Lessons from Princeton’s Day of Action

Over the past few months, students and academics across the Princeton campus community have been reckoning with the new reality of America under the Trump presidency. To encourage productive post-election dialogue, the Princeton Citizen Scientists sponsored a Day of Action last Monday, March 6th. The Day of Action brought together hundreds of students, faculty, and community members for dialogue with teach-ins on topics ranging from Intersectional Activism to Science in the Public Sphere. Local organizations like the Citizens Climate Lobby and the Coalition for Peace Action also tabled for the event.

My involvement with the Day of Action began early in the morning, as I was walking to class when I noticed a woman carrying a large basket of books and pamphlets near my room. We chatted on our way to Frist, where she was tabling with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network that organizes white people to fight with multi-racial minorities for social change. After I showed her to the campus center, I cocooned myself in a library to prepare for my own teach-in at the Day of Action, “Making Political Disagreement Productive: Mitigating Confirmation Bias.”

Participants at my teach-in during the Day of Action. Photo by Jonathan Balkind.

My teach-in was the first time I had presented my thesis to a public group. The motivation? Partisan antipathy and political polarization has doubled among both Democrats and Republicans, with about forty percent of members of each party reporting “very unfavorable” opinions of the other. Polarization exacerbates unproductive political disagreement, as partisans succumb to confirmation bias and immediately discount positions counter to their own. I presented lessons from psychology and philosophy to explore the causes of, and possible mitigants to self-serving political bias.

Sharing space on the Day of Action program with names like Cornel West and Max Weiss, I expected only a handful of people at most to attend my teach-in. I was stunned–and happy– when I entered the room to find a full audience of students, professors, and community members. During my ~20 minute presentation, I was interrupted often by questions. When I couldn’t come up with answers, I found new angles to examine my own work from.

The discussion flowed freely after my talk. People from Tennessee and Missouri shared personal stories and advice about engaging with their family members about politics. A conservative student and a liberal professor of Religion had a wonderful exchange about the need to reach across the aisle to those from the other side who are willing to listen. A Princeton resident alerted me about a political discussion project in the town library, and another student pointed me to a book that I’ve since found helpful in my work. My experience at the teach-in embodied the collective knowledge-sharing that the organizers of the Day of Action were aiming for.

I left the room buzzing with energy and thankful that I had decided, on a whim, to participate in the event.  I had spent so long discussing my thesis only with a few professors and friends that I had not realized how valuable publicly presenting it could be for my thought process and motivation. Seeing my academic research received with such enthusiasm in a collaborative environment reaffirmed my desire to continue pursuing the offshoots of my thesis work after graduation. Consider presenting or participating in a future Day of Action or finding other ways to showcase your academic work on campus too, like the annual Princeton Research Day each spring.
— Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent

Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Lindy Li ’12 from Philosophy to a Career in Politics

This semester, each PCUR will interview a Princeton alumnus from their home department about his/her experience writing a senior thesis. In Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Alumni Perspectives, the alumni reveal how conducting independent research at Princeton influenced them academically, professionally and personally. Here, Vidushi shares her interview.

~~~~~~

Lindy Li ‘12 is a familiar name for many students on our campus. A philosophy major who served as USG Class President for all four of her years at Princeton, Lindy Li ran for Congress in 2016 at the age of twenty-four. When we chatted on the phone as part of this semester’s seasonal series, I was struck by her genuine enthusiasm and the way she has woven lessons from her undergraduate research in philosophy into her current career in politics. 

Here’s what I learned:

Lindy Li at the Women’s March in Philadelphia!

Continue reading Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Lindy Li ’12 from Philosophy to a Career in Politics

Graduate Seminars: Why Not?

A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall.
A winter view of the philosophy department in 1879 Hall. 

This semester, I took my first graduate seminar in philosophy–Rationality & Irrationality with Professor Thomas Kelly. I went into the class without any knowledge of epistemology and some apprehension about my meager philosophical background compared to other students.

At the same time, I wanted the challenge and growth opportunities of an environment where students were fully invested in the material and subject matter covered. As a senior, I also wanted to see if I would want to pursue graduate work in philosophy. So, I swallowed my hesitations and enrolled.

Continue reading Graduate Seminars: Why Not?

Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

I excelled in math in high school, rising to the top of the tiered class track and dabbling in multivariable calculus before college. I, however, immediately and subconsciously faltered in confidence when I reached Princeton. I was deterred from trying a proof-based math class by the thought that these were only for “math people” –  students who had excelled in extracurricular math competitions from a young age or who already had exposure to “real math” beyond AP calculus. The kinds of students, who, when presented with a problem, could scribble across a blackboard and find the answer with a spark of genius.

That student wasn’t me, and so I decided that I must not be a “math person.” I still took college math, but instead of enrolling in a proof-based class, I pushed through Math 201 (multivariable calculus) and 202 (linear algebra), required courses for engineers. The exams were still notoriously difficult, and it wasn’t unusual for average scores to hover around 65%. This seemed to me like a strategy the department used to allow it to separate star students from “the rest of the pack.” Linear algebra during my freshman spring was the last math class I took in college.

Three years later, I’m studying philosophy –  a subject with gender ratios comparable to mathematics. Many people know about the lack of females in STEM departments, but this issue slips under the radar in fields like philosophy and music composition. Philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie’s research helps connect the dots.

What I imagine when I think 'mathematician' -- a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. Image by Dimitry Dzhus, Creative Commons.
What I imagine when I think “mathematician” — a wise man with a spark of brilliance that spills onto the board. 

Continue reading Deconstructing Gender-based Myths of “Innate Brilliance”

Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

As I write, I’ve just finished my first real job as a summer analyst for PRINCO, the company charged with investing Princeton’s endowment. Being a rising senior, I’ve enjoyed many inevitable conversations with friends, colleagues, and family that start with the innocuous What are you studying? and soon progress to my plans after graduation.

Upon hearing my decision to intern at PRINCO, many friends and family members were incredulous. How could someone like me be interested in investing? I felt dangerously close to being judged a “sell-out,” someone who was abandoning her passions to climb a ladder of wealth and ambition.

Their dismissals, however, weren’t all that new. I’ve sensed the same judgements from others who discover that I major in the “impractical” field of philosophy–what an idealist! Both these judgements can be as chafing as they are simplistic. As a result, I often tailor my answers about my post-graduation plans to who, exactly, is asking. I alternate between saying I plan to explore graduate study in philosophy, or build my business experience while pursuing projects in educational entrepreneurship. In truth, I would love to do both.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

Continue reading Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

Finding a Home for my Independent Work Abroad

Abroad this semester at the University of Otago, my independent work has felt far from home.

Before leaving Princeton, I talked to my fall JP adviser about how to expand my fall paper, and had a few meetings with my spring adviser. Once I arrived in New Zealand, however, life became a whirlwind of flight transfers, international orientation, and a packed introduction to my new home.

In the midst of all this, I had underestimated how much harder it would be to coordinate with professors at Princeton from a timezone sixteen hours away. Communication suddenly slowed down to a snail’s pace–instead of walking into someone’s office, I found that it could take anywhere from days to weeks to go from one email to the next.

It was discouraging and unexpected. My fall JP had gone as well as I could have hoped. My topic was new and exciting, and my semester was full of stimulating conversations with professors and graduate students (during office hours and even over email from overseas). By the end of the writing process, I felt that I had made a non-trivial contribution to philosophical literature, even as a third-year university student. Abroad, however, I found myself torn between exploring a new place and having to piece together advice from various emails to create a plan for my JP.

The philosophy department at the University of Otago on a sunny morning!
The philosophy department at the University of Otago on a sunny morning!

Continue reading Finding a Home for my Independent Work Abroad