A Look Into Independent Research: The Politics Junior Paper

April 1, 2024
Odette Perrusquia

When I first got into Princeton the idea of conducting independent research was a faraway idea—a requirement to graduate I knew I was signing up for, but an idea I didn't quite grasp in its entirety until it was my turn to start my Junior Paper (JP).

Within the Politics Department, students have to write two pieces of independent work during their junior year: a research prospectus in the fall (a 12 to 15-page research proposal on a topic you can expand on in spring semester), and a Spring Junior Paper (which is typically between 20 and 35 pages). All Politics juniors enroll in a required class about research methods in Political Science alongside a research seminar on a topic of their choice. For example, I took one on Migration and Forced Displacement, meaning my fall JP had to broadly focus on this theme.

My fall prospectus sought to ask why Central American migrants made the choice to join migrant caravans. Although I excelled in this project, by the time spring semester came around, I realized that my fall topic would be infeasible to carry out: I simply did not have access to the kind of evidence that I would need to answer the question within the time I had. By late February, I felt a bit panicked about my JP and the prospect of having to start over.

During the spring semester, Politics juniors select a JP Advisor from the Politics faculty. This professor becomes your primary point of contact for all questions related to your project, providing guidance along the way and ultimately contributing to the grading of the final product. Luckily, my advisor, the lovely Professor Nancy Bermeo, provided me with guidance and extremely helpful advice early on. By early March, I was back on track and ready to do research for my JP before the draft deadline at the end of the month.

My Spring JP is still a study of migrant caravans, but the focus of my research has shifted to understanding why the caravan of late 2018 achieved relatively more success than other caravans in the surrounding years. I have spent the last two months conducting an analysis of various books written by individuals who traveled alongside the caravan, interviews with caravan participants, press releases from the Mexican government, and newspaper articles from both the U.S. and Mexico. Although many students pursue more quantitative methods in their research, I have learned that I really enjoy conducting qualitative research in my own work. This topic has allowed me to build on some of the research that I had already conducted in the fall, and it has connected with a topic of interest that I had studied in the spring of my freshman year. (One of my papers freshman year analyzed how Mexico-U.S. relations have shaped Mexican immigration policy in the 21st century.) When I began to connect the dots across these different topics, I felt what I can describe only as a full circle moment.

They say that the senior thesis is the culmination of your four years as an academic here at Princeton, but as an outgoing junior, I am already beginning to feel that way about my JP. So many of the academic interests I have spent so long researching and taking classes on—immigration, Mexican politics, collective and contentious action—are coming together in this project to create something I am genuinely excited and proud to be working on. Understanding who I am as a researcher and discovering the topics I am most passionate about have been some of the most rewarding aspects of my time as a Princeton undergraduate.

Maybe in a year I'll be writing about my senior thesis, whatever that might look like—I think I'm learning the uncertainty is the best part. Until then, however, I'll be working away in Firestone Library, thinking of summer but enjoying every bit of hard work that will go into my JP.