Since many of you (including myself) have probably started thinking about your upcoming summer plans, in this post, I wanted to do a reflection on my past summer and how my perception of research changed through that experience.
This past summer, I spent 11 weeks in Japan, which was something that was only possible thanks to Princeton’s incredibly long summer. (For readers unfamiliar with Princeton’s schedule — this happens because Princeton starts the fall semester later than most schools.)
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.
At Princeton I often find myself overwhelmed by my workload, behind on assignments and readings, and struggling to prepare for exams. When work piles up, it is necessary to work as efficiently as possible to meet deadlines, but it can be really challenging to work productively when you are feeling overworked. Princeton’s heavy workloads are often a source of stress–here are a few strategies that help me when I am struggling:
Conducting good research requires many skills which we learn throughout our Princeton careers. Self care is one of the most important skills, but it is easy to overlook with so many other academic demands.
Go outside and exercise:
If you can’t concentrate on your work or feel low energy, taking a half hour break from working to go for a walk or a jog can help clear your head while also jump-starting your blood flow. Being outside gets me back in contact with the rest of the world and helps me escape coursework induced myopia. I like to go to Mountain Lakes nature preserve, which has a small network of hiking trails and a few picturesque ponds. The ponds are great for a (very) cold swim, and the forest has beautiful foliage in the fall.
This is it. After an R3, two JPs, and the countless research papers in between, I’m expected to craft the 15,000 to 20,000-word magnum opus of my Princeton career. And I have to say, I still don’t really know how it’s all going to go down.
There’s something I like to call the “black box” of every Princeton student’s research career. You’re given a massive independent research project to undertake, then some wizardry happens in Firestone, a lab, or studio, and voilà everything is complete! This second “magical” step is the black box: no one from the outside can see what goes into the project’s actual assembly. We only see stress as a side effect of this mystical process, and then a final product. Throughout the year, I hope to demystify this black box by revealing my own thesis-writing process: the highs, lows, brainstorming, writing, and of course, the research.
So what does writing my thesis look like in its initial stages? Right now I’m still brainstorming and narrowing down my thesis topic, which will be about how Public Service Announcements (PSAs) subvert the capitalist practices within traditional commercial advertising, using some French theory as a lens (shout out to the Department of French and Italian!). Fortunately and unfortunately that’s a broad topic with nearly infinite directions, so I’m working on figuring out more specific direction.
I’m beginning this process by looking at my JPs, which also dealt with my thesis topic, but used a small number of specific examples. Both papers were divided into sections where I argued different points, and while re-reading them, I’m treating each section as if it were its own paper related to my thesis. I’m asking myself questions like: Assuming I had ten more pages to write for each section, which other theories could I incorporate to corroborate the arguments I was making? How can I specifically incorporate the topic of capitalism? How would different theorists critique my arguments, and how can this inform a strong rebuttal?
For over 70 years the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) has run an eight-week field research expedition on the glaciers spanning Juneau, Alaska and Atlin, British Columbia. JIRP is the longest continuous glacial monitoring program in North America. But what truly sets the program apart is its commitment to active student participation and mentorship: all of the summer research is carried out by students, ranging from high schoolers to Ph.D. candidates, and mentored by field staff and faculty from around the world.
Active participation and mentorship are vital aspects of all student research. In my experience, I learn way more from engaging with research in the real world than from reading, listening to lectures, or completing recipe-type lab exercises. So, when I got the opportunity to join JIRP this summer, I jumped at the chance.
Princeton semesters are hard. For most people, the stress comes and goes throughout the semester.
Going into sophomore year, I wanted to try new extracurriculars (like writing for PCUR and being a writing center fellow) and to continue things that I’d done since my first year (like Princeton University Orchestra and Princeton Social Innovation), but I was worried about how to manage everything.
Extracurriculars are such a crucial part of life here at Princeton, but we’re also students first. How could I try to start the semester off on the right foot?
This question became all the more pressing when classes started and I got a better understanding of the time commitment and effort that was required for each of my classes.
It’s hard to believe, but this is my last post of my sophomore year. This PCUR “ending,” however, comes at a time when I’m still in the middle of working on Dean’s Date assignments and (thinking about) preparing for final exams, so there’s something a little dissonant about writing a reflection post right now. Indeed, I suspect that only after the last exam wraps up, or after I move home and begin my summer job, will I be able to reflect more fully on my sophomore year. Nevertheless, I do have some preliminary observations, which I hope others will find useful as they take stock of their own personal and academic progress this year. Continue reading Reflections on Sophomore Year: Staying Flexible in Times of Change
This semester, in our spring series, PCURs will interview a graduate student who either is currently a graduate student at Princeton, or attended Princeton as an undergraduate. In Graduate Student Reflections: Life in Academia, interviews with graduate students shed light on the variety of paths one can take to get to graduate school and beyond, and the many insights gained along the way from research projects and mentors. Here, Shanon shares his interview.
As part of our seasonal series on graduate students, I decided to interview Ole Agersnap, a friend of mine in his first year of the Economics PhD program. Ole and I met at the beginning of this year in the Princeton Chapel Choir, where we both sing as baritones. Over the course of the year, we’ve chatted regularly about economics, school, and life in general. Ole is a dedicated scholar with a clear perspective on his academic journey, so I hope you enjoy reading his reflections! Continue reading Graduate Student Reflections: An Interview With Ole Agersnap
If you are reading this post, you are likely involved in research. Unsurprisingly, I am too. Yes, I’ve spent my fair share of long nights on the A floor of Firestone, reviewing sources and tightening up arguments. This week, I’m embarking on a new history research paper about the evolution of Native American spirituality from the 1830s to the 1890s, which I anticipate will take a fair amount of time. Reflecting on the work I have ahead got me thinking, why am I doing this in the first place? In fact, why do any of us research?
This question can really be broken into two parts: “What do we hope to achieve from our research?” and “What motivates us to conduct our research?” We think about the first question often, because in the academy, we have to justify what we’re doing to our professors, to funding boards, etc. And in lots of research, one’s answer to the first question informs their answer to the second. Certain biologist friends of mine, for instance, study lab rat carcasses in the hopes of better understanding tumors, with the inspiring goal of curing cancer. In cases such as this, the aim of a project is to arrive at something with a concrete application so marvelous that it motivates the researcher to come to the lab each morning. Continue reading Why Do We Research?
Few students enter Princeton planning to study Geosciences–I certainly didn’t.
Fascinated by the natural world and enticed by the prospect of a field semester in Kenya, I confidently chose “Ecology and Evolutionary Biology” as my intended concentration every semester on Tigerhub’s Academic Planning Form. My backup plan, if the sciences weren’t the right fit, was to study History and get a certificate in American Studies.
So why, when it came time to declare my concentration, did I end up choosing Geosciences? There were three factors that I felt set GEO apart from the other departments I considered:
When I was considering which department to join, it was important to me that the department had a strong community with a space for undergraduate participation.
GEO has a vibrant department community that places a high value on undergraduates. Undergraduate participation is encouraged in weekly department wide events such as lunchtime lectures and snack breaks, as well as celebratory events such as annual department picnics. Even before I declared my concentration, faculty and staff in the department made it clear that there was a place for me in GEO.
The department even has its own undergraduate society, Princeton University Geosciences Society (PUGS), run entirely by students, which plans regular social events and field trips centered around building a close-knit community of engaged undergraduates. PUGS organized a department field trip to Iceland in 2015 and is planning a weeklong trip to the United Kingdom this year.