Tips for Talking About Your Research

Sharing the discoveries you’ve made is not just extremely rewarding, but a necessary part of the research process because it ensures your findings can be put to use. Writing about your research is a tough obstacle to tackle in and of itself, but what I want to focus on today is the arguably more intimidating half of sharing your research: speaking about it. Both formats require demonstrating your command of the subject while also being engaging. Unlike writing about your research, where you generally have a well-defined goal from the get-go, you will find yourself speaking about your research in an enormous range of contexts. Here are three of my tips for talking about your research, whether summarizing your findings for your grandma or giving a formal presentation to a group of experts.

A woman giving a presentation
A presentation given in Princeton’s beautiful J-Street Library.
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A Budding Field: Finding Opportunities in Psychedelic Research

The logo for the Princeton Science of Psychedelics Club. A large three-dimensional ring with blue radiating ovals.
The logo for Princeton’s Science of Psychedelics Club (PSPC), a student-lead organization seeking to educate students about psychedelics, discuss current trends in psychedelic research, and provide opportunities to other students interested in pursuing psychedelic research. If interested in joining, contact PSPC@princeton.edu or President Camilla Strauss ’23 for more information.

One goal for any budding researcher is to see their work have a tangible public impact. But, with endless hours spent in a lab or hunched over a computer, there are times where research can feel abstract or removed from reality. Neuroscience, in particular, faces this stereotype. True, many (including myself) believe that neuroscience holds the key to understanding our conscience and, by extension, our modern predicament. But the question remains: where can an aspiring neuroscientist find the life-altering research they seek?

Ironically, the answer might just lie in reality-altering substances. From neuroscience to public policy, psychedelics is a budding topic across many different fields of research. While Princeton itself is yet to enter the field, the Princeton Science of Psychedelics Club (PSPC) serves as the hub for all students interested in this emerging field. I sat down with PSPC and senior Neuroscience Major President Camilla Strauss to talk about how students interested in psychedelics research could learn more. 

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Independent Work Seminars as a COS BSE Student: An Interview with Shannon Heh ‘23

Image of Shannon Heh '23

Shannon Heh ’23 is currently Co-President of TigerApps, a member of KoKoPops dance team, and a member of Colonial Club

At Princeton, B.S.E.* computer science students are required to complete at least one semester of independent work (IW) during their junior or senior year. Students may either take an IW seminar, where a small group of students work on larger projects under a given theme, or a one-on-one IW, where students work and meet with their advisers independently.

Seminars had weekly meetings and provided more structure for students than a typical one-on-one project would; students were asked to choose their project ideas early and received valuable feedback through presenting and having their ideas workshopped by their peers in the seminar.

I met with Shannon Heh ‘23, a senior in the Computer Science department, to discuss her experience in an independent work seminar. Spring of her junior year, Shannon took COS IW 09: You Be the Prof, advised by Professor David Walker. Students were to produce a web-based platform, app, or tool to aid in teaching a particular topic, skill, or concept.

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Graduate Studies and Careers in Public Service: an Interview with Professor Iqbal Zaidi – Part 2

In the second part of the interview with Professor Zaidi, the discussion gradually veers away from his career, and we go into his advice for students, the courses he loves teaching, and what he learned about making plans and still being flexible.

For those who missed the first part of the interview, please read it here.

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What are First-Years Researching? An Interview With My Legendary Zees

My zees (Kyung and Jaehee) and I getting ready for Clash of the Colleges. Whales love research!!!!!

     On campus, I am a Residential College Adviser in Whitman College. It is by far the most meaningful part of my Princeton experience and I am thankful every day to have such amazing advisees (zees). In the fall, I decided to interview some of my zees on the incredible research that they have done on campus and how they became involved in this research. My freshmen show that research does not always mean working in a lab or on a senior thesis like many often assume. There are so many different ways to become involved with research on campus, whether it’s through writing a paper or joining an academic club. My hope is that seeing the research that my zees did last semester will inspire you to do your own and also show you what research on campus can look like for first years. So, without further ado, here is the research conducted by the most legendary zees of all time:

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Now is the perfect time to build your personal portfolio!

Have you ever left an interview wishing you remembered to mention that project you did in class? Or do you have a broad range of interests and experiences that do not fit on a one-page resume? Have you ever built something really cool and wanted to show everybody but were not sure how? You can answer all of these issues with your own personal portfolio.

A portfolio is similar to a resume in that it showcases your work and achievements, but it is more flexible in that it can take different forms and include all types of media. It can be helpful to share with recruiters and interviewers during your career search, and you can ensure recruiters come across it by sharing a link to it in your resume! It is probably the most underrated career search material, and taking the time to craft your own portfolio is already a huge step to making yourself stand out. 

Sample Research Experiences page in a portfolio
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Graduate Studies and Careers in Public Service: an Interview with Professor Iqbal Zaidi – Part 1

In one of my previous posts about taking advanced courses in Princeton, I mentioned that I ended up taking two courses with Professor Iqbal Zaidi – ECO 353 (International Monetary Economics) and this fall, ECO 322 (Econometric Tools for Research in Macroeconomics) – both of which turned out to be some of my favorite experiences at Princeton. I recently interviewed him to know more about his career and how he came to specialize in international macroeconomics. After completing his Ph.D. from Princeton, Professor Zaidi worked for three decades at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), working in several positions and going on to serve on its Executive Board and manage IMF offices in Africa and Asia. He is now back at his alma mater, teaching specialized courses in macroeconomics. He also serves as an A.B. Academic Adviser.

I am dividing the interview into two parts. In the first part of my interview with Professor Zaidi, I concentrate on his career – specifically, what made him join the IMF after completing his Ph.D. at Princeton. The second part continues with his experience at the IMF and we then segue into his life in academia and what he loves about teaching and advising in Princeton.

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An Interview with Bhadrajee Hewage ’20, South Asian Studies Graduate Student and Researcher

Bhadrajee Hewage is an accomplished researcher in the humanities – he has conducted research in 5 continents, can speak 12 languages, and has published articles in several magazines and journals as well as his own book on Ceylonese Buddhist revivalism (with a second book on the way)! Bhadrajee graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton in 2020 having majored in History and obtained certificates in South Asian Studies, African Studies, and Latin American Studies. I met Bhadrajee through the Davis International Center where he served as Leader Coordinator. From our first few conversations, I was immediately awestruck with the breadth of research he’s done, and this is why I chose to interview him. His published works range from the early history of Rome and Tanzanian political history to the U.S. Civil War.

Bhadrajee Hewage ’20

He is currently a DPhil Clarendon Scholar at the University of Oxford and recently obtained his degree as the Prize Research MPhil Student at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge. Broadly, his research interests lie at the intersection of colonial, religious, and intellectual history.

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Doing Research in a Pandemic, an Interview with Professor of History Alison Isenberg

For this Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Doing Research in a Pandemic, each correspondent has selected a researcher to interview about the impact of the pandemic on their research. We hope that these interviews document the nuanced ways the pandemic has affected research experiences, and serve as a resource for students and other researchers. Here, Austin shares his interview.

Alison Isenberg, Professor of History; Co-Director, Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities. Taken Feb 6, 2017.
Professor History and Co-Director of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Alison Isenberg plans to finish a draft of her upcoming book, Uprisings, soon.

As part of our seasonal series, I interviewed Professor of History and Co-Director of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, Alison Isenberg. A scholar of the American city and its contested history, Professor Isenberg is currently wrapping up her next book, Uprisings, which she sat down with me to discuss. Professor Isenberg, who took a sabbatical this year to drill down on the draft for Uprisings, details the contents of her book, how the pandemic changed the way she researches, and the implications of her book in our tense political moment.

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Interview with Tiger Gao, host of Policy Punchline

This week I had the opportunity to interview Tiger Gao, currently a senior in the Economics Department at Princeton and the founder and host of Policy Punchline, a student-run podcast that focuses on conducting interviews with well-known public figures on current policy issues. I am a researcher for the podcast. In this interview, I had the chance to ask him about Policy Punchline and about entering the field of economic research and public policy in general.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tiger interviewing former US Trade Representative Michael Froman for Policy Punchline

M.B.: What inspired you to start Policy Punchline?

T.G.: At Policy Punchline, we interview people involved in policy. It’s fully student-run and nonpartisan. What we really care about is to promote long-form dialogues on urgent issues and frontier ideas, whether you are a postdoc who’s doing some interesting research or the NFL’s data chief discussing the response to the Covid-19 crisis.

As a freshman/sophomore at Princeton, I was kind of lost. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t gotten into any major clubs at Princeton, I didn’t feel like I’d fit in. I had run for class president and lost. But what I’ve always loved is to go to the guest lectures after class – and once the lecture ended, I would ask questions. I soon realized that hardly anyone talks to these fascinating people with such interesting ideas. And the idea of Policy Punchline was born.

So far, it has worked quite well: tomorrow we will drop our 99th interview and I personally have done more than 100 interviews.

M.B.: Quite the milestone.

T.G.: Yes, in the past two years our team has grown to more than 50 students. I’m incredibly proud of the team and its intellectual capacities and I expect great things going forward.

M.B.: You talked about students who are sometimes shy to talk to these guest lecturers – or even to their own professors, and I can relate to that. What would you like to tell them?

T.G.: My very first interview was with Dr. Christopher Marks, the Head of Emerging Markets for Mitsubishi Financial Group. I remember spending three hours with him in a studio in Wilson and I didn’t really know what was going on. I felt nervous. I had to re-record my questions. My question list was very naive but he was very supportive and patient. And he said two things to me afterward that I think are quite profound and which had a lasting impact on me. 

The first thing he said was, “Don’t be afraid to talk to people that are smarter or more experienced at something than you. You’re going to look stupid, but that’s fine. You ask the questions and you improve and that’s what matters.” 

And the second: “You have to feel happy about bad mistakes.” He’s not referring to a getting-a-bad-grade type of mistake, but mistakes that might even point to some fundamental flaws in you. And he said that you have to be happy with them. These two pieces of advice really gave me confidence and laid quite a powerful foundation for Policy Punchline. You are going to run into difficulties. A lot of the people we email don’t get back to us and some others might and subsequently ghost us. Some interviews don’t go well and you wish you had done better. But that’s fine! Just go for it. And when you do, you’ll realize that the people you end up interviewing actually want to talk to you.

M.B.: If anyone reading this was interested in joining Policy Punchline or interested in this type of work in general, how would they go about it?

T.G.: Just send me an email! The way you joined was so incredibly informal. Princeton is already a difficult enough place and I don’t ever want people to feel excluded. I know what it feels like to polish your CV and go through the cover letter and prepare for the interview for a club and then never hear back. We ask people to prepare a research portfolio and based on what they tell us, we decide on how and where they fit in the team. If it’s not a good fit or if they are not passionate about it, they’ll leave soon. But if this is what they’re passionate about, then there are no barriers to how far they can go and how much they can do.

For anyone, who is interested in joining Policy Punchline, Tiger can be reached at miaokuan@princeton.edu.

Joining a podcasting team can be an unconventional, but rewarding, way to try to explore a field, especially at an interview-focused podcast like Policy Punchline, where there are opportunities to engage in dialogue with experts, ask questions and learn further about a subject. As a result, they can be an incredibly rewarding experience for anyone – regardless of their prior level of knowledge. For anyone who is interested to go in-depth about the policy issues, I would recommend reaching out to Tiger about joining Policy Punchline. Every week you get to learn about the many issues that affect us – from reimagining capitalism to the energy sources of the future to the current elections – in different ways.

– Abhimanyu Banerjee, Social Sciences Correspondent