The Junior Paper

December 9, 2014
Cricket Gullickson

JP (junior paper). Never have these two letters been the source of so much anxiety, stress, and worry.

Coming to Princeton, I knew I would eventually have to face independent work. As a freshman, the very idea of a thesis was terrifying to me. How could I possibly say anything of any importance to anyone in the world, especially when I could barely manage to find my way around campus?

To be honest, the idea working one-on-one with a faculty adviser on independent research was part of the reason I chose to come to Princeton over larger schools of the same caliber, where it would be more difficult (or impossible) to have that kind of opportunity. Yet, when I found the reality of independent work looming over me this year, I was beginning to wonder why I thought this was such a good idea after all.

Typically, Princeton students in the Bachelor of Arts program will write two small independent papers in their junior year. Generally, one of these papers is closely related to the independent research they will focus on for their senior thesis. (Engineering students also have a requirement for a senior thesis or independent project, but typically aren’t required to participate in junior independent work.)

When the year started, I was so scared. I needed to write a short fall JP and also choose an adviser for my spring JP and senior thesis by December 2. Who should my adviser be? What should my topic be? What question should I ask? Where do I even begin? Most of my friends had similar fears. We felt overwhelmed and unprepared and thought we could never do it.

And it has been hard. But it’s completely manageable, and I have found overwhelming support from my department and certificate representatives, potential advisers, former professors, and students in the program. And now, as the semester is nearing an end, I have seen something more important than our complaints and worries over deadlines and meetings. When my friends tell me about their work, I sense their pride in what they have accomplished. When they tell me about their topics for their senior thesis, I sense their excitement in what they’ll be doing. There’s something incredibly fulfilling about saying you have worked on something that no one else has worked on, and about having the ability to focus on what is important to you. I know that I, personally, have had a lot of fun thinking about the evolutionary basis for human moral systems.

JP. Never have two letters been the source of such inspiration, reflection, and excitement.