Lessons from My First Major Research Essay

As I dive into my second junior paper, I’ve begun to realize how much more serious this paper is than the first one. Gone are the safety rails once provided by Princeton’s History department; instead of a course with concrete deadlines, I am now in the metaphorical Wild West, negotiating with my advisor on a whole bunch of elements: deadlines, research content, framing, among others. Even though it is only February when I write this, the April deadline eyes me ominously. With four classes and an array of extracurricular activities, whatever will I do to survive my second JP? How can I even anticipate the thesis?

At PCUR, we’ve done plenty of reflections on our prior research experiences. The more I think about it, the best thing to do is to reflect on my first JP. In that paper, I explored the attitudes and ideologies of consumption that post-war consumers held, particularly in relation to an acute shortage of nylon stockings. Sifting through dozens of articles in local newspapers, I identified many letters to the editor that female consumers sent in to voice their opinion about how nylons should be distributed, who deserves them, and how the shortage was affecting their everyday lives. 

Although I am undoubtedly proud of the final product, there were many things I could improve about it. From the way I kept sources and my reading schedule to my writing method and the final editing process, I could enumerate an endless list. For now, I will highlight two of the biggest takeaways from my first JP, which will be particularly useful given the abbreviated timeline of the second paper. 

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Reflections on my Summer Internship and Tips for Starting the Research Process

This past summer, I conducted research remotely with the Global Health Internship program in the Metcalf lab working with Dr. Marjolein Bruijning from the EEB department. While Dr. Bruijning guided me extensively throughout the project, I was given a lot of independence on the research topic I wanted to explore within the internship area of the effect of microbes on health. I have been able to continue my summer project throughout the semester, but I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my experience as a research assistant and the process of starting a project, which is becoming especially relevant as I start my Junior Independent Work. This post summarizes some of the insights I gained and the lessons I learned that I hope will be helpful in making the most out of your next research experience.

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Making Use of Office Hours

With classes in full swing, I thought I would share my thoughts on what is a woefully underused resource at Princeton: office hours. Going to office hours has been an extremely valuable tool for me in completing problem sets, studying for tests and exams, and connecting with professors. So read ahead for some advice and observations I’ve made!

Consult your department’s website or syllabus for professors’ office hour availabilities—faculty try hard to make themselves available because office hours can be a very valuable resource!
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Write Again! Stress-Reducing Tips for the Rewriting/Editing Process

Pre-pandemic Firestone: A writer’s paradise?

As a student studying history, my classes are essay heavy. Whether it’s a short, 5-page paper, or a longer 10-to-15-page paper, I write a lot. And surely, I’m not alone; as Princeton students, we are expected to write a lot, whether it be academically, extracurricularly, or professionally. With so much writing, it becomes easy to grow tired and forgo editing. After all, with an outline and ‘rough draft’ in hand, it’s easier to call it a day and pray for an A.

The rewriting process is perhaps the most underrated yet important step when it comes to essay writing. Rewriting is not just about catching misuse of the dastardly Oxford comma or misspellings of common words but finding out what fundamental aspects of the essay work and do not work. This is asking yourself the basic questions: Does the essay make sense? Does the structure create a naturally flowing, cohesive essay? Are my references in order? Is everything grammatically correct?

With a new semester coming up ahead, and those dreaded 5-page or 10-to-15-page papers coming along with it, I thought it was best to outline some of the strategies I use to rewrite my essays. These are strategies I took away from Writing Seminar (mine being WRI 146: Constructing the Past), some of my history classes (most notably HIS 281: Approaches to European History), and my own writing exercises to rewrite and edit my essays. This list is not exhaustive, not meant to be followed point-by-point nor used for every type of essay; in fact, I would take this list as blend of different strategies to mix-and-match. Nevertheless, here it is!

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Tips on Writing a Philosophy Paper for Non-Philosophy Majors

Writing a philosophy paper can be intimidating for non-philosophy majors.

Last spring, I took PHI 203: Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology. I had never taken a philosophy class before in my life, and in the beginning it was difficult to wrap my head around the theories brought up in the readings and precept, let alone execute a coherent argument in a paper. Throughout the course, I learned a lot not just about the theories and arguments in philosophy, but about the distinct style of philosophical writing itself. In drafting the papers, I realized just how different writing a philosophy paper is compared to writing papers in other humanities and social science disciplines. This post contains some tips on how to approach a philosophy paper for those unfamiliar with the field: 

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5 Tips on Writing an English Paper

As a prospective English major, I’ve written a handful of English papers and have tried to learn what makes some stronger than the others. While the best way to write an English paper may differ based on whether you are writing about a poem, novel, play, or essay, and whether you plan to take a purely textual, historical, theoretical, or comparative approach, some fundamentals are applicable to many English assignments. Here are just some tips you can keep in mind while crafting your next paper: 

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No Argument? Return to Your Research Question

Last semester, I fell in love with a cemetery. I had been interested in the processes of death and dying during the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York City and hoped to write one (or more) of my final papers about the topic. A quick series of Google searches led me to Hart Island, a public cemetery where nearly a million unclaimed or indigent people are buried, including many victims of AIDS. I was fascinated. I read everything I could find about Hart Island, watched over a dozen YouTube videos, and even scheduled a visit to the cemetery with a friend.

By the time reading period came along, I had over forty pages of notes about this cemetery. But I had no idea how to write a paper about it. When I met with one of my professors to ask for help, I started to share all of the data I had collected about this site—its history, its design, its present-day controversies. After a few minutes of this, she intervened: “Great, but what’s your question?” I looked at her blankly. “Do you have a question about this site?”

Photograph of burials at Hart Island, ca. 1890.

Developing a research question is hardly a new idea. It’s emphasized in the Writing Seminar curriculum, and professors often require us to articulate questions at the early stages of our projects. But once we get buried in the work itself—collecting data, writing, meeting deadlines and assignment requirements—it can be easy to forget why we’re writing at all.

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A Few Tips for Successful Writing

Image courtesy of Amazon.com
The cover of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. In this post, I suggest that consulting a style guide such as this can be a useful step toward improving your writing.

As regular readers of this blog will know, several other PCURs and I are in the throes of writing our theses. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing: what makes it effective, what strategies are successful, and what I can do to improve my own. I am by no means an expert writer, but in this post I will share a few tactics that have proven useful as I progress towards a submission-ready senior thesis. While this reflection stems from my own thesis experiences, I hope that writers of all class years and departments might find in it some principles of general applicability.

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Tips on Submitting Your Research for Publication: Part II

So you’ve just finished your JP, a dean’s date assignment, or some other research project. Considering how fast things seem to move here, you might have already forgotten about it – that’s how I felt when I turned in my R3 my first year.

However, I ended up taking another look at my R3 to prepare my presentation last spring for the Mary W. George Research Conference – the biannual writing conference – (tips on doing that here). During that process, I recognized some significant changes and expansions I could make on my R3, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.

After presenting my R3, I was encouraged by my writing seminar professor and some of my peers to expand my work and submit the manuscript for a conference or for publication. After submitting to a conference and to multiple research journals, here are some of my takeaways from the publication process:

Presenting my R3 at the Mary W. George Research conference helped me polish my paper.
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Research Resources: Unsung Heroes, An Interview with Writing Center Fellow Johanne Kjaersgaard ‘22

For this year’s Winter Seasonal Series, entitled Research Resources: Unsung Heroes, each correspondent has selected a faculty member, staff member, or peer working for a research resource on campus to interview. We hope that these interviews will provide insight into the variety of resources available on campus and supply the unique perspective of the people behind these resources. Here, Soo shares her interview.

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Johanne, a sophomore from Aarhus, Denmark 

As part of the Winter Seasonal Series, I interviewed Johanne Kjaersgaard ’22, an international student from Aarhus, Denmark. A prospective Politics major, she currently works as a Fellow at the Writing Center, one of the most widely-used academic support services on campus. Writing Center Fellows take on a variety of tasks, from guiding students in formulating and structuring papers to also offering advice to juniors and seniors in developing their senior theses and navigating their independent research projects. 

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