Senior Thesis Spotlight: An Interview with Sam Arnesen ’20

During finals season, it’s even harder than usual to make time for independent work. So this reading period, I decided to ask a senior, computer science major Sam Arnesen, about the state of his thesis and his plans for spring semester. For his senior thesis, Sam is developing artificial intelligence software that can solve text-based computer games.

Sam, hard at work on his thesis.

What is your thesis about?
My thesis is on text-based games–games like Zork where at every step of the game, you’re given a text description of the scene you’re in and you have to enter some text about what the next move is, like “pick up sword” or “open door.” You can imagine that we often teach computers to play games, but there are a few unique challenges associated with text-based games. Part of it is that it is partially observed: you can see what’s around you, but you can’t see the entire state of the game. The other thing is that it’s very difficult to parse the text and translate it into something meaningful, especially when it comes to actions. There’s stuff out there on various methods to do text-based games and be able to play simple versions of them, but they have a couple issues. First, most of the games are quite simple, and more importantly, the kinds of strategies that it would learn translate very poorly between games unless the games are extremely similar, which is bad because you would expect that certain skills (like having a key and a locked door, or remembering orientations) would be understood. The whole reason why we care about text-based games isn’t because it means anything to play the game, but because we want to be able to learn something about language through these games. So it’s bad if the agents are specific to one particular game, because it suggests that they’re learning idiosyncrasies of the game instead of actual language skills.

I’m specifically working on ways to have more transfer of learning between different kinds of text-based games. I am working on building an agent that’s able to parse walk-throughs of games. A walk-through happens in any kind of game, it’s a set of instructions that tell you what you should do at every step. That’s a non-trivial task: you have to parse that text, translate a paragraph into an action, figure out whether the action you took was the correct action, and be able to use the strategies you learn through parsing the walk-through to learn some general strategy.

Continue reading Senior Thesis Spotlight: An Interview with Sam Arnesen ’20

Why You Should Join a Research Journal: An Interview with PURJ Co-Editor-in-Chief Jasper Lee ’21

Since coming to Princeton, I’ve become involved in diverse publishing and editing opportunities. One of the first undergraduate publications I joined was PURJ, the Princeton Undergraduate Research Journal. As a member of the Peer Review Board for PURJ, I learned more about the peer review process in academic research publications and had the opportunity to review manuscript pieces spanning incredibly diverse disciplines from the undergraduate body. In contrast to some other more specialized journals I’m involved in, such as Unfound, Princeton’s Journal of Asian American Studies, PURJ is a truly multidisciplinary publication that showcases work from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and arts. 

To learn more about the perks of being involved in a research journal, I interviewed Jasper Lee ’21, the current Co-Editor in Chief of PURJ. A molecular biology major, he first joined PURJ as a member of the Peer Review Board and then took on the role of Managing Editor of Peer Review. Here’s what Jasper shared about his experience with PURJ: 

Continue reading Why You Should Join a Research Journal: An Interview with PURJ Co-Editor-in-Chief Jasper Lee ’21

Working as a Latino History Research Assistant: An Interview with Emily Sanchez ’22

While students usually choose to seek research internships over the summer, some research opportunities are also available during the semester, such as working under a professor or graduate student to aid with their academic research. However, among these choices, it may often feel like there are especially limited research opportunities available for students pursuing majors in the humanities or social sciences. We often imagine research assistants as collecting and analyzing statistical data, examining Petri dishes in a lab, developing computer programs, and so forth, and so we may be more skeptical as to what kind of research non-STEM majors could possibly partake in. 

To learn more about research opportunities during the semester in the humanities and social sciences, I interviewed Emily Sanchez ’22, who is currently working as a research assistant under Professor Rosina Lozano. Professor Lozano, an Associate Professor of History at Princeton, specializes in Latino history and the study of Latino cities in the U.S. As a research assistant, Emily has been examining 19th-century Spanish newspapers from the Southwest to understand more about the historical ties between ethnic Mexicans and indigenous communities in the region. 

Here’s what Emily shared about her experience as a research assistant: 

Continue reading Working as a Latino History Research Assistant: An Interview with Emily Sanchez ’22

How to balance Princeton with the LSAT

As my time as a Princeton student quickly comes to a close (it’s scary just thinking about it), it becomes imperative to look ahead to what the future holds for me. I’ve known that I want to go to law school for a while now (see this post for an interview with a current law school student). In high school, I wrote a paper about the practice of child marriage in certain areas of the world, and I began longing to take part in a system that would correct such injustices. Since then, I’ve educated myself on a wider variety of injustices and have come to focus on the American prison system while expanding my interest in the law.

Continue reading How to balance Princeton with the LSAT

Post Princeton Life: Interview with Isabelle Laurenzi ’15

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Raya shares her interview.

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Teaching, travel, Congress, the Writing Center, political theory, Yale! Former PCUR chief correspondent Isabelle Laurenzi graduated from Princeton in 2015 with a degree in Religion. She has since gone on to pursue an array of adventures and projects. Most recently, Isabelle completed her first year of a Ph.D. program at Yale in political theory. For our seasonal spring series, I caught up with Isabelle to learn more about her time at Princeton and explorations after. In our conversation, Isabelle and I connected over our shared interest in interdisciplinary studies and the joy of pursuing one’s interests through varied avenues.

Continue reading Post Princeton Life: Interview with Isabelle Laurenzi ’15

Post-Princeton Life: An Interview With Nicholas Wu ‘18

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Shanon shares his interview.

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Nicholas Wu ’18 currently covers politics for USA Today.

As part of our Spring Seasonal Series, I interviewed Nicholas Wu ’18. I first met Nick in the fall of my first year, in a class called American Politics. For the remainder of Nick’s Princeton career, he and I shared the occasional class, and eventually, both became PCUR correspondents. I’ve long admired Nick’s curiosity and talent for critically evaluating contemporary politics, so I’m thrilled that he’s now making a career out of that interest. As you’ll see below, Nick has actually just accepted a job as a politics reporter for USA Today! So, I encourage you to read on to learn more about Nick’s early career experience and his advice for those of us still on “this side of paradise.” Continue reading Post-Princeton Life: An Interview With Nicholas Wu ‘18

Writing for Fun? (Part 2): Journalism and Academic Writing

In my last post, I started an exploration of writing on campus to understand how students approach the writing process outside the classroom in their own work and in extracurriculars. In that post, I considered creative writing and the ways academic writing can present a similar opportunity for expression and creativity.

Sam Shapiro, Class of 2021

In this post, I interview Sam Shapiro ’21 who is a Features Editor and writer for the Daily Princetonian. In my interview with Sam, we discussed the differences and similarities between journalism and academic writing and how to bring the thrill one feels when chasing a story for a publication to a term paper in class. Continue reading Writing for Fun? (Part 2): Journalism and Academic Writing

Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview With Professor of Religion Anne Marie Luijendijk

This winter, for our seasonal series entitled “Professorship and Mentorship,” PCURs interview a professor from their home department. In these interviews, professors shed light on the role that mentorship has played in their academic trajectory, including their previous experiences as undergraduate and graduate students as well as their current involvement with mentorship as independent work advisers for current Princeton undergraduates. Here, Shanon shares his interview.

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Professor Luijendijk holds several appointments at Princeton, including Professor of Religion, Chair of the Committee on the Study of Late Antiquity, and Head of Wilson College.

As part of our seasonal series on faculty research, I sat down with Professor of Religion Anne Marie Luijendijk to discuss her work in Early Christian History through the study of papyrus manuscripts. Having taken a course with Professor Luijendijk before, I must say that she is one of the most enthusiastic educators I’ve ever met. As such, it was definitely a privilege to speak with her about her own research. You can read our conversation below. If you’re interested in advice for working with a faculty adviser, the importance of taking walks, or the historical study of ancient religious manuscripts, then read on! Continue reading Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview With Professor of Religion Anne Marie Luijendijk

Trust the Qualitative: An interview with Sheila Pontis about Field Research

When we think of academic research, we often think of libraries or labs. We might imagine flipping through books, reading articles, or running lab experiments, but there is a branch of research that looks much different than this. In fact, it looks like the real world.

This branch is field research. Researchers from various fields apply this method of research, but in this post, I’ll be focusing on field research in design. Design is a big field with a wild range of applications. Design spans from information design (think infographics, instructions, maps) all the way to User Interface design (think apps and websites), but what’s at the root of design is a need to communicate effectively with people and facilitate understanding. The goal in design is to create systems that are effective–ones that work for their users. Accordingly, when designers conduct field research, they go out in the world and record qualitative data on people’s needs and experiences: What information are they searching for? What do they want out of a product? What parts of the current product are helpful? Which are frustrating and confusing?

In this interview, Sheila Pontis, a lecturer in the Keller Center, talks about her work and encourages designers and student researchers to embrace field research and trust qualitative data.

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Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview with Geosciences Professor Frederik Simons

This winter, for our seasonal series entitled “Professorship and Mentorship,” PCURs interview a professor from their home department. In these interviews, professors shed light on the role that mentorship has played in their academic trajectory, including their previous experiences as undergraduate and graduate students as well as their current involvement with mentorship as independent work advisers for current Princeton undergraduates. Here, Alec shares his interview.

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Princeton takes great pride in its focus on undergraduate independent work, and the expectations of original research and mentorship define the academic experience of juniors and seniors. However, everyone has their own model for mentoring and their own ideas of what undergraduate research should focus on. As part of our Winter Seasonal Series, I interviewed Geosciences Professor Frederik Simons to understand the role of mentorship in his life and share his perspective on undergraduate research at Princeton. I know Frederik from our many conversations in the GEO department and I took his class GEO 422: Data Models and Uncertainty in the Natural Sciences. He is the second reader for my independent work.

Mentorship is a state of mind… You need to get into someone’s mind and understand their perspective. If you see someone who is distressed or struggling, help out a little bit.

Geoscience Professor Frederik Simons enjoys mentoring students: “It makes me feel good.”

What role has mentorship played in your career, and what role does it play in your life now?

I was blessed with mentors throughout my career, a willingness to listen to advice, and the audacity to ignore it. I experienced mentorship in the form of many people looking out for me; it’s essentially about providing opportunity. Mentorship is lifelong; you are still being taken care of by other people whatever you achieve. Now I try to teach undergraduates what I think they should know and connect graduate students with opportunities.

Mentorship is a state of mind. ‘Mentor’ is from the Latin ‘mens’ for mind. You need to get into someone’s mind and understand their perspective. If you see someone who is distressed or struggling, help out a little bit. I have always enjoyed explaining stuff and helping out; it makes me feel good.

Continue reading Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview with Geosciences Professor Frederik Simons