Crash Course: Letters of Recommendation

No matter what kind of application process you’re working through, you’ll likely need some letters of recommendation. There are a lot of common misconceptions about how to go about securing these letters that I will explain here; I hope this post will help clear some of them up!

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Connecting with Scholars beyond Princeton

It’s been almost four years, and the generosity of Princeton faculty continues to surprise me. So many professors here are not just accessible to students, but deeply invested in supporting us in and outside of the classroom. It typically isn’t too hard to find at least one research mentor among our 950 full-time faculty.

Nevertheless, one institution’s faculty cannot possibly cover every sub-field or research topic. This has become especially apparent as I’ve moved towards the specificity required of a thesis project. In my case, no professor on campus studies Vilna, the Eastern European city at the center of my thesis.

A newsboy in Vilna in the early twentieth century. Without guidance from professors at other institutions, I probably wouldn’t have selected this fascinating city as my thesis topic!

Of course, there are ways around this. For one, there is probably a professor on campus whose area of expertise has something in common with your project. My thesis adviser does not work on Eastern Europe, for example, but she is an expert in writing urban histories. So even though Vilna is new to her, she has been invaluable in guiding my methodology and argumentation.

She has also encouraged me to reach out to faculty and graduate students in other departments and at other institutions who might be more familiar with Vilna itself. Connecting with these scholars has turned out to be one of the most valuable aspects of my thesis process thus far. I’ve compiled some tips for accessing the rich academic network beyond your particular department or university.

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How to Schedule a One-on-One with a Professor

As a sophomore planning on declaring in neuroscience, I’ve been wondering a lot about the types of research projects neuroscience majors do for their independent work and senior thesis. To get a better feel for these projects, I’ve been reaching out to neuroscience faculty, sometimes via cold emails – a task made easier with the help of this post. However, I recently wanted to reach out to one of my current neuroscience professors in particular, both to hear more about his undergraduates’ research projects and to develop a better relationship with him.

Building positive relationships with your professors is important and rewarding. It’s easy to regard getting to know professors as a purely professional opportunity: that is, for the purposes of soliciting a recommendation or finding a lab position. However, this process is rewarding in other equally important ways: for example, I enjoy when professors explain the trajectory of their own careers, since it has helped me clarify my own academic and extracurricular interests. Often times my meetings with professors have developed into personally meaningful friendships that I hope will extend beyond my time at Princeton.

A Coffee Chat at Prospect House

Although most of us would agree its important to build relationships with professors, it can be more difficult to know how to accomplish that. How do you approach a professor? Where and when do you meet? And what do you actually say to them? All of these questions ran through my head as I wondered how I would go about meeting the neuroscience professor I mentioned above. Meeting professors can be nerve-wracking – that’s why I’ve put together the eight tips I used that streamlined the process.

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Professorship and Mentorship: An Interview With Professor Bernadette Pérez

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, Rafi shares his interview.

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Professor Bernadette Pérez is a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities, History and American Studies and a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in Race and Ethnicity Studies in the Society of Fellows.

I met Professor Pérez last semester as a student in her course on Commodity Histories. Throughout the semester, I was inspired by her commitment to interdisciplinary research and her focus on subjugated histories. I was excited to hear about her personal research journey and any advice she might have for a confused undergrad like me. 

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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

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.

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How to Get to Know Your Department

Every department offers wonderful opportunities. For instance, departments offer seminars, special lectures, opportunities for internships or grants, study abroad programs, amongst other things. But to take advantage of these opportunities, it is important to know your department well. As a sophomore, one of the biggest challenges for me this year has been familiarizing myself with my own department, chemical and biological engineering (CBE).

In this post, I will provide some tips on how to get to know your department by describing how I engaged with CBE.

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Advice on Reaching Out to Faculty

Sitting in the back of a lecture can make your professor seem distant. Reaching out via email, discussed below, can help you get to know them better.

In my last post, I ended with a suggestion: reach out to faculty members. This post is an assortment of advice on how to go about doing that. More precisely, this post is about how to get in touch with faculty for the first time. Yes, dear readers, today we discuss the joy that is the cold email.

There are several situations in which cold emailing can be in your interest. You might want to get to know the faculty member better, or to do research with them. You might also want their advice on research at other institutions, summer programs, or independent work. Whatever your individual case, however, certain general principles apply when reaching out to faculty.

If cold emails are new or intimidating to you, fear not. The advice contained below will (hopefully) make this menacing task feel much more manageable.

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How to Become a Better Sleuth: Connecting with Faculty through Online Directories

Like many people my age, I am an uncertified, yet impressively efficient sleuth. Give me a name and some time, and I should be able to pull up at least two sources of information on any given person.

We know the process well: start with Google, aim for Facebook, and click on everything in between: Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, news media, public tax records, etc. – not to mention the terrifying wonders of Tigerbook.

You probably already have your sleuthing system all figured out, but have you considered applying it to research? Continue reading How to Become a Better Sleuth: Connecting with Faculty through Online Directories

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.

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