Now that my thesis has been turned in, I’m starting to prepare for my oral thesis defense to complete my graduation requirements for the Woodrow Wilson School (WWS). It’s certainly going to be a challenge to fit everything from my nearly 100-page thesis into that ten-minute-long presentation, but the WWS Program Office is very helpful in assisting students prepare for the defense. So, with this post, I hope to help demystify the whole thesis defense process for the PCUR audience.
This semester, in our spring series, PCURs will interview a graduate student. In Graduate Student Reflections: Life in Academia, interviews with graduate students shed light on the variety of paths one can take to get to graduate school and beyond, and the many insights gained along the way from research projects and mentors. Here, Nicholas shares his interview with Mike Hepler, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Everyone knows that writing a Senior Thesis is an exceptionally time intensive process. I expected that conducting the research necessary for a 75+ page paper and actually writing it would take months of work. However, what I did not expect was how time consuming other aspects of my thesis would be. As I was finishing up my thesis, I realized (the hard way) that one of these aspects is formatting. While exact requirements vary by department, most theses must include document elements, such as chapter headings, page numbers, and table of contents. Adding elements like page numbers may not seem particularly challenging, but, when you’re working in a very long document, it can be quite tedious.
In an attempt to save you all some time and stress, I have compiled a short list of tips on formatting long documents in Microsoft Word that I learned mostly through Google searches and trial and error. Many seniors format their theses in programs other than Word, such as LaTeX (Alec has provided some helpful advice on how to use LaTeX in a past post). But if you are like me and are relying on Word, here are a few things to keep in mind:
“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.
As we head into April, many Senior Thesis deadlines (including my own!) are fast approaching, so I naturally thought it would be fitting to reflect on my thesis experience. Over the years, many PCUR posts have been written about theses and rightly so given that they are such a significant component of the undergraduate research experience. Many of these posts and much of the discourse surrounding the Senior Thesis emphasize what makes this project exceptional, framing it as the capstone of our college careers, an unprecedented challenge, and quite possibly the longest paper we will ever write.
While I by no means disagree with these characterizations, I want to present a slightly different perspective in this post. Instead of focusing on how theses are exceptional feats, I reflect on the ways in which I have found my thesis to be similar to past academic work that I have done at Princeton.
I’m writing my thesis on state-to-state differences in the provision of maternal health care for pregnant and postpartum women in U.S. state prisons. I wrote one of my Junior Papers (JPs) on this general topic, so my thesis wasn’t entirely uncharted territory. But the content was not the only part of my thesis that felt relatively familiar—I found that my past research experiences at Princeton had appropriately prepared me to collect data, structure my thesis, and address broader research implications as well.
To gather data for my thesis, I primarily relied on state correctional reports, a legal research database, and information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. While I had not used all of these sources before, I had experience using similar datasets and research databases either for my JPs or for other research assignments. For instance, as I mentioned in my most recent post, I had met with a subject librarian to learn how to find and use data and reports from Senegalese governmental agencies for one of my JPs. When I embarked on data collection for my thesis, I relied heavily on the past guidance I had received on these types of searches. Continue reading Stick to What You Know: Relying on Past Experience to Tackle your Senior Thesis
I’ve gotten to the point with my thesis at which I’m both writing new content and struggling to edit the ever-expanding volume of work I’ve already written. At times, this seems like an insurmountable task. How am I supposed to finish editing my literature review while also doing the data collection and drafting of my main chapters of my thesis?
Chloe Angyal graduated from Princeton in 2009 with a degree in Sociology. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she’s now a journalist in New York City, working as the Deputy Opinion Editor at HuffPost where she writes about politics, popular culture, and gender. But before Chloe became who she is today, she had to write a senior thesis. Lucky for us, she had some time in her busy schedule to talk about her experience with independent research:
Data collection isn’t always the most exciting stage of a research project, but the payoff can make everything worth it. I’m currently deep into the data analysis portion of my thesis, running up against my draft deadline on March 1, and the dreaded Woodrow Wilson School deadline of April 3. I’m writing about asylum approval rates in the European Union and the United States for unaccompanied child migrants, or unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in the legal parlance. If the same law is applied across all regions, in theory, there should not be substantial variation in asylum grant rates — but the research literature and my preliminary findings demonstrate otherwise. Pulling together the data to calculate these preliminary findings, though, was much more difficult than I had anticipated — and I had to make a tough call about my data collection as I wrote up these findings. Continue reading Deluged in Data: Overcoming Obstacles in Data Collection
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.
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
Do you remember that old SAT advice of committing to your first multiple-choice answer? I have realized that choosing not to second-guess yourself applies to much more than standardized tests, and this realization has been an integral part of my research experience at Princeton.
When I’m confronted with a writing task, like seeing an essay prompt for the first time, thinking of my JP for this fall, or even this blog post (#meta), it is tempting to let myself panic and frantically begin brainstorming. But, before all of that chaos begins, an immediate seed of an idea always pops into my head. I call it my “nugget.” It could be a tidbit from a conversation I had with a friend, a theme I had been following in class, or, most recently, a side-note I had made over the summer about a potential JP topic.
However, I’ll often ignore my nugget as quickly as it appears. I’ll abide by “first is worst” logic and assume that the first idea I think of to start a research project cannot possibly be as developed as the result of hours of brainstorming. So, I’ll put myself through the ringer searching for other topics. But, almost inevitably, the products of these intensive brainstorming sessions fall short, and I circle back to my initial idea. Continue reading Trusting My “Nugget”: Committing to Initial Ideas