Weeks in Review 3/26-4/15/17

As I returned from spring break, I realized that it has been one year since I was accepted to Princeton. Time flies! It seems as if it was just yesterday when I was trying to select a college. To look back on where I was, I will write flashbacks to spring 2016 (–).

Sunday (3/26)— I returned to campus after an exhausting trip to France and Spain. It felt good to sleep for 10 hours.

Monday— I received an e-mail from an alumnus that commended my article in the Princeton Tory. He graduated from Princeton in the 1950s and currently lives in Brazil.

Thursday— The big day has arrived. Every March 30 or 31, all of the Ivy League schools release their admissions statistics at 5:00 pm EST. As always, each class is “the most competitive and selective class in the school’s history.” I received the good news that someone from CR had been accepted to Princeton.

Friday— I was on staff for the Princeton Debate Panel’s Adlai E. Stevenson Memorial Debate Tournament. It is one of the foremost collegiate debate tournaments in the country with teams coming to it from as far away as Stanford, Cambridge, and Oxford. Near the end, I watched one of the quarterfinal debates in which William and Mary went against Stanford on the motion, “This House believes that property rights exist.” Stanford won, but I was impressed by one woman debater from William and Mary named Jerusalem Demsas. More on her in a later post.

–One year ago, I received my acceptance to Princeton. Where has the time gone?

Sunday (4/2)— As usual, I went to a Forbes Sunday brunch and indulged in the chocolate fountain. While walking back, I noticed a man running naked through one of the courtyards as part of rush for a fraternity. I guess they do exist at Princeton.

Tuesday— I attended the weekly Princeton Environmental Institute lecture. In the evening, I went to a Whig-Clio dinner with federal district court judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. She provided some interesting insight on the work of a judge.

–I went to the Robertson Scholars weekend at UNC-Chapel Hill. It was a lot of fun. By the end of it, I was sold on going to UNC, provided that I received the scholarship.

Wednesday— A war erupted in the ‘Prince’s’ opinion page. It got nasty really fast. Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5

Thursday— My seventh Daily Princetonian article was published. I just recognized that about half of my articles are about naming buildings. I should probably start writing about a new topic.

Friday— I went to my first debate tournament at Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia.

–I received word that I had not received the Robertson scholarship. It was official; I was going to Princeton.

Tuesday (4/11)— The Whig-Clio hosts a series of speech tournaments throughout each year under the Woodrow Wilson Honorary Debate Panel. They range in types from debates to oratoricals. Freshmen can compete in the Walter E. Hope debate and speech contests against their classmates. I chose the speech contest because it was judged based upon style instead of the speech’s content. I was assigned the topic, “This House believes that individuals should give away all of their wealth above $5 million.” The judges gave me 10 minutes to prepare a 5 minute speech. I delivered it in my usual manner with hand gestures and slow movements to emphasize points. Ultimately, I placed second and won $50. When I asked for feedback, the judges critiqued the substance of my speech, not its delivery. I was a bit puzzled by this. Still, $50 won is $50 earned.

Wednesday— I attended a lecture by the French ambassador to the U.S., Gérard Araud. He began by discussing France’s presidential election and said that there was a good chance that Marine Le Pen would win. He was rooting for Emmanuel Macron. Then, he moved to Syria before taking questions from the audience.

Thursday— In the afternoon, I went to a lecture by Carter Roberts, a Princeton alumnus and CEO of the World Wildlife Foundation. He talked about environmentalism and the need to reduce carbon emissions. The talk was overwhelmingly positive about how many corporations are already taking steps to become greener. He mentioned that his roommate at Princeton was writer Michael Lewis. Afterward, I went to a private dinner for the Princeton Conservation Society with him and professor David Wilcove at Mistral.

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Debate!

After being on the Princeton Debate Panel (PDP) for a month, I decided to attend my first debate tournament. All of the trips with PDP are free because it is loaded with cash. The Whig-Cliosophic Society even has two vans to allow PDP to travel. These kinds of resources always astound me at Princeton.

We left Princeton in the afternoon and arrived at Swarthmore College after an hour of driving. The team waited in a holding room for an hour before going to debate rounds. I believe that nearly 70 debate teams — which are composed of two people — were present. My debate partner for the weekend was a freshman from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

All debates follow the rules as outlined by the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA). Generally, this is how a they go:

  • Teams prepare cases before tournaments. A case consists of a motion, such as, “This House believes that two party political systems are preferable to multi-party systems.” Preparation involves doing extensive research on the subject. Specific statistics are not allowed. Debates are supposed to be focused on moral, social, and economic issues that any average college student can talk about by using only theory. They cannot write a case about something that is objectively true like, “This House believes that the sky is blue.” Similarly, they also cannot write a case that requires very specific knowledge, such as, “This House believes that the existence of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles proves that the Higgs Boson does not exist.” The ideal goal, though, is to write cases that have very poor counterarguments. For example, my team wrote, “This House believes that the computer enhancement of models should be banned.” There are counterarguments to this motion, but they have moral grounds that are not appealing to most judges.
  • At the tournament, teams are paired up with other teams in five rounds. One team is the “government.” They propose a case to debate. The other team is the opposition and has to counter the case on the spot without any prior knowledge of it.
  • Once two teams are paired — we’ll say Princeton as government vs. Yale as opposition for this example — a debate occurs in the following format:
    • The Prime Minister (Princeton) proposes the case, and the opposition (Yale) can ask questions to specify its parameters (< 15 minutes).
    • The Prime Minister (Princeton) argues for the case (7 minutes).
    • The Leader of Opposition (Yale) rebuts the Prime Minister’s arguments and introduces counterarguments (8 minutes).
    • The Member of Government (Princeton) attacks the Leader of Opposition’s (Yale) counterarguments and can introduce one or two new arguments that support the Prime Minister’s (Princeton) case (8 minutes).
    • The Member of Opposition (Yale) attacks the Member of Government’s (Princeton) arguments and strengthens the Leader of Opposition’s (Yale) counterarguments (8 minutes).
    • The Leader of Opposition (Yale) argues against all attacks in a closing argument. No new arguments can be introduced (4 minutes).
    • The Prime Minister (Princeton) addresses counterarguments and makes a closing statement. No new arguments can be introduced (5 minutes).
    • The judge gives each speaker a score on a scale of 24-27 and ranks each speaker 1-4 for the round. He or she then tells the teams about the ruling and the reasons for it.

In short, debate is all about who can go on the best Alan Shore rant.

If a team does well in the preliminary rounds, then they “break,” meaning that they go onto the elimination rounds that end in the finals. Teams that do poorly can go into a “downward spiral.” This means that they lose rounds and get assigned worse judges who then score the team poorly. The effect compounds itself until a team is at the bottom of the tournament rankings, or they begin to win and receive better judges.

At the end of the year, speakers and teams with the most points are awarded the “Speaker of the Year” and “Team of the Year” awards. Ted Cruz was one of Princeton’s best debaters ever and has quite a history with APDA that included winning a few major awards: Article 1, Page 1, Article 2 (see #3), Article 3, Article 4 , Article 5, Article 6, Article 7 , Article 8

In a way, I feel that college debate is similar to lawyering. Students work on preparing cases for many hours prior to a tournament. When they show up, they are assigned to a judge and debate team for each round depending upon prior performance. Certain debaters have gained reputations on the circuit. Their names strike fear into the hearts of challengers. Some judges are known to be quite fair, while others are partial. Teams are allowed to strike off some of them from the potential pool of people who could be judging them. Decisions are very subjective based upon a judge’s preferences. APDA judges are known to be quite liberal.

From what I have gathered, Princeton has a unique reputation in the debate circuit. Most other teams perceive us to be a bunch of rich white men who wear expensive clothing and argue esoteric economic cases. I have heard that a few judges strongly dislike Princeton for this reason. One reputed debater from the University of Pennsylvania made quite a stir on the circuit when she proclaimed that Princeton doesn’t have any women on its team (gasp!). She was referring to the fact that all of Princeton’s recent championship winners were men, but she overlooked the many Princeton women debaters have been ranked highly at national and world tournaments. As a protest, one of PDP’s duo of two women named their team “Princeton has women?”

As soon as the team pairings were released, I was shocked. My partner and I were going to face a College of William and Mary-George Washington University joint team. The names of the debaters are well known among PDP: Jerusalem Demsas and Andrew Bowles. My first round of debate ever was against the top two debaters in the country. They completely destroyed us. It was a thrilling first round.

Here is how my first tournament went:

  1. Friday— We were the government and proposed the case, “This House believes that voluntourism is bad.” The William and Mary-George Washington team defeated us.
  2. A George Washington University team was the government and proposed, “This House believes that social media is good for the radical feminist movement.” We narrowly lost this. The fact that I am male didn’t really help in this round.
  3. A University of Virginia-City University of New York Team was the government and proposed, “This House believes that soldiers should not be treated as heroes.” They let us decide which side to argue, so I opted that we oppose the motion. The team got really passionate in their closing arguments, and we lost.

There was an Joe Biden-themed ice cream party on Friday night, but everyone PDP decided to leave. I don’t think Princeton socializes with the other schools very much. We stayed at a Holiday Inn near the Philadelphia airport before returning the next day.

  1. Saturday— We were the government against a Haverford team and proposed, “This House believes that models should not be photographically enhanced by computers.” We won.
  2. We were the government against a Johns Hopkins team and proposed, “This House believes that developing segregated economic zones for women.” We won.

My team did not break. As a result, I spent the afternoon talking to a CR classmate and walking around Swarthmore. It is a pretty college that has a spectacular front lawn. I enjoyed the amphitheater in the forest.

We left around 5:00 pm and ate dinner at an Asian restaurant in Princeton.

Debate is very different from the oratory competitions in which I competed in high school. Everything is made up on the spot and delivery has almost no value compared to argumentation when the judge determines a winner. At the end of the day, debate is just a bunch of uber-competitive and super ambitious political nerds who are going to law school. Still, I think that I will stick with it, schedule permitting, in the coming years.

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L’expédition en Europe

Freshmen are allowed to take classes that are offered specifically to them, called “Freshman Seminars.” They provide an introduction to new areas of study and allow students to become more accustomed to the rigor of college classes. I decided to take FRS 124 for this semester. It is a geosciences class that teaches students the basic components of scientific analysis. But this particular class is special because it has a trip to France and Spain during spring break.

This freshman seminar is not easy. It is a science class. We spent the first six weeks learning to code in Matlab and acquiring geological knowledge. While it seemed as though spring break would never arrive, we eventually arrived at it after the onslaught of midterm exams.

Day 1— At 2:00 pm on Friday, March17, we lined up on Ivy Lane near Lewis Library to take a bus to Newark International Airport (EWR). We took Delta Airlines to Paris on an evening flight. I sat next to a classmate who is also on the debate team. We asserted Princeton’s dominance by achieving the highest score on the in-flight trivia game. Our flight landed in Amsterdam at Schiphol Airport (AMS). Next, we took a flight to Bordeaux-Merignac Airport (BOD). Our professors rented three vans, and they drove us to our hostel, called “Domaine de la Dune,” in Archachon. Shortly thereafter, we went to the Dune du Pilat to do an initial reconnaissance of it. Despite the jet lag, we dragged ourselves up its steep slopes. The view from the top was spectacular! You can look out over the forest to the east or towards the Bay of Biscay to the west. After our long travels, we went to sleep quickly.

Airplane Dinner: chicken, salad, brownies

French Dinner: lamb, couscous, fresh bread, cheese, chocolate éclairs

La Dune du Pilat

Located on the shores of the Archachon Bay, the great Dune du Pilat rises 351 feet above the surrounding pine forest. The dune is 3 kilometers long and 500 meters wide. During the summer, the tallest dune in Europe attracts many tourists, though there were plenty present when we visited. Each year, it travels 7-8 meters per year eastward, swallowing up trees, roads, and even entire houses in the process. In fact, there is a little village that is within 100 meters of its eastern edge at the present time.

Geologically speaking, Dune du Pilat is a fascinating topographical feature. It boasts textbook examples of aeolian and depositional processes. Still, the questions that remain are: “What is a big sand dune doing in France?” and, “What does it tell us about climate?” While some information is available on the Internet, there is not a complete geologic history of it. Additionally, sand dunes change shapes and orientations in response to climatic shifts. The Dune could provide information on the last ice age if it is still adjusting to a new climate. This is why we came to this location.

Day 2— Upon arrival at the Dune, we split up into our project groups. I was assigned to be an assistant to the sedimentology group. Its goal was to understand how the Dune is currently evolving. One third of the other students were on a team that hauled ground penetrating radar (GPR) equipment on a sled up and down the Dune. The other third threw my iPhone, in a waterproof container, into the ocean. They used the phone’s accelerometer to study incoming waves.

The sedimentology team split into two subgroups. Two students wandered around the Dune in search of blowouts — places where the sides of miniature dunes are sheered off thereby revealing the stratified internal layers of sand. They would find information on the Dune’s past shape and composition. I was in the wind subgroup. We walked along transects that crossed the Dune perpendicularly to document how the wind interacted with the sand. I was charged with the task of setting up portable weather stations to record meteorological data for ten minute intervals.

We did this the entire day. For lunch, we walked over to a fishing point to watch the people walk by. As we returned to our worksite, one of the team members lost a wind vane. We spent an hour looking for it before giving up and returning to our work. At the next transect location, a man approached us, so I began to explain our project to him in French. His wife walked up, said that she had found our wind vane, and returned it to us. To finish the day, we walked down the steep lee side — the side away from the wind — of the dune. The sand is loose which makes it difficult to walk down.

Following dinner, we spent three hours downloading and analyzing our data.

Breakfast: cereal flakes, bread, chocolate hazelnut spread

Bagged Lunch: chicken salad, apple juice, baby bell cheese

Dinner: beets, bread, fish, cheese, strawberries

Day 3— In essence, we repeated our tasks from Day 2. This time, I paired up with one classmate, and we covered two transects in a day. It is very tiring to walk up the dune.

Unlike previous days, the sun peeked through the clouds to bask us in warm, glorious light. Then the wind picked up, and it became cloudy again. Another man approached me to ask what we were doing. Again, I explained our project to him in French.

As we climbed up the Dune, we noticed several black layers that ran along its length. They were organic in nature. We thought that they were remnants of past soils. Our professor told us that pottery had been found in one layer that dated back over 2,000 years.

Breakfast: cereal flakes, bread, yogurt, orange juice

Bagged Lunch: tuna sandwich, apple sauce, chips, bread, creamy cheese, cookies

Dinner: cabbage, bread, crayfish, muscles, chicken, rice, cheese, apple pie

After surveying the Dune, we have a working hypothesis. We believe that Dune du Pilat was originally a set of small barchan dunes that coalesced, grew, and retreated eastward as a transverse dune to adjust to the warming climate.

Day 4— We hit the road for Zumaia, Spain. It rained for most of the day, so I went to sleep. Southwestern France looks a lot like Sussex County, Delaware from the car. Pine trees, farm, sandy land, pine trees, farm, pine trees…you get the idea. We stopped at an Intermarché Super in Bayonne, France for two hours to get food. We arrived at our hostel in Zumaia after another 30 minutes of driving. I was surprised at the nonexistence of security along the French-Spanish border.

Zumaia looked like the most beautiful place in the world in spite of the spitting rain. Our agritourism hostel, “Santa Klara,” was seated atop a magnificent hill. The grass around us was the most vibrant green that I had ever seen. To the north, we could see the foothills of the Pyrenees sharply drop off into the ocean.

We walked on a narrow muddy path down the hill to a rocky cove. Everyone analyzed the rock layers around it, and our professors explained the area’s geologic history. One of them showed us a few additional features before returning to the hostel for the evening. Our professors cooked dinner and cleaned the dishes. We ate only vegan food during our sojourn in Spain.

French Breakfast: cereal flakes, bread, yogurt, hazelnut spread, orange juice

Bagged Lunch: chicken sandwich, chips, bread, cheese

Dinner: chickpeas, rice, roasted nuts, falafel, vegetarian cupcakes

Zumaia, Spain

The geological allure of this place becomes apparent as soon as you set foot on the beach. There are cliffs that sheer off into the ocean. But, unlike most cliffs, they were not solid rock faces. Instead, they were composed of many vertical layers. They started to form 100 million years ago during the orogenic event that built the Pyrenees. Rocks eroded in the mountains and then were transported as sediments by rivers to Zumaia where they were deposited. As the sediment piled up, it formed horizontal layers of sedimentary rock. Scientists believe that these layers can reveal information about the Earth’s past climate based on trends in the Milankovitch Cycles.

The predominant rock in the cliffs is limestone. This rock can be found in three lithologies at Zumaia: limestone, marl, and turbidite. Limestone is formed when a chemical called carbonate is deposited in the sediments along with planktonic shells. Marl occurs in the same manner but more dust is mixed in, and there are fewer shells. Turbidites are created when sediment piles up on a continental shelf and then cascades down a cliff, like an avalanche, after an earthquake or other catastrophic event. Basically, they form in an instant, whereas marl and limestone require several thousand years. Scientists think that marl is indicative of cold periods while limestone represents warm periods.

Most scientists have studied the southwestern portion of the beach because it contains the K-Pg Boundary — the exact location in the geologic record where the dinosaurs went extinct. Analyzing this area yields information about the extinction event. Zumaia is famous, geologically speaking, because it was the second place in the world where this boundary was identified. Some have studied the southern region because it has the Thanetian Boundary. Most have ignored our area of study on the beach because it contains many turbidites. They believe that the presence of these layers — that form instantaneously — are either not important or hinder climate data. But my team disagreed.

Day 5— We arose early to walk down through the town to the beach. It was deserted. We split into three teams. One group walked the GPR along the beach. Another continued to throw iPhones into the ocean. The stratigraphy group, my project, divided to study the cliffs at two locations. We recorded the width, lithology, grain size, and magnetic susceptibility of each layer. Centimeter by centimeter, we advanced down the beach. Cyclostratigraphy is tedious. It rained quite frequently in the afternoon, so we quit. Our professor took us to a different part of the cliffs that had not been documented before. This area will be worthy of further study in the future.

On a separate note, we learned that Game of Thrones had been filming in Zumaia.

Breakfast: cereal, yogurt, sponge cake, Nutella

Lunch: peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, cheese, Belgian chocolate

Dinner: rice, curry vegetables, cookies

Day 6— We continued our work from yesterday. After several hours, we had a complete series of the beds that stretched from the fort on the beach to 75 meters northward. Our professor went to a similar beach at Sopelana to take measurements of the beds in its cliffs. One of my team’s members determined that the magnetic susceptibility readings were useless because they varied too widely within the same layer of rock.

I talked to a man in Spanish about our project. He was also a university student and recognized Princeton. To me, it was interesting to hear his concerns about finding a job after graduation given the high unemployment rates in Spain. It looks like we all face similar challenges.

As my partner and I walked back to the hostel in the late afternoon, one of the professors picked us up. He could not stand the lack of meat, so we stopped by a supermarket to get some. Then, with the waves team, we dined on baguettes, Italian sausages, paté, Iberico ham, and Serrano ham. It was phenomenal.

After doing a cursory analysis of the data, we have a working hypothesis. Previous scientists have ignored the presence of turbidites and assume that marl and limestone occur in alternating couplets. They impose Milankovitch Cycles on their data to show that the beds represent climate data. But my team has a different idea. We believe that marl is the upper layer of a Bouma sequence that has turbidites as its base. In other words, marl and limestone do not form in “couplets” and therefore do not represent paleoclimate data.

Day 7— We left Zumaia to go to the Pyrenees. It was a long drive. The class ate lunch on a beautiful grassy pasteur next to a river and beside a mountain. We stopped at the Grottes de Bétharram near Asson, France. This was an enormous cave! I The ceilings were over 18 meters tall in some locations. There were many karst features for us to study.

As we drove closer to the Pyreness, I could see their snowcapped peaks. The weather worsened; however, we eventually reached our hotel, “La Brêche de Roland,” in Gedre, France. It was very cozy. We could see the snow piling in before going to bed.

Breakfast: cereal, yogurt, sponge cake, Nutella

Lunch: peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, cheese, Belgian chocolates

Dinner: pork soup, lamb stew, strawberry sherbet

The Pyrenees

Day 8— To our astonishment, it had snowed 18 inches overnight. Still, this did not deter us from our scheduled hike. After a brief snowball fight, we went to Gavarnie, France. There, our professors rented snowshoes for us. We hiked along a trail to the Cirque de Gavarnie. Unfortunately, we could not see the cirque because it was shrouded in mist. But the snow on the mountainsides augmented our scenery. For lunch, we sat in a large open snowfield and watched the roaring avalanches tumble down around us. We were a safe distance away from them. The grandeur of this valley left me awestruck.

We returned to the vans and drove to a hotel in Bordeaux. I was stuffed into a small Ibis Budget room with two other people. It was tight. The class went to dinner at a French restaurant. Later, we walked around the city until we stopped at a café to get ice cream.

Breakfast: croissant, baguettes, breads, butter

Lunch: baguettes, sausage, Belgian chocolates (my professor was a real connoisseur of fine foods)

Dinner: crusted egg, bread, vanilla ice cream

Day 9— Our professors forgot the boarding time of our flight when we went to bed, so they had to wake us up earlier than we had expected. I only received two hours of sleep. Everyone looked like zombies. The flights to Amsterdam and Newark were smooth with no delays. I was delighted to see the plethora of American flags that greeted me at the customs desks in the Newark airport.

I learned two important lessons from this excursion.

First, field trips are difficult. I was basically in class 24/7. Although it was a more relaxed atmosphere, I felt like I was constantly working, reading, or studying. But there were still many fun moments.

Second, Europe is a continent with boundless beauty. From a purely natural standpoint, it looks quite different from U.S. I also realized just how much untamed wilderness remained in North America. Virtually every location on this trip was within one hour of civilization. This is not true for many mountainous regions in America, such as the Appalachians or Rockies. I hope to return to Europe one day to explore more.

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Typical Schedule

6:45 am— Wake up, eat breakfast

8:45 am— Begin fieldwork

1:00 pm— Lunch break

6:30 pm— Leave field location

8:30 pm— Eat dinner

9:30 pm-12:00 am— Analyze data

12:00 am— Go to sleep

A Note on Selecting a College

To all high school seniors who are weighing college options:

With the release of Ivy League admissions on Thursday, the college selection process is drawing towards a close. By now, you have probably heard all of your college application results. Some of you have already selected a college to which you will be attending. But many of you are now looking at a stack of acceptance letters and are wondering, “which one should I choose?”

Before you begin, take a break. You have just undergone a long, tiring application process. Don’t let your emotions — good or bad — impel you to make an impulsive decision without consulting all of the factors for any given school. Take a few days off from the worries of your future. Read a book or hang out with friends. After clearing away the stress for a bit, go back to assess your options with an open mind.

Selecting a college to attend will be one of the biggest decisions of your life. Do not take it lightly. On the surface, you will be determining your field of study, institutional resources, and campus atmosphere for the next four years. Implicitly, your choice will impact the professional connections that you forge, your circle of friends, career paths, alumni relations, and quite possibly the person that you marry (at Princeton, we always joke about “marrying rich”). While your entire life will not be mapped out by your college choice, it will still have a lasting effect.

To make a decision, you should carefully weigh the aspects of finance, academics, resources, and culture.

The first thing that you should consider — and probably the most important — is finances. College debt horror stories dot newspaper headlines. Students have left college with $150,000 or more in debt. Let me say this: no school is worth going +$150,000 into debt. Not Harvard, Princeton, or any other university. This amount is equal to a mortgage. No one wants to have themselves tied to that at the beginning of their careers.

Your decision will be a bit trickier if there are some close calls. Take my possible situation as an example. Had I received the Robertson scholarship, I would have had to weigh free college at UNC against Princeton at cost. I probably would have picked UNC in that scenario. But that does not necessarily mean that it would have been the “right” choice for everyone. If I was a classics or politics major, then the benefits of attending Princeton would have outweighed the costs of it and passing up the Robertson scholarship. Only after careful analysis of the next few collegiate aspects will you be able to make such differentiations between two lucrative options.

Academics form the foundation of colleges. It’s why they exist. Some have better academic programs than others. There are multiple ways in which you can judge any particular program’s strength.

Begin by browsing through the list of offered courses. Look at the faculty members who are teaching them. Check to see if any of them are reputed scholars in their fields. A lack of famous professors does not necessarily mean that a school’s program is weak, but it can certainly help to have someone on the “cutting edge” of a field.

Also be sure to look at graduates’ career paths. Strong academic programs should be good at helping students find jobs in their field or move on to graduate school.

One last thing to take into account is the research opportunities that are provided to undergraduates. Even if you do not want to pursue a career in academia, research is important. It allows you to truly delve into a field and shows employers that you are capable of high level thought. In my opinion, student research opportunities are what distinguish great universities from good universities. World class students are drawn to the Ivy League because it offers the chance to work with renowned scholars in their field of expertise. Good research programs should definitely weigh heavily as you consider your options for higher education.

A college’s structure and resources are usually overlooked by prospective students, but they can be critical to the educational experience. First, consider a school’s various components. Most “universities” host an undergraduate and graduate school at the very minimum; a number will have professional schools (law, medical, dental, business, etc.) as well. It is imperative that you study how this affects undergraduate students. Universities with small graduate programs will give undergraduates much more attention and support than those with large graduate programs.

Think of it this way. A professor has a limited amount of time to divide their attention among various people, so he or she creates a mental hierarchy. Post doctoral researchers, Ph.D. candidates, and master’s students will be at the top and receive the most attention because their work is directly tied to the professor’s research. Next are upperclassmen. They may be crafting a thesis or senior project with the professor. A few could even be in his research group. Again, their needs will trump yours. You, the underclassman, fall at the bottom. While you will not be completely ignored, it may be difficult to interact with the professor both in and out of class as he or she balances competing interests.

I described this hierarchy to demonstrate why a university’s structure matters. This will impact the resources that are directed to you. A small liberal arts college (i.e. usually no graduate school) may be better choice over a large scale university because it emphasizes undergraduate education. That means the top part of the professor’s time hierarchy will be slashed so that they can devote more attention toward you.

On a side note, this is where I believe that Princeton distinguishes itself in the Ivy League. Although it is not as large as Harvard and Yale or have equal name recognition, it has the strongest undergraduate education program in the country. Everything truly is devoted to undergraduate students. There is a prestigious graduate school, but its effects on student life are negligible.

One final thing to consider is the campus culture. This will be difficult to judge until you visit the campus for a day or two. Try to talk to a current student. Read the student newspaper. Go to the welcome event for admitted students if one exists (e.g. Princeton Preview, Decision Day). Some places are high stress environments. Others are party schools. A few are very artistic or politically active. Again, you won’t know this unless you investigate the school beyond the campus tour.

In general, you should choose the school that best fits your interest. But you should weigh all of the costs against the benefits first. It is possible that you will have to decline a request from your dream school or a prestigious university due to financial reasons. That’s okay if it happens. You will be happy wherever you go. Even though this hackneyed phrase has been repeated countless times to incredulous high school students, it is true. I can confidently say that I would have been happy to go to the University of Delaware, UNC Chapel Hill, or any one of my other options regardless of whether Princeton had accepted me.

Ultimately, you have to make and own this decision. Run with it and never look back.

 

On High School and College Preparedness Part III

Midterms came and midterms left. Now that I am halfway through my second semester of introductory classes, I will take some time to evaluate how my coursework in high school prepared me for the rigor of college. I will fully admit that I did not take any of the Advanced Placement classes that correspond to physics and math. But I have looked through their outlines and believe that I can make a fair assessment.

Calculus

Math 104 corresponds to AP Calculus BC or calculus II. This appears to cover approximately the same material as the AP class. It begins with u substitution for integrals and advances through the usual applications of integration to polar functions. Fortunately, for some students, it spends little time on solid revolutions. I remember studying them in a lot of detail in high school. Yet there is one significant difference with this class in respect to the AP version. As I have previously noted, Princeton math is very abstract. They frequently throw in problems that are beyond our knowledge as students just to challenge us. Sometimes this is fun. Other times it is a real pain.

Funny Story: Last semester, the professor gave my class a very difficult problem to solve. One student asked, “Why did you give this to us? It’s not practical.” The professor responded by saying, “You’re a Princeton student. Figure it out.”

AP Calculus AB adequately prepared me for this class. It allowed me to smoothly transition from one level to the next. The math teacher at CR taught me well.

I am currently in the middle of learning sequences and infinite series. Pray for me.

Physics

Physics 104 corresponds to AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism. This covers more material than the AP class. I believe that it is more equivalent to AP Physics 2 but includes calculus. In all, it includes electricity, magnetism, waves, and electromagnetic radiation whereas the AP version only covers the first two. I was surprised by this class. It flooded over me like a tidal wave at the beginning of the semester. While the workload for it is not greater than that of Physics 103, the topic is much more difficult to study because I have less physical experience with it. Anyone can visualize the projectile motion of a cannon ball and predict its motion. Determining the magnetic field induced by an electrical charge-carrying wire is harder to imagine and calculate. After much study, though, I think that I am catching up. Do not let physics II fool you; it will be difficult.

AP Physics 1 and C: Mechanics gave me enough knowledge of Newtonian mechanics to understand a few underlying concepts, but E&M is an almost entirely independent subject. Be prepared to study hard and learn new stuff.

Writing

All freshman at Princeton are required to take a mandatory writing class. This roughly correlates to AP English Language & Composition. Ideally, students are supposed to acquire the basic skills of academic writing and learn about the research materials that are available to them. In practice, this does not always happen. Generally, I was very well prepared for this class. The rhetorical skills that high schoolers learn in the AP equivalent are rather useful in this setting. Additionally, the class teaches students how to write about anything. I am not a huge fan of my writing seminar’s topic; however, AP English has allowed me to endure it with few problems.

At the time that I took AP English, I did not enjoy the class because of its workload. Although it was tough, I am glad that I took it along with a dual enrollment class two years later. It has prepared me very well — perhaps the best of all the AP classes that I took — for college.

Geosciences

Once again, there is no AP counterpart for this class. Still, its primary focus is science and computer programming. We are supposed to learn the programming language Matlab within six weeks. That did not go too well for me. The class also uses the application Latex frequently for writing technical documents.

I would definitely recommend that anyone in high school take AP Computer Science. It will definitely help you to integrate into a collegiate science curriculum more quickly. I have to play catch-up and learn programming next semester.

 

Once again, I can confidently say that my high school education prepared me for academics at Princeton. While there are a few gaps, I have been able to fill them in. Nothing is perfect, but public schooling works.

Exams and paper

Weeks in Review 3/6-17/17

College is starting to seem like a survival show. “I’ve survived 18 weeks on this deserted island and there are still no signs of rescue.” That being said, it is a very nice deserted island with 5,000 other people.

Monday— I walked around the lower levels of Firestone Library. The rare books section is aesthetically pleasing. In particular, the Scheide Library is very classy.

For dinner, I attended a dinner for the James Madison Program. A visiting scholar from Poland discussed her paper about how hope should be perceived as a necessary virtue in a democratic society.

At the debate meeting, I participated in my first debate. It was rather fun, and I had to think quickly on the spot.

Tuesday— As usual, I went to the weekly geoscience department lecture. This one was about environmental martyrdom.

In the afternoon, I went to an information session for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. The room was packed, so the competition for them must be fierce. My junior friends were surprised that I attended as a freshman. Still, it looks like a worthwhile goal to pursue.

Thursday— There were some drunkards singing an obscene song at an obnoxiously loud volume late at night in the courtyard. How dare they keep me from my 8 hours of sleep!

Friday— The weather changed quickly overnight from balmy spring temperatures to frigid winter chills overnight. I think that a storm’s a’comin’.

Saturday— My sixth article was published in The Daily Princetonian. Businessman Martin Shkreli has recently made several appearances on the Facebook meme pages “Princeton Memes for Preppy af Teens” and “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens.” I decided to share my thoughts.

Tuesday— It snowed nearly 8 inches. All of my classes were cancelled. I walked around the campus a lot to check out the pretty scenery. At night, the snow reflects the warm yellow streetlights to create a fuzzy glow around the gothic buildings.

While my physics class was cancelled, the midterm exam was not. It was tough.

Wednesday— I had to take my math midterm exam. It was slightly better than I had expected.

Thursday— Project groups were announced for my freshman seminar. I was placed into a group that would study the stratigraphy of the cliffs at Zumaia, Spain.

Friday— With all of my classes being completed, I lined up with my classmates on Ivy Lane to depart for France and Spain with my freshman seminar.

Photo Gallery

Weeks in Review 2/19-3/5/17

The events from the beginning of the school year seem as if they were a very long time ago. But I had just applied to Princeton at this time last year and that doesn’t seem to be too far in the past. Time perception is weird.

As midterm examinations approach, everything is getting busy. I hope that it slows down a little after spring break.

On a different note, the trip to France and Spain is only two weeks away!

Monday— I attended a town hall that President Eisgruber hosted for University faculty and students. He was a marvelous public speaker who defended his initiatives like a lawyer. He began by talking about recent political events and explained the University’s purpose as a place of, “rigorous and vigorous debate.” I think that he said this line ten times throughout his speech. Then, he transitioned into tackling the issues of financial aid and diversity before taking questions from the audience at the end.

Tuesday— Tiger Tuesday occurs once every year for accepted early action students. It is their opportunity to tour the campus before officially committing to the University. I signed up to host a lunch conversation with some students in the Whitman dining hall. I like to think that I did the best job of all the hosts because my students stayed (voluntarily) a whole 45 minutes after the scheduled ending time. The Great Class of 2021 will be another excellent group of Princetonians.

Later, I attended a Whig-Clio debate about sanctuary cities. During the presidential campaign season, there was a man who sat in front of Fitz-Randolph Gate with a Trump sign nearly every day as the more liberal college students passed by and heckled him. He came to the debate and gave a speech from the floor. I think that the entire Whig side hissed at him and the Clios pounded the armrests. The Whigs won in a 19-12 vote. The gap narrowed for the Clios. Voting record

Wednesday— This night marked the beginning of my training to become an Outdoor Action leader. I learned basic CPR and will gain other first aid skills in the future.

Thursday— Earlier in the day, I had received an e-mail saying that the tryouts for the Princeton Debate Panel had been highly competitive and that few people were accepted. It told me to wait in my room during the evening to hear a response. I interpreted this to be a rejection. But at 10:00 PM, a bunch of people pounded on my door chanting, “Pi-Delta-Phi” and informed me that I had been accepted before whisking me away to a party. “Pi-Delta-Phi” is there humorous way of making themselves sound like a Greek fraternity (Pi-Delta-Phi=PDP=Princeton Debate Panel). They are one of the many clubs that do “pick-ups” at Princeton.

Friday— After classes, I went to my weekly Bahamas group meeting with Emily and Adam. These science papers are becoming slightly easier to read but are still appear to be written in a different language.

Since I had some free time, I decided to play with the Princeton Band at the Brown hockey game. Sometimes, the Brown Band played part of a song until a timeout ended and then the Princeton Band would continue it at the next song, trading back and forth. At the end, both bands joined together to play a few tunes.

Saturday— In order to fill the void between Opening Exercises and Alumni Reunions/Commencement, the University created an event called “Alumni Day” to recognize outstanding alumni and encourage others to donate. This year’s two big prize winners were President Pablo Kaczynski of Peru and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. I decided to wake up at 7:30 AM to watch them speak at Richardson Auditorium. When I got there, I tried to go in by trailing behind a large group; however, the security guard saw me and told me to leave because I hadn’t purchased a ticket. In short, I woke up at 7:30 AM on a Saturday for nothing.

Sunday— The Graduate School has been serving increasingly exquisite dishes each time that I go. For brunch, they offered eggs benedict.

This week was very busy. I had two quizzes, a paper due on Friday, and all of the usual homework crammed into six days.

Monday— I took a driving test to become van-certified for the University. This will allow me to rent cars, operate vans, and take campus jobs that require driving.

Even though I have already committed to the PEI internship, I decided to take the interview for Princeton in Argentina anyways. I wanted to practice Spanish before going to Spain. The professor asked me questions about my interests and what I wanted to do in Argentina.

At night, I went to my first meeting for the debate team. The club’s president showed us, the new members, the rules and format of debate competitions. We meet every Monday and Thursday night.

My fifth article was printed in The Daily Princetonian. I wrote a follow-up column about judging Calhoun’s legacy and those of all people with names on buildings at college campuses.

Tuesday— I received an e-mail from an alumnus who praised my “Prince” article. He has ties with Sewanee: The University of the South and sent me links regarding their debates about evaluating the school’s legacy. Essentially, it was founded for the sole purpose of repelling “northern aggression” but did not actually admit students until after the Civil War.

Later, I went to a Whig-Clio watch party for President Trump’s special address to Congress. It was heavily attended by conservative members. I just wanted the Chick-fil-a that they were serving.

Thursday— I went to my second debate meeting. There, I watched a full round of debate about the motion, “This House supports the use of violence by the anti-Fascism movement.”

Friday— My zee group watched the Oscar Award-winning movie “Moonlight.” One person in my zee group has a parent that works for a productions company and is able to get movies like this long before they are released to the public.

Saturday— After working on homework all day, I watched the play “Speech and Debate” at Theatre Intime. It was casted and directed by students.

I walked around Prospect Avenue to observe the usual weekend activity.

Sunday— I organized a group service project with the Princeton Conservation Society. Two other students went with me to join other volunteers with the D&R Greenway to help build a trail near Hopewell, New Jersey.

Photo Gallery

Weeks in Review 2/5-18/17

I am back on campus after the break of Intersession. It is the one awkwardly placed vacation each year where the well-to-do students go skiing with their families, the kids from the eastern seaboard go home, and everyone else is stuck in a purgatory where they take a jumble of classes about random topics that are provided by the student government’s Wintersession program.

The college calendar runs by semester, so the campus feels the same as it did back in September. Clubs are trying to recruit new members, pick-ups are loudly abducting students in the middle of the night, and acapella groups are out singing. There is one primary difference though.

Throughout the fall semester, the eating clubs were courting sophomores in the hopes of attracting them to apply. They offer a number of open house events where students can go in to try the food for free (I intend to take full advantage of these) and meet club members.  When everyone returns from Intersession, Bicker Week begins. During this time, sophomores select which eating clubs that they want to join through a convoluted online system. From what I understand, it goes like this:

  • Students who want to join an eating club, but do not want to bicker, can rank their top three sign-in eating clubs: Terrace, Quadrangle, Colonial, Cloister, and Charter. This will enter them into a weighted lottery for these clubs based upon their preferences.
  • People who want to Bicker can do so for up to two clubs: Ivy, Cannon Dial Elm, Tower Cottage, Tiger Inn, and Cap & Gown. Bicker is similar to Rush for fraternities.
  • If someone gets “hosed” — the term for rejected — from his or her Bicker eating club(s), then he or she can choose sign-in clubs. This process has been significantly improved from the past so that everyone who wants to be in an eating club has the opportunity to be in one.
  • Once admitted, sophomores become part time members. They can go to all club events and parties but have a limited number of meal passes that does not cover three square meals per day.

St. Archibald’s bicker occurred in the middle of Bicker Week, and it helped garner attention to their cause. I intend to bicker an eating club (probably Ivy) for the sole purpose of being able to report on the experience. If accepted, I am not sure if it is worth paying the fees in order to get an insider’s perspective of a club.

On a similar note, I found this article from The Daily Princetonian about a secret society. They allow freshman to rush, so I will be on the lookout for it.

  • Sunday— I arrived back to a quiet campus. Even though it was Super Bowl Sunday, I decided to read in the evening instead of watching it.
  • Monday— Classes began on this day. Mondays and Wednesdays will be especially busy for me as I will have at least 3 1/2 hours straight of class. I think that physics will be the most difficult class of the semester.
  • Tuesday— St. Archibald’s League held its bicker.
  • Wednesday— I went to see Hamlet at the McCarter Theater. It was excellent. The troupe performed it “theater-in the round” style by walking through and around the audience. They wore modern clothes instead of costumes but kept some of the older elements like swords. My $40 ticket was paid for by Whitman College.
  • Thursday— A storm came in overnight and blanketed the campus in powdery white snow. Rather than stay indoors, I bundled up and walked all over campus to take pictures. Some of my photos are blurry because my lens got foggy or I could not clear away all of the snowflakes on it.
  • Friday— My third “Prince” article was published. Also, I was selected for the Bahamas carbonate summer internship through the Princeton Environmental Institute. I thought that I would be working on a professor’s project, but it is actually quite different. I will be an assistant to a sophomore who is beginning work on her senior thesis. This research project will eventually transform into an ongoing study that will attract graduate students to Princeton. In the simplest terms, we are studying chemicals in rocks at the Bahamas to see how they record sea levels from the past. We meet once a week to discuss scientific papers and trip logistics. I am also swimming to get in shape.
  • Saturday— I went home for the weekend to attend Nentego Lodge’s banquet. It is my last Scouting-related duty as the outgoing Lodge Chief. I probably will not be at another Scouting event for quite some time.
  • Tuesday— I got sick and had a fever. Despite my illness, I stilled dragged myself to class because missing them would have been worse. I also had to write an essay this week. This is definitely reflected in my feverishly circuitous logic and sentence structures.
  • Wednesday— Yale University decided to change the name of its residential college “Calhoun College” in response to student protests. It was similar to how the Black Justice League organized people to protest Woodrow Wilson. John C. Calhoun was a senator in the mid-1800s who believed in white supremacy and vigorously fought to defend slavery. At the same time, he was a marvelous political philosopher who greatly contributed to constitutional theory and was one of the greatest orators in the nation’s history — along with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. In response to this change, I wrote an article about how we cannot judge our past leaders with our present morals because they lived in a different — dare I say barbaric — time. As part of newspaper policy, my editor got a columnist to write a response to my opinion. It was rather vitriolic. She misinterpret my words “activist hysteria”; I never had the intention of attacking their new name or the act of protesting itself, though I can see how my words are misleading (perhaps I should have said “activists’ hysteria”). Nevertheless, it was the exact kind of response that I expected. I admit that she had a few valid points. We’re all still friends in the opinion section even if we write against each other. No hard feelings.

Some interesting articles on the subject from the Yale Daily News: one, twothree

  • Thursday— I am getting back into the routine of going to the graduate school for dinner with a friend. They had an excellent Italian pasta dish. Then, I went to try out for the debate team again. I have not received word on their decision. My guess is that I probably was not accepted. Afterwards, I went to see the Islands episode of Planet Earth II for the Princeton Conservation Society. There was a big crowd. I would recommend watching it 8/10.
  • Saturday— Just a regular day of studying over the weekend as usual.

The semester is starting up again and I am studying a lot. It will probably only get busier.

 

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