Energize Your Learning: Academic Conferences on Campus

Want to explore something new, with absolutely no accountability? To meet a famous academic whose work you’ve used in class? To spend time with your favorite graduate students and professors outside of class? Try attending an academic conference at Princeton.

Columbia University professor Jack Halberstam recently delivered an unforgettable lecture at the Reading Matters conference on campus.

At any given time, at least one Princeton department or campus group is probably hosting a conference. Typically, these multi-day events gather leading academics, activists, and thinkers from around the world to discuss a particular issue or theme. Despite the significant cost of these conferences (and the tables full of free food), they are almost always free of charge and open to the public. Regardless of your department or academic interests, there is definitely a conference somewhere, sometime that will interest you.

Yes, it can be hard to drag ourselves to yet another hour of lectures and academic discussion – especially after a long day or week of classes. But conference presentations are often energizing in a way that classes aren’t. Presenters typically share their own work and opinions, rather than summarizing and explaining others’. And because they’re surrounded by their colleagues (and intellectual rivals), they often work to present their material in an engaging, memorable way. Many of the academic moments I remember most from the past few years took place at conference presentations.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended one of the best lectures I’ve ever heard at the Department of Comparative Literature’s Reading Matters conference. On Saturday evening, Professor Jack Halberstam from Columbia University delivered a lecture titled “Exit Routes: On Dereliction and Destitution.” He walked the audience through examples of “anarchitecture” (anarchist architecture), including a fascinating little-known feminist film, “Times Square,” about two rebellious women in 1980s New York. Weeks later, my friends and I are still discussing the talk (and rewatching the trailer for Times Square).

The nice thing about conferences – unlike classes – is you don’t have to go for the whole time. You can just pick your most favorite panel or lecture and attend for as long as you can! Typically, conference talks don’t last longer than an hour – and it’s completely okay to leave once the Q&A starts (I almost always do). I also try to sit in the back so it’s easy to leave early if I have to.

To find out about the conferences on campus, make sure to check your department’s bulletin boards and listservs regularly! You can also ask your professors or graduate student friends to send conference information your way when they come across them. The Princeton Events calendar features many campus conferences as well.

–Rafi Lehmann, Social Sciences Correspondent

What I Learned from Reading Foucault’s Early Work

Until recently, I hadn’t reflected on the fact that what we read for class is carefully curated. As we all know, our professors dedicate immense amounts of time to selecting and refining the list of readings for our courses. Ideally, these readings reflect the essential sources on a particular subject. However, as with any selection process, the developing syllabus is filtered through certain ideological and methodological biases, not to mention the practical constraints of the course.

In my experience, professors tend to be transparent with their students about this curatorial process. In class, we often discuss why certain scholars were selected over others, and receive recommendations for further reading. Yet, I don’t often reflect on these selected works of scholarship in the context of their authors’ personal intellectual evolution.

A young Michel Foucault

When selecting secondary sources, professors typically choose a scholar’s most established works and arguments. With such limited time to cover material, our semesters only have space for “greatest hits.” These works tend to articulate coherent ideas, argue something new and critically important, and reflect a consistent methodology. Often, they’re masterpieces of scholarship.

Continue reading What I Learned from Reading Foucault’s Early Work

Self-Management: Strategies for Staying On Top of Your Independent Work

Making time for my independent work! (click on the image to see how I’ve planned my schedule)

It’s halfway through the semester now and the deadline for junior papers and theses is quickly approaching. Since we’ve just had midterms and are now facing another six weeks of hard work, it’s no wonder campus-wide motivation is at an all-time low. You may even be starting to fall behind on your independent work (like me!). But if you’re worried about how to keep holding yourself accountable, there’s still hope! Out of the several options available, I’ve come up with three simple steps for a quick solution. Here’s how taking 20-30 minutes today will help set you up for the rest of your independent project this spring:

Continue reading Self-Management: Strategies for Staying On Top of Your Independent Work

Mount Illusion: Finding My Research Question…While Doing Research

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.

My journey over Mount Illusion to find my research question!

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:

Continue reading Mount Illusion: Finding My Research Question…While Doing Research

Recycling Content: How to Expand Your Fall Semester JP for the Spring

All of the sources I was about to get rid of…before I realized I could use them again!

One of the most rewarding parts of conducting independent research is finishing it. After spending several months finding a topic, looking for a research question, keeping track of sources, and writing up a semester’s worth of work, you can’t help but be proud (or simply relieved) to finally turn in your Junior Paper. That being said, there is a downside to completing your first independent project: having to start over. If you’re like me, you’re required to write another JP for the spring semester. And perhaps, also like me, you dread having to let go of your previous hard work and starting from scratch. Well, maybe you don’t have to!

The beauty of research is that there is no limit to how many times and ways you can study the same material. More importantly, building upon pre-existing work can help you better understand your topic and plan for future studies. This could entail conducting new research that tries to eliminate limitations from the original study or research that compares the results of the original study with the those of a new one. For that reason, with departmental permission, your spring semester JP could be an extension of your fall semester research! Here are three ways you could expand your old research: Continue reading Recycling Content: How to Expand Your Fall Semester JP for the Spring

The “Magic Research Statement”—Turning a Topic into a Research Question

#LikeAGirl Ad from Always!
#LikeAGirl Ad from Always!

We all know that trying to find a topic for a Junior Paper can feel like dragging your feet through quicksand. So when you eventually settle on the right topic, you feel like running to the top of a hill and shouting, “I’m unstoppable!”

…That is, until you stop and ask yourself, “Now what?” This is precisely where I found myself after determining that my Junior Paper for the Sociology Department would focus on gender progressive advertisements. Sure, I had finally discovered a topic that I was passionate about, but how could I transform that into a a reasonable research question? Continue reading The “Magic Research Statement”—Turning a Topic into a Research Question

Finding Sources for Uncommon Topics…Like Mannequins

King of Prussia’s Athleta features muscular mannequin legs!
King of Prussia’s Athleta features muscular mannequin legs!

It took only a second for the topic of mannequins to pique my interest. I happened to be browsing at an Athleta store when I noticed the waist-down plastic legs in the window sporting colorful leggings. At first, I thought nothing of the typical figurines. But when I paused and looked again, I noticed that the mannequins weren’t composed of the slender limbs one usually sees in stores, but rather of muscular thighs and toned calves. My first reaction was one of elation—there was finally a window display with shapely thighs! But then, following my moment of internal celebration, a research question popped into my head: Do differently-shaped mannequins influence how women feel about their bodies?

Upon looking into the matter, I discovered that there weren’t many articles relating to this topic. After searching several combinations of terms that included the word “mannequin,” I found only one article that pertained to mannequins in the fashion industry. The source turned out to be a good find, however, for it explained the history of mannequins and how their purpose evolved from being used to fit clothes to displaying the latest trends in store windows. But now I was stuck with an exhausted list of search terms and only one article on which to base my findings. My research had left me with yet another problem: How do I go about researching mannequins? More importantly, how do I go about researching any uncommon topic? With some time and patience, I was able to come up with these three strategies to locate new sources. Continue reading Finding Sources for Uncommon Topics…Like Mannequins