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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The Unexpected Concentration: Why I Declared Geosciences

Few students enter Princeton planning to study Geosciences–I certainly didn’t.

Fascinated by the natural world and enticed by the prospect of a field semester in Kenya, I confidently chose “Ecology and Evolutionary Biology” as my intended concentration every semester on Tigerhub’s Academic Planning Form. My backup plan, if the sciences weren’t the right fit, was to study History and get a certificate in American Studies.

So why, when it came time to declare my concentration, did I end up choosing Geosciences? There were three factors that I felt set GEO apart from the other departments I considered:

Community

When I was considering which department to join, it was important to me that the department had a strong community with a space for undergraduate participation.

GEO has a vibrant department community that places a high value on undergraduates. Undergraduate participation is encouraged in weekly department wide events such as lunchtime lectures and snack breaks, as well as celebratory events such as annual department picnics. Even before I declared my concentration, faculty and staff in the department made it clear that there was a place for me in GEO.

Graduate student Akshay Mehra (far right) laughs as Professor Adam Maloof (second from right) chastises the author (far left) for “cheating” during a game of foosball on a class field-trip to Utah in Fall 2016. Informal social interaction with faculty and graduate students abounds in the GEO department, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for undergraduates.

The department even has its own undergraduate society, Princeton University Geosciences Society (PUGS), run entirely by students, which plans regular social events and field trips centered around building a close-knit community of engaged undergraduates. PUGS organized a department field trip to Iceland in 2015 and is planning a weeklong trip to the United Kingdom this year.

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Researching with Skepticism: Working with Historical Sources

When working with historical sources, particularly secondary sources, one has to consider the levels of mediation that the historical narrative has gone through before it finally reaches the researcher. We all have to use primary and secondary sources in our work. But something often overlooked is the extent to which there are degrees of truth, or what Stephen Colbert famously called “truthiness,” in the sources that we encounter. We learn in English class about the idea of the unreliable narrator. Well, the exact same thing applies when studying history. Except, with history, everyone is unreliable to some degree, as demonstrated by my reading of The Battles of Coxinga.

Zheng Chenggong/Coxinga, date unknown

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Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Chris Lu ’88 on Public Service

In a continuation of last year’s seasonal series, this winter, 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, Nicholas shares his interview.

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 Chris Lu ’88 was a member of the Obama administration, where he served as a Deputy Secretary of Labor, White House Cabinet Secretary, and Assistant to the President. He is now a Senior Strategy Advisor at FiscalNote and an At-Large Member of the Democratic National Committee. He also served as the senior news editor for the Daily Princetonian during his time at Princeton. With a long career in public service, he has some useful insights for those seeking to pursue careers in public affairs. I had the opportunity to speak with Chris about his experience writing a senior thesis in the Woodrow Wilson School and the enduring impact that policy research has had on his career. Here’s what he had to say:
Chris Lu ’88

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Behind on Independent Work? Tips for the Final Push

This past July,  Joe ‘Stringbean’ McConaughy set out to break the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail. Carrying a 25 pound backpack and eating 8,000 calories a day, Stringbean initially planned to average 50 miles per day and finish the 2,181-mile trek from Georgia to Maine in only 43 days. Twenty two days in and halfway to Maine, he felt confident that he was on track to break the record of 46 days. However, his pace slowed dramatically in the mountains of New Hampshire, and when day 43 came, Stringbean still had 151.5 miles to go and under 70 hours to beat the record.

As my third Fall semester comes to a close, I find myself in a place similar to McConaughy’s. I started working on my Junior Paper in September with a well-defined research path and have worked consistently for the past three months, meeting with my adviser every week. Yet, with a full draft of my JP due in only four days, I have fallen far behind my planned timetable.

The view overlooking the Appalachian Trail as it winds north into Maine shows nothing but rugged mountains. Like hiking 150+ miles in three days over this type of terrain, writing a quality research paper days before the deadline requires a herculean effort.

There will be a time for reflecting back on why I fell behind my JP plans this semester and how to adjust my study habits and work strategies to get a better start in the Spring–but that time is not now. It is now day 43 and we have 70 hours and 151 miles left to go. If you have fallen behind in your independent work like me, now is the time for the final push. So here is my strategy for beating my JP draft deadline in four days: Continue reading Behind on Independent Work? Tips for the Final Push

Taking a Swing at Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there… staring at an incomplete (or still blank) writing assignment that’s due far too soon and having absolutely no idea what to write. More often than not, the best-case scenario is that you stare at your materials and reread your work until something semi-coherent trickles out of your bogged up brain. The worst? You suddenly find yourself on Facebook, having scrolled so far down your newsfeed that you’re in danger of liking something from embarrassingly long ago.

While everyone you meet will give you a different way to beat the dreaded writer’s block, I’d like to share my favorite method with you:

Squash.

No, not this type of squash….
A drawing of a squash court.

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Getting Started with LaTeX

At some point in your Princeton career, you will likely have to write a long paper replete with a table of contents and extensive bibliography, possibly containing complex mathematical equations, and/or multiple figures and tables. For many students, especially those in the social sciences or humanities, writing a research paper using word processing software like Microsoft Word will be the fastest and most intuitive method (especially with the help of automated citation tools). However, for other students, formatting all of these features using regular word processors will be inefficient, or worse, create unsatisfactory results.

Formatting the different parts of your paper should not be a precarious balancing act! LaTeX automatically formats and coordinates all of these features so that edits are seamlessly incorporated into the document.

For these types of projects, you may benefit from a typesetting system capable of consistent structural layout, superior typographical quality, support for scientific equations, internally referencing figures and tables, and automatically compiling large bibliographies. Enter: LaTeX.

LaTeX is a free open-source typesetting system that uses code and text to generate a PDF document. It allows you to explicitly define formatting options so that document structure remains consistent. Although the workflow is completely inefficient for writing short documents, when it comes to large and complex papers, LaTeX can make life a lot easier. For projects like Senior Theses, many departments at Princeton even have LaTeX templates with correct formatting built-in. While struggling to get a handle on LaTeX last year, I learned some useful strategies that will help you vault over the learning curve:

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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

 

Write something, write something awful, write everything

Unfortunately, writing isn't just the process of typing, or stamping words on paper. How do we get the words flowing in the first place?
Unfortunately, writing isn’t just stamping words on paper like this printing press does. How do we get the words flowing in the first place?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing.

I’m sure part of it is because I just turned in my thesis, the longest written work I’ve ever completed. Another part, I’m sure, is my recent decision to go to grad school for science writing. While I’ve always enjoyed writing, I still find it difficult enough that it’s strange and terrifying to think I may soon do it for a living.

But even if you’re not taking that crazy leap like me, writing is a necessary part of research (among many, many other things). And like every other skill, writing only gets better through practice. But how you practice matters, and so — while much of the advice below can be summed up as “just keep writing, all the time” — here are three particular strategies that have worked for me.

Write something

If you’re stuck, just keep writing. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to make sure you have the best outline (and writing really is easier when you’re fleshing out an outline instead of pushing ahead blindly without any guidance). But even an outline can sometimes feel like too big of a step when you’re faced with the blank page.

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