Weeks in Review 10/16-11/10/17

Tuesday— There were two big lectures headlining the day. The first was by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He privately spoke to about 20 undergraduates from the James Madison Program in the Prospect House’s garden room. Most of his talk was devoted to arguing against the secularization of ethics and morals in modern culture. He said that it is religious communities’ duty to enter the public square and advance their beliefs when it prevents society from greater harms.

An hour later, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof gave a lecture. When I walked thirty minutes early into McCosh 50, Princeton’s largest lecture hall, it was already full. I had to stand in the back of the balcony. Many of the lectures that I have watched from high-profile speakers involve much doom and gloom as they talk about addressing the world’s toughest problems. But Kistof was upbeat. He explained how donations to charities have profound impacts in developing nations. Sometimes, as little as $10 can save a person’s life on the other side of the planet by purchasing a vaccine. He talked about various nonprofits — like one that trains giant rats to find landmines in Angola — find unique ways to help people in need. At the end, he had a conversation with Professor Peter Singer on the topic of effective altruism and how ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference in eradicating global poverty.

Wednesday— I attended an information session about studying abroad at Oxford University. It’s a goal that is within reach.

Thursday— The Princeton Environmental Institute hosted a panel on how human activities contribute to natural disasters. One speaker emphasized the need for strong infrastructure. Hurricane Katrina showed how storms will exploit weaknesses in infrastructure to make social issues, like inequality, even worse.

Tuesday— Before my computer science class, I went to the weekly geoscience departmental lecture. It was about the end-Permian mass extinction, Earth’s largest extinction, and how anoxic conditions in the ocean contributed to it.

Wednesday— Bestselling author John Grisham spoke in Richardson Auditorium with a professor. His latest book, Camino Island, is set at Princeton in the beginning when some criminals steal F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original manuscripts from Firestone Library. He said that he never visited Firestone while writing the book. Everything about it was merely information that he gleaned from the Internet. Before the book was published, he said that he almost sent a copy of the book and an apology letter to President Eisgruber, but his lawyer advised against it. When asked why he chose Princeton, Grisham said that it was because he liked 20th century American novelist, and only Fitzgerald had complete manuscripts in a single location that theoretically could be stolen in a single heist.

Whitman College had a Halloween-themed dinner. The food was title: “vampire chicken,” “ghoul gravy,” and “Jack-o-lantern macaroni.” But waffle French fries are still just called “waffle fries.”

Thursday— Students took part in the annual Princetoween festivities. I briefly walked into Campus Club to pick up some free tater tots and talk to a friend. Along the way, I saw people in costume as a devil, cowboy, shark, hot dog, banana, the Pope, the Blue Man Group, and Mario and Luigi.

Tuesday— At night, I went to a dinner in the Prospect House for a James Madison Program discussion on John Foster Dulles. The professor explained how he thought that Dulles’ religious zeal had contributed to his determination to stop Communism’s spread.

Wednesday— A Ford Model T was parked in front of Fine Hall when I went to math class. I have no idea why it was there.

Thursday— I went to my computer science lecture just like any other week. The professor began to speak about the homework assignment just like any other week. But unlike any other week, five men and two women ran into the room wearing Princeton cheerleader uniforms, walked onto the stage, and told us to attend the Triangle Club’s annual show. The professor was stunned and couldn’t fully resume his presentation for at least five minutes.

The fire alarm went off at 9:30 pm. It wasn’t a routine drill. We’re already beginning to follow last year’s trend of having alarms at weird hours of the day. A friend told me that, “allegedly,” this happens because Whitman College has a lot of single bedrooms and students like to smoke marijuana in them, thereby triggering the smoke detectors.

Friday— Like last year, I went to the Princeton Glee Club’s football concert, this time with Yale. It was a bit toned-down compared to the Harvard concert.

Two hours later, I briefly attended the Black and Orange Ball. It was similar to the previous year’s event with music, poker, carnival games, and a photo booth. I grabbed some free food and then left.

Saturday— Princeton lost to Yale in the football game. It looks like there won’t be a bonfire this year.

That evening, I watched Yale Jam, a concert with the Yale Whiffenpoofs and Princeton Nassoons. Princeton sounded much better than Yale.

Sunday— I went to the Triangle Club’s annual musical, Spy School Musical.

 

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Selling Out: A Princeton Tradition

Introduction

When the autumn leaves begin to fall each year, corporate recruiters descend upon Princeton’s campus to attract the best and brightest to their companies. While Wall Street’s most prestigious firms don’t exclusively recruit from the Ivy League, it is certainly where they get the majority of their newest entry-level workers. There’s hardly a week that goes by when I don’t receive a group recruitment e-mail from some prestigious company.

Forty years ago, people would traditionally apply to work at a bank. They either received an offer, or they did not. Once they were hired, they stayed in the position like a normal job until some form of poor performance caused them to get fired. Starting in the 1980s, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, changed its strategies for attracting young workers. Others soon followed. These banks created the “two and out” system.

Instead of having permanent jobs, the firms offered temporary two-year positions for recent college graduates. Goldman recruited really smart students from Ivy League schools with the promise that their jobs would help them reach their true career goals later in life. Their recruitment didn’t end at economics and finance majors either; they also attracted students in English, philosophy, politics, history, and any other area of study that one could think of. This diversity of workers also added to the firms’ prestige, fueling the culture of perceived “smartness.”

Wall Street recruitment pierced the highest levels of academia’s elite, all the way up to Rhodes Scholars. In the 1970s, only three Rhodes Scholars of 320 went into business. By the end of the 1980s, they had three per year. In 1985, McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, held their first recruitment session in the Rhodes House. They lured students with per annum starting salaries of $60,000. Now, Rhodes Scholars are perhaps the highest-paid entry-level employees at Wall Street firms with signing bonuses exceeding $100,000.

Despite the Ivy League schools’ collective rhetoric about being bold, confidently standing for one’s own beliefs, and taking academic risks, the reality is quite the opposite. Princeton students are risk-averse. It’s an open secret. They don’t like being wrong and are afraid of failure. In fact, I’ve met students who take easier classes to keep their GPA high so that they can get finance jobs. While there are people who don’t conform to this description, they are the exception, not the norm.

Ivy League students liked Wall Street jobs because they provided security. First, these firms held interviews and gave job offers during the fall semester, allowing students to lock down on their post-college plans long before graduation. Second, they delayed major life decisions — like finding a permanent job or starting a family — by at least two years. This is evidenced by the fact that The Harvard Crimsonreported that 15.43 percent of the 2015 graduating class was going into consulting after graduation. But only 0.55 percent planned to still be in that field in 10 years.  Third, their jobs guaranteed that they would have a high salary straight out of college and could make business connections.

This all changed with the 2008 Great Recession. Goldman Sachs played a significant role in causing the global financial crisis. As a result, its reputation was tarnished in the eyes of Ivy League students. The number of Harvard graduates going into financial services dropped from 28 to 17 percent between 2008 and 2011. Princeton is at 14 percent as of 2015-2016.

Now, big tech companies, like Facebook and Google, are competing with Wall Street firms to hire Ivy League graduates. They provide the same prestige, security, high salaries, and structured corporate lifestyle that seniors are looking for. These companies have the allure of Silicon Valley and don’t have investment banking’s perceived moral quandaries.

Wall Street has evolved with these changes. Its firms now offer a three-year plan. Students who survive the layoffs and corporate grind can pursue a temporary new endeavor. The firm will lend them money to attend law, business, or graduate school. When the students return, they must work for several more years to clear their debt to the firm.

Currently, I don’t have any intentions of going to Wall Street immediately after graduation. But I attended four corporate recruiting events this fall because it’s one of those “Princeton things” to do. I wanted to understand why so many students are attracted by the Wall Street sirens.

At Princeton, “selling out” means going to work for Wall Street. Below are my observations from the four most sought-after firms for which Princetonians want to sell out.

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McKinsey & Company

Entry Position: Business Analyst

Starting Salary: $75,000 /year, $5,000 signing bonus, $5,000 relocation bonus

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: Founded in 1926, McKinsey & Co. is the gold standard in management consulting. McKinsey, or “The Firm” as it is called by employees, strikes fear and respect in the hearts of its competitors. Its relentless recruiting practices target top college students, usually making it the second largest employer of Rhodes Scholars in any given year (after the U.S. government). Sometimes, over a third of The Firm’s consultants have Harvard M.B.A.s. They even send representatives to national high school debate tournaments with the hope of recruiting the winners.

McKinsey hires Ivy League graduates and then instills within them a religious devotion to the company. It teaches them basic Microsoft excel and PowerPoint skills and then expects them to work over 80 hours per week. The Wall Street Journal described McKinsey’s culture as, “elite, loyal, and secretive.”

Despite its $8.4 billion revenue, McKinsey keeps a low public profile. Fundamentally, their services aren’t any different than those of its competitors. But their carefully-crafted public image causes top-level employees in other companies to say, “you can’t get fired for hiring McKinsey & Company.”

It originated two significant developments in corporate structures. First, McKinsey created the “up and out” policy.  Employees who do not get continuously promoted are told to leave. Second, it introduced the partner model from law offices to financial services. Profits are shared by the lucky few who become partners. They earn over $1 million each.

McKinsey annually receives 225,000 applications but hires only 2,200. One fifth leave each year due to the up and out policy. About 200 Princeton students attended a 6:00 pm presentation on September 14, 2017 in the hopes of talking their way into a job at The Firm.

Event: I arrived at the Frick chemistry building 10 minutes early. There was a crowd of suited people standing in the glass atrium. Very few, if any, STEM majors ever dress up on a normal school day. Clearly, they were not all chemistry students. It was ironic how a science building was being used for a consulting meeting. That is the quintessence of selling out.

At 6:00 pm, the students walked into Taylor Auditorium. I sat in the back. Everyone was clean-cut and generally looking good. But they weren’t dressed too formally. While men wore suits, many looked like they were walking into a New York City nightclub. A number of the women were in cocktail dresses. The McKinsey recruiters looked like the posterchildren of young bankers. They were wearing medium blue tight-fitting suits, brown shoes, colorful ties, and expensive watches. They were all Princeton alumni.

I was astounded by the audience’s composition. Everyone was present. I recognized people who were engineers, athletes, social activists, political scientists, econ frat bros, capitalists, and even one self-described socialist. It goes to show that anyone can and is willing to sell out.

The presentation began with a recruiter who spoke in an energetic — yet professional — tone. Each recruiter covered a specific section of the presentation. At the start of the sections, the recruiters talked about their hobbies outside of work. All of the were accomplished in some respect, whether it was running marathons or doing charity work.

First, a recruiter talked about working at McKinsey. He emphasized that consulting is a service that works directly with clients. His talk was packed full of Millennial buzzwords and catchphrases like: “impact,” “development,” “resources,” “growth,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” “work on problems,” and “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” The recruitment pitch sounded like that of an Ivy League school with its promises of a “supportive environment” and being “a valued member of a problem-solving team.”

As he was talking, I noticed that none of the students were on their cell phones. This is extremely rare. There are always students on their cell phones during every college presentation. But McKinsey wields the power to draw Princetonians away from their glowing screens.

In the middle, a recruiter showed her average weekly schedule. She emphasized that she had a lot of free time during the day to go to the gym or grab lunch with a friend. I looked at the chart a bit closer. She neglected to mention that her workdays lasted 9:00 am – 11:00 pm, excluding extra time that she puts in to outperform her co-workers.

Then, another recruiter talked about how The Firm will pay for law, business, or graduate school after working at it for three years, after which students can leave or rejoin it at a higher position.  At the end, he described McKinsey’s annual community service day.

To apply to McKinsey, students only have to submit a résumé and an academic transcript.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Entry Position: Associate

Starting Salary: $72,000 /year, $5,000 signing bonus, ≤$16,000 performance bonus, $4,400 profit sharing

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: BCG was founded in 1963 where it quickly grew from a one-man business to a consulting juggernaut. It is McKinsey’s nemesis. BCG actively competes with them to hire the smartest students. Ranked third on Forbes 2017 list of the one hundred best places to work, BCG likes to emphasize their fun side of sending employees to obstacle courses and baseball games.

Getting a job with BCG is difficult. Applicants must pass multiple rounds of internet testing and case interviews. Glassdoor ranked it as the third hardest company to interview for in 2013. Its annual revenue tops $5 billion while employing 14,000 people worldwide.

Event: BCG hosted their recruitment event in the Prospect House’s garden room on September 21, 2017. The crowd was only a quarter of the size of that at McKinsey’s event the prior week.

Students were dressed up again, even a bit more formal than they were at McKinsey. But there were a few short dresses and flashy suits. Everyone seemed schmoozey in the cocktail party sense. There was an initial PowerPoint that circled through several slides. They were filled with buzzwords like “grow,” “build,” “connect,” and “make a difference.”

When the presentation began, I noticed that most of the presenters were women. BCG highlighted diversity from the start. A video showed how BCG workers are pulled from a variety of races, genders, and backgrounds.

Next, they launched into a series of “10 surprising facts” where a recruiter recited 10 facts about BCG within one minute. It was amazing how BCG had locked onto Millennials’ short attention spans and shaped their presentation in such a way as to mimic social media’s clickbait articles.

One recruiter forgot some of the facts. Others had poor eye contact or talked softly. Compared to McKinsey, BCG looked like a B-team.

They transitioned into a section about working at BCG, with emphasis on “development” and “work-life balance” (though I’m sure that there’s a net positive balance on work). A recruiter explained how new consultants are assigned life advisers to help them fit into their job. Consultants receive $10,000-worth of professional training every year. He said that BCG wants employees to leave the firm happy so that they become clients in the future.

Another recruiter said that BCG does not care about a prospective applicant’s major. Everyone is taught how to use Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. After three years, employees can pursue post-graduate education on BCG’s dime. Forty-five percent apply to business school, and 93 percent go to a top-tier one.

Bain & Company

Entry Position: Associate Consultant

Starting Salary: $70,000 /year, $8,630 year-end bonus

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: Bain & Company tops off the “Big Three” of management consultancies. Founded in 1973 by former BCG employees, Bain rapidly established itself as an international competitor. Despite its rise to fame, Bain defied corporate standards by maintaining an employee turnover rate of 8 percent, compared to 20 percent for its competitors.

It differentiated itself by having consultants work with clients on long-term projects. Whereas BCG and McKinsey consultants may fly in to study, analyze, and advise a client’s business for several months, Bain will hold these relationships for several years. But the firm is extremely secretive. Writer Naficy Mariam called it, “the KGB of consulting.”

It also recruits recent Ivy League graduates in the hopes of transforming their brainpower into Bain’s power.

Event: Unlike its competitors, Bain didn’t have a singular presentation for students. Instead, it hosted a coffee chat at Small World Coffee. There was free food, so I went.

Upon walking in, I immediately saw that Small World was busier than usual. A bunch of students were clustered in the back-left corner. I joined a group with two other seniors. They were English and molecular biology majors.

Our recruiter was about 25 years old, had brown hair parted to one side, and wide eyes. He introduced himself as an industrial engineering major from Sweden. For the first three minutes, he explained Bain’s LGBT and “inclusivity” network. Then, he took our questions.

Compared to BCG and McKinsey, the Bain representative seemed the most genuine. He said that he went into consulting because it allowed him, “to work on interesting problems” and that, “investment banking was too much about making money.” He worked 9:00 am – 6:00 pm on good days and 9:00 am – 9:00 pm on bad days. Employees are expected to do a lot of work during those hours. Consultants are given a letter grade A – F for the quality of their work.

He said that approximately 20 percent of consultants leave Bain within the first two years. The end of the third year is a big promotion point. Some go to business school, and others do not return. Employees who don’t receive a promotion are laid off.

At the end, I asked why I should join Bain over its competitors. He gave me the dirt on BCG and McKinsey. BCG puts employees into varying performance levels. Consultants in the bottom level are usually laid off. McKinsey ranks new consultants 1-50, which effects their bonuses and projects. If consultants initially perform well, they are placed on better projects where they are more likely to succeed. Those who have a bad start or misstep during their career are placed on successively worse projects that are harder to get good results out of. This “downward spiral” continues until the consultant is either laid off or performs a miracle to get outstanding results from a bad project.

Goldman Sachs

Entry Position: Operations Analyst

Starting Salary: $50,450 /year, $8,630 year-end bonus

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: Goldman Sachs. Every heard of it? (an allusion to the Twitter account @GSElevator)

Since 1869, Goldman Sachs has been in the thick of Wall Street; in fact, Goldman is the epitome of it. The firm’s activities encompass nearly every country, industry, and business deal in the world. But it had a prominent role in causing the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis and was subsequently knocked off of its lofty pedestal, albeit temporarily.

For Ivy League students, a Goldman Sachs job is the envy of all. It provides maximum name recognition, high salaries, and a prime location at the center of New York City stock trading. Even though its reputation was tainted, that hasn’t stopped thousands of students from applying to work for them. Two dozen Princeton students gathered one fall evening to dip their toes into the waters of investment banking.

Event: Goldman Sachs hosted its information session at the Nassau Inn — Princeton’s fanciest hotel — on September 26, 2017. I walked through the lobby to the basement ballroom. Everyone was conservatively dressed in suits. They looked like bankers. Unlike the consulting meetings, no one wore slim suits or cocktail dresses; there was a more rigid schoomzey atmosphere like that of a corporate boardroom. I recognized a few people. They were the hard-core business types and not English majors wondering what to do with their lives.

Some Goldman employees ushered us into the main ballroom, which was arranged like a cocktail party with small tables scattered around it and a screen at the front. I came into this information session with high expectations for the legendary Goldman Sachs. But I was sorely disappointed. Instead, it was the most boring presentation that I have witnessed since coming to Princeton.

The first presenter was a Princeton alumnus who majored in politics. In a dull, monotone voice, he covered the technical details of what the bank does. He talked about equity, derivatives, and fixed income without defining what they were. The jargon was stifling.

He said that the interview was designed to see how people think by asking them both hard and weird questions. They could range from a case study of a finance scenario to asking for the product of seven cubed. Once hired, Goldman invests in its employees by providing them with a lot of training and professional development. Like all of the other firms, the recruiter sprinkled in Millennial buzzwords like, “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “make an impact.”

The funniest line that I heard from all of the Wall Street meetings was when the Goldman presenter said, “Goldman Sachs has something similar to a start-up culture.” I’m not a business expert, but I’m fairly confident that Goldman hasn’t been a start-up for at least a century. My entrepreneurial friends laughed when I told them about this line.

Next, they transitioned into a panel discussion with four Princeton alumni, all of whom were Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) majors. They were corporate zombies, speaking with tired voices. It was evident that they worked long hours with little rest. None of them smiled. The students also began with a technical description of their jobs chalked full of jargon. These people have forgotten how to talk to outsiders.

The panel explained how employees, “strive for excellence at Goldman” because its flattened hierarchy allowed young workers to introduce new ideas. Goldman is, “a people-oriented firm” where, when evaluating applicants, they wonder, “Will an applicant work for you or with you?” At the end, they introduced ten current Princeton students who interned for Goldman Sachs over the past summer and were continuing their work there after graduation.

By then, the audience looked as though it was going to fall asleep. If it weren’t for the firm’s reputation and salaries, I think that the students would have left. Some were on their phones.

*  *  *  *  *

Conclusion

Ivy League students are drawn to Wall Street’s tune of money and prestige like kids following the Pied Piper. I estimate that a third of those going into finance do so because they are genuinely interested in business. But the other two thirds are attracted by its high salaries and dreams of opening doors to new careers.

Surprisingly, the recruitment meetings emphasized the latter and not the former. Generally, most people know that Wall Street firms pay big salaries to new employees; however, the companies didn’t heavily promote this. Instead, their meetings primarily focused on exploiting students’ insecurities about their future careers.

Consulting has become a popular career choice because it has Wall Street’s glamour without the investment banks’ tarnished reputations from the Great Recession. But they are far from the utopia that they claim. In a nutshell, consulting firms specialize in gathering data from other companies and then advising them on maximizing profits. They accomplish this through layoffs, increasing work hours, using metrics to ruthlessly squeeze every ounce of productivity out of workers, or some combination of them. While watching the information sessions, I realized that consulting firms use these same methods to analyze their own employees. This thought hasn’t occurred to many, if any, other students. (For the record, Bain had the best pitch of the three firms, followed by McKinsey and BCG, respectively.)

As far as I can tell, the sky-high salaries are the only thing that is appealing about investment banking. But it’s also possible that Goldman just had a bad pitch for the industry. Perhaps I’ll get a better idea after reading Liar’s Poker.

By writing this, I don’t mean to disparage those who sell out; I don’t have any moral objections against them. If students want to subject themselves to high stress environments in pursuit of money, that’s fine. I’ll also buy into Professor Peter Singer’s effective altruism argument. He claims that students can do more good by making huge profits while working on Wall Street and then donating a portion of them to charity than by being a career worker at an aide organization.

Watching these finance recruitment meetings was simply a fascinating process to analyze. Wall Street is so good at targeting Ivy League Millennials that it’s scary. They know exactly which buzzwords to use and how to make their presentations appealing to my generation. With these techniques, they hire the country’s greatest young brainpower to get the best bang for their buck.

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Expédition au Maroc

In grade school, everyone is taught that a meteorite killed the dinosaurs. The “Alvarez Hypothesis” posits that a large asteroid hit the Earth 65 million years ago. Its impact caused a large tsunami and threw dust into the atmosphere that blocked the Sun for an extended period of time. This caused photosynthetic failure, and the food chain collapsed.

It all began in the late 1970s when geologist Walter Alvarez sampled a layer at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. His father Luis Alvarez — a Nobel Prize winning physicist — helped him analyze the samples for various metals. They found a spike in iridium at the time of the K-Pg extinction. Iridium is rare in the Earth’s crust but abundant in meteorites. In 1980, they proposed their hypothesis that a meteorite was responsible for the dinosaurs’ demise. Ten years later, geologists found an impact crater in Chixulub, Mexico that matched the description of the hypothesized rock.

But many scientists at that time were skeptical of their findings. Another plausible hypothesis was that the Deccan Traps — a series of large volcanoes in India — erupted shortly before the K-Pg boundary, causing climatic changes that ultimately created a mass extinction. The evidence at that time for this hypothesis consisted of the facts that various species had already been in decline for thousands of years prior to the K-Pg boundary and carbon-13 isotopes indicated global warming that shifted to abrupt cooling at the start of the Paleogene.

My professor — Gerta Keller — started her research in this field nearly thirty years ago. As the number of supporters for Deccan volcanism dwindled from new evidence and bullying from other scientists, she stood firm in her belief that volcanism killed the dinosaurs. One of her biggest contributions to the debate was finding glass spherules several meters below the K-Pg boundary at an outcrop in Mexico. Supporters of the Alvarez hypothesis claim that these spherules are crystallized ejecta that rained down shortly after the meteorite’s impact. Their newfound placement means that the asteroid impact may have preceded the boundary by as much as 300,000 years. Additionally, recent research spearheaded by Keller and another Princeton geologist shows that Deccan volcanism correlates more closely in time to the K-Pg boundary than previously thought.

This debate — along with the study of Earth’s other four mass extinctions — is the topic for my class GEO 365. Last week, we traveled to Morocco to learn more about mass extinctions and the planet’s natural history.

Day 1— I lined up with my class on Ivy Lane at 14:00 to wait for our bus to the JFK airport. Once onboard, we rocketed to New York City. By 21:00, our flight had departed for Casablanca, Morocco.

Day 2— I could hardly sleep on the airplane, but I awoke to see Morocco’s brown desert. We landed in a thick fog that prevented us from seeing further than twenty feet. As we stepped off of the airplane, the air was hardly 60ºF. But the Sun quickly warmed it. Our guides — Khalid and Thierry Adatte— loaded our luggage into a van, and we traveled southward. Thierry was a Swiss member of Professor Keller’s original K-Pg research team.

The land was barren with brown soil covering rolling hills. But even the soil disappeared and was replaced by rocks the further south we went. There were few trees. Everyone fell asleep. I briefly awoke during the drive through the Meseta — a plain between the Atlantic coast and Atlas Mountains — to see the flat desert pavement stretch to the horizon in all directions.

We stopped at an outcrop near Marrakech, one of Morocco’s largest cities. Thierry gave us an hourlong overview of the Atlas Mountains’ formation. In short, they are the product of failed rifting (Liassic), Africa colliding with Iberian peninsula (Early Cretaceous), Africa pulling away from South America (Mid-Cretaceous), continental uplifting from moving towards Eurasia (Santonian), and three compressional events with Africa-Europe convergence (Eocene).

As I scanned the area, I noticed a mesa in the distance. The landscape reminded me of the American southwest. Throughout the day, we continued to stop on the roadside to look at rocks. We slept in between the stops. Many of the roads have steep plunges with no guardrails along their sides as they wind up the mountainsides.

The Atlas Mountains were barren. They were colored with a variety of dark reds, yellows, and browns. We never crossed a river while driving through them.

The bus passed several villages. All of the buildings are square, and the mosque’s minaret is the tallest structure in each locale.

We stopped for the night at a hotel in Ouarzazate.

 

Lunch: khobz bread, peppers, onions, La Vache Qui Rit cheese

Dinner: chicken tajine dish (chicken and steamed vegetables)

 

Day 3 — We left the hotel and took pictures at a pyramidal building. Ouarzazate is known as the “door of the desert.” Directors frequently use it to cast desert scenes because of its convenient location. These include: Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Game of Thrones.

On the outskirts of town, we stopped to learn about foreland basins. As Thierry was delivering a lecture, a herd of goats walked around us. Next, we made an excursion to the Dadès Gorge where we studied the emplacement of conglomerates.

Our following stop was at a small valley. To get there, two thirds of the class piled into a small SUV. The other six, including myself, had to stand on the car’s running boards. After driving two kilometers, we stopped to look at dinosaur tracks. They were over two feet long. The valley looked like a set for Tatooine from Star Wars. I was waiting for some Tusken Raiders to jump out from behind a rock.

We then went to another section of the Dadès Gorge. To reach it, we drove up steep switchbacks. Its step-like walls plunged three thousand feet into a river below. A hotel sat on the precipice’s edge at the top. It looked like it would teeter over the edge at any minute.

While continuing southward, we observed a conglomerate rock formation. It was exotic. The red rock had a bubble pattern that made it look like the remnant of some big splash. In reality, it was created as a result of the conglomerate’s unique erosion pattern in wind and rain.

Our final stop was in Todra Gorge. Professor Keller told us that there was an old hotel in the canyon that previous classes had stayed in. She stopped going to it because a boulder from the canyon wall crushed its dining pavilion.

As the sun set, Thierry instructed our class to measure rock layers in the canyons. We worked into the dark and presented our results upon arrival at the hotel “Chez Aïche.” Following dinner, several of us went onto the hotel roof to look at the stars.

A dog barked at the Moon.

 

Breakfast: khobz, butter, yogurt

Lunch: khobz, peppers, onions, cheese

Dinner: beef tajine, dates

 

Day 4— The golden morning light basked the orange mountaintops against the cerulean sky. I hadn’t realized this at night, but the hotel was surrounded by mountains on all sides.

After breakfast, we drove to Jbel Ouarkziz (“jbel” means mountain). Thierry told us to look at the rocks and determine the area’s paleoenvironment. Although I worked on the marine layers at Zumaia, Spain this spring, I had forgotten a few things. As I was studying the rocks, I overlooked the turbidites cutting through the ridge. They indicated that the area was once on the submarine continental slope.

From the top of the hill, I saw the Anti-Atlas Mountains in the distance. Some of its closer hills appeared as though their sides were sheered off, exposing their complex folds. Everything was brown.

Back on the road, we stopped to look at a series of ten-foot tall mounds. They were holes into the ground that were used to dig tunnels. In Medieval times, townspeople created them to transport water from the Anti-Atlas Mountains. People had been using them until thirty years ago.

Our last stop of the day was at an outcrop outside of a town. We searched for the black shale that denoted the end-Devonian mass extinction. Each shale layer represented one Kellwasser Event, an extinction pulse. Nobody could find them, so Thierry finally showed us.

Some kids were fishing at a nearby stream. They tried to sell us a fish that they had caught and put in a water bottle.

We ended the day at a hotel near Merzouga. There was a large sand desert, called Erg Chebbi, adjacent to it. It was the first desert that I saw that looked like what I had pictured. Classical orange Saharan sand dunes towered over the dry pavement around them. Some Berbers mounted us on camels, and we rode into the desert.

As the Sun set over the Anti-Atlas Mountains, the dunes blazed brightly. When it finally disappeared behind the parks, the sky turned a deep azure. The novelty of riding a camel wore off in ten minutes; it hurt to ride bow-legged.

We arrived at a prearranged camp and moved into nomad tents, which were made of thick green and red cloths. Dinner was not served for two hours. In the meantime, a classmate played the drums and another told a joke story.

After dinner, I went with another student to the top of a nearby dune to take night pictures. Others soon joined us. The Moon was a spotlight. I could practically read a book under it. Stars blazed fiercely into the black sky. We returned to camp where the Berbers had built a campfire. They taught us some of their traditional dances.

I, along with a few others, slept out under the stars with only a mat and blanket. The cool desert air descended onto the camp.

 

Breakfast: eggs, bread, butter, jelly, tea

Lunch: khobz, tuna, cheese, avocado

Dinner: tomato and chickpea salad, chicken tajine, dates, tea.

I have never really like tea. But I started drinking the Moroccan tea on this trip out of courtesy. It was served with almost every meal. Eventually, I came to like it.

 

Day 5— I became cold in the night and woke up around 4:00. The Moon had set, so the sky was darker. But I could still see even without a flashlight. I realized my good fortune and decided to take pictures of the night sky. Everyone else arose at 5:30, departing at 6:00 to watch the Sun rise.

Back at the hotel, we ate breakfast and then left to continue our geological tour. The first stop was Hamar Lackhad Ridge. We had to ride on the outside of the SUV again to reach it. We hiked up a valley that had a strange set of mounds that were ~100 feet tall scattered around it. The ridge was composed of seafloor from the Ordovician period. Thierry explained that scientists had determined that the mounds were once underwater mud volcanoes driven by geothermal heat. We hiked to the top of one of these mounds, called a “kess-kess.” At the summit, I saw the expansive plain. There was nothing but brown desert.

We descended to study a fault line. Then, we looked for fossils near the ridge’s base. After lunch, we stopped in a trilobite fossil shop. Next, we looked for our own trilobites near Jbel Mani as the Moon rose over its peaks. I found a few pieces but nothing spectacular.

 

Breakfast: khobz, muffin, yogurt

Lunch: khobz, tuna, avocado, cheese

Dinner: khobz, lentil soup, chicken tagine, banana

 

Day 6— We left our hotel to eat breakfast in a nearby restaurant. Our first stop after that was at a wide gorge. Its walls were composed of alternating limestone and shale layers. While driving to the next location, we traveled to a mining district to see ophiolites. Foreigners were not permitted to see the mine. Thierry explained that the people were unhealthy, and there were reports of children being used for dangerous work.

After lunch, we observed a spectacular volcanic dyke that was part of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, the likely cause of the end-Triassic mass extinction. As we drove closer to it, I watched dust devils dance around the valley. Some of them were 100 meters wide.

We ended the day near a small town that was adjacent to a river oasis. The river had cut a canyon in as little as 8,000 years. To my back, the Moon rose over an ancient Ordovician ridge.

That night, we stayed in the hotel La Renaissance at the edge of the Saharan Desert. Thierry told us that the next major town was Timbuktu, over 1,500 kilometers to the south in Mali.

 

Breakfast— khobz, butter, orange juice

Lunch: khobz, onions, tuna, cheese, avocado

Dinner: beef tajine, lentil soup, khobz, orange soda

 

Day 7— Two students were sick from dinner. Everyone else was fine. The first stop was at an Ordovician range several miles from town. We hiked back into a valley to study Cambrian-aged alternating limestone and shale layers. Thierry said that they were deposits from extreme tides and storms. One student did not believe it and fiercely questioned him. Thierry then explained that the layers’ alternations showed Milankovitch cyclicality. I remained skeptical of this considering my group’s findings in Zumaia.

While we were in the valley, a man approached us from the direction that we had just came. I have no idea how he got there. It was a long walk from the town. He asked several times if we had marijuana. We said no. Then he walked up into the mountains.

The rest of our day comprised primarily of driving westward to the coast by Tiznit. Western Morocco is more verdant than its interior. It looked like the Mediterranean coast. Once at the ocean, we walked along the beach and under a sea arch. Later that night, I went back to the beach to take sky pictures.

 

Breakfast: khobz, butter, orange juice

Lunch: khobz, cheese

Dinner: khobz, chickpea soup, grilled fish, rice, boiled vegetables, apple slices, cake

 

Day 8— I walked around the beach in the morning. When I approached a rock outcrop jutting into the ocean, I saw a stray puppy jumping around. It spotted me, and, yipping from the cold, followed me back to the steps of the hotel, Club Auberge. The parent dogs spotted me and then ran over to care for the puppy. But it followed me up the hotel steps and stayed under the table as we ate breakfast.

The road northward snaked along the coast with spectacular ocean overlooks. After traveling for a week through the desert, it was good to see water. By midday, we stopped onto of a big hill near Agadir. The city is a big tourist destination. Thierry taught us about an earthquake that struck Agadir in 1960. For decades, people didn’t build on top of the fault. But a construction project recently placed condominiums on it. The fault is still active. Another earthquake could strike Agadir any day.

Just north of the city, we passed a white walled compound on the coast. Thierry explained that it was owned by a brother of the King of Saudi Arabia. One of the other brothers became jealous and built an even larger tan walled vacation compound a mere 200 meters north of it. There used to be a cement factory near the compounds, but they forced it to close and move 100 kilometers inland.

Next, we walked along a cliff on a beach to look at a past oceanic anoxic event — meaning that oxygen levels in the ocean were low — from the Cretaceous. It reminded me of Zumaia because of its alternating limestone and marl layers. When Thierry finished his final lesson, everyone applauded. As we walked back to the car, the Sun lowered towards the horizon.

By nautical twilight, we were at another beach, looking a small set of dinosaur tracks. Our hotel for the night, Hotel Littoral, was fantastic. We were placed in a small apartment. After dinner, Khalid brought us three homemade cakes.

 

Breakfast: khobz, butter, pan au chocolat, orange juice

Lunch: khobz, avocado, cheese

Dinner: sausage, couscous, chicken, khobz, and chocolate, coconut, and apple cakes

 

Day 9— Our trek continued northward from Agadir after breakfast. The black tarmac followed the coast, passing a tall white lighthouse. Then, it headed inland. At one point, we stopped along the road to look at some goats in a tree. They eat their Argania fruits. Then, shepherds harvest the fruit’s seeds from the goats’ droppings, and it is turned into argan oil.

At noon, we rested in Essaouira and walked around. The old part of the city is in an old Portuguese trading fort. It’s very touristy with a lot of Europeans. I walked around with some friends for some time before eating lunch on a restaurant’s balcony. Around 14:30, we continued onward to Marrakech.

Before arriving in the city, we stopped in a cooperative where divorced women make argan oil. They showed us all of the steps to making it and the oil’s various uses.

As we entered Marrakech, there was a well-developed strip of high end hotels and resorts. We didn’t stay there. Instead, we stayed in the Grand Hotel Taziz near the city’s center. Professor Keller said that it was a dive hotel from her backpacking trip across northern Africa in the 1970s.

“Dive” was an accurate description. All of the guys stayed in a single room with five mattresses. Located on the roof, our room had half inch deep holes in the wall, light pink blankets, lightbulbs hanging out of the walls, red and white striped drapes, black and white checkerboard flooring, a loop of wire hanging out of the ceiling, a moldy shower, and vomit in the toilet when we first arrived. The rooms’ door handle was barely hanging by a screw. Instead of having a glass peephole, our door had a one-inch diameter hole drilled into it. Morocco doesn’t have too much gun crime due to strict ownership laws, but one of the country’s few shootings occurred in the area during the previous week.

Our group then went to Morocco’s largest open air market, called a “souk.” The streets were swarmed with people. It was intense. After dinner, we went shopping in the market. Most of the goods were cheap Chinese junk. I went with a friend to the souk’s center to watch him buy a pair of fake Nike shoes. I noticed that the store owner was not very interested in negotiating. At that moment, I noticed that several people were glued to a television screen. Casablanca’s soccer team was playing Cairo for the African championship. Two minutes later, the square erupted into cheering. Casablanca won.

Later that night, I went onto the hotel’s roof to take pictures with another student. Cars drove through the square while honking horns and waving Moroccan flags to celebrate the soccer victory. A horde of 50 motorcycles even crowded the intersection as they drove around town in their quasi-victory parade.

 

Breakfast: khobz, jam, butter, cake

Lunch: cheese omelette

Dinner: chicken kabob, fries

Dessert: crêpe with Nutella

 

Day 10— We awoke at 5:00 to leave for our flight. The streets — which had been filled by an open air market only a few hours earlier — were dead. Everyone slept on the drive to Casablanca. I stayed awake to watch the sun rise over the horizon of the Meseta.

Our bus stopped at a gas station for breakfast. While we were eating, one student said that there was a rat under the table. A gray rodent scrambled out into the aisle. Then, a worker punted it into the air, stomped on it, and kicked it out the door like a soccer ball.

We arrived at the airport and departed on time. The class arrived at Princeton by 20:30. I raced up to Nassau Street before the restaurants closed at 21:00 and ate at PJ’s. When I returned to my dorm, I immediately went to bed.

 

Breakfast: pan au chocolat, flatbread with Nutella

Lunch: grilled chicken sandwich, fries, chicken and rice, cake, bread

Dinner: hamburger, fries, chocolate milkshake

 

* * * * *

 

Morocco was a fascinating country. Its barren landscape was simple yet stunning. Its natural history goes back over a billion years, but people have just started to understand it during the past century. Our trip was a mere overview of its known record over the course of a week, barely a window of its entire story. One day, I hope to return and study it at greater depth.

 

A Typical Daily Schedule

  • 6:30: Wake up
  • 7:00-7:45: Breakfast
  • 8:30-13:00: Geology touring
  • 13:00: Lunch
  • 13:30-19:00: Geology touring
  • 19:00: Arrive at hotel
  • 20:30: Dinner
  • 21:30-0:00: Talk, play games, take pictures

 

Photo Gallery

Weeks in Review 9/24-10/14/17

Tuesday— Butler College has started a monthly dinner series where it invites graduate students in the Woodrow Wilson School to talk with undergraduates about their work in politics. The series’ first speaker was Zach Wahls, an MPA student, LGBT activist, and co-founder of Scouts for Equality. He started by telling how he became famous overnight on the Internet for delivering a speech to the Iowa General Assembly in support of gay marriage. After gaining national attention, he wrote a bestselling book about growing up with two lesbian parents. While he continued activism, he started the Scouts for Equality movement which successfully ended the membership ban on gay Scouts and adult leaders. Throughout the talk, he emphasized the need for positive activism that does not necessarily lambast the institutions which it is trying to change.

Ten minutes later, I walked to the Nassau Inn for a Goldman Sachs recruitment event. More on that in a later post.

Thursday— I went to a coffee chat at Small World for Bain & Company, closing out my trips to corporate events. More on that in a later post.

In the afternoon, I went to a group information session about getting jobs and internships in the U.S. State Department. It was led by a Foreign Service Officer. She talked about her work in Panama when the U.S. transferred control of the canal, serving in an American embassy in Russia, and being one of the first diplomats to work in Cuba. She experienced a lot of espionage in Russia with people constantly following her home and asking friends about her work. When she transferred to Cuba, she said that the spying was even more intense than Russia. She did not experience hearing loss like recent diplomats.

Friday— Another op-ed war occurred in the Daily Princetonian. At the beginning of the school year, sixteen Ivy League professors released a letter through the James Madison Program that told students to, “Think for yourself.” Apparently, this is controversial advice in college. A series of angry op-eds ensued from “Prince” columnists, most notable of which was one claiming that free speech doesn’t exist. He received a flurry of rebuttals in response to his preposterous idea. They’re quite funny. I even jumped in to share my thoughts.

Monday— My history professor wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about Confederate monuments. The previous week, he joined a panel in Charlottesville, Virginia to discuss its white nationalist rally and its connections to the Civil War.

Tuesday— After classes, I went to a James Madison Program lecture about how colleges are handling sexual assault cases. It featured a panel comprised of Stuart Taylor, Jr. ’70 and Professor KC Johnson. Taylor is a Princeton alumnus who has written on a wide range of legal topic. Professor Johnson gained notoriety when he, correctly, publicly defended — along with then-student Stephen Miller — the Duke lacrosse players accused of rape in the 2006 case.

The Whig-Clio held a public debate on restructuring the Daily Princetonian editorial board. I voted with the Whigs.

Thursday— I went to a dinner discussion with Princeton physicist William Happer. He developed the techniques for developing artificial stars by bouncing light rays off of a sodium layer in the atmosphere. This helps adaptive optics — which are used in anti-missile defense systems — correct for turbulence in the atmosphere.

Friday— I delivered a presentation about my summer work in The Bahamas to some other interns for the Princeton Environmental Institute.

Saturday— The Conservation Society organized a whale watching trip in Cape May. It was paid for by Princeton. We saw a lot of dolphins but no whales.

Monday— Princeton is now paying for all of its students to have free subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal. I don’t know what could be any more “establishment” than an Ivy League school giving out the Wall Street Journal.

I went to a James Madison Program dinner discussion with a professor who does legal research on surrogate mothers. She concluded that while surrogate births in their best form seem okay to society, the vast majority of them are exploitative and dehumanize the mother and child. Here’s an interesting fact: the plurality of surrogate mothers in the U.S. are military wives.

Tuesday— Princeton won another Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr. Kip Thorne GS ’65 shared the Prize with two other physicists for detecting gravitational waves last year. Like last year, there was no mention of this in any of my science classes. I guess that people win Nobel Prizes around here so frequently that the professors simply shrug and say, “who’s next?”

Wednesday— Gina McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator for the Obama administration, gave a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson School. Her speech was overwhelmingly positive. She said that while the Trump administration may undo some minor policies, it cannot reverse the major ones because the policymaking process and court rulings have made it difficult to do so.

I asked McCarthy a question about working in the public sector. After the lecture, the woman sitting next to me introduced herself and said that she was the former New Jersey Deputy Attorney General for the environmental division. Then, another person started talking to me as I was leaving. He had graduated in 2015 and is now working at an environmental nonprofit.

Thursday— Former President of the European Union Commission and Prime Minister of Portugal José Manuel Barroso spoke at the Woodrow Wilson School. He talked about the benefits of globalization and how Europe is doing well economically and politically despite media reports to the contrary.

Then, I went to a group dinner with economics professors Harvey Rosen and Nicholas Greg Mankiw ’80. Both held the position of Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Bush administration. Mankiw is one of the foremost economists in the country, second only to Paul Krugman and tied with Sir Angus Deaton. They talked about how the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 was inevitable. Mankiw said that even if the economists had seen it coming, prevention would have meant asking Congress to stop giving cheap loans to poor people. Generally, the country does not like it when Republican administrations stop giving things to poor people, so nothing would have been accomplished.

Friday— I went to a debate tournament at the University of Pennsylvania. My partner and I did not do as well as we had hoped. Our debate topics included: allowing NFL players to use drugs (opposition, won), having college rape cases tried in courts instead of on campuses (government, tight case, lost), ending flood insurance subsidies (government, won), pricing airline tickets according to a passenger’s weight (government, lost), and allowing video games to become an Olympic sport (opposition, lost).

It’s interesting how each Ivy League school has a different feel to it based on the campus. Cornell felt like a rural liberal arts school. Harvard seemed like a colonial school in the middle of a big modern city. The University of Pennsylvania was definitely reminiscent of the old-money urban elite. Its large Victorian, mixed with a few colonial, structures reminded me of touring Vanderbilt’s house on the Hudson River. The main group lecture hall, where all of the teams waited, had gold-encrusted lamps.

After returning to Princeton, I realized that it has a slower, more academic Oxford/Cambridge atmosphere. Forbes College and the golf course also gives it a country club feel. I now appreciate having a nice town surrounding the school instead of a decrepit inner city like Penn’s Philadelphian slums.

 

Some other op-eds that I have written: Affirmative Action #1, Affirmative Action #2

Photo Gallery

Weeks in Review 9/10-24/17

It’s different coming back to Princeton as a sophomore than a freshman. Last year, classes seemed to slowly sped up. This year, it has been a deluge since the first day, even though classes are supposed to be easy in the beginning. In spite of my workload, I have found some time to go out and see a few things that were happening around Princeton.

Saturday— Free food is an incentive that has drawn me to events on the opposite sides of the campus at all hours of the day. Tonight, it was worth it again. There was a party in the Dod Hall quadrangle that featured food trucks, inflatable games, and loud music. I went over to get free Jammin’ Crepes, snow-cones, and house-made donuts. The donut truck was my favorite. I could see them fry and hand-dip the donuts in the truck.

Later that night, I went to Prospect Avenue to watch the people streaming into Frosh Week parties. The temperatures were around 60ºF, so everything was toned-down. Fewer people were out this year than last year.

Sunday— I played in the Princeton University Band for the Pre-rade. When I went through it last year, it looked like there were a lot more students than there actually were. I guess that Princeton is smaller than I thought.

Monday— The debate team had an open house for interested freshman. I went simply to meet some new students. I would later learn that many of the people to whom I had spoken were chosen for the team.

I tried to attend Tiger Night. It’s the annual event where the all of the acapella groups perform to attract new members. Based on their recruitment efforts, I would have thought that they would want anyone who was interested in their group. But the people at the door didn’t let me in because of my sophomore status.

Tuesday— In the morning, I went to a debate prep session to help people with tryouts, especially if they hadn’t done debate in high school.

That evening, there was a glow party for the freshmen after the Clash of the Colleges. I went to mooch food off of the freshmen events again. There was a cupcake truck and fried Oreo stand. Both were unhealthily excellent.

Wednesday— Classes have started, which means that I actually have to work again. My schedule shifted around during the first few days as I picked the best precept times. The lecturer for my metaphysics class — Professor Gideon Rosen — was an excellent speaker. It will be fun to attend this lecture twice every week.

I noticed a huge difference between the humanities and STEM. On the first day in a STEM class, the professor talks about the syllabus for five minutes and then starts teaching. In the humanities classes, the professor talks about the syllabus, course outline, and housekeeping procedural matters for forty-five minutes before he starts teaching for the final fifteen minutes.

Students’ clothes are also different. In the southeastern STEM complex of campus, students wear casual clothes that include jeans, t-shirts, shorts, sweatpants, yoga pants, and hoodies. In the northeastern humanities hub, male students wear polo shirts, dress shorts, Vineyard Vines, khakis, button down shirts, and dress or boat shoes while the women wear dresses, buttoned shirts, and pants. There is some truth to the stereotypes.

Thursday— I went to a recruitment presentation by McKinsey & Company, Wall Street’s most prestigious management consulting firm. More on that in a later post.

Shortly after, I got into line at the Nassau Street Sampler. Virtually every major restaurant from Nassau Street set up a table in the Princeton Art Museum and offered free samples. I gorged on bread, donuts, hummus, ice cream, and spicy mac and cheese.

Friday— I worked at a booth in the semesterly activities fair in Dillon Gym to recruit people for Speak with Style.

Afterwards, I got free Nomad pizza at the Whitman Olympics.

In the evening, I watched the Triangle Club’s annual frosh week show. It was just as good as last year, reminding us that there’s plenty to do in New Jersey, you gotta have the Ivy League look, and everyone at Yale is an English major.

When I returned to my dorm, there was a loud commotion on the other end of the hallway. The Glee Club was picking up a freshman who had passed the tryouts.

Saturday— I helped with the Princeton Debate Panel’s pickups. The people who passed were told that there was a second round in which they had to compete. An e-mail told them to write an essay about Ted Cruz’s scorpion comparison and memorize all of the past club presidents and vice presidents since the turn of the millennium. I was selected to pick up a freshman from Delaware. Once the freshmen were in Whig Hall, they listened to some music while in the dark, and the club president pretended to tell some people — who were actual current members — that they didn’t make the team. Then, everyone went to a party followed by a trip to the Tower Club.

I had forgotten how miserable eating club parties were. There were a hundred people drinking beer crammed into a small hot room as loud music played in the background. I left after fifteen minutes.

Sunday— Lawnparties came again to start the year. I stayed to get some club pictures, raided the food trucks, and then left. There were food trucks for tater tots, donuts, and ice cream.

Whitman College also had its free gear giveaway. This year, it was an insulated ski jacket.

Monday— Finally, I was able to meet up with Sherif Girgis for lunch. He was a fascinating person to talk with. But he asked me more questions than I did to him. He wanted to know how things were back in Dover and what the campus political climate was like for undergraduates. It sounded like he should be done with his Ph.D. within the next two years.

Tuesday— Career Services holds an annual jobs fair in Dillon Gym. I decided to go just for the sake of seeing what was there. About two thirds of the employers were from the financial services industry. I stopped at the ExxonMobil table to ask about field geologist opportunities. The recruiters didn’t know much about them. They were clearly there to attract students to their sales and financial divisions.

Thursday— I went to a presentation for the Boston Consulting Group in the Prospect House’s Garden Room.

On the way back to my dorm, I say two raccoons climbing up a tree. They were big.

Friday— The debate team went to the Swarthmore Novice debate tournament. My partner was a sophomore from Manhattan. He’s probably the person with whom I’ll compete regularly in future tournaments. Our debate motions and sides were:

  • This House wants the U.S. to dismantle its nuclear weapons and use the money saved from them to strengthen anti-missile defense systems. (Opposition, Won)
  • Second Round: Missed. (Government, Lost)
  • This House would end flood insurance subsidies. (Government, Won) This was a case that I wrote.
  • This House would require that private tech companies build in backdoors to their encrypted communications so that governments can obtain information with them provided that they have a warrant. (Opposition, Lost)
  • This House believes that the World Bank should purchase land on behalf of indigenous people and give it to them rather than permit outside investors to directly buy it. (Opposition, Lost)

We had terrible luck at this tournament. First, we didn’t hear the team pairings for the second round, so we arrived late. The judge didn’t think that we were coming, so he reported it as a forfeit. Second, our assigned judge did not come to the final round. Swarthmore provided a judge for us instead, but he clearly picked the wrong side as the winner. Even the other team agreed with us.

We didn’t make it to the elimination rounds, and I spent the rest of the evening doing homework. My partner and I went into the town of Swarthmore to eat dinner. It was a tiny village that was barely eight buildings long. All of the restaurants were closed after 7:00 pm on a Saturday except for a joint Dunkin Donuts-Baskin Robbins and a pizza shop. We went to the pizza shop. One Princeton novice team made it to the final four. We didn’t arrive back at Princeton until 11:00 pm.

Photo Gallery

He’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain

In the spring, I took training courses that were required to become a group leader in Princeton’s Outdoor Action (OA) program. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the week-long backpacking training trip because it was in between my final exams and trip to The Bahamas. As a result, I settled for a position in Support, a group of people who drive vans to deliver backpacking groups’ supplies.

I moved into my dorm on August 31. My new room is in Whitman College’s Wendell B building. Although the double is smaller than my quad from last year, it has a much better view. That evening, I went to a brief training class before going to bed.

For the next three days, I went to more training classes and helped move supplies into Dillon Gym in preparation for the freshmen’s arrival. My partner and I were assigned to the backpacking groups in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

The drive was very long, so we were instructed to leave on Sunday afternoon. We traveled west to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and then south to our hotel in Luray, Virginia. Near the drive’s end, the roads winded through the mountains in the dark. OA had booked a room in a Days Inn motel near the park. It seemed like the place hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s.

I can’t say all of the details of what we did during the week because some of it involved confidential medical information when evacuating people from trips. But I will write around those events.

Monday— OA provided us with a per diem food allowance of $25 per person. We first went to the local Walmart to get cheap sandwich supplies for the week’s lunches. This allowed us to spend the full $25 on dinner each night. Then, we went into Shenandoah National Park. Our first task of the day was to shuttle OA buses with backpackers to trailheads. Skyline Drive — the road that snakes along Shenandoah’s ridge — was packed for Labor Day weekend. All of the drop-offs went well. We ate lunch at the Stony Man overlook. It had a spectacular view of the Shenandoah Valley.

In the afternoon, we went to the Virginia Military Institute’s Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Despite the tilt toward Confederate glorification (their map differentiated the “original” Confederate states from the rest) it was a good museum. The firearms exhibit was an all-encompassing display of every gun from the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley was a lush agricultural region for the Confederacy. Additionally, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia used it as a corridor to invade the north, such as for the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863. By 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was placed in control of the Union armies. He dispatched William Sherman to wreak havoc in the south. Grant himself would face Lee near Richmond. Meanwhile, Franz Siegel marched down the Shenandoah Valley.

Siegel’s goal was to destroy the railroad hub at Lynchburg, Virginia. But Confederate General John C. Breckenridge intercepted him at New Market, Virginia. Breckenridge was desperate for soldiers, so he summoned the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute. In the battle that ensued, the cadets marched down a hill into Union fire, captured a house, set up a defensive line, and then led a charge toward the retreating Union soldiers. The farmland that they crossed was named the “Field of Lost Shoes” because many of their shoes fell off in the mud.

The Battle of New Market could have been a disaster for Siegel were it not for a quick-thinking Delawarean. Captain Henry A. du Pont decided to leapfrog his cannons. This meant that after one cannon fired it was pulled back to reload and make space for another, thus providing an unending stream of shelling on the Confederates. du Pont later received a Medal of Honor for his handling of the retreat at the Battle of Cedar Creeks. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel, worked as a businessman in Delaware after the war, and then became a United States Senator in 1906.

Following the battle, the VMI cadets were hailed as heroes in Richmond and were paraded around the Confederacy. One of the cadets, Moses Ezekiel, became a world-renowned sculptor.

Although the VMI museum portrays the Battle of New Market as a pivotal Confederate victory, it was nothing more than a skirmish. The total casualties were fewer than 2,000, which pales in comparison to the armies’ overall sizes. After Siegel’s miserable conduct in the Shenandoah Campaign, Grant replaced him with General Phillip Sheridan, who annihilated the valley with his scorched earth tactics.

We went to a local Mexican restaurant, Rancho Viejo, for dinner. We stopped by Flotzie’s, a local ice cream stand, for dessert. Both were tasty.

Tuesday— We went to drop off supplies in the morning. Next, the OA command center instructed us to run errands in Warrenton, Virginia — an hour’s drive away. In the evening, we went to Dan’s Steakhouse to split a 32 oz. steak three ways. We didn’t finish it. Finally, we returned to Flotzie’s for ice cream.

Wednesday— It rained the entire day. The first group with which we rendezvoused looked miserable. No one had good rain gear, and they weren’t prepared for the chilly temperatures. At 5:30 pm, we received a call from OA Command saying that we had to take student to catch a train in Washington D.C. by 8:30 pm. My partner floored the pedal as we rushed to D.C., a two and a half hour drive away. I drove back through the winding mountain roads in the rain. In some places, the fog was thick and visibility was less than ten feet. Upon return to the motel at 11:00 pm, we collapsed on our beds.

Thursday— We went back to New Market to tour the Route 11 potato chip factory. I enjoyed the free samples. Route 11 specializes in thick kettle-cooked chips that have strong seasonings. Then, we returned to the VMI museum to walk around the adjacent battlefield. Before lunch, we stopped at Pack’s Frozen Custard for a treat.

In the afternoon, we hiked to Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park. After that, we went to Big Meadows. Later, we had two supply drops for backpacking groups. We went to the Pollock dining room at the Skyland resort in Shenandoah for dinner.

Friday— We transported a group from Old Rag Mountain to Thornton’s Gap in the park. During the drive back to Princeton, we hit the D.C.-Baltimore-Wilmington stretch at rush hour. After departing at 12:30 pm, we arrived at Princeton seven hours later. I ordered a salad and chocolate soufflé at Cargot for dinner.

*  *  *  *  *

While I wanted to be a group leader for OA, getting a free road trip wasn’t bad. I might do it again next year. It has the fun of being in a cool mountainous area without the responsibility having to entertain eight freshmen who didn’t know each other prior to the trip. Besides, I think I’ve had plenty of time outdoors this summer with a month of camping in The Bahamas.

Photo Gallery

Guide to Princeton Restaurants

I stayed on Princeton’s campus in July while I worked in the lab. Due to an online error, I didn’t get a University meal plan. But everything worked out well. The dining hall hours were erratic, and individual meals had an average cost of $13.50 — an outrageous price for a cheap watery eggs and oily bacon breakfast.

Instead, I made my own breakfast and lunch then ate at a restaurant each night for dinner. Princeton attracts many weekend tourists from New York City. As a result, it has a mélange of restaurants. But few Princeton students ever eat at them because of their distance from the dorms and relatively high prices.

While this guide does not speak for every dish at each place and is by no means definitive, it should serve as a helpful guide to those who want to eat out one night but don’t have the time to look at each restaurant’s menu.

Restaurants’ scores are a combination of price and quality of food. A restaurant with good but overpriced food will get a lower score than a restaurant with only slightly less flavorful food with a cheaper price. $ = $1.00-13.50 per person; $$ = $13.50-20; $$$ = +$20 (Price score accounts for entree, drink, and tip.)

Editor’s Choice

  • Cargot Brasserie (10/10, $$$): Although this restaurant just opened this summer, it has already risen to the top spot. The gougères appetizer was fresh, and the steak frites was the best that I’ve had outside of a francophone country. Nearly all of the food is from local farms. If you’re looking for a restaurant to impress somebody — and don’t have to pay the bill — this is it. UPDATE (9/8/17) I just tried the chocolate soufflé, and it is the best dessert in town.
  • Despaña Restaurant & Tapas Cafe (10/10, $$$): This was my top pick until Cargot opened. The tapas and paella are savory and authentically Spanish. The bill can be kept low if you select your platter wisely and limit the amount of food that you order.

Top Honors

  • Agricola Eatery (9/10, $$$): It was an all-around good farm to table restaurant. Some of the dishes sound like they should be at a vegan hippie establishment; however, it’s all good.
  • Witherspoon Grill (9/10, $$$): This is the perfect steak and ‘taters restaurant. It offers a wide range of high quality American food that will satisfy almost anybody.
  • Yankee Doodle Tap Room (8/10, $$): The Tap Room is a branch of the Nassau Inn. Originally, I had low expectations for this restaurant, but they were quickly shattered. The Princetonian sandwich was mouthwateringly good.

Best Bang for Your Buck (i.e. The best cheap food in town)

  • Princeton Soup & Sandwich Company (7/10, $): I visited the Company the most during the summer. While you shouldn’t expect any kind of over-the-top gourmet food, they are solidly good. They offer a wide variety of soups and sandwiches. My favorite is the chicken parmesan. Their Belgium fries are the best French fries in Princeton.
  • Taste of Mexico (7/10, $): Few people other than the locals know about this place. It’s in a hole-in-the-wall building behind an alley off of Nassau Street. The prices are low, and the food is fresh. I prefer it over Qdoba for Mexican food.

Most Diverse

  • Princeton Pi (6/10, $): Holy cow! This place has a — in President Trump’s words — yuuuge menu. It took me at least 10 minutes to read it. Princeton Pi offers everything from pizza to burgers to sandwiches to salads and everything in between. The calzone that I had was fine, yet it doesn’t beat Nicola Pizza’s Nic-o-bolis at Rehoboth Beach.

Best Ethnic

  • Nassau Sushi (7/10, $$): I went here with my Freshman Seminar classmates and everything was delicious. I liked the fried pork dish.
  • Thai Village (7/10, $): I wasn’t impressed by the Village when I went here during the school year. But I returned to meet a friend during the summer and changed my mind. Their chicken dishes are well done.

Best Pizza

  • Nomad Pizza (8/10, $$): Hands down, it is the best pizza joint in town. If you say, “Free Nomad Pizza on the Frist south lawn at 3:00 pm” in an e-mail at Princeton, you’ll get at least 100 people show up at 2:50 pm.

Best Breakfast

  • PJ’s Pancake House (7/10, $): This is the quintessential Princeton restaurant. PJ’s offers every breakfast dish imaginable. Their chocolate peanut butter pancakes are my favorite. It also has a number of diner-style dinner options that are nice.

Best Ice Cream

  • Halo Pub (8/10, $): Most Princeton students will debate whether The Bent Spoon or Thomas Sweet is better. The Bent Spoon is known for eccentric mixtures and Thomas Sweet has a mixture of new delights and regular flavors. But Halo Pub mostly sticks to traditional flavors and does them well. Its chocolate peanut butter ice cream is rich. The hot chocolate is also wonderful in the winter.

Honorable Mention

  • Mistral (7/10, $$): Brunch is their best meal. I thought that the Brunch Burger had an interesting blend of ingredients and unique taste.
  • 30 Burgers (7/10, $$): This is my favorite go-to. I visit it every time I return to Princeton after a break. Everything is good.
  • The Bent Spoon (7/10, $): It’s very much a hippie ice cream joint. There’s a reason why thirty people will wait in a line for it on a Friday night. You can’t go wrong with any of their sherbets.
  • Triumph Brewing Company (7/10, $$): I can’t yet comment on their beer, but Triumph is a good meal on any day. Their hanger steak salad and pretzel appetizers were excellent. Yet I’m not ready to say that they’re better than Rehoboth Beach’s Dogfish Head brewpub.
  • Jamin’ Crepes (7/10, $): Everything is a crepe. Some of the options sound fine while others look weird. I’ve had several of their crepes and none of them were bad.
  • House of Cupcakes (7/10, $$): It’s part of a growing interest in gourmet cupcake restaurants. The taste is worth the price.

Regular Joe (i.e. good food but nothing special)

  • Thomas Sweet (7/10, $): While this is a Princeton stalwart, I don’t think it’s any different from a number of other ice cream places that I’ve visited on the east coast.
  • Mamoun’s (6/10, $): I go here for a gyro or shawarma.
  • Cafe Vienna (6/10, $): The hot chocolate tasted awesome on a cold day. I haven’t had any of their other food.
  • The Alchemist and Barrister (6/10, $$): The Alchemist serves typical high-end bar food. It’s good if you’re going to see a local band playing there or need a place to eat late at night. I enjoy the buttermilk chicken sandwich.
  • Olives (6/10, $$): I’ve heard a lot of students rave about Olives, and I eat it often at catered club events. Frankly, I think it’s overrated. As a Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s better than other catering services, but I don’t see what all of the rage is about.
  • Efes (6/10, $): Their gyro was comparable to Mamoun’s. I’ll have to revisit it in order to differentiate the two restaurants better.
  • Tandoori Bite Indian Cuisine (6/10, $): I thought this was solid Indian food, though I’ve heard some students say that there is better in town.
  • The Dinky Bar & Grill (6/10, $$): The Dinky is fine for a pricey snack before a show. But I wouldn’t recommend it for a full meal; go to Cargot instead.
  • Wawa (6/10, $$): I have been going to Wawa for the past 14 years, and their food continues to get better (for a gas station). This is a midnight favorite for students in Forbes and Whitman Colleges.
  • Tiger Pizza (5/10, $): This is a typical pizza joint.
  • Panera Bread (5/10, $): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Qdoba (5/10, $): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Dolceria (5/10, $$): I had high hopes for this place, but it didn’t meet them. My expectations for gelato are very high. The flavors weren’t as rich as I had wanted.
  • Starbucks (4/10, $$): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Dunkin Donuts (4/10, $): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Hunan Chinese (4/10, $): A typical Chinese restaurant.
  • Tiger Noodles (4/10, $): A typical Chinese restaurant.
  • Fruity Yogurt (3/10, $): The frozen yogurt here is the same as what you get in the dining halls. Save your money and go elsewhere.

Untasted

  • The Peacock Inn (much anticipated): The Inn dates back to the 1700s and has a lengthy history to go with it. Members of the Continental Congress were entertained in it while Nassau Hall was the nation’s capital. One of its owners — Mr. Libbey — established orange and black as Princeton’s colors. Albert Einstein stayed in it when he moved to Princeton. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are both known to have visited it too.
  • Blue Point Grill: This place was busy every time I walked past it. What’s drawing everyone to the Grill?
  • Trattoria Procaccino: It’s on the outskirts of town, but I always see a crowd in it.
  • Mediterra: This place is busy on weekend nights.
  • Winberie’s
  • Teresa Caffe
  • Mehek
  • Sakura Express
  • Tomo Sushi
  • Hoagie Haven: Yes, I know. This is a Princeton favorite, and, one year later, I still haven’t eaten there.
  • George’s Roasters and Ribs
  • Arlee’s Raw Blends
  • Ivy Inn: I usually see expensive old man cars out front. Lincolns, Mercedes, Pontiacs, Buicks, and Cadillacs are parked near it.
  • Mo C Mo C Japanese Cuisine
  • Kung Fu Tea and Noodle House
  • Chennai Chimney
  • Tortuga’s Mexican Village
  • La Mezzaluna
  • Soonja’s Cuisine
  • Ajihei

Drumthwacket and Northwestern Princeton

I took a walk to the northwestern corner of Princeton. Most of the area consists of residential space. Along the way, I stopped at Marquand Park. The nice little area consists of a playground, baseball field, wide open grassy fields and a forested pathway.

After walking another one hundred yards, I arrived at Drumthwacket, the official residence of New Jersey’s governor. It’s much bigger than the governor’s mansion in Delaware, Woodburn. Drumthwacket’s land was once owned by William Penn. It was passed along to the Olden family, and a man named Charles Smith Olden was born on it. He became a businessman, trustee of Princeton, and then Governor of New Jersey in 1860.

The Oldens sold the house to the Pyne family, who also donated a lot to Princeton. Then, the Pynes sold it to the Nathaniel Spanel, the founder of what became the Playtex Corporation. Finally, the Spanels sold it to the State of New Jersey for the purpose of becoming the governor’s mansion. Governor Chris Christie currently resides in it. Fun Fact: Governor Christie lived in Drumthwacket while his son went to college just down the road at Princeton.

Drumthwacket is one of four governor’s residences outside of the state capital, along with Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. It is open for public tours every Wednesday.

 

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Out and About: Mountain Lakes Open Space Area

On Saturday, I walked northward for thirty minutes and arrived at the Mountain Lakes Open Space Area. It is a small preserve of land nestled halfway between Princeton and the Rocky Hill Ridge. I came in through the auto road before turning onto a narrow footpath that winded through the woods.

The trail emerged at the tip of a dammed lake. Like most lakes in the mid-Atlantic, it was covered in a thin sheen of green algae. A gaggle of geese were milling about along the shore. Some signs said that the lake was created in the late 1800s for ice harvesting. As Princeton’s only mountain-fed lake, the water was clean enough for consumption.

I wandered further up and saw the Lake House, a building that can be rented for private events. The water was sufficiently still to reflect the image of the treetops next to it. I continued north into the woods. Everything was quiet. Parts of the path looked like the Appalachian Trail. I crossed through a boulder field and looked at “Devil’s Cave,” though it was covered in graffiti.

I walked past the house on the way back, noticing that there were people preparing for what looked like a wedding reception. When I returned to Princeton, people were going into the chapel for a wedding with two black limousines parked outside.

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The Battle of Princeton

In the opening months of the American Revolution, the colonists were losing. While the British had retreated out of Boston on March 17, 1776, they invaded New York City five months later. The battles of Long Island and White Plains were humiliating defeats for General George Washington. The British ousted the Continental Army from New York City. They continued to pursue his army through New Jersey until it crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

By that time, General Washington was planning a counterstrike. On the night of December 25, he ordered the army to cross the Delaware River. In the morning, they attacked Trenton while the Hessians were unprepared. General Washington then moved his army back to Pennsylvania in the afternoon.

After hearing news of the defeat, General Cornwallis advanced his forces to the south. General Washington crossed the Delaware River again to meet Cornwallis’ army at the Second Battle of Trenton on January 2. A group of Americans created a small skirmish northeast of the town that delayed the British army’s movement. At night, Washington secretly moved his army around Cornwallis’ redcoats thanks to a spy who had mapped the area’s roads.

On January 3, General Washington attacked Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood’s garrison stationed at Princeton. Unbeknownst to Washington, Cornwallis had ordered Mawhood’s soldiers to join him in Trenton, still thinking that the Americans were in the area. As his forces marched westward, they were surprised to intersect the Continental Army.

The ensuing battle occurred on the farmland of Thomas Clark. Mawhood sent his soldiers to attack Brigadier General Hugh Mercer’s forces. They quickly overran him. Mercer was surrounded by British troops and bayoneted. Delawarean Colonel John Haslet — Mercer’s second in command — was shot in the head.

General Washington’s forces arrived at the battle and pushed the British further back. They lined up on a northern field, a mere thirty yards apart in Maxwell’s Field. Washington rode in front of his soldiers to yell “Halt” and “Fire.” The British fired at the same time. One officer, John Fitzgerald, lowered his hat over his eyes to avoid seeing Washington fall. But Washington remained there unscathed and ordered his troops to advance. The British forces collapsed under the Americans’ ensuing charge.

Some of the British took refuge in Nassau Hall. Alexander Hamilton set up cannons at the present-day location of Blair Arch and ordered them to fire at the building. When the Americans charged in, 194 British soldiers surrendered. It was a decisive victory.

Cornwallis pursued them northward to little avail. He retreated to New Brunswick.

A British cannon was left near the school — called “The College of New Jersey” at that time — until it was moved to New Brunswick during the War of 1812. After the war, the army brought it back to Princeton’s armory. Some Princeton students took it and planted it in the ground behind Nassau Hall. The space is now called “Cannon Green.” Rutgers students claim that the cannon is theirs and have painted it red many times over the past decades. A smaller cannon sits by Whig Hall.

The Battles of Trenton and Princeton were the first major victories for the American forces in the Revolutionary War. They showed that the colonists could be a formidable force against the British army and kickstarted a year in which they would go on to win the Battles of Saratoga, thereby securing French support in the war.

Today, Princeton Battlefield State Park preserves the land for public use. I arrived at it following a hot 30 minute walk from the University. A colonnade stands at its northern end. It was designed by Thomas Walter — the architect of the U.S. capitol — and was part of a mansion from the early 1900s. Ten yards behind it lies a circular memorial to the American and British soldiers who were buried nearby.

A single oak tree grows in the middle of the southern field. The “Mercer Oak” had stood for 300 years until it died in March 2000. The current oak is from one of its scions. The Clark House Museum is at the southernmost end. In it, Dr. Benjamin Rush — who graduated from Princeton in 1760 — unsuccessfully attempted to save Hugh Mercer.

To the east is the Institute for Advanced Study — the place where Albert Einstein worked when he came to the U.S. It owns the small tract of land where Washington rallied his army to attack the British. The IAS wanted to build houses on all of Maxwell’s Field but reached a deal for the Civil War Land Trust to buy two thirds of it at $4 million, which would then be added to Princeton Battle Field State Park. The Civil War Land Trust is still raising the money needed to purchase it. When I walked by the field, I could see that the IAS had already started its construction.

I ate lunch under a shady tree and watched the road. A lot of people use the park for cycling and frisbee. Student runners also frequently come out to the park. Unfortunately, the majority of students don’t make the trek out to this historical jewel or even know that it exists.

I then walked around to the IAS. This time, I did not going inside after remembering what happened the previous time.

The Battle of Princeton Memorial is at the intersection of Nassau Street, Mercer Street, and Bayard Lane.

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