JP Adviser Meetings: Confronting Your Writing

I meet with my JP adviser every other Monday morning. No matter how hard I try to beat procrastination, the weekend before each meeting is always an anxious scramble to complete a draft. On Sunday night, I worry that I’m unforgivably behind schedule, that my topic was a bad choice, that my writing is incoherent.

From conversations with my friends, I’ve realized that wanting to avoid our advisers is totally normal. It can be scary to share our work—especially when it’s unfinished, and especially when the reader will eventually be grading it. But as I’ve learned over the past semester, though it can be terrifying, meeting with my adviser has only helped and reassured me in the research and writing process.

My JP focuses on the hand-drawn maps produced in Holocaust survivors’ memory books. This is an example from the town of Lenin.

When I feel anxious the Sunday before an adviser meeting, I’m not actually worried about what my adviser will think. I’m worried about having to confront my own work. If I send only a two-page draft, I have to admit to myself that I’m behind schedule. If my argument isn’t fully baked, I have to admit that I haven’t yet figured out how to approach my topic. If my writing is confusing, I have to admit that it needs a lot more editing.

Admitting mistakes or weaknesses is always hard. It feels so much easier to pretend they don’t exist—to convince yourself that you’ll be on schedule soon, that there are no holes in your argument, that your writing needs no editing. However, as difficult as it may be, confronting these questions regularly not only improves your work, but prevents a flood of buried anxiety at the end of the project.

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The Writing Center as an Independent Work Resource

If you’re caught up on some of my previous posts, you’ll remember that I wrote my fall Junior Paper about shackling pregnant inmates in New York women’s prisons after the 2009 anti-shackling bill. I recently submitted my Junior Paper at the beginning of January, and it’s safe to say that it was a wild ride. To name a few challenges: I had to completely change my topic, I navigated tough interviews, and I spent a LOT of time editing my essay. Although I wrote a post about how to work efficiently during winter break, I pretty much ignored all of my own advice and ended up working on my JP each night, making my winter break anything but carefree and relaxing. However, I came back to school with a paper I was proud of.

The Writing Center is an incredible resource to utilize for independent work

But the challenges did not stop there. This JP was my first encounter with a substantial piece of independent work, and it included a whole lot of revisions after I had completed my first full draft. After reading through the paper, I scheduled a phone conference with my professor that left me with a plethora of edits to make in a very short amount of time. I made the changes, going through the paper with a fine-toothed comb, and the day after I got back to Princeton, I went to my first-ever appointment at the Writing Center.

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Visualizing Your Argument

The blank page at the very beginning of the writing process is one of the most difficult stages for me. I struggle with how to get started and feel overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of me.

To avoid this blank page, I open a Word Document called “Notes” early on in the research process. As I sort through the ever-accumulating pile of books and articles on my desk, I copy the relevant quotes into the document, followed by the author’s name and the page number. Typically, only a fraction of these quotes actually make it into the paper, so it can be hard to know when to stop. The metric I’ve figured out is: when the notes document is double the length of the assignment, I know it’s time to begin drafting the paper.

Film editor Walter Murch helped me rethink my editing process.

As I write, this document becomes my primary resource for information and direct quotes. Because it’s consolidated in one file, it’s easily navigable and searchable. Sometimes, I reorganize the quotes into sections to guide my paragraph structure and overall argument.

In the past, this system has worked well for me. But in the past few weeks, two of my teachers have modeled an exciting new approach to organizing research materials: visual mapping. Continue reading Visualizing Your Argument

The Rewards of Discussing Research

One of the most memorable experiences from my high school years was being the chief editor of a student-run research journal that my classmates and I founded. The journal, named the Broad Street Scientific (after a neighboring street), was in its 3rd year when I became chief editor. It showcased some of the most innovative and insightful research projects conducted by students at the school across a wide range of disciplines.

The Volume of the Broad Street Scientific that we published during my senior year.
The volume of the Broad Street Scientific that we published during my senior year.

What I enjoyed most about running the publication was the opportunity to both learn about authors’ research and help authors showcase their research at the same time. Proofreading people’s research papers made me more knowledgeable (beyond just the surface level) on a wide array of research fields, ranging from nanomedicine to hydroelectricity. But after a few weeks of reading over research papers, I caught myself falling asleep on the job. The papers were still super interesting, but editing them alone wasn’t a very engaging process.

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