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.
With course selection coming around the corner, the sheer number of opportunities can be overwhelming. Choosing courses can be doubly challenging for rising sophomores who are finishing up their prerequisite courses and trying to figure out what they even want to major in. I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a new and exciting opportunity for students interested in research—the Sophomore Research Seminars.
Whether you’re trying to free up your summer to enjoy one of Princeton’s other fully-funded programs, or maybe pave the way for more advanced summer or independent research opportunities, it’s understandable why you might want to get a head start on research during the academic year. But, with jam-packed class schedules, multiple labs, essays to write, and hopefully squeezing in some time for yourself, it can feel impossible to do research on top of life at Princeton. So, how do students do it? Can you really spend 8-10 hours per week on research and still find work-life balance? In short, it depends. The number of classes you’re taking, extracurriculars, and your own unique circumstances all factor into whether research during the academic year is sustainable for your class schedule. For some, research can be a valuable addition to their academic schedules. But, like anything at Princeton, it requires careful planning, time management, and clarifying your own values. Here are three tips for striking balance with research during the academic year.
In this post, I share my experience of requesting resources from Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library for a research paper in ART102/ARC102: An Introduction to the History of Architecture. I took the Spring 2022 iteration of the course, taught by Professor Basile Baudez and Professor Samuel Holzman. The course provided an overview of architectural history from ancient Egypt to the modern-day through key monuments and architectural movements.
One of my favorite parts of ART102 was our semester-long research project. Students have the opportunity to delve deeper into the history of any building in the Princeton community. My peers covered a wide range of buildings, including Firestone Library, the Graduate College, and the University Chapel. Inspired by my involvement with the Princeton University Art Museum as a student tour guide, I chose to research Bainbridge House (now repurposed as Art@Bainbridge, one of the Museum’s gallery spaces on Nassau Street).
Writing sem. For many, it’s one of the most challenging courses they’ll ever take at Princeton. It forces you to think in new and challenging ways, often questioning some of the ‘basic rules’ we’d previously been taught about writing. With late nights spent drafting and redrafting, 8:30 am classes, and daunting essay prompts,it’s easy to understand how writing sem (short for writing seminar) gets its reputation. No student makes it out of writing sem with three perfect papers. Yet, in the midst of challenge, it’s easy to lose sight of the many professional opportunities that writing sem can offer. Whether you’re looking to get published, nail your next job interview, or just make a little extra cash, here are four ways that any student can make the most of their writing sem experience.
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?
Reflecting on my first year, I think about how quickly time flies. I’ve thought about how much I’ve changed over the course of a year and how my discussions with my peers and professors already began to shape the way I viewed the world. As an engineering student, Writing Seminar was especially memorable because it opened the door for me to engage with research in the humanities.
All first-year students are required to take a Writing Seminar. My seminar, WRI146 – Constructing the Past, taught by Dr. Emma Ljung, centered on the theme of how the past is closely intertwined with the present. In retrospect, one of my most pivotal periods in the course was the process of writing my R2, which focused on artifacts from the Princeton University Art Museum. Interested in delving deeper into my Chinese cultural background, I chose to work with the Guang, a dragon-headed bronze pouring vessel from the late Shang dynasty.
Pouring vessel with dragon-head lid (guang), China, Western Zhou dynasty, 11th century to 771 BC, bronze from the Princeton University Art Museum. Photo from Daderot on Wikimedia Commons.
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.
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.
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!