Independent Work in Its Full Glory

July 1, 2021
Richard Ma

You might’ve heard of this thing called independent work. At Princeton, most students will experience at least one year of independent work: Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) students will write at least one junior paper (JP) and a full senior thesis, while Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.) students typically have a senior thesis and the opportunity to conduct junior independent work as well. 

I’m in the Economics department, so I write one paper over two semesters. It’ll clock in around 30 pages. (If that seems long to you, wait ‘till you hear about our thesis!) In some concentrations, students write two, shorter length papers, one each semester. 

I spent the fall semester working on what we call a prospectus, which is basically a proposal for the JP. In an economics prospectus, once you’ve decided on a topic, you review existing relevant literature (studies and experiments), introduce the data sources you’ll be analyzing, and provide an overview of your methodology (econometrics, regressions, etc). 

I’m writing my paper about the impact of work from home policies on energy consumption, so I’m looking at government data on state monthly energy numbers combined with Google mobility data on time spent in the workplace.

Right now I’m working on refining my methodology and performing data analysis. I’m doing that work in STATA, but you can also use other software like R and Python.   

The Economics department, and Princeton overall, offer a lot of resources for doing independent work. Each semester, we have multiple workshops for data analysis and conducting research. Each student also works with a professor and grad student advising team, so if you ever feel lost about how to do a difference-in-difference regression or linear discontinuity like me, you can just hit them up! The University also has data consultants who anyone can schedule an advising session with.

So - not only have I learned a lot about economics and research this year, but I also got the chance to apply my classroom knowledge to an environmental topic I’m passionate about. I’m excited to finally see my paper finished in its full glory - and looking forward to a full-fledged senior thesis next year.