While listening to an astrophysics podcast, I stumbled into an epiphany about my course of study at Princeton. It was Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk, and two female astrophysicists had been invited on the show to discuss women in the field. About halfway through the episode, I asked myself why I wasn’t pursuing astronomy as a major, especially since I’ve had a fascination with space since childhood. I circled back to high school for an explanation. I had gotten an A- in pre-calculus for the year, and since I was immersed in the high school mindset of perfectionism, I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough at math to pursue anything in the STEM fields. My fellow PCUR blogger Vidushi wrote about how this same feeling I had of lacking “innate brilliance” creates gender gaps in fields like astrophysics. She writes, “Women who don’t see themselves as innately brilliant mathematicians, musicians, or philosophers often do not give themselves the chance to pursue these disciplines.”
When it came time to apply to Princeton, I looked for things I thought I’d be “better” at, and that’s when I started looking into social sciences. I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of politics and had always enjoyed French in high school, so I decided to pursue these once I got to college. This course of study has not been easy by any means; however, I sometimes felt like I had settled into these fields because I wasn’t confident enough to pursue other ones. Complaints from my peers about the difficulty of the math and physics courses necessary to study astrophysics overwhelmed me, so I denied myself the opportunity to explore them. I also had this realization at the end of sophomore fall–right before having to declare a concentration in the spring. If you’re struggling with what you want to study at Princeton, hopefully I can give you some encouragement!
Recently ranked the best university in the country by US News and World Report, Princeton has a lot to gloat about. Yet on the list of resources and opportunities that make Princeton exceptional, rarely are the students themselves mentioned. While my classes here have been enlightening, my relationships with classmates have had the greatest impact on me.
Every day, Princeton students take in a wealth of knowledge, and it’s only natural that we share it with each other. I have a friend interning at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab down the road who discussed her project with me over dinner. She’s looking at data from four different satellites orbiting Earth to study magnetic reconnection events, or in other words, when solar winds (streams of high-energy charged particles from the sun) disrupt the magnetic field around Earth. I had never been exposed to this field, but in just a few minutes was able to understand several technical terms from a field of study completely different from mine.
And yet, most of my conversations aren’t outright academic. Amongst friends, there’s no pressure to turn conversations into precept. I’ve found that this balance between casual and academic actually aids my studies.
Does your work suddenly feel trivial? Meaningless? Low-priority? How can you do your readings or work on your thesis when it feels like the world is crumbling around you? Regardless of how you feel about the elections, you might be finding it hard to concentrate on anything but politics. You are not alone. So many of us have experienced this before, caught between our simultaneous needs for self-care and academic productivity. With that in mind, I have compiled a short list of tips that might help you with your academics as you go through tough times.
1. Ask for extensions on assignments. Princeton students sometimes forget about this. I have personally asked multiple times, and have never been turned down. Professors want to receive quality work, and if you feel an assignment won’t be up to standards by the deadline, it is okay to ask for more time. Extensions are not to be abused, but they can give you the time you need to complete assignments on a less stressful schedule.
2. Every little bit counts. Sometimes, you don’t have the energy to do more than a few pages of reading. That’s okay! If you can space out your work and do a little bit at a time, you will have less to catch up on later when you are in an easier state of mind.
3. Do something that puts you in a good mood. Read a novel. Get ice cream. See a play. Personally, I like to go on long walks with friends. As Vidushi wrote in a recent post, taking time for things you find enjoyable fosters healthier work habits without compromising productivity. Stepping away from your assignments will let you recharge and be better prepared to work afterwards. Continue reading Five Tips for Studying During an Apocalypse
I made a goal this year to take more time to relax and gain new perspectives outside of campus. This means different things for different people. For me, it entails jumping on opportunities to step away from the insulation and pressures of Princeton. As much as I love going to NYC and Philly for daycations, SEPTA and NJ Transit costs add up, both in time and money.
Instead, I’ve been actively looking for alternative ways to escape campus, without ever setting foot off of it. Let me explain.
Since I study French and International Relations, my schedule is packed with humanities and social sciences classes. This leaves little room for natural science courses. Therein lies a problem—I’ve had a passion for space since I was a kid. But I don’t have the room in my schedule or the prerequisite knowledge necessary to take an astrophysics course. Solution: I bought several books to feed my curiosity. Reading about astronomy allows me to momentarily escape the limits of my Princeton schedule while cultivating a longtime personal interest.
In the summer of 2016, it is difficult to find optimism in the field of environmental science.
Yet last month, I gathered with a throng of 2,500 coral reef scientists for the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu. Knowing the extent of the tragic coral bleaching and death that has unfolded on coral reefs this year, I expected a week of doom and gloom. But, to my surprise, the conference gave me more cause for hope than for pessimism.
This is not because the situation facing coral reefs is any better than I’d thought – if anything, it’s worse. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations, warming waters, and stagnant politics have put the biodiversity of coral reefs, along with many other ecosystems, into a sharp decline. On the Great Barrier Reef – a vibrant ecosystem so structurally significant that, unlike the Great Wall of China, it can be seen from space – nearly 25% of coral is dead, from this year’s bleaching alone. At one panel at ICRS, researchers shared photographs and time-lapse footage of coral bleaching and subsequent death around the world. As they flicked through photo after photo, the conference hall adopted the atmosphere of a funeral.
No, things are not looking good for coral reefs, or for many other ecosystems struggling to keep up with the whirlwind of environmental change that stems from human overpopulation, consumption, and industrialization. One scientist, Peter Sale, called coral reefs a “canary” in the proverbial coal mine that is our changing earth. “There are a whole bunch of canaries that are at risk,” Dr. Sale said. “And when the canaries go, our civilization goes.” Continue reading On Action and Optimism: Notes from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium
I came to Princeton because I planned on being a research scientist, probably in academia. I knew what came next, and it was exciting: four years of undergrad, five years of PhD, and a two-year post-doc, so I could have a real job by the time I was 30. That meant I needed research experience, and boy oh boy did Princeton provide research experience.
Research is about exploring the unknown, and from the beginning I did just that. As a student in the Integrated Sciences Curriculum (ISC), I had to learn MATLAB, LaTeX, ImageJ, JAVA, and countless other acronyms and jargon. And I had to learn them fast, using them to solve problems and write about them, in an ordeal I described as “drinking the nectar of Olympus—from a fire hose.”
In honor of National Poetry Month, my professor, Marie Howe, suggested writing a poem every day for the month of April. “Who’s up for it?” she asked our Advanced Poetry class. “It can be just a few lines. I’ll do it if you do it.”
I was in.
I decided to write a poem right when I wake up each morning – figuring this is the only way I’d consistently get it done – and to forego my computer (and its associated, infinite distractions) in favor of a pencil and notebook. Every morning, I roll out of bed, perch myself on the wide windowsill of my ground-floor room, and write a poem.
I was shocked by how easily I could reshape my early-morning habits, and how much doing so affected the rest of my day. With this new routine has come a kind of freedom: my first thought of the day is no longer my calendar or breakfast or to-do list, but something creative and unlimited. I bring this creative lens with me through the rest of the day: watching milk gush over my cereal, stepping out into the April air, listening to a lecture about respiration across the animal kingdom. Continue reading A writer’s window: How poetry is changing how I see the world
This week, I tackle inner despair: How can you push forward when in your work you see no hope?
My thesis project holds no immediate promise of hope for the reefs, or of curing some plague, or of fantastic future technology. The motivation for basic biochemical research comes from its intrinsic beauty, and the hope of applications long in the future. I was incredibly excited about my thesis project at the beginning – I was asking fundamental questions about the origin of life; I had the potential to create something genuinely new. Inevitably, though, my project hit obstacles – both technical problems and scientific difficulties indicating misconceptions in my original idea.
Exactly 26 days ago, I submitted my junior paper on U.S. immigration policy.
To repeat: I wrote a JP, I submitted it, and it’s completely done.
I couldn’t imagine writing those words back in September, when everything about junior independent work seemed completely overwhelming. I struggled to find a topic because I had limited experience with the scholarly field of U.S immigration. After choosing, and then changing, my paper topic, I needed to recruit participants, schedule interviews, and transcribe every word the participants said. All that led to a 24 page draft (written during Thanksgiving break, of course) and two subsequent drafts before I submitted the final paper on January 5th.
While I enjoy talking about my fall JP in the past tense, my upcoming spring JP necessitates a return to the present. This time, however, there is one crucial difference: I finally know how JPs work. And that understanding can revolutionize a scholarly independent project — because once you know how JPs work, their long page limits and enormous possibilities no longer seem scary. So, here are 4.5 things I want to remind myself (and share with you) about the JP process:
Alas, fall break is over; but it’s not too soon to reminisce. During our time off, the semester finally began to decelerate (at least until finals come around). For the first time in over 6 weeks, I had time to catch up with friends whom midterms shielded me from. I was able to relax and watch Sunday Night Football without the stack of problem sets on my desk reminding me of my academic responsibilities. And perhaps most importantly, fall break presented an opportunity for me to take on a new kind of research project, as I reflect on yet another quarter at Princeton.
So far, these mid-year “introspective research” projects have really helped me improve my overall experience here. While classes are in session, I usually can’t afford to take a few days off to reflect on life, but when I get the opportunity, I take it immediately. Just as scientific researchers go through several trials to improve their projects, I find it immensely helpful to periodically sit back and think about how I can continuously improve my quality of life in the Orange Bubble. After all, the subject of this ‘project’ is me – I’m the experiment that can be infinitely refined. But unlike laboratory research where finding novel ideas is difficult, it’s really quite simple to give oneself effective advice going forward. All it takes is a little bit of self-reflection and time spent towards developing a plan for the future.