Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Briana Pagano ’18

East Marion, New York • English View Profile

My Favorite Princeton Classes

"Creative Nonfiction" with John McPhee

On the first day of class, professor McPhee wrote the following sentence on the chalkboard: “There are a million ways to start a story.” And with those words, he started mine.

I am better for having taken professor McPhee’s class: a better writer, a better student, a better observer, a better learner, and most importantly, a better person.

During my senior spring of high school, a Princeton alum and senior editor at TIME emailed me with one piece of advice: "Take John McPhee's class. It's a life changer." Four years have since passed, and I stand by these words wholeheartedly. I will never forget Mondays with McPhee.

"Introduction to Screenwriting: Adaptation" with Christina Lazaridi

I have always been a storyteller. But, before coming to Princeton, I didn’t know what my story would be. In fact, I matriculated as an aspiring fiction writer, only to discover—through courses like this one and John McPhee’s "Creative Nonfiction"—that the stories surrounding me in the real world are far more fascinating.

By taking "Introductory Screenwriting," I learned to probe the human mind to produce art that is reflective and resonant. At the semester’s end, I couldn’t help but hope that this was only the beginning—which is why I’ll be taking “Advanced Screenwriting” with professor Lazaridi this spring.

"Hustles and Hustlers" with Rachael Ferguson

Since childhood, most people are warned to “stay away from bad guys”—but professor Ferguson can’t resist. In fact, she makes a living doing just the opposite. Whether being blindfolded by mobsters in Sicily or shadowing sex workers in NYC, professor Ferguson never errs on the side of normalcy. In “Hustles and Hustlers," she used her rich ethnographic work to unveil the hidden codes of the criminal underworld. Going to lecture was like tuning into the latest episode of my favorite crime show, making this the most entertaining course I’ve taken at Princeton.

"Writing About Science" with Mike Lemonick

This seminar reminded why I fell in love with nonfiction writing. Throughout the semester, I produced pieces on every topic imaginable: from scientifically and aesthetically describing the aurora borealis to interviewing a microbiologist who works at a high-security federal laboratory. "Writing About Science" left me with a passion for unearthing the mysteries of the world around me—the extraordinary in the ordinary.

"Science Fiction" with Alfred Bendixen

When I first stepped into McCosh Hall in the fall of 2014, I had no idea how much I was altering the course of my academic career. Seven semesters later, the man who started off as one of my first Princeton professors is now my senior thesis adviser, and the books we once read in his class now fill the shelves of my dorm room and the pages of my senior thesis.