Mentorship in Research: An ode to the grad student (and one grad student in particular)

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Zoe shares her story.

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Cleo and I liked this display at the turtle museum of Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica.

The mentorship series asks us to examine the role of mentors in our lives as undergraduate researchers. Earlier this semester, Jalisha discussed the challenges and value of professors’ mentorship, and Emma reflected on peers as mentors. This post is an ode to the graduate student – actually, an ode to my favorite grad student, Cleo Chou.

I met Cleo the summer after my freshman year, when I was an intern through the Princeton Environmental Institute. Cleo’s Ph.D project is a field study of rainforest trees and how they respond to nutrient enrichment and limitation. This question has crucial implications for how we predict tropical rainforests’ responses to climate change.

I spent a month working with Cleo in Princeton, and then six weeks at her field site in Costa Rica, hiking through the rainforest and surveying the saplings in her study. Cleo and I were together 23 hours a day, every day, with my daily hour-long run our only substantial time apart. In the long hours of rainforest hiking, tree-finding, leaf-counting, and trunk-measuring, we talked about everything from our career aspirations to food to our families and friendships. Continue reading Mentorship in Research: An ode to the grad student (and one grad student in particular)

Mentorship in Research: Advisers vs. Mentors

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Jalisha shares her story.

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While mentors and advisers may seem similar, they can actually play very different roles in helping you succeed!
While mentors and advisers may seem similar, they can actually play very different roles in helping you succeed!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about advisers and mentors, trying to determine whether a distinct difference exists between the two. From my personal musings, I’ve concluded that the two are very different — It seems mentors invest more time and energy into learning your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions so that they can help you succeed. I decided to ask around campus to see what other students had to say about the topic, and found that many others had similar opinions:

  • Sophomore Malachi Byrd said that advisers push you academically while mentors tend to meet you where you’re at.
  • Junior Kushal Dalal remarked that mentors take you under their wing and go beyond the role of an adviser.
  • Senior Dennisse Calle stated that, unlike advisers, mentors take every part of your life into account

These conversations made me question the relationships I’ve formed with Princeton professors. While I’ve had many wonderful advisers who have helped shaped me academically (and who I’m extremely grateful for), very few of these relationships felt personal enough to call them “mentors”.

“How could this be?” I thought to myself after coming to this realization. “Did I miss out on the opportunity to be mentored by some of the greatest academics in the world?” Continue reading Mentorship in Research: Advisers vs. Mentors

Mentorship in Research: Overcoming Originality

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Dylan shares his story.

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“Everything you might write has been written before,” said Professor Pedro Meira Monteiro, my adviser, leaning back into his chair.

I was in a JP meeting in his cozy, naturally lit East Pyne office. The paper had me in high-stress mode, but I was in good hands. Somehow, hearing that all work is derivative and unoriginal did wonders to immediately calm me down.

Let me explain.

I first met my advisor when he co-taught the Princeton in Brazil program in June 2013.
I met Professor Meira Monteiro when he co-taught Princeton in Brazil in June 2013.

I am writing my JP about Nise da Silveira, a Brazilian psychoanalyst who taught painting and sculpture to schizophrenic patients as a means of treatment. This paper is meant to prepare me for my summer research in Rio de Janeiro, where I’ll look at current artists who use da Silveira’s teachings as creative inspiration. My JP is, to a certain degree, an appetizer — the background knowledge I need to enrich my summer work.

And yet, the deeper I got into my topic, the more I faced the sinking feeling that I couldn’t contribute much to the scholarly discussion — at least not until I got to Brazil and did my interviews.

Continue reading Mentorship in Research: Overcoming Originality

Mentorship in Research: Getting by with a little help from my friends

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Emma shares her story.

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Shout out to my friends for helping me make smart decisions.

While many professors and advisers have offered me invaluable guidance throughout my academic career, my most helpful and memorable mentorship experiences have actually been with friends. Not that my friends and I often sit down and have formal discussions about our research paths. Rather, most of their advice comes in the form of consolations when I’m feeling unsure of my decisions regarding work and research.

I know what you are thinking. “Is support from friends really a form of mentorship?” I understand why this might seem confusing at first, but I truly believe that friends can often be the best mentors. My friends probably know better than anyone else what interests and excites me. Unlike with a professor or adviser, I don’t feel the need to impress my friends or worry about their impression of my choices. Plus, my friends are the ones who listen to all of my complaints about projects or commitments I’m not interested in. Seeing me at my best and my worst gives them valuable insight: They wouldn’t let me take on a project they didn’t think I would find engaging (if for no other reason than because they don’t want to hear me complain).

Continue reading Mentorship in Research: Getting by with a little help from my friends

Mentorship in Research: What’s “networking” all about?

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Bennett shares his story.

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When I say “networking,” what do you think of?

Affluent, well-dressed extroverts? Annoying emails from the LinkedIn account you signed up for Freshman year (out of a vague sense of professional obligation)? Shallow, self-serving conversations? The old boys’ club?

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There’s a lot going on at this career fair, but networking doesn’t have to be intimidating

There are a lot of negative associations that spring up around the word “networking.” And I understand that – there’s definitely something reflexively uncomfortable about conversations where the participants have ulterior motives. As someone who shuns both uncomfortable social interaction and formal wear, it would be understandable if I wrote networking off as an awkward, greedy affair.

But here’s the thing – that’s not what networking is.

One of the best ways I’ve heard it put goes as follows: what if instead of calling it “networking” we called it “learning from each other”?

Because that’s what networking is. And that’s why this post is part of the mentorship series – if you think of networking as finding and consulting mentors, it becomes a lot more approachable and a lot less uncomfortable.

Continue reading Mentorship in Research: What’s “networking” all about?

Mentorship in Research: Don’t go alone!

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Stacey shares her story.

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I didnt even know how to make a proper posterboard when I started conducting research.
I learned a great deal about conducting research during my first research project, even if making a proper poster was not one of those skills.

I really didn’t want to stay for the awards ceremony at the science fair that day, but Mrs. Sabherwal insisted. I told her I had to go to my clarinet lessons. No luck. I asked my mom to plead my case. No luck. She only offered, “It’s okay if you miss your lessons today”—and so, defeated, I waited at the fair.

And what an arduous wait it was. I couldn’t sit still—I just wanted to leave, and I was starting to get hungry. They kept calling names and more names. Names and more names. Were they done yet? I left and used the bathroom. But there was a flurry as I emerged, hands still damp with residual sink water—come quick, they told me, they’re calling your name! The highest award in the district science fair! Impossible. It turns out that Mrs. Sabherwal had confided in my mom about the award and expressly requested that I remain.

Mrs. Sabherwal was like that—always looking out for her students, no matter how frustratingly obstinate. She pushed me to become a researcher even when I didn’t realize I could be one. Continue reading Mentorship in Research: Don’t go alone!