How to Pull Yourself Out of a Thesis-Writing Slump

We’ve all been there. We all know what it feels like to take a break⁠—whether it’s on purpose or by accident⁠—from a lengthy paper; it can be overwhelming when you realize that you messed up your writing process timeline. Personally, I recently took a looooong break (think: three weeks, give or take) from writing my thesis. Part of it was by accident; due to COVID-19, all Princeton students were told to move out and head back home for the remainder of the semester. The stress of packing, saying goodbye to my friends and the campus, and moving out caused my thesis to take a backseat in terms of priorities. Once I arrived home, I purposefully decided to extend my break from writing my thesis in order to unpack, get settled, and get used to online classes. One day lead to the next, and suddenly, I had spent three weeks away from my thesis.

It’s hard to hold yourself accountable about your thesis during breaks.
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Interlibrary Loan and the Magic of Online (Research) Shopping

[Note: This post was written before COVID-19 reconfigured our library access. Interlibrary Loan is no longer accessible for students, but its sister program, Article Express, is still running at full speed!]

Every so often, when reading sources for my thesis, I come across a citation for a book or article I can’t find in the Princeton library catalog. Of course, given the size of Princeton’s holdings, these moments are rare—though somewhat more frequent as I’ve entered the fine-grain stages of my research project. In the past, a dead end in the library catalog was enough to convince me to give up on a source. However, the exigencies of my last month of thesis writing have pushed me to use what might just be the most magical tool in the Princeton library toolbox: Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

A detail from a 1967 event program I received through Interlibrary Loan this month. Some of the pages were still uncut when I received it!

Whereas Borrow Direct and Recap only provide access to books listed in the Princeton library catalog, Interlibrary Loan can provide access to… pretty much any source you could possibly need. ILL has two main request options: Article Express (for scans of specific articles and book chapters) and Interlibrary Loan (for larger sources, like books, audio/visual materials, and microreels).

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Research: Have Fun With It!

The second time I met with my independent Junior Paper adviser this semester, I was nervous. I had decided following our first meeting that I wanted this JP to be the continuation of research I had, at that point, started nearly two years before (that project on the 1848 revolutions that keeps popping up in my posts), and I was apprehensive to present ideas that I felt might be stale; at the time, I struggled to think of ways to expand the project to something more mature than what I had begun as a first year student. Plus, I was feeling reluctant to be finishing up a project I had been working on for most of my college career.

My adviser and I discussed some of these concerns of mine, and right before I left, he smiled and said, “Alec, have fun with it.” He repeated this phrase at many of our weekly meetings, especially if I came feeling overwhelmed by often self-imposed worries. It was usually paired with a reassuring statement: “You know more than you think you know.” I knew more than I think I knew, and I was going to have fun. 

Me “having fun” with my research, back in the summer of 2018!
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Working as a Latino History Research Assistant: An Interview with Emily Sanchez ’22

While students usually choose to seek research internships over the summer, some research opportunities are also available during the semester, such as working under a professor or graduate student to aid with their academic research. However, among these choices, it may often feel like there are especially limited research opportunities available for students pursuing majors in the humanities or social sciences. We often imagine research assistants as collecting and analyzing statistical data, examining Petri dishes in a lab, developing computer programs, and so forth, and so we may be more skeptical as to what kind of research non-STEM majors could possibly partake in. 

To learn more about research opportunities during the semester in the humanities and social sciences, I interviewed Emily Sanchez ’22, who is currently working as a research assistant under Professor Rosina Lozano. Professor Lozano, an Associate Professor of History at Princeton, specializes in Latino history and the study of Latino cities in the U.S. As a research assistant, Emily has been examining 19th-century Spanish newspapers from the Southwest to understand more about the historical ties between ethnic Mexicans and indigenous communities in the region. 

Here’s what Emily shared about her experience as a research assistant: 

Continue reading Working as a Latino History Research Assistant: An Interview with Emily Sanchez ’22

Reflections on Sophomore Fall: The Guilt of Not Constantly Working

As Princeton students, we generally like hectic schedules. As much as we complain about impossible p-sets, extensive readings, and multiple extracurriculars, we often feel as if we need to constantly be busy. Thus, we fill up every minute of our schedules because a packed schedule makes us feel as if we are pushing ourselves to constantly operate at full potential.

I intended to pack my schedule like this last semester by joining the bioengineering lab where I researched the metabolic pathways of yeast cells over the summer. (You can read more about my experience by looking at some of my previous posts).  It seemed logical for me to continue working in the lab during my sophomore year, as this would provide me with both experience and extra preparation for junior independent work and eventually my senior thesis. But because of scheduling problems and sophomore funding issues, I was not able to continue working during the fall.

As students, we tend to fill up our schedules so that we are constantly working on something.

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How to Incorporate an Interview into a Class Project

You might not have a fancy podcast studio such as this at your disposal, but don’t let that hold you back from conducting an interview! All you really need is a willing interviewee, a phone (to record), and a flexible list of thoughtful questions.

When we think of research, we tend to picture someone sitting in the library surrounded by stacks of books. While it’s true that books (and textual materials accessed via the web) remain incredibly important to the research process, not everything research-worthy comes in book form. Indeed, for certain types of research, such as ethnography, journalism, and oral history, going out into the broader world outside the library doors is essential. This was the case for me recently as I worked on a podcast for a History of Science class; an interview with a molecular biology professor about their work on the Human Genome Project was central to my endeavor. So, in light of this recent experience and in the spirit of diversifying the types of sources we use as researchers, I will share in this post some thoughts on how to incorporate an interview into a class project or research paper. Continue reading How to Incorporate an Interview into a Class Project

How To Join A Natural Sciences Laboratory As A First-year or Sophomore

Many first years who come to Princeton are interested in doing research, but are too intimidated to pursue it when they arrive on campus. Conducting research in a laboratory can seem like something only juniors and seniors do as part of their independent work. But there are definitely ways to get involved in research earlier as a first year or sophomore. This week, I decided to interview my friend, Janie Kim ‘21, about her experience working in a natural sciences lab as a sophomore, to help shed some light on the process of joining a lab early.

Janie Kim ’21 does research in the Donia Lab.

Here’s a little bit about Janie first 

Janie Kim is a sophomore at Princeton University who will be majoring in molecular biology. She is doing research on small molecules secreted by marine bacteria in the Donia Lab. On campus, she is also involved in the CONTACT Crisis Hotline, Princeton Public Health Review, and the Arch & Arrow Literature Magazine. She loves sculpting and adores sci-fi unashamedly.

 

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Stick to What You Know: Relying on Past Experience to Tackle your Senior Thesis

As we head into April, many Senior Thesis deadlines (including my own!) are fast approaching, so I naturally thought it would be fitting to reflect on my thesis experience. Over the years, many PCUR posts have been written about theses and rightly so given that they are such a significant component of the undergraduate research experience. Many of these posts and much of the discourse surrounding the Senior Thesis emphasize what makes this project exceptional, framing it as the capstone of our college careers, an unprecedented challenge, and quite possibly the longest paper we will ever write.

While I by no means disagree with these characterizations, I want to present a slightly different perspective in this post. Instead of focusing on how theses are exceptional feats, I reflect on the ways in which I have found my thesis to be similar to past academic work that I have done at Princeton.

It’s a Woodrow Wilson School department tradition that all of the seniors jump in the Robertson Hall fountain after they hand in their theses.

I’m writing my thesis on state-to-state differences in the provision of maternal health care for pregnant and postpartum women in U.S. state prisons. I wrote one of my Junior Papers (JPs) on this general topic, so my thesis wasn’t entirely uncharted territory. But the content was not the only part of my thesis that felt relatively familiar—I found that my past research experiences at Princeton had appropriately prepared me to collect data, structure my thesis, and address broader research implications as well.

To gather data for my thesis, I primarily relied on state correctional reports, a legal research database, and information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. While I had not used all of these sources before, I had experience using similar datasets and research databases either for my JPs or for other research assignments. For instance, as I mentioned in my most recent post, I had met with a subject librarian to learn how to find and use data and reports from Senegalese governmental agencies for one of my JPs. When I embarked on data collection for my thesis, I relied heavily on the past guidance I had received on these types of searches. Continue reading Stick to What You Know: Relying on Past Experience to Tackle your Senior Thesis