As course selection begins, you might find yourself searching endlessly through the Course Offerings webpage, trying to craft the perfect schedule for next semester. You’re probably weighing a number of different factors— the professor, the class topic, the reading list, the different requirements it fulfills— and trying to balance these in the best way possible.There is another possibility here, which you can’t find in the course offerings: reading courses. Not advertised on department websites or listed with course offerings, reading courses are some of Princeton’s hidden academic gems. The University defines a reading course as a specially designed course not normally offered as part of the curriculum that is arranged between a student and a faculty member. These courses count for academic credit, and focus on a topic of the student’s choosing. If you’ve ever dreamed about designing your own course, this is your opportunity.
If you want to take your research in the humanities to the next level while here at Princeton, one of the best ways you can do that is by availing yourself of Princeton’s Special Collections. Home to vast stockpiles of manuscripts, rare books, coins, and other materials, Special Collections is a great place for students who want to pursue rigorous and impressive humanities research while making use of the excellent resources that Princeton has to offer. Many of these articles were donated by benefactors or acquired by the university specifically so that they could be researched by professors, students, and other researchers. In this article, I’ll present some reasons why you might consider checking out Special Collections, and then follow that up with a basic “how to” for when you visit.
A manuscript of an Ethiopic Synaxarion in Special Collections
Most people probably know Trustee Reading Room as that large room with big glass windows on the first floor of Firestone, where you go when you want a really quiet study space. Perhaps you’ve recently studied for midterms or worked on a paper in its sacred silence. Maybe you’ve wondered if there’s more to Trustee than simply providing a quiet atmosphere for study. The answer to that question is: yes, there is. It is the primary reference room of Firestone library– and if you read to the end of this article you will learn how to make the most of this tremendous resource.
Trustee Reading Room in Firestone Library has many reference works
When I first walked through the doors of Theodore Sedgwick Wright Library at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) on a sweltering September day a few weeks ago, I was struck by three things: the great size of the library, the small number of students there, and its remarkably-strong air conditioning. As I set my things down and cooled off in a quiet study area, I began to work on an assignment for one of my classes. My gratitude for the engineers who designed the building’s cooling system was quickly superseded by my admiration for those who worked together to produce the largest theological library in America and the second largest in the world after the Vatican Library in Rome.
Theodore Sedgwick Wright Library is the main library at Princeton Theological Seminary.
So you’ve been brave, reached out to that professor whose research you’ve always admired, and just confirmed a summer on campus doing the research of your dreams. Whether you’re a part of an on-campus research cohort (like ReMatch or HMEI) or starting up your own independent work, summer on-campus is a special, if not bewildering, experience. If you are anything like me, the first few weeks may be a little confusing as you figure out what is expected of you and what exactly you want for yourself. Even though you’re doing research full-time, you’ll likely find that you’re substantially less busy than you were during the school year. This raises some important questions about how you choose to spend your free time. Who are you outside of research? How do you navigate the campus when you’re no longer a full-time student? Beyond time-management, what else should you know about being on-campus in the summer? Below I’ve compiled a short list of advice I’ve found most helpful during my summers on campus.
I’ve always loved reading through senior thesis titles and thinking “Wow, that’s clever,” “That’s genius,” “I wonder how they came up with that.” The senior thesis, which many seniors refer to as a full-blown novel, is supposed to be a senior’s finest work and proudest possession. It looks impressive in its black book with gold font. It is 115 pages. It has fancy acknowledgments. As a first-year/sophomore, and even as a high schooler on tour, I was in awe at how seniors could create such a perfect paper. It isn’t until now that I know the answer: hard work.
Spring is always a rollercoaster of a semester. We have just about 6 more weeks of school before spring classes are over! Before you know it, you will be a senior and will have to start thinking about the big T – thesis. I recommend you take a little bit of time to think about your thesis – maybe you’ve already started after reading Ryan’s great post around choosing a topic. You don’t have to have all of the answers right away, but at least you would already have given it a bit of thought and let your ideas brew at the back of your mind.
Winter break is long and much-needed. It is a time to relax, rejuvenate, and reflect on the semester. In this post, I will give advice on how to make the most of the next few months, but I recognize that you know yourself best and should choose to spend your break in whatever way makes you happiest. Without further ado, here are my takeaways from the last 3 winter breaks:
As anyone who has taken one of Princeton’s introductory statistics courses can tell you: informative statistics and figures can and will be incredibly useful in supporting your research. Whether you’re reworking your R1, writing your first JP, or in the final stages of your Senior Thesis, chances are you’ve integrated some useful statistics into your argument. When there are a million different positions that one can take in an argument, statistics appear to be our research’s objective grounding. The data says so, therefore I must be right. Right?
An amusing remark on academics, itself attributed to several different academics, goes something like this: In academia, disputes take on such huge proportions precisely because the stakes of them are so small. Whether this observation is or is not true, I have found that its general sentiment is passed down to undergraduates, if inadvertently so. Of course, there are pedagogical reasons for instilling this impression; when we are learning about debates on a given subject within a discipline, it can help to read the most absolute positions on either side, if only to distill the terms of argument.
But the impression that such debate must necessarily be black and white, and must be of great intensity, can be daunting to accept as an undergraduate writer. Who am I, I wonder to myself, to so totally challenge the work of an established academic researcher? Even if I might disagree with their broader argument, have they not done far more research than I have? Relatedly, what if their research offers some quite usable background information– am I not just a little hypocritical to use it while arguing against the position it was intended to support? Or, what if I agree with smaller asides or observations by the researcher, but not the thrust of their whole argument? In a word, need the division be so absolute within the scholarly conversation?