Post Princeton Life: Interview with Isabelle Laurenzi ’15

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Raya shares her interview.

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Teaching, travel, Congress, the Writing Center, political theory, Yale! Former PCUR chief correspondent Isabelle Laurenzi graduated from Princeton in 2015 with a degree in Religion. She has since gone on to pursue an array of adventures and projects. Most recently, Isabelle completed her first year of a Ph.D. program at Yale in political theory. For our seasonal spring series, I caught up with Isabelle to learn more about her time at Princeton and explorations after. In our conversation, Isabelle and I connected over our shared interest in interdisciplinary studies and the joy of pursuing one’s interests through varied avenues.

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Post-Princeton Life: Interview with Jalisha Braxton ’16

For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Alec shares his interview.

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Jalisha Braxton ‘16 was a member of PCUR during her junior and senior years at Princeton. She concentrated in Psychology, with a certificate in Neuroscience. She is now a third-year PhD student in psychology at the University of Chicago, where she studies cognitive psychology with Professors Sian Beilock and Susan Levine. Her research focuses on math anxiety and math education. I spoke to Jalisha over the phone to discuss her work as a grad student, and how her experience as an undergraduate student at Princeton informed her post-grad plans. I found a lot of what she said to be quite helpful, as I personally am considering pursuing a PhD after graduation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jalisha Braxton ’16 is a third-year psychology PhD student at the University of Chicago.

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Highlights and Reflections from the AIChE Regional Conference

In the middle of exams, papers, and upcoming deadlines, I attended the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Regional Conference at Penn State this week. As I attempted to review my organic chemistry notes on the four-hour car ride to the conference, I wondered if I had made the right decision in attending: I was not prepared for my orgo exam, I had an English paper due the day after, I was behind on my immunology course work, amongst other things. But as I began attending workshops, fun activities, and spending time with my other CBE classmates at the conference, my perspective completely changed. In this post, I will reflect on some of my takeaways from the conference and why I am grateful that I attended.

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The Junior Paper: A Halftime Report

1879 Hall, home to Princeton’s Department of Religion, where in a few weeks the author will submit the final draft of his JP.

My friends and fellow students, springtime has sprung forth from the recently-frozen New Jersey soil. Spring Break is in the rear-view mirror, and we march toward Dean’s Date, finals, and summer at a steady clip. But another set of deadlines draws even nearer, deadlines whose immediacy can be seen on the tired faces of many upper-class students. Yes, friends, I’m talking about independent work, JPs and theses, the academic tulips of the Princeton spring semester. Continue reading The Junior Paper: A Halftime Report

Class Trip to Japan: Immersive Experiences, Changing Topics, and the Importance of Reflection

This year, I spent my spring break traveling around Japan with my art history seminar course, ART 429 Visual Japan: Past and Present. It was an absolutely transformative experience, both academically and personally. I’m here to share a little bit about how I learned to use experiences to inspire research and find answers through reflection.

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Learning from Summer Experiences – Redefining Research

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.

At the Kyoto Symposium, scholars from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University met up for a poster presentation. This is at the Nijo Castle.

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.)

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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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Dealing with Stress

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.

I first visited Mountain Lakes preserve my freshman fall, while doing a field project in EEB 321 Ecology: Species interactions, biodiversity, and society. Now it is my go-to place to get off  campus, go for a run or a swim, and check out beautiful fall foliage.

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Demystifying the “Black Box” Part I: Holy Moly I Have to Write a Thesis

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.


The “black box” metaphor is actually computing jargon for a system only understood in terms of inputs and outputs, with its inner workings remaining mysterious. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies Se7en, “What’s in the [thesis] box?” We’ll find out together!
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?

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Active Engagement and Mentorship on the Juneau Icefield

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.

Research in action! The author drilling an ice core (credit Alex Burkhart) and identifying alpine vegetation (credit Hannah Mode) with fellow ‘JIRPers’ on the Juneau Icefield.

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