As course selection begins, you might find yourself searching endlessly through the Course Offerings webpage, trying to craft the perfect schedule for next semester. You’re probably weighing a number of different factors— the professor, the class topic, the reading list, the different requirements it fulfills— and trying to balance these in the best way possible.There is another possibility here, which you can’t find in the course offerings: reading courses. Not advertised on department websites or listed with course offerings, reading courses are some of Princeton’s hidden academic gems. The University defines a reading course as a specially designed course not normally offered as part of the curriculum that is arranged between a student and a faculty member. These courses count for academic credit, and focus on a topic of the student’s choosing. If you’ve ever dreamed about designing your own course, this is your opportunity.
If you want to take your research in the humanities to the next level while here at Princeton, one of the best ways you can do that is by availing yourself of Princeton’s Special Collections. Home to vast stockpiles of manuscripts, rare books, coins, and other materials, Special Collections is a great place for students who want to pursue rigorous and impressive humanities research while making use of the excellent resources that Princeton has to offer. Many of these articles were donated by benefactors or acquired by the university specifically so that they could be researched by professors, students, and other researchers. In this article, I’ll present some reasons why you might consider checking out Special Collections, and then follow that up with a basic “how to” for when you visit.
A manuscript of an Ethiopic Synaxarion in Special Collections
For most of us undergraduates, midterms tend to be a stressful time, even more demanding than finals or Dean’s Date. This is because we go through midterms while classes and assignments continue as usual. In contrast, we have a week-long reading period at the end of the semester to focus on writing papers and preparing for finals. If you are a first year–student, you have the additional stress of going through Princeton midterms for the first time and you might have realized that they can be quite different from exams in high school. Therefore, it is not unusual for first years to receive grades on midterms below their expectations. When I was a first year, I learned how I could use my midterm grades as guideposts to help me identify which courses I most needed to adjust to and improve my final grade. It is important to note that midterms scores will not always fully correlate with finals and that there are plenty of opportunities after midterms to adjust strategies and improve performance. Here are some of the strategies I have found helpful when looking to bounce back from a midterm.
This year, as we prepare to write our final papers in quarantine, it will be extra tough to locate the sources we need for our research. Without in-person access to campus libraries, this Dean’s Date will require some new strategies for accessing research materials. To help with this process, I’ve collected a few virtual research resources from my weeks of quarantine thesis work, as well as the beginnings of my Dean’s Date research (also check out Alec’s recent post for more tips):
Do not underestimate the library catalog. A lot of sources are available online, especially with the University’s new partnership with the HathiTrust Digital Library. Through this partnership, millions of scanned books have been made temporarily available to students—in addition to Princeton’s many existing online holdings. To see if a book is available online, just search for it in the Princeton library catalog. If you don’t see a digital edition listed, try clicking on a print edition and seeing if a scanned version is available through HathiTrust (if it is, there will be a link just below the book’s title and general information). You can also click the “Request” button under “Copies in the Library,” then “Help Me Get It” and a librarian will do their best to send you a digital copy—if it’s available—within a few days.
It’s always recommended to balance your course workload appropriately with a good number of paper classes and problem set (p-set) classes. While it’s definitely not ideal, sometimes you just end up taking multiple classes with a demanding reading and writing workload–which means you can also end up with four or five final papers. Some students may actually prefer having only papers and no exams, and vice versa. Exams are a one-and-done deal, whereas final papers allow an indefinite amount of time and access to endless resources–but this can be stressful in its own way. Sometimes, you never know when you’re truly done with a paper, and it can be difficult to allocate time effectively when you’re juggling multiple written assignments.
Being a prospective English major, I tend to pile my coursework with a lot of reading and writing-heavy classes. Last spring, I took four humanities/social science classes and had four papers due for Dean’s Date. Needless to say, in the beginning I felt overwhelmed by the thought of having to write and polish several papers in what felt like not nearly enough time. As a general rule of thumb, I’ve learned that time management is especially crucial when having to complete multiple Dean’s Date assignments, and that planning ahead on your papers can make your life so much easier.
Aside from time management, here are some tips so that you can avoid feeling a sense of impending doom by the time Dean’s Date rolls around:
After late hours on the B-floor and that last-minute citation dash, you never want to see that Dean’s Date paper again. I know the feeling. Over the past few years, I’ve developed the terrible habit of sending in my papers before reading them over – in a short-sighted attempt to avoid confronting my mistakes. But sometimes, as I’ve learned, the final draft can offer the most important learning opportunities.
In my experience, very few professors share feedback on final papers beyond the letter grade. And there is something satisfyingly simple about the “grading machine” – send a paper in one end and receive a letter grade on the other. However, this process obscures some of the more personal and pedagogical elements of an instructor’s grading.
Professors dedicate a significant chunk of their time each semester to reviewing and grading students’ work. They’re expert readers, writers, and researchers – you don’t want to miss this opportunity to receive their feedback. Each professor’s approach to feedback is different, but I can almost guarantee that they’ll have something insightful to say about your final project.
Borrow Direct is my favorite feature of the Princeton library system. If you’re ever hunting for a book and it’s not available at Princeton, the Borrow Direct program allows you to order the book free of charge from another university library. A few days after your order, you receive an email that your book has arrived, and you pick it up from the front desk – where it is wrapped in paper and marked with your name. It’s like Hannukah, but all the time.
The joy of Borrow Direct isn’t limited to campus. Over the summer, when I needed to do research at Brown University’s library, the Borrow Direct system gave me unlimited access to the library there and enabled me to check out books with nothing more than my PUID. I was even allowed to reserve a carrel for the entire summer — which I did.
As final exams and paper deadlines approach, I find myself constantly questioning if I am spending my time efficiently. During exam periods, I often wonder how much time I should spend catching up on readings that I skimmed throughout the semester. It’s hard to finish every reading on time when professors assign hundreds of pages per week — and it’s almost impossible to catch up over reading period. Right now, this issueis particularly salient in my sociology class, which requires a 5-page-essay as a take-home exam. How can I review relevant material effectively and efficiently when I also have three other courses to focus on?