start. How was I going to write this?

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Finding Online Sources

With Dean’s date looming, it is likely that many of you (like me) are about to get a late start on your term papers. In my experience, the success of a project and the effectiveness of my thesis rests largely on my understanding of past research and the foundational theories concerning the topic. The first steps I take in a research project are to explore the literature surrounding a topic and to begin to put together a library of sources. However, when searching for online sources, it can be hard to know where to start looking, how to identify important and reputable sources, and how to keep your searches organized. Luckily, there are many tools that can help you streamline your search and get writing faster! If you are struggling, here is a basic framework you can use to search better:

Use Web of Science to Guide your Search

Web of Science is a human-curated database, which generally includes only reputable journal articles. It links every article to those that it cited and those that cited it, creating the eponymous ‘web’ that you can easily traverse in search of important or fundamental sources. Web of Science’s detailed statistics on article citations and journal impact allow you to more easily ascertain the relative importance of an article. It has highly customizable search options and even provides links to the full-text through Princeton University Library and Google Scholar.

A search for articles on ‘climate change’ turns up hundreds of thousands of entries on Web of Science. Luckily, you can narrow your search to a specific discipline using the site’s helpful customizable search tools: this visualization shows the number of articles on climate change in 12 different disciplines. To further constrain your search you can add more keywords or specify publication years, and you can sort the results by relevance, date, and citation count!

While Web of Science is a powerful tool, it has some draw-backs. You need to be connected through the Princeton network to access the site, it doesn’t include all journals from every discipline, and cannot search within the main text of articles for keywords. For that reason, I usually supplement my search with Google Scholar after forming a basis of reputable articles from Web of Science. Google Scholar allows for in-text keyword search and includes many mediums in addition to journal articles, but it is not a human-curated database, and search results will include many sources that are unreputable or low quality.

Build a Library of Sources With Google Scholar:

I have often found myself lost in a sea of open tabs or forgetting where I found a promising article. Keeping my search organized is always a struggle, but with Google Scholar’s library feature, it is extremely simple.  If you find an interesting article, simply click the star on the lower left hand side of the search result. The article link will be saved to your personal library along with its citation information. You can easily organize your library by assigning labels to different topics or projects and editing citation information. As your topic narrows and you begin to form a thesis, your library will evolve. Using Google Scholar Library is great because you can easily add, delete, and organize your library without having to download PDF documents or external apps. When you’re ready to cite your sources, Google Scholar creates citations for you and allows you to export citation files in many different formats.

With one click you can add a paper to your Google Scholar library, ensuring that your articles are organized and allowing you to keep your tabs clutter free while searching for more sources.

Using this basic framework for online source searching can help you find useful and reputable articles while saving you time and keeping your sources organized. If you are struggling to find articles for your discipline on Web of Science, Scopus is an awesome alternative which is very similar but has a different format and has a slightly different selection of articles. For even more specialized databases, you can always check out the Library’s website. In addition, for those who prefer to save their library on their computer and not store it online, applications like Mendeley or Zotero have great tools for downloading and organizing PDF sources and automating citations.

–Alec Getraer, Natural Sciences Correspondent 

GEO/WRI 201: The Best Course on Scientific Research and Writing Offered at Princeton

“Any science major should consider this course…it is basically independent work guided by two top notch professors and supported by an entire seminar class.” – Anonymous Student Review

Every undergraduate studying the natural sciences at Princeton undertakes significant independent research projects in their Junior and Senior years. GEO/WRI 201: Methods in Data Analysis & Scientific Writing is a unique course designed specifically to teach students how to write an independent scientific paper. If you are a Sophomore or Junior looking to attain the concrete skills and confidence to tackle independent research, there is no better class to take.

In 201, you will learn how to design, research, write, and present original scientific research, all through the lens of measuring changing landscapes using satellite and drone-derived aerial imagery. Under the mentorship of Adam Maloof (GEO) and Amanda Irwin Wilkins (WRI), and with the support of your peers, you will: develop an original, well motivated scientific question; design effective field methods to test a specific hypothesis; quantitatively analyze data and imagery; and learn how to effectively communicate the results in a scientific paper and slideshow presentation. The highlight of the class is a nine day field trip across Utah, where students work collaboratively to implement their own field methods, piloting drones and collecting climatological data.

Will Atkinson ‘18 misses a beautiful sunset over Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah while taking notes on a geology lecture given by professor Adam Maloof during the class field trip. (Fall break, 2016)

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