Last fall, in a cubicle on the B-floor of Firestone, you might have seen me scrolling through my unfinished JP. It would have looked unremarkable. I had been working on my JP in the same cubicle for weeks. Except this time, my JP was due to my department in two hours and I was realizing I had about 25 pages of footnotes to complete. I was panicking: crying and shaking while typing faster than I’ve ever typed before.
Luckily, I was able to complete the citations and submit my JP with three minutes to spare! But it took me the rest of the night to recover from the experience (and, to be honest, I still get a rush of anxiety every time I think about it). I promised myself I would never allow myself to end up in the same situation again.
Whether it’s a final paper, a JP, or a thesis, here are some tools I’ve been using to help me beat the panic of independent work:
Last week, a librarian at the University of Cape Town emailed me some scanned items from their archives which I requested for my Junior Paper research. I’ve looked through them, and I can see that they will be quite useful for my work.
At first, I was unsure of what to do with all of them. It simply seemed an overwhelming task to sift through them to figure out what was needed for my work (this is where having a clear yet flexible research question comes in handy; see my post here on that). A similar thing had happened to me this summer when I was working on a research project likewise involving hundreds of newspaper articles, and I do not think I dealt with it as well as I could have then. So, reflecting on these mistakes, I worked out some strategies to make things more manageable this time around. I hope these to be helpful for any student researcher who feels like they’re buried under a mound of potential sources:
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.
I hope I’m not the only one that feels like their Thanksgiving break went by far too quickly. For this post, I wanted to reflect on my Thanksgiving break — on what went well and what didn’t go so well — so that I can make the most of the upcoming winter break. Hopefully, this reflection will be useful for any of you who also felt extremely stressed that Sunday right after break.
Let’s start with the good. Like many of you, I went home to visit family and had a great time spending time with them and doing things like simply hanging out on the couch and reading. I also was *finally* able to catch up on sleep, so I felt physically rejuvenated. In short, break started off great.
Winter break: a month (hopefully) full of rest and relaxation. The weeks after winter break: minimal hours of sleep and high levels of stress for pretty much all Princeton students. When the time comes, it is non-stop work until finals are over. If you are anything like me, it is easy to trick yourself into feeling like there is no work to be done over winter break. You get lulled into this false sense of reality, one in which your papers and exams aren’t due for another month. So, you binge-watch a Netflix show (or a few) and sleep in. However, this makes you susceptible to getting hit, hard, by the work waiting for you when you get back to campus. This is something I was afraid of during my first year here, so I did everything I could to overcompensate for this possibility. I ended up working throughout the entire break, not really giving myself any time to relax, which was not ideal, and I saw others who didn’t work at all, which also was not ideal. By junior year, after many trials and errors, I’ve figured out some tips that work for me to achieve a happy medium between rest and productivity over winter break.
As we are all undoubtedly aware, another break is coming up. Thanksgiving break, actually! Excitement is in the air as cherished plans for relaxation and the celebration of gratitude inch ever closer. Whether you’re going home or sticking around campus, I’m sure you’re looking forward to this break as much as I am.
There’s just one problem: right on the other side of this break are the final three weeks of the fall semester. And if your course schedule is anything like mine, those will be three rather busy weeks! So, with break coming up and the final pre-winter break sprint right behind it, this is a perfect time for you, me, and everyone in between to come up with a game plan for what’s ahead. Continue reading Planning Ahead for a Balanced Break
Last semester, I hurried out of MOL lab every week to make it to late meal. This past summer, I hurried out of lab at my summer internship to catch my train home. Now I hurry out of orgo lab to finish my reading for precept.
Whether you are working in a lab for your senior thesis or for an intro science class, every period is a race with yourself to complete your work promptly. The key to finishing early is not rushing through your procedure, but rather working efficiently in the lab.
This summer, I worked at a bioengineering lab on campus researching methods to engineer the metabolic pathways of yeast cells to produce large quantities of target biofuels. Normally, yeast cells produce ethanol during fermentation. My goal was to shift the production of ethanol to other biofuels- such as isobutanol- that have a greater potential to be alternative sources of energy. In this post, I will give tips on how to effectively use your lab time by describing a typical day in the lab at my summer internship.
With the end of the semester and summer around the corner, it is hard to keep track of work when all you want to do is spend time outside. That said, there are still ways of staying on top of your daily tasks while keeping your plans to lounge in the grass. As opposed to giving tips on how to make your work sessions as efficient as possible, this week, I’d like to recommend a few apps to help manage your work.
This is what Amanda Wilkins, director of the Writing Program, told me at the beginning of this fall: not the kind of teeth that draw blood, but certainly the kind that instill a little fear.
When immediate priorities are vying for our attention and long-term project deadlines are in the faraway future – perhaps a final paper that is weeks away, a JP not due until Reading Period, or a full thesis not due before April of next year, for crying out loud – it’s easy to push the long-term tasks off to another day, and then another.
Friendly teeth: progress deadlines with bite.
Insert friendly teeth: the intermediate accountability standards, made and enforced to keep us on track between now and the distant future. Also known as progress deadlines with bite.
I have a year to write my thesis – I don’t want to be just getting started in March. Heck, I want to be done by March, and spend the last month before my deadline deciding between fonts.
Kidding. The only acceptable font for a thesis is Times New Roman, size 12.
And one other problem: I am almost never early.
Call me a chronic time optimist – I consistently underestimate how long it will take to get from outline to paper, or to walk across campus to meet a friend, or to shower, brush my teeth, do my readings, and teleport to class. Chronic time optimism runs in my family, and was reinforced growing up in Hawaii, home of “island time.”
This fall has been my most enjoyable semester at Princeton thus far by an incontestable margin. My days seem rich and balanced.In the span of just a few weeks, I have made meaningful new friendships and picked up a few new hobbies–swing dancing, playing guitar, and longboarding, among others. I’m happy.
In stark contrast, a year ago, I was perhaps the most stressed I’ve ever been at Princeton. I felt like I was running from one assignment to the next. Often, when people asked what I did during a certain week, I’d be at a loss. I don’t have less work now than before—fellowship applications, a thesis, and four courses keep my plate full. So what changed?