Research, Within and Outside of the Lab


Over my summers, I've performed research at Princeton through internships funded by the High Meadows Environmental Institute. I've really liked both experiences so far, but they've been incredibly different, not only being in different departments but requiring very different skill sets. Two summers ago, I worked remotely from home with the Interfacial Water Group in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department running simulations of contaminants in water and air. I connected to the Princeton computing clusters from my laptop, and Professor Bourg taught me over Zoom how to create files to run and submit to the supercomputer. This past summer, I worked in the Rand Lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to try to create energy-efficient OLEDs. This work required using specialized equipment like the spin coater and thermal evaporator located only in lab B427. The two internships have been useful in allowing me to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of coding lab work and manual lab work.

For both types of research, there was a steep learning curve at the beginning. For molecular dynamics simulations, I had to become familiar with the coding language of the software LAMMPS, in order to create input files to run, and with the scheduling language "slurm" as well as the Linux command line for submitting files to the supercomputer. In the Rand lab, a different set of abilities are required. The lab demands physical dexterity that is not required for running simulations, such as being able to insert my hands into the gloves that enter the nitrogen glovebox (easier said than done) and handling the fragile glass substrates with tweezers through the thick glovebox gloves. It also demands a certain vigilance, as one wrong move could spill an acid onto the floor or disturb someone's multi-day experiment.

I like the convenience of running simulations, in that I can work at it whenever I choose and from any location with a VPN connection. And at an earlier point in my OLED internship, I'm was much more familiar with running simulations than working in the lab, therefore simulations felt much more comfortable to me than the newness of the Rand lab. But there is something rewarding about seeing tangible and physical results that I achieve in the lab, like handling a shiny and finished OLED or viewing the color transformation of a compound I synthesize. I don't get quite the same feeling from seeing a display on a computer screen of a simulation I run as when I can hold the physical result of my work.

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a gloved hand holding a glass OLED device emitting a green light
Observing the light emitted by a fabricated OLED device
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a tri-panel figure showing a glass vial containing a frothy white liquid, a dark blue powder in a filter paper, and a gloved hand holding a small glass vial of a dark blue liquid

One of the solutions to be deposited on an OLED in various stages of synthesis, from a) the initial mixture to b) the powder after drying in the vacuum oven to c) the final solution dispersed in ethanol

There are other similarities between the two types of research aside from the learning curves. For instance, both lab groups hold weekly group meetings where a few members of the group give updates on their projects, asking the Head Principal Investigator (PI) and the other group members for feedback. There is a strong sense of community among the different graduate and undergraduate students in each group, revealed in the thoughtful advice they offer to one another. For instance, at a group meeting I spoke about my attempt with my mentor, Jesse, to synthesize a certain solution to use as one of the layers of our OLEDs. I described our problem getting the powder to fully disperse in alcohol. One of the graduate students mentioned that she knows several researchers from a group in France who work specifically on synthesizing solutions like the one we're attempting to create, and she offered to put me in contact with them. I'm really grateful to have had the chance to work in two very different fields.


A Guide to Free & Cheap Things at Princeton


I think people fail to emphasize the “broke” part of the phrase “broke college student.”

That is why I am writing this article: I was once you, young grasshopper. Now, I am happy to share what I have learned in my year of navigating Princeton and discovering the best ways to procure free and cheap things around campus. 

To start, here is a list of things I’ve gotten for free (or cheap) during my time at Princeton: a mountain bike, a bike helmet (to go along with the bike), a sewing machine, a six piece glass Tupperware set, an iron, clothes hangers, a mini fridge, a fake plant (which is thriving), a real plant (which started dying the minute I bought it), a saucer chair and multiple mirrors.

I do not list all of these things to flex (I just did), but rather to showcase what is possible.

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A fake plant that has large, green leaves and is in a white pot.
Doesn’t she look so ALIVE!? Email name suggestions!

Here are the resources I’ve used:

1. TigerRetail

TigerRetail is a website where Princeton students can sell items they don’t want/need. If you pay attention to the listings, there are often items listed for free, or whole moving sales being advertised.

It is easy to fall into the trap of buying things I didn’t need just because it was a good deal, but otherwise I love TigerRetail.

2. Move-In Resale

At the beginning of each school year, Student Government puts on a resale event, where they sell second-hand dorm items. The only things to keep in mind are that the sale tends to sell out fast (so you need to stand in line at least 1-2 hours in advance) and if you intend to buy large furniture, make sure to bring people with you who can help you carry it.

3. Helping Seniors Move

Of COURSE you should help seniors/your friends move out of/into their dorms just out of the goodness of your heart. That said, it’s also a sweet bonus that while you are helping them move, you’re in the prime position to alleviate them of any items they may no longer need. 

4. Move-out

Move-out is the perfect time to score any of the bigger/more fragile dorm items (think mini-fridges, mirrors) if you’ll be staying on campus for the summer or you have a place to store them. The key here is to wait a couple weeks after people start sending “summer sale” emails if you want anything for free: eventually these dorm items will just be discarded all around campus and you will be able to take them for free.

5. The Free Food Listserv 

This listserv is a gift from the heavens. All it is an email list where people send out emails whenever there is free food being given away. Google “the Princeton freefood listserv” once you have a Princeton email to find instructions on how to subscribe.

 

I have two tips when it comes to these resources: First, negotiate, negotiate, NEGOTIATE! If an item on TigerRetail or someone’s student sale says that it is negotiable, don’t be ashamed to suggest a different price and see what happens. Second, when all else fails, ask around to any group chats you’re in to see if someone may be selling/giving away the item you desire.

 

That’s it from me, folks! Which of these resources are you most excited to utilize? If you end up using any of them to get free stuff, I’d love to know!

 


Princeton for the Summer: High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) Internship


This summer, I'm working on a sustainable energy project creating OLEDs to power photocatalysis through a High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) internship. This means I'm living in Princeton, and I was initially worried that it would feel a little lonely to be on campus when classes aren't in session. When I was speaking with friends about their summer plans, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how many would also be in Princeton this summer. A few of my friends have other HMEI internships that take place in labs, while others have research internships through the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE). Contrary to my worries, campus is still humming with activity in over the summer.

There's a community of about 50 HMEI interns on campus, and we recently had a group dinner where I caught up with friends and was introduced to several new ones. We had Nomad Pizza (restaurant that serves brick oven pizza) in Guyot Hall, and I got to hear about one friend's fieldwork at the nearby Watershed Institute and about another's work at the Plasma Physics Lab.

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Students serving themselves pizza and soft drinks at a table inside Guyot Hall
HMEI interns meeting for dinner

There are also around 20 ACEE interns on campus, one of whom, John, works in the same lab as I do with a different graduate student mentor. It's nice that I'm not the only undergrad in the lab, because I'm reminded that it's normal to face a steep learning curve when adapting to operating the specialized instruments! While the graduate students make operating a thermal evaporator with three pairs of gloves on seem effortless, John and I still have practice to do to achieve that level of dexterity.

Being on campus in the summer is nice because it gives me a chance to explore the Princeton area at a time when I'm not overwhelmed with coursework. On weekends I like to visit the shops on Nassau Street, like Nearly New thrift shop or Labyrinth Books, or explore the area by running on the towpath or biking around town. Another perk of Princeton in the summer is the farmers' market, which is held every Thursday. New Jersey summer fruit absolutely cannot be beat!

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A checkered tablecloth with teal berry pint containers holding cherries on top
Cherries at the Princeton Farmers Market

When I was applying for HMEI internships for the summer, I initially considered several of the offerings with international travel. There were opportunities to study grasslands in Madagascar of Mozambique, for example, which would certainly have made for a unique and memorable summer of travel. I decided against it, though, when I realized that I'd really prefer to gain more wet lab experience and spend time with my Princeton community. I'm truly enjoying spending summer on campus, and I would recommend it to any student as a way to appreciate the lovely area during a calmer time of year.


Hola, me llamo Gil...


I have always been fascinated by languages. I grew up bilingual, speaking Haitian Creole and French. Then, at the age of twelve, I realized that it would be cool to actually understand the songs of Akon which I was a big fan of: that's how I decided to start learning English. Later, in high school (coincidentally around the time Akon had hit pause on his musical career), I decided to move on to new horizons and started studying Spanish, followed by German. I think languages are cool, especially at Princeton.

At Princeton, every A.B. student has to pass the language requirement (i.e. demonstrating proficiency in a language other than English) before they graduate. There are many ways to fulfill this requirement. I, for example, took a French Placement Test the summer before I came to Princeton, which allowed me to place out of the language requirement. That meant I did not have to take any language classes at Princeton. But I still did! Why? Because languages are cool! Rather than starting with a completely new language at Princeton (which I might still do later on), I decided to keep learning Spanish for a while. I took the Placement Test for Spanish a couple of days after the French one and got placed into Spanish 108 (for Advanced Learners). 

I took the class last semester and it was amazing! My instructor was extremely kind, supportive and knowledgeable. My experience in that class was nothing like what I had seen in language classes before. Not only did the course focus on the development of the students' oral and written expression, but it also did so by engaging with interesting and thought-provoking material that explored the cultures, histories and politics of Spanish-speaking communities in the United States as well as the larger Hispanic world. The regular writing and speaking exercises encouraged me to frequently engage with the language beyond a superficial level in order to become comfortable expressing complex ideas in Spanish. All this in an encouraging and low-stress environment. I ended up doing very well in the class thanks to the incredible support I received from my instructor and my peers.

This experience reassured me in my decision to pursue a Certificate in Spanish, so much so that I am taking another Spanish class this semester: Spanish 209. In this course, we learn to analyze films in Spanish, which is a great way to improve my writing and speaking skills. It's also a great excuse to watch TV on the weekend without feeling guilty! I am only a few weeks in and I already love it! In addition to the language courses, Princeton offers other opportunities to get better in languages such as speaker events, internships abroad, summer language courses abroad, etc…

I truly feel that Princeton is one of the best places to brush up your skills in many languages or acquire new ones. Plus, you will want to take a class in East Pyne (the building that hosts most of the language departments): it is absolutely stunning! If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself!

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East Pyne Hall

P.S.: If you have questions about any of the things mentioned above, do not hesitate to send me an email!


Princeton Before Princeton


"Sheesh, it's hot!"

That was my first comment when I stepped foot on Princeton's campus during the summer. I was told multiple times that the winters here were extremely cold. Yet, no one had warned me about the heat or the humidity here. I guess they just assumed that I was used to the hot and humid weather coming from the Caribbean. Truth is, I was not. Or maybe I was. Maybe I used to be. Maybe I forgot how to feel comfortable in 30-degree weather (or should I say 90-degree weather, since we are using Fahrenheit now!) after living abroad for close to two years. In any case, my first day at Princeton, I made the mistake of wearing a large 100% cotton dark blue sweater. It did not take me long to start the mistakometer: mistake number one!

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be part of a cohort of ten students invited to attend the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI) on campus. Considering the issues my country, Haiti, was facing, this was the best option to ensure I had access to the resources I needed to take advantage of this opportunity to explore Princeton before the official start of the semester. To get a taste of Princeton before Princeton.

 

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Gil and a friend in front of Blair arch on campus

Yet, I was insecure at first. I doubted that I would be able to succeed with online classes. Until then, my high school experience had been mostly negative. I remember my teachers and classmates being overwhelmed and inaccessible. The material was barely engaging. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this dark epoch was the significant lack of interaction which for me represented a major issue. My favorite part about being a student has always been the ability to directly interact with and learn from both my peers and my instructors. Online learning seriously hampered this process. I was apprehensive about going through it all again. Besides, I was now going to Princeton. I anticipated the material to be comparatively more difficult with the teachers to expecting even more from me. 

The first thing I noticed when FSI started was the enthusiasm of the staff. They had this inspiring way of drawing everyone in and keeping us engaged. They were well imbued with the challenges that coordinating this online program entailed and instead of using the circumstances to justify their shortcomings, they were determined to brave all obstacles to make the experience just as enjoyable as if everything was happening in person, although in a distinct and special way.

I had the impression that everyone wanted me to feel at ease. I progressively started to feel more comfortable interacting and asking questions.  My professors made sure that I had access to all the resources and assistance necessary to succeed in their courses. On the one hand, there were office hours, learning consultations, writing center appointments… etc. On the other hand, I received support from departments and offices at Princeton that targeted my individual identities and were able to address the specific challenges that I was likely to face because of them. This included support for international students, ESL and multilingual students, students of color, first-generation and lower-income students. I suddenly felt excited about learning, meeting new people and trying out new things that seemed appealing to me now that I was in this space. 

These six weeks at FSI mainly taught me two things. First, I learned that while things can (and will) be tough at Princeton, I will always find the resources to support me in whatever I am going through and that I can count on the help of passionate people who genuinely care about my success. Second, I learned that it gets very hot here during the summer! 

I look forward to many more mistakes and even more learning opportunities!


 


Conducting Summer Research at the Environmental Institute


You're likely familiar with Princeton's senior thesis, where each student works closely with a faculty advisor to conduct original research, and you might have even heard of the "JP" or an "independent study," which are earlier opportunities for research. But there are also so many ways to get involved in research during the summer months, which offers you the chance to explore a research field at a time when you're not juggling your coursework. This summer, for instance, I got to work on an amazing molecular dynamics project with Professor Bourg through an internship with Princeton's High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI).


Each summer HMEI offers paid internships for Princeton students, many involving international travel! Some of the ones this year included studying rock dissolution in the French Alps, studying dinosaur extinction in the Andes mountains, and conducting X-ray diffraction experiments at Princeton. When Covid-19 travel restrictions led to my HMEI internship being transferred to an online format, I was initially disappointed (sadly no French Alps this year). But I found the new project, which studied organic contaminants via molecular dynamics simulations, to be incredibly fascinating and its findings applicable to the real world. I even decided to continue it this fall as an independent study with Professor Bourg, which will allow me to see the project through more of its phases.


The best part of research at Princeton, in my opinion, is getting to work closely with your professors. You see how they approach challenges and problem-solve in the quest to uncover new information and develop solutions, and they get to know your strengths, weaknesses and working style as well. For me, getting to know Professor Bourg was particularly rewarding because he is one of my professors this fall! When I walked into his class on my first day of Introduction to Environmental Engineering I was a little overwhelmed by seeing live people in the classroom! But Professor Bourg immediately recognized me and welcomed me to the class, which made me feel much less nervous and more comfortable.


My summer research brought me into a community on campus this fall, which has opened the door to meeting even more environmental researchers on campus. Each week at lab meetings I'll get to hear what the other graduate and undergraduate students in Professor Bourg's lab group are working on, and they can tell me about projects they've worked on with other professors in other departments. I'm really looking forward to continuing my project this fall and meeting more of the brilliant and welcoming people here at Princeton.

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Rust-colored sculpture outside of Engineering building


The Do's and Don'ts of First-Year Life


By now, many members of the Great Class of 2025 are excitedly planning out their first-year fall.  Although planning for a new chapter in your life is certainly exciting, there is a lot of information out there about Princeton University and trying to memorize it all is impossible.  Tiger Bloggers, Patrice and Grady,  hope that this post will put some of your anxieties to rest, by letting you know what you do and don’t need to know, from current Princeton students.

Before arriving... by Patrice McGivney

Do: Think about what you’ll bring to campus.

Consider what you will want on hand in your college dorm room, what you have room to take with you and what you can purchase once you get here.  There’s lots of sample dorm room packing lists all across the Internet, and a post by fellow blogger Naomi Hess, so I won’t repeat anything here. If you live very far from Princeton, be sure to consider differences in climate and environment. This post I made earlier will hopefully help you out! 

Don’t: Plan out all four years.

It might be tempting to plan out your next four years in advance, but to get the most out of the college experience, you’ll want to be open to new ideas.  Many students discover a concentration they never would have considered in high school, take up a new sport or hobby, or find an unexpected employment opportunity during their time here.  You’ll also have plenty of faculty, staff and peer advisers to help you plan once you get here.  

Do: Spend time with friends and family.

Especially if you’re moving far away, your time might be limited with good friends from high school and your family once you’re a college student.  Make the most of your summer, whatever that looks like for you, and take plenty of pictures to hang up in your dorm room to remind you of your loved ones.  

Don’t: Be scared!

The transition to college is a big one, and it can be nerve-racking.  But Princeton is a wonderful and welcoming community, and you’ll do amazing things here!  


When you’re here... by Grady Trexler

Do: Try all the different dining halls.

There are six dining halls at Princeton: four residential, a graduate dining hall and the Center for Jewish Life. For the first few weeks of the semester, I just ate at Wilcox, which was closest to my dorm, but I quickly learned to try other options. Each dining hall has a different vibe, and some nights, I’m just in the mood for a Whitman dinner.

Don’t: Ask other students if they’re also first-years.

This was more embarrassing than I expected it to be — you meet someone new, you think they look just as confused as you are, so you ask them the dreaded, “Are you a first year, too?” only for them to tell you that they are a senior. Mortifying for everyone involved. Try “What's your class year?” instead.

Do: Form study groups for your more difficult classes.

This was something I didn’t do a lot in high school, preferring to get my work done alone, but I quickly felt out of my depth in some of my harder classes. The earlier you can form a study group with your peers, the better.

Don’t: Walk to the library without your computer.

A companion piece of advice — don’t get all the way to the library and realize your laptop is back at your dorm (or, for that matter, your notebook, your pens, etc.)

Don’t: Get locked out of your room.

At Princeton, you carry a “prox” everywhere you go — a student ID card which accesses buildings (including your dorm) and holds your meal swipes. Don’t leave this inside your dorm room or you, like me, may find yourself locked out of your room on a 30 degree Fahrenheit night in February, having to trek down to Public Safety to get a temporary card.

Well, there you have it — our nine do’s and don’ts for your first semester. Are we experts? Not at all. But here are just a few things we’ve learned!

 


Summer Planning at Princeton: Virtual Resources & More


It’s around that time of year when we all start thinking about the summer. The snow was nice at first, but let’s be real-- it’s time for the winter wonderland to go. But it’s not just the warm weather that we all have on our minds (although you will catch me daydreaming about sipping my Iced Guava Passionfruit Drink from Starbucks in 80 degree weather on my way to class): it’s also our summer plans. What are we going to do for June, July and August?

From internships and independent research to community service and summer classes, there are always a ton of options open to Princeton students. But you may be wondering what’s changed with the global pandemic. Obviously international travel may not be possible (at least for now), but not to worry, because Princeton has turned their Global Seminars into e-Global Seminars for 2021. Typically, 12 to 15 students and faculty travel to a country where courses are taught for 6 weeks. Each seminar has uniquely shifted to include remote visits to museums, walking tours, interviews with scholars and more. Princeton's International Internship Program is also offering remote options, some even with the possibility of an in-country experience.

Programs certainly look different this year across the board, whether Princeton-affiliated or not. This summer, I’ll be returning to Facebook as a Content Design Intern. The internship program is fully remote, which means lots of poolside time at home (can’t complain there!). While I would have loved the opportunity to be in the office, there is still so much to be gained from virtual internship experiences. I had the opportunity to do a virtual internship with the same department at Facebook last summer, and I connected with amazing people, learned a ton about collaboration, leadership, and creativity, and discovered that I LOVE content strategy, which Facebook now calls Content Design

And the oh-so-many resources available to Princeton students when we were fully in-person pre-pandemic are still there for us now (with some extras!). Not only can we search networking portals that are uniquely available to us, but we can book virtual appointments with Career Advisers, attend virtual Career Fairs and browse alumni-sponsored opportunities. The Center for Career Development even put together a “How to Make the Most of a Virtual Internship” guide—get you a campus career center that does that! Professors are also one of my go-to resources on campus for summer plans, because they are always more than happy to chat about career paths and open up new opportunities that I hadn't considered.

Before I know it, I’ll actually be sipping my Iced Guava Passionfruit fave from Starbucks, which means summer will be here. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be paying a virtual visit or two to the Center for Career Development. Whether your summer plans are locked down or not, Princeton is always there to support you along the way, from brainstorming to interview prep to creating an approach for your upcoming internship. 

If you have any questions about summer planning resources on campus (or just simply want to chat about seasonal Starbucks drinks), feel free to reach out!    

 

Making the Most of a Pandemic Summer


Like many of my peers, I was forced to change my plans for the summer as the world shifted online due to COVID-19. While my sophomore summer didn’t turn out exactly how I expected, I feel fortunate to have had a variety of fulfilling and enriching experiences, all from my childhood bedroom in Maryland.

Originally, I was supposed to intern in Congress through the American Association of People with Disabilities Internship Program. I had really been looking forward to living in Washington, D.C. and working on Capitol Hill. The in-person component of my internship was postponed until next year. However, the program still offered all interns a certificate in disability advocacy through American University online. I learned about the impact of important public policy issues like education, employment and healthcare on people with disabilities. I got to meet an amazing group of young adults who share my passion in disability advocacy, and hopefully we’ll all be together in D.C. next summer.

At first, I didn’t think I would find a formal internship, as I expected most to already be filled. I spent a lot of time searching for internship listings related to my interest in women’s rights and social justice. Luckily, my search was successful. After an application and interview process, I received a fantastic internship offer to work virtually as a Communications and Engagement Intern for Global Fund for Women, an international gender justice organization. In this position, I managed a virtual film screening tour, compiled relevant news articles, conducted media outreach, and much more. I gained valuable communications skills and learned what it’s like to work for a nonprofit organization. I look forward to expanding my knowledge about gender justice by taking classes in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

I also worked as a research assistant for a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs. I helped gather information for her research project about mayoral elections. I enjoyed this first foray into political research, and it was good preparation for my upcoming independent work.

As if I wasn’t already busy enough, my final summer commitment was continuing to edit articles for The Daily Princetonian in my position as Associate News Editor. We don’t usually publish much over the summer, but there was so much important news for us to cover. I am glad we continued our mission of keeping the campus connected and informed.

This summer ended up being quite busy, but I enjoyed every commitment I had and I gained many valuable skills and knowledge that will help me in the future. I did somehow manage to find some free time to catch up on my long reading list, binge watch shows on Netflix and talk to my awesome friends. I am grateful I was able to do so much even during a pandemic summer.


My Remote Summer Internship Experience


This summer, I was a content strategy intern at Facebook. You may be wondering, “what exactly is content strategy?” Think about it this way, when you create a post on Facebook, there’s text that says: “What’s on your mind?” You may not realize it, but there’s a lot that goes into every single word that appears on the screen. As a content strategist, you have to think about making the text simple, straightforward and human.

Imagine if that text to create a post said: “Tell people about your life,” “Type here,” or “What do you want to tell people today on Facebook?” The first one sounds way too personal and a bit invasive. The second is not human, sounding more like a computer telling you to post. The third is not simple nor straightforward, since it has a lot of unnecessary text included, such as “on Facebook.”

My job was to go through the same process that I described above. Billions of people see the text that is on the screen each day, so we have to make sure that it conveys what we want to say. But thinking about the content isn’t all that we do, because there’s also the strategy part of it. I led a project this summer on the Marketplace Motors and Real Estate teams, which meant I had to dive into research and data to create a project proposal, map out a detailed user flow, collaborate with design to get mocks, draft all of the content and then work with engineers to get the product built.

Content strategy is a pretty new field, which makes it all the more exciting. Before this internship, I had no clue what content strategy was, and I was unsure about what I wanted to do with an English degree. I stumbled upon the job listing and recognized that I had a lot of the skills that they were looking for from my editorial background, so I decided to just go for it. Now, after my 12-week internship has come to a close, I feel like I have found the job for me.

I’ll admit, I was definitely nervous going into this internship because a) it was remote and b) I had never had formal experience in content strategy. But I had the most incredible experience, from collaboration to leadership opportunities, side projects, virtual coffee chats and everything in between.

Whether you’re applying to college, about to start your first year or a current undergrad, the best advice that I can give you after this experience is to keep an open mind and take risks. After my editorial internship this summer, I knew that my favorite part about the internship was the strategy: thinking carefully about writing for a diverse audience, planning content in editorial meetings, etc. I didn’t know that there was a job out there where I could really tap into the “why” behind the content, where I could collaborate with cross-functional partners, where I could explore my own passions and take on opportunities outside of my team. Princeton definitely prepared me for success in this way, because here we are constantly encouraged to try new courses, activities and to take on new challenges. If it weren’t for this mindset that Princeton instilled in me, I may never have left the magazine editorial work I was doing. I opened my mind to content strategy and sought out the challenge, and I’m so happy that I did.