Independent Work in Its Full Glory

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.

Contributing to the Conversation

One defining component of Princeton’s academic curriculum is its preceptorial system. While classes are already small, precepts offer students the opportunity to engage with course materials in small discussion groups. The precept is like an open forum in which the preceptor or professor guides students in an invigorating intellectual discussion.

Precepts provide you with the tools and framework necessary to fully grasp and understand the course material. You get to utilize what you learn in lectures to critically analyze texts. Often, while humanities precepts revolve around readings, for quantitative courses, precepts allow you to go over practice problems or tough concepts as a class.

One of my favorite precepts has been in “Approaches to American History.” In this course, the class was divided into two small precepts of twelve students and the professor. The course consisted of only primary sources related to 3 major historical events. While many of the readings were lengthy and at times difficult to understand, being able to deconstruct their meaning with my peers proved indispensable. I also noticed that at the beginning I was scared to voice my opinion or participate, but by the end of the class, I was more comfortable contributing to the conversation and crafting my own arguments. 

Another precept I really enjoyed was in the class “Technology and Society.” What made this precept really special is that this course was interdisciplinary, so there were students from a variety of concentrations, all the way from sociology to mechanical aerospace engineering, so we all had different perspectives on the readings. When we were discussing misinformation in the media, computer science concentrators shared potential technical solutions that could spot tweets with false information, while humanities concentrators shared the implications behind “fake news” and the role of social media companies. There were many times when my opinion changed on certain technological issues because of what a student shared. This is what precept is all about!

Before coming to Princeton, I was apprehensive at the prospect of participating in a precept, but I have gained so much from them in regards to crafting my own arguments and challenging my own thinking. I have also been able to form bonds with the professors and my peers because of the meaningful interactions that small precept sizes naturally facilitate. My academic experience at Princeton wouldn’t be the same without the preceptorial system!

Advisers, Independent Work and Beyond

This year, I have faced the scary reality of being a senior, and more significant still, a senior in my final semester of Princeton. In addition to all the more sentimental considerations attached to the reality of an imminent graduation, I have also had another topic on my mind — my senior thesis.

Independent research or “independent work” in Princeton slang, is one of the defining elements of the Princeton experience. Most Princeton students complete a research assignment or essay their junior year (the Junior Paper or “JP”) and then all Princeton students, with the exception of B.S.E. computer science concentrators, write a senior thesis.

The thesis requires each student to develop a unique research idea, pushing us to crystalize four years of learning into an ambitious project. Yet, the very ambitious nature of the work means that it’s not a solitary enterprise. A strong support network is a must and your thesis adviser is an essential part of that network.

I had my own fears about thesis advisers. What if mine was too busy to respond to my emails, didn't hold me to deadlines or even had rigid, unrealistic expectations? 

Yet, I know from personal experience that a good relationship with your adviser can really make the experience. While naturally shy and not typically assertive, during my time at Princeton I have learned how lucky I am to be surrounded by the world’s greatest scholars, almost all of whom are easily accessible. If such scholars are willing to meet regularly and help me make my own small contribution to an academic field, I would be remiss to ignore the opportunity to engage fully.

In the end, my experience with independent work and with professors at Princeton has shown that it pays to speak up, to ask questions, to be assertive about your needs and to admit when things are not going well. Positive relations forged with my advisers have allowed me to learn so much more via the process of my independent work and develop important skills that will prove relevant in my life after Princeton. While I have hit plenty of frustrating road blocks in my own independent work journey (and my thesis is not finished yet!!), I have learned so much from my adviser and the countless other professors and graduate students who were willing, even happy, to take the time to read over a difficult document with me or ponder an interesting historical question. 

As such, independent work, and working with advisers, is not something to fear or dread. Rather, if approached right, it has the potential to be one of the most meaningful parts of your Princeton experience.

Reflections from a Graduating Transfer Student

When I decided to transfer to Princeton, there was an air of mystery about what the next three years of my life would look like. Since Princeton’s last transfer class graduated around the early 1990s, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It honestly terrified me that there was no previous transfer student to ask about their experience, but from the moment I saw that orange tiger with the words "Congratulations" appear on my computer screen, my initial reservations subsided. I was so excited to realize that I would become a part of Princeton’s first transfer cohort since the early 1990s! Now in my final year, I am thankful for my experience as the transfer program has gone above and beyond to make sure that I felt supported.

At first, I was concerned about transferring in as a sophomore as I had already completed two years at Miami Dade College. However, without that "extra year," I wouldn't have had the opportunity to explore my academic and extracurricular interests to the extent that I've been able to. Looking back, I wish someone would have told me that I would want to spend more time at Princeton, not less. 


Daniela with three friends

Starting at Princeton as a sophomore gave me more time to explore myself and venture into new spaces. Although I came in with a strong sense of who I was and what my aspirations and academic strengths were, Princeton has taught me to never stop exploring and to pursue every opportunity that intrigues me. Though I had originally planned on pursuing a different concentration, I switched to Spanish and Portuguese when I learned I would have more flexibility to pursue coursework and independent research on immigration. Now, I am writing my senior thesis on how Mexico has become this “big jail” for migrants seeking asylum. Switching concentrations was the best decision I’ve made at Princeton as it has given me so many skills and new perspectives that have even informed my post-graduation plans. You never know where or when you might discover a new passion.


Daniela with a friend holding a sign that reads "42 YMCA of the pines, refugee & forced migration"

Every semester pushed me out of my comfort zone in different ways, but there was always a professor or resource to turn to for guidance. I would be remiss to not say that there were challenging moments, tough assignments and plenty of second-guessing, but I never felt alone. I knew I could always turn to our transfer adviser, Dr. Shaw, or a fellow transfer student for advice. The intellectual and personal growth that I've experienced is indescribable, and it's propelled me to become even more determined and energized to achieve my goals. I no longer doubt myself or question if I belong; Princeton helped me realize that I can pursue my biggest dreams. As I move on to the next chapter of my life, I'm so humbled to have been a member of this first transfer cohort, and nothing makes me happier than being a part of this unique community and seeing it grow.

Managing My Reading-Intense Concentration

As an African American Studies (AAS) concentrator, I often find myself diving into a bunch of rich literature I adore. My concentration is reading intensive. That means, unlike some STEM courses that may be centered around labs or problem sets, AAS is more about reading many sources or chapters to make connections and discuss! Nonetheless, seeing those 30-50 pages of reading for Monday doesn’t get any less daunting. Here are the ways that I approach my reading load. 

  1. List them by due date, class and quantity: Being organized helps me know which readings I need to get ahead of and how much I am anticipating per day. 
  2. Pick the readings I find most interesting: Although the assignment is more than expected or may have a later due date, I find that I can knock out the readings I think are most interesting quickly and then focus my attention on assignments with the most immediate due dates. 
  3. Split up 50 pages into 25 and 25: I would read the first half one day and the second half another or I would read in the morning and then the evening. This gives me the feeling of reading less and not just staring into the sea of words for hours and hours. 
  4. Read the assignments with fewer pages earlier: Tackling my readings with less pages first helps to get them out the way. 
  5. Multitask: I like to save videos or podcasts for dinner or while I'm doing something passive like cleaning around the house. 
  6. Start reading a few pages sooner rather than later: The thing about reading heavy classes is that you spend a lot of time outside of the classroom, you guessed it, reading. So just starting when you have a few free minutes can make a world of a difference.
  7. Don’t worry about getting to everything: A common myth about reading heavy classes is that you need to read and understand everything. In my opinion, reading 30 out of the 50 pages while making connections and getting a clear understanding can be more fruitful during class discussions than reading all 50 pages and not understanding anything.

I prefer my reading-intensive concentration because I find myself very attuned to the power that books hold and the ways that they are essential to my knowledge! With reading, you’re not really looking for a particular answer. Your responses are shaped by your personal perspective and the same text can be read in so many different ways. When picking a concentration, I would suggest looking into what the workload would look like and ask questions such as “How much time would you spend a week reading for class or preparing the material?” Understanding if you’re not a big reader, like me, or need time to wrap your head around readings can be helpful to gauge your interest in a department. 

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!    


Managing Commitments

At the start of your first year at Princeton, there will be an amazing Students Activities Fair where you can really get a sense of all the different clubs and organizations available on Princeton’s campus. The social scene, the clubs and organizations will definitely color some of your experiences at Princeton. But with so many options, it is so common to overcommit yourself during your first year. Here are some things I wish I knew as a first-year student about managing commitments!

Pace Yourself

We come to college with so many passions that we may want to explore all of them! However, you don’t have to join everything at once. Take your time. You may find out about new clubs as the year goes on. Leave some space for spontaneous gems.

Less is More

I personally suggest to start with 2-3 clubs with differing commitment levels. Your first semester at Princeton can be very exhausting! The academic pace or workload may be different than what you are accustomed to. I know it was for me. Having spaces that allow you to de-stress is amazing, but too many clubs can lead to stretching yourself thin. Princeton would love to see you shining at your best with a few clubs, rather than feeling overwhelmed by too many.

No is Okay; Not Yet is Okay; Not Now is Okay

If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can always take a semester off of one club to focus on another. You can also choose to no longer be in that club altogether but still show support. Most clubs, if not all, are led by students just like you and they will understand if you need to take a break. Additionally, unless you’re interested in the club's emails or are planning to rejoin, do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from the email list.

Take a Less Active Role 

If you don't want leave or take a semester off, one possibility is to take a less active role in the club or activity. Doing so will reduce the number of hours you have to commit to that one club. That leaves space for you to breathe!

Once You Have the Schedule, Make it Visual!

Scheduling is a huge determinant of what clubs I choose to particpate in. I like to use Google calendar to schedule all my classes, job hours and expected club commitments in one place. If you don’t have time in your schedule to just spontaneously go out for a meal or sit and do something you love, you’re possibly over committed. Learning Consultants, which are students through the McGraw Center, can help you make these schedules or these tough decisions if you're feeling overwhelmed by your commitments.

I hope you found these helpful! Also here is the list of most of the clubs and organizations on campus.


Learning a New Language

As part of the Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree, undergraduate students are required to demonstrate proficiency in a second language. This can be done by either testing out through AP tests or SAT subject tests (if applicable) or taking classes in that language for three of four semesters at Princeton. While I was already fluent in English and Spanish, I decided to take Italian my first-year and sophomore years. 

Language classes at Princeton are small and you get to know your professor—in my Italian 101 class, we were only nine students. Classes took place from Monday to Friday and I really enjoyed learning from my peers as we tackled learning a new language as a team. I was forced out of my comfort zone as the professor would randomly call on us to speak in Italian, sing a song or read a script. We also got to watch movies and learn about Italian culture once we learned the basics.

One of the highlights of pursuing Italian at Princeton was going to watch an Italian Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. We all took a bus to the city and all of the expenses were covered. I was amazed by the interior architecture of the opera house and felt grateful for the opportunity of going on this trip.

After a few semesters of Italian, I can proudly say that I can read and understand Italian. In fact, I recently visited my friend who goes to school in Milan and got to put my Italian skills to practice. Moreover, learning Italian allowed me to connect with my family ancestry, as my grandmother is from Italy. Learning Italian has opened my horizons in many ways.

If you are a prospective student worried about the language requirement, don’t sweat it! Language classes are one of the best at Princeton and you can choose from  Arabic, French, German, Hebrew or Wolof, to name a few. 

A Letter to My First-year Self

Dear First-year Self,

These next four years will be some of the best years of your life—you will take classes with world-renowned professors, form life-long friendships, and travel the world. There will be various obstacles and challenges in your way, but you will learn from these experiences and turn out to be stronger and wiser. I know you are apprehensive about fitting in and succeeding academically, but rest assured, you will get the hang of things.

I’ve written some of the biggest lessons that will help you in your time at Princeton:

Embrace failure

You will soon learn that failure is inevitable. You will face rejection from the internships you apply to, not getting the grade you wanted, and trying to compare yourself to others. Remember that every time you fail you come out a stronger and more resilient person. Don't let failure discourage you from trying new things at Princeton and putting yourself out there!

Live in the moment

Although you care about academics and trying your hardest, there are life-long memories to be made at Princeton. Go out with your friends instead of staying in for a problem set, go to New York City for a weekend and most importantly, have fun! Remember that it's ok to have fun once in a while and enjoy the company of your peers. When you look back at your time in college, the experiences that you will cherish the most are those in which you chose to live in the moment.

Be open to change

It’s ok if you change your major or if you drop a class you thought you would enjoy. I know that you are used to following a rigid pathway in high school, but this will not be the case in college. Your time at Princeton will be of self-discovery and adventure: chase after your true passions and you will find where you belong. Unexpected changes will make you reflect on what matters most to you.

Enjoy these four years because they will fly by. 


Senior-year you

My Experience as an Residential College Adviser (RCA)

One of the first people I met at Princeton was my Residential College Adviser, or RCA. Every first-year student belongs to a “zee group” of 15 or so other first years, living together in one area of their residential college with an upperclassman RCA who is there to help with any challenges or questions they might have. RCAs are the first resource for first years and do everything from hosting study breaks to mediating conflicts. I formed a really great connection with my own RCA and knew pretty early on that being an RCA was something I also wanted to do.

The application process can be pretty competitive, so I was thrilled when I learned I’d made it! I imagined all the different study breaks I wanted to do, from painting to getting sushi to playing bubble soccer. I was excited to be part of Clash of the Colleges, a yearly orientation event between each residential college where first years competed in fun games. And of course, I was happy that I’d be living in Forbes College again as an upperclassman. 

But as you know, this year has changed all of that. When we all went virtual, I was worried about meeting my zees online and doing everything through Zoom. I was incredibly disappointed and stressed about what the semester would look like. 

Fortunately, things turned out okay. I’ve been able to hold weekly study breaks online where my zees can come by to talk and play games, and I’ve organized some events with my fellow RCAs so our zees can get to know more people. I still meet with them one on one, maybe not in Starbucks as I pictured, but the sentiment is still there. I always wanted to be an RCA to be there for my zee group, and I can still do that.

As we look to be on campus in the spring per the University’s recent announcement, I’m cautiously optimistic and excited. I’ll be living in Forbes as I originally envisioned, and I’ll meet my zees for the first time. While large gatherings aren’t possible right now, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to meet with them one on one, and truly welcome them to our Princeton home.