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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Human Resources for your Independent Work!

It’s JP crunch time! Many students like myself are working feverishly on campus on their junior papers as winter break approaches. This week, I’m going to share advice about the single most useful resource I’ve found on campus as I work through my own junior paper: Princeton professors. Scheduling a meeting or two with faculty relevant to your work, whether you know them or not, will help you greatly in your path to a great research paper.

First, some background: many departments have different guidelines and setups for junior independent work. Most departments require two junior papers; some require one. In the philosophy department, all juniors take a small (4-5 person) topical junior seminar in the fall to guide them into the process of writing independently. This fall’s topics were Consequentialism & Common Sense Morality, Newcomb’s Problem, and Skepticism, Reason, & Faith. In seminar sessions, students discuss issues central to these topics.

I spent my semester in Consequentialism & Common Sense Morality reading Shelly Kagan’s Normative Ethics and debating features of the text with my classmates. The literature was vast, spanning metaethics (what are the fundamental bases of ethical theories? are they valid?), normative ethics (what are relevant factors that make actions good or bad?), and applied ethics (what are answers to moral questions people face in their lives?). Any one of these categories holds thousands of unanswered, often-debated questions. So by the second half of the semester, when it was time to choose a junior paper topic, I felt predictably lost.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never gotten lost on campus…but feeling lost on a research paper is much scarier!

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Choosing Classes: Things to Think about & University Resources

Spring courses were recently released on the university registrar, which means it’s time for many of us to start considering some difficult decisions. Choosing the course arrangement that best fits your priorities/schedule is crucial to ensure that you have a fulfilling spring semester. 

Over the past four semesters, I’ve used many tips passed on by wise upperclassmen to help choose my own courses. Here are some of the best ones, followed by some resources that are helpful for choosing classes!

What books will be on your shelf next semester?

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Realizing the Global Impact of Princeton Professors

The work of Princeton professors is recognized around the world! (slide credit: Bahador Bahrami. photo credit: Jalisha Braxton)
The work of Princeton professors is recognized around the world! (slide credit: Bahador Bahrami)

Something incredible happened the other day in class here at University College London (UCL). My psychology professor was lecturing on the topic of attention and awareness when, suddenly, a familiar name appeared on the screen: Matthew Botvinick, Professor of Psychology at Princeton University! I was struck with surprise, amazement, and joy at seeing his name on the board, feeling fortunate to have taken a neuroscience course with him the year before. A sense of pride washed over me as my European classmates & I learned about one of Professor Botvinick’s experimental studies on conflict monitoring. However, I also felt a wave of regret. Why had I not known about this study before? Shouldn’t I, a student in the Psychology Department at Princeton, know about the amazing research that my professor had conducted?

Most students at Princeton are well aware of the fact that the school’s faculty members are highly accomplished. However, while the merits of some professors are published by CNN on a daily basis, the accomplishments of other professors are less publicized. Nonetheless, many of the individuals who stand before us each and every day have and continue to produce incredible research that is highly regarded around the world.

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Talk the Talk: Initiating Professional Conversations

Office hours are great places to sit and get to know professors! Special thanks to Laura Sarubbi for this photo.

Talk to your professors. College students are frequently given this age-old advice, which seems to exist as a panacea for low grades, a need for recommendation letters, a desire for intelligent conversation, and the like. However, most students will be quick to inform you that talking to professors is easier said than done. Whether held back by fear of inadequacy, intimidation, or just pure laziness, many students shy away from interacting with their educators. Unfortunately, this fear prevents students from obtaining amazing opportunities, especially ones related to conducting research.

As a learning consultant at Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, I’ve discussed the difficulty of talking to professors with many of my peers. Most express a strong desire to engage their professors in conversation, but are unsure of what to say, or how to say it. While I’m no expert on perfecting the verbalization skills necessary to score a perfect relationship with professors, I have had some experiences where simply putting myself out there has made a world of difference for my Princeton career.

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