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.

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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!

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“The People Make It”: How My Peers Have Shaped My Princeton Experience

Recently ranked the best university in the country by US News and World Report, Princeton has a lot to gloat about. Yet on the list of resources and opportunities that make Princeton exceptional, rarely are the students themselves mentioned. While my classes here have been enlightening, my relationships with classmates have had the greatest impact on me.

Every day, Princeton students take in a wealth of knowledge, and it’s only natural that we share it with each other. I have a friend interning at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab down the road who discussed her project with me over dinner. She’s looking at data from four different satellites orbiting Earth to study magnetic reconnection events, or in other words, when solar winds (streams of high-energy charged particles from the sun) disrupt the magnetic field around Earth. I had never been exposed to this field, but in just a few minutes was able to understand several technical terms from a field of study completely different from mine.

Magnetic reconnection is responsible for the Aurora Borealis. Things you learn over dinner!
Magnetic reconnection is responsible for the Aurora Borealis. Things you learn over dinner!

And yet, most of my conversations aren’t outright academic. Amongst friends, there’s no pressure to turn conversations into precept. I’ve found that this balance between casual and academic actually aids my studies.

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Rocky trails: Researching what matters to you

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Climbers using fixed anchors in Arches National Park

How would you like to travel to six of the country’s most famous National Parks for your senior thesis?

My friend Eve Barnett, a senior in the politics department, did just that. Eve, who also leads Outdoor Action trips and rock-climbs with the Princeton Climbing Team, found a way to combine her academic training with her love of the outdoors. Her thesis focuses on how the Park Service addresses a controversial issue within the climbing community: fixed anchors, metal bolts pushed into a cliff face for climbers to clip into. Should they be allowed in National Parks because they increase access, or banned because they’re a permanent change to the rock face? I sat down with Eve to learn more about her research journey.

How did you decide on a research topic? Was it related to your previous independent work?

It was totally unrelated! My fall JP was about international ocean conservation commissions, and my spring JP was about the different political experiences of high-income and low-income college students. I asked my thesis adviser what he thought about continuing with the college student project, but he recognized that it wasn’t really my project since it was a small portion of a professor’s ongoing research. He told me he believed my thesis topic should be something I have ownership of. So I started thinking, what do I love?

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Being Uncomfortable in the Classroom

I’ve spent the past two weeks in New Zealand on a steady adventure rush.

Scarcely a day has passed without me sleeping under the stars, exploring a beach, or hiking up a mountain. Today, however, was my first time exploring the study part of my study abroad experience — the first day of class.

I attended a computer science course on artificial intelligence, philosophy of biology, and another course on Pacific geopolitics in the 21st century. Initially, these seemed very similar to classes I’ve taken at Princeton: They all follow a lecture/precept format, with a few papers or projects and exams at the end of the term. The language of instruction is English, and there are a few international students in each class. But, to my surprise, I had never felt so out of place in a classroom before.

The walkway along one of Otago's oldest buildings, on my way to class this morning! Image by Vidushi Sharma.
The walkway along one of Otago’s oldest buildings, on my way to class this morning!

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