Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Avaneesh Narla ’17

Calcutta, India • Physics View Profile

Competition vs. Collaboration

How groups come together at Princeton

One of the most common questions I am asked is about Princeton's competitiveness: Are students here extremely competitive, or do they collaborate on their work? This was also a very important question for me, and is perhaps the thing about Princeton that has most pleasantly surprised me. Considering that most students in Princeton have come here after several years of a competitive environment in high school, I imagined the environment at Princeton to be cutthroat and fierce, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Collaboration in Princeton is highly encouraged. In all my classes with problem sets, instructors have organized sessions for students to come together and discuss the sets. I have spent numerous nights working late with my fellow students, throwing chalk frustratedly at a chalkboard, trying to make sense of a particular problem. These sessions are incredibly helpful as we get to pick each other's brains and bounce ideas off one another, trying to figure out which approach would work, which wouldn't and why. This has helped me many times to understand the subject matter better conceptually.

It is also wonderful to play to each other's strengths.This was especially evident when I took the integrated science curriculum in freshman year. The questions drew from many different branches of science, and we were all able to contribute in different ways. Having a background in physics, I would always take the asymptotic cases, the biologists would try to make sense on a larger picture and the mathematicians would check for rigor.

In all science classes, while it is required for your work to be your own, instructors encourage, and often even pursue, the students to attend such problem-solving sessions and share ideas, concerns and questions. And students love attending these sessions, or working together in self-organized sessions, as otherwise they might hit a wall when tackling a problem unless someone nudged them in a particular direction. Nobody in a position to help me has ever denied my request for assistance with a problem, or notes or anything else.

In all my classes where we would be assigned projects, group work has always been highly appreciated by the instructors, whether in philosophy, computer science or history. Often, group projects go beyond the requirements of the course when some of the members of the group are incredibly passionate about the project and it catches on. This has led to some very memorable computer science and art projects that have become known to the larger student body, including many apps and art installations. In fact, you can even collaborate on independent work to produce joint-theses or papers.

I like to say that I have learned as much from my peers at Princeton as I have from my professors, and I strongly believe in that statement. One of the greatest things about studying at Princeton has been the opportunity to interact and work with so many amazing individuals, and learning from these individuals inspires me to work harder and understand the material better every day.