Training for the Thesis Marathon

A long-term project like a thesis is a marathon, not a sprint. This has been a difficult adjustment for me. In almost every other research project I’ve done at Princeton, I’ve chosen the last-minute sprint model, rather than a more organized long-term approach. Sprinting hasn’t worked well in the past, but it won’t work at all for a thesis. There’s simply too much involved in a thesis to cram it into the few weeks before the deadline.

My thesis buddy and me cheesing at the finish line of a 5K last spring. It’s never too early to start training for the thesis marathon!

The marathon approach is new to me, so I looked up some tips for how to train for an actual marathon. I was surprised how many were relevant for a long-term project like a thesis or a final paper. I’ve collected my ten favorites here:

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From D1 to R1: Lessons from the First Writing Seminar Deadline

First-years, you’ve just survived everyone’s favorite time of year: your first Writing Seminar deadline. Over the course of the past few weeks, you’ve learned the difference between motive and thesis, discussed strategies for analyzing data, written a draft of your first essay, and finally, turned in your first piece of graded work: your R1!

The process of going from an ungraded draft to a graded revision may have seemed intimidating. In part, this is because most first-years have little to no experience with serious revision of essays. In high school, when standards were lower, I, like many others, got away with handing in first drafts most of the time. When I did make the time to revise, my “revision” consisted mainly of adding a few fancy words to my essay and tightening up my conclusion. So when I got to my Writing Seminar and was essentially told to rewrite my entire essay, I panicked.

Did I have to completely start over? Was all my D1 work wasted? As I had no experience with the revision process, I struggled to even begin the process of writing my R1. So if you felt the same way after handing in your R1, read on: I promise that your next two revisions will be made much easier (and dare I say, pleasant?) with the help of a few key strategies. 

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How to Beat the Panic of Independent Work

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.

A selfie I took just minutes after submitting my first JP last fall…

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:

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So Many Sources: How to Manage the Seemingly Unmanageable

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.

While I am glad that I have access to these sources now, they also add to a problem I had before I received them: in the research work I have been doing, I have what seems like too many materials to work with. During my time over spring break at the New York Public Library and Center for Jewish History, I amassed literally hundreds of newspaper and journal articles as primary sources.

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:

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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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Reflections on Thanksgiving Break: How Environment Influences Productivity

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.

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Tips and Tricks: How to Stay on the Grind during Winter Break

After Winter Break, it’s straight into reading period and finals

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.

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Planning Ahead for a Balanced Break

Working ahead prior to a break is another way to maximize your “off time” and enjoy a respite from the demands of academic life.

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

Saving Time in Lab

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.

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Productivity Apps: Which Ones Can Help You Through the Rest of the Semester

My favorite productivity app!

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.

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