Seasonal Series: Interview with Bjarke Nielsen, EEB/HMEI

Headshot of Dr. Bjarke Frost Nielsen standing in front of a bush.
Bjarke Frost Nielsen, from Denmark, received his PhD in Physics from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and is currently a Carlsberg Foundation Research Fellow Postdoctoral Researcher at Princeton in the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) within the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) department. He currently works on using mathematical and computational tools to solve problems in pathogen evolution and infectious disease epidemiology.

Following the seasonal series theme of “Niche vs. Expansive Research Topics”, I interviewed Dr. Bjarke Frost Nielsen on his journey going from a Physics PhD to working in our EEB department and all of the different topics he’s worked on along the way.

Dr. Nielsen shares, “In general, I have a very broad notion of what physics is. I don’t think for something to qualify as physics it has to, you know, involve Newton’s 2nd Law, be describable in terms of the Schrödinger Equation, or something like that. I think that physics is essentially the science that tries to mathematically tackle the aspects of our physical world that can be attacked mathematically. That’s more or less what physics is, right? It’s choosing the areas where you think that a mathematical description can really capture the problem. … It’s a very broad science in that way.”

Read on to learn more about Dr. Nielsen’s reflections on his research background in Physics and current work in EEB.

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Reading for Fun: How and Why

Often when I mention the subject of reading for pleasure’s sake in conversations with other Princeton students, I hear the same story repeated with a twinge of sadness and a sense of resignation to the seemingly-inevitable. Most of us seem to have begun our respective childhoods as avid readers who could barely be seen apart from a book. We enjoyed all sorts of reading, and it was not a tiring task but an exciting opportunity. Over the course of many grueling years of schooling filled with assigned readings and the like, this voracious appetite for literature seems to have been largely snuffed out. If you, like me and many others, have drifted away from the pleasurable pastime of reading for fun and wish that you could regain a bit of that excitement which marked your early years, this article will give a few suggestions for how and why you might go about effecting this turnaround. 

A few books on a bookshelf.

A few books on my shelf in my dorm— not for class.

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Tips for Recruiting Interviewees: My Qualitative Research on ChatGPT Use in CS Education

Last semester, I interviewed Albert Lee ‘24 to get a glimpse of what conducting qualitative research for sociology Junior Papers can look like at Princeton. (If you’re interested in reading that piece, click here!). Discussing qualitative research with Albert was exciting because his words of advice were quite applicable to the qualitative Computer Science research I was conducting in COS 436: Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

Image of text, with a question from a student and answer from ChatGPT regarding what the OUR does.

An example user prompt and ChatGPT response.

Prior to taking COS 436, I had little idea of what qualitative research looked like in Computer Science, particularly because many of the CS courses I had taken were quantitative, involving systems, mathematical models, or theory. Taking the course opened my eyes to a whole side of research: interview-based qualitative research. For my semester-long research project, my team and I aimed to dive deeper into educators’ opinions on the use of ChatGPT in CS education.

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Need a New Place to Study? 4 Niche Study Locations for all Princeton Students!

As I enter my sixth! semester at Princeton, I find myself still asking the age-old question: where should I go and work today? The challenge with finding the right study space is that they’re frequently mood and assignment-specific.

Image of sunset over Princeton Graduate College, golf course, Forbes backyard. Red Adirondack chair in foreground.

View of the Forbes backyard, taken by author.

PCUR alumna Nanako Shirai’s 2018 post on finding study spaces on campus is an incredible resource to help you identify the best study space based on your study needs. In this post, I’ll highlight some additional study spaces you could explore this spring. Instead of going by the type of assignment you’re working on, I’ll share four new suggestions on study spaces based on the kind of study environment you prefer. This might help you choose study spaces at which you could complete multiple items on your to-do list.

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HCI is for Everyone: A Glimpse into Princeton’s Human-Computer Interaction Reading List

Monochrome split screen image of the Mother of All Demos, screenshotted from the Control Devices section

From left to right: Three control devices (a special keyset, a standard keyboard, and a mouse). Photo credits: The Doug Engelbart Institute.

This semester, I’m taking COS 436: Human-Computer Interaction, taught by Professor Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Professor Parastoo Abtahi. The course explores foundational theories and current research in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), focusing on interactive and social computing across diverse domains like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), accessibility, information visualization, and human-robot interaction. 

As the semester comes to a close, I reflect on how the readings shaped my understanding of HCI and technology more broadly. I found that the readings move beyond just the HCI classroom, offering profound insights on how technology shapes our lives and the importance of design considerations in emerging technologies. Given their value for even those who have no background in computer science, here are three readings I found particularly exciting.

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TigerJunction vs ReCal: How I Plan My Courses for the Next Semester

TigerJunction Logo

It’s always a mixed bag of emotions when it comes to course selection. Personally, I find the period between when the next semester’s courses are released and before the course selection date to be especially fun—I can play around with the different ideal schedules (potentially having no-class Fridays and no night classes), look ahead to the rest of the courses that I’ll be taking during my time here, and discover new classes. Whether people end up choosing to take classes to fulfill requirements, classes that interest them, or classes that could teach them important skills, an important aspect in choosing courses for the upcoming semester is course planning. TigerApps is a group of student developers that builds apps to improve the campus life experience for Princeton students. One of the TigerApps created is ReCal, which is the most popular way to aid in course planning and ensure a smooth process for course selection. Recently, TigerJunction ReCal+, an application for course planning inspired by ReCal and designed to be an “improved” version, has made its rounds among students. As course selection season is upon us, I wanted to take the opportunity to show how I plan my courses for the next semester and provide an in-depth comparison between ReCal and TigerJunction ReCal+ to inform how other students plan their courses for the upcoming semesters.

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In a Mid-Semester Slump? Here are Five Tips to Bounce Back from Burnout

Unfortunately, many of us will experience burnout sometime during our four years here at Princeton. For those of you who may not have heard this term before, the definition is in its name: burnout involves losing that spark of motivation that previously might have kept you pushing forward through your workload. Keep in mind that burnout is distinct from things like anxiety or depression that may also be impacting your academic performance in a similar way. If you think you are struggling with these instead, you can contact Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to seek longer-term professional help. They also offer urgent consultations for more immediate situations. Burnout specifically deals much more with the ebbs and flows that can happen as stress builds over the course of a semester. Thankfully, there are many ways to combat and minimize the negative effects of burnout. If you have a few overdue assignments, slept through a few lectures, or just generally feel you are not quite as on top of things as you may have been when the semester began, here are some of my tips for getting out of an academic slump.

Photo of girl sitting on grass, leaning against bench, face covered by open textbook.
These tips might be of use if you’re having a particularly tiring week!
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My Personal Tips for Success in Writing Seminar

Even before stepping foot on campus, I had already heard of the challenges that came with the Writing Seminar, the first-year writing requirement. Students are able to rank by preference several Writing Seminars covering different topics, which have included topics such as WRI 116: Sustainable Futures and WRI 159: Gray Matter. In each of these Writing Seminars, students develop their writing skills through a research focus, writing three research papers throughout the semester. As Writing Seminars are such a widely discussed topic for first-years and there is an abundance of advice from juniors and seniors floating around, I wanted to write a more detailed article specifically about what I did to learn how to write.

Picture of the flowchart I created for my R2; tip #3, use whiteboards!
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My BSE Spring Semester Experience in the Engineering Sequence

After having written “My BSE Fall Semester Experience in the Engineering Sequence”, I wanted to continue writing about my experience in the spring semester portion of the sequence; if you haven’t read my first post yet, go read it! To reiterate, the Engineering Sequence is a set of five courses intended to fulfill first-year engineering requirements through an introduction to engineering fundamentals in the context of real-world applications. BSE degree requirements include four semesters of math, two semesters of physics, one semester of chemistry, and every first-year student is required to take one semester of writing seminar. The Engineering Sequence begins at the Integral Calculus (Calculus II) and the Physics Mechanics level, meaning that it will cover for the two required semesters of physics and the four semesters of math in five courses throughout three semesters. Read on to learn more about the spring sequence!

  1. EGR 153: Foundations of Engineering: Electricity, Magnetics, and Photonics
screenshot from course page. Link to course description in subheading.
Course Description of EGR 153 for Spring 2023
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Doing Summer Astrophysics Research at Princeton (Astro USRP)

2023 Astrophysics USRP Students Group Photo standing on steps.
2023 Astrophysics USRP Students Group Photo. Photo Credits: Stephanie N. Reif (2023)

My first summer research experience convinced me to declare my major as Astrophysics and solidified my plan to pursue research as a career after graduation. In 10 weeks, our Astrophysics department taught me how to start and complete a research project culminating in a presentation and paper write-up, with no prior research experience required! It was a particularly good experience to get to focus on research full-time without having to juggle courses, extracurriculars, and more, and it made me feel prepared and hungry to do even more research in the future.

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