2019 Undergraduate Experience Student Research Symposium

Insights into Princeton Undergraduate Student Experiences

This symposium brings together undergraduates from across the disciplines who have conducted investigations into the Princeton context and community.  Engaging students as partners and co-inquirers into their educational experience, this unique symposium provides a forum for students who have conducted research and inquiry of direct relevance to the Princeton community to present their insights and implications and engage in structured, but informal roundtable conversations with campus staff.

Designing a ‘smarter’ online learning system for MAT 103: Calculus I

MAT 103: Calculus I is an introductory calculus course at Princeton University which is often a challenging transition into college-level mathematics. It is a common experience for students to struggle with the pace, depth of material, independent learning requirements and expectations of this first mathematics course, even with prior experience in the material being taught. Besides a tremendous intellectual learning curve, there is also an emotional learning curve; students go through a process of doubting their abilities, changing learning and study habits that worked in the past, seeking ways to stay motivated and engaged in classes, and growing more comfortable with uncertainty and imperfection. This project proposes a design plan for an online learning system for MAT 103, intended to supplement the existing academic support offered to students and aid in the aforementioned emotional learning curve.

It draws on 3 main insights from the educational, social and psychological research literature, namely, the importance of (i) autonomous extrinsic motivation and helpful self-perception, (ii) self-regulated transfer of learning and skills, and (iii) effective value-neutral feedback that points to next steps, in order to suggest a tool that may support and equip students to do well in and even enjoy their courses. Moving forward, this design plan may be more generally helpful for faculty and administrators as they refine the language and messaging about academics they present to students, as well as the nature of academic and emotional support offered at Princeton.

Guilt as an Omnipresent Factor on Princeton’s Campus

Kelton Chastulik

The Problem:

At Princeton University, students feel constantly overwhelmed by the amount asked of them by professors, coaches, staff and other students. Whether it is the amount of problem sets needed to be finished by Sunday evening or the amount of athletic competitions a student has during the week or the co-curricular projects a student takes on, students feel strained and overstretched.
As we’ve learned, with stress students begin to feel guilty about the work that they are (or are not) doing. This is a major problem on Princeton’s campus and is diminishing students ability to be integrated on campus.

Methods:

This problem was investigated and understood through a number of contextual interviews and observational methods

Findings/Insights:

  • Many Princeton undergraduate students feel guilty when they are not working on their academics during their free time.
  • Guilt comes from many different external and internal factors
    • External: keeping up with culture, fitting in with students around you
    • Internal: Feeling tired, mental health
  • There are no “guilt-free”, “work-free” spaces on Princeton’s campus, which furthers the presence of guilt everywhere for students.

Implications:

  • Omnipresent guilt hurts the ability for students to perform and work at their highest abilities
    • Academics, Athletics, Song/Dance, Service Work
  • Guilt impedes students’ abilities to receive a holistic Princeton experience
  • Recommendation: A USG task force chaired by students, CPS staff and ODUS officials that further researches the effect of guilt on how students interact on campus.
How To Create a Community: Lessons from The Coffee Club

Alex Kaplan ‘21

The Situation and Questions Posed

Princeton needed a student-run coffee shop. Not only did every other Ivy League school already have one, but Princeton specifically stood to benefit from the addition of an inclusive, relaxed, and student-centric “third space.” To create one, then, prompted a number of central questions that we needed to address:

  1. How do you create a space where people feel welcomed and included?
  2. How do students create a long-lasting student project?
  3. How does Princeton’s culture affect perceptions of such projects?

The Coffee Club: A Brief Overview

The Coffee Club is a student-run coffee shop located in Campus Club that opened on Sunday, April 14th, 2019. We cater to the University community and sell coffee, teas, lattes, and fresh pastries; we employ 34 students and are open for long hours every day. While we have not been open for long, we have learned a significant amount about our goals have garnered lessons that are applicable to the broader community.

Findings

  • Space is key. Any community that seeks longevity must have a unique space it feels is its own, even while space is also one of the scarcest resources on campus.
  • The primary community that we have created is our passionate and devoted staff of student baristas, rather than a larger community of our customer base.
  • Whether or not someone feels welcomed into a space is largely based on how they are treated. The fact that the coffee costs money deters some of the student population from thinking about The Coffee Club as a hangout spot akin to Murray Dodge.
  • Students often have a binary view of funding opportunities on campus: many believe that “Princeton has a ton of money, so they should fund X” (oftentimes not fully expecting X to be funded) while simultaneously only trying to access funds through clear-cut, established channels. In fact, many offices can exercise discretionary funding when they believe appropriate.
  • The University is reluctant to embrace structural change at a high level, but is excited about smaller scale projects. We attempted to stay just below the radar of the highest-level discussions at Princeton while maintaining close contact with administrators directly involved.

Implications

  • Creating a community is a more active endeavour than simply constructing the space for it. It must be geared towards welcoming people in and maintaining interpersonal connections.
  • Students are highly capable of designing, starting, and operating large scale projects largely by themselves, but the University can offer institutional support through funding and advising.
  • Rather than trying to fit students’ ideas into static existing resources, the University and involved administrators may try to be more flexible to adapt existing resources to the projects that students propose.
  • Administrators and those in charge of resources on campus should reach out to communities who feel less “entitled” to the resources available. At the current status quo, marginalized groups are not only less aware of but also less motivated to capture the opportunities available at Princeton.
Lonely and Confused: Which Cognitive, Emotional, and Social Factors Precipitate Flourishing at Princeton?

Flourishing in any environment requires overcoming certain homeostatic challenges: a person’s needs must be adequately and consistently met in order for that person to flourish. And Princeton undergraduates, as a specific population, face unique challenges on their road to flourishing.

I have spent over 400 hours in one-to-one sessions with Princeton students, in which we discussed any area of life pertinent to their academic and overall flourishing. This work has instilled in me certain opinions concerning the factors relevant to student flourishing at Princeton.

Findings

  • Anomie, or, the Empty Institution
    • I don’t belong at Princeton.”
  • Teachers or Professors? Culture Shock
    • Why don’t my professors care about me?”
  • The mediating and invisible role of intimate and supportive relationships
    • “I feel like I should be productive! But I only want to spend time with my friends.”

Implications / Tools

  • The liberating effect of admitting Princeton’s institutional faults
    • “This is not your fault. The institution and its bureaucracy have been set up in a very unfair and unhelpful way.”
  • The empowering effect of admitting professor’s pedagogical failures
    • “This is not your fault. This pedagogical arrangement is *not* designed to best meet your educational needs.”
  • The invigorating effect of acknowledging individual’s interpersonal needs
    • “Anyone needs adequate amounts of love and support to thrive. If you are not thriving, maybe you could seek more of that out, rather than berate yourself?”

Moving From:

How can I change myself so that I thrive at Princeton?

To:

How can I use my environment to get what I need so that I can thrive at Princeton?

Positive Correlation between Frequency of Spending Nights Out at “The Street” and Happiness among Princeton Students

Ariadni Kertsikof

Issue:

Our happiness depends less on where we are, and more on the small choices we make within that context on a day-to-day basis. One such choice that Princeton students are often called to make is whether to go out to “The Street” or not. This study aimed to investigate whether students who make that choice more often are happier. Two key aspects of existing research suggest that students who party more often are happier:

  1. Hedonic experiences increase stress tolerance, make people more outgoing, and affect physical well-being in positive ways.
  2. Partying enhances one’s sense of belonging, not only through expanding one’s social network but also through strengthening their existing interpersonal ties.

For these two reasons we hypothesized that students who go out more often are, indeed, happier.

Methods:

The 502 students who participated in this study were asked to respond to a “Campus Life” survey. Specifically, participants were asked questions on the frequency of their outings and emotional well-being, among others.

Findings & Insights:

  • The highest average happiness (out of 10) was among the students who go out more than once a week (7.13), while the lowest was among students who reported partying once a month (6.44),
  • All students who go out more frequently than once a month are, on average, happier than students who party less than once a month or never.
  • Students who go out more than once a week are happier than students who go out once a month.

Implications:

  • Students need more “hedonic experiences.” In other words, it could be useful for university-facilitated activities for students (including, yet not limited to, study breaks, residential college sponsored activities like, writing nights/trivia nights, etc.) to be centered more on physical activity and less on non-academic mental engagement.
  • A distinctive characteristic of time that students spend on The Street is that this time is unstructured. This means that it could be meaningful for the University to foster a sense of community belonging through encouraging students to spend time more unstructured time with each other.
The Student Sleep Crisis: Measuring sleep deprivation at Princeton and how the university encourages unhealthy undergraduate sleep

Matthew Marquardt

Princeton is filled with some of the most motivated students in the world who are under constant pressure to succeed. As a result, it is no secret that Princeton students push their minds and bodies to the limit in the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of life. When a deadline is looming, sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed. Unfortunately, this decision has more negatives than positives. Data collected from a survey that received responses from 380 Princeton students and research from various peer reviewed articles and Matt Walker’s Why we sleep show that sleep deprivation is used to demonstrate the existence and severity of Princeton’s sleep problem. 

But why? We would rather study than sleep

Princeton’s students value pretty much everything over sleep. There is no better proof of this than the fact that almost 50% of the student body pulls an all-nighter at least once per semester with the average student doing at least 1.5 per semester. Besides the rare movie or TV binge watching marathon, staying up for 24 hours occurs when students need to study or finish a paper. When it comes to studying for an exam there is almost nothing worse that you can do than staying up all night working. After being awake for only 19 hours your cognitive performance is equivalent to being legally drunk with a BAC of .08 and obviously your productivity is pretty low while being drunk. Your time would be much better spent taking some time to sleep then finishing in the morning.

Princeton’s institutional structure unintentionally encourages poor sleep habits

Princeton’s academic and social schedule is geared towards night owls. Given that less than 30% of the population naturally wants to go to bed after 12pm, this puts a tremendous strain on the natural sleep tendencies on the majority of the students. Classes and labs that don’t let out until 10:30pm don’t give students the chance to prepare for bed until at least 11:00pm. The social scene and caloric food available at Late Meal revs up the body’s nervous system right when it wants to be winding down. A similar problem also emerges with RCA Study Breaks. The nightlife surrounding the eating clubs not only encourages late nights since clubs do not open until 11:30 but the late night and the following late morning throws off our circadian rhythm. The late opening and closing of major study spaces such as the libraries and Frist Campus Center further encourages students to stay up late working instead of waking up at a standard time to work.

We are oblivious to our sleep deprivation

Based off of thousands of peer reviewed papers, The World Health Organization recommends that adults get 8 hours of sleep per night. However, few people achieve this goal. In the US, adults average only 6.8 hours of sleep per night. Princeton is no better. Students self-reported an average 6.7 hours of sleep with only 22% obtaining 8 hours, which is probably an overestimate. To make matters worse are numb to the fatigue. When asked to rank their level of daily tiredness from 1 to 7, students reported similar levels of fatigue despite very different quantities of sleep.

We irresponsibly consume caffeine

Princeton is addicted to caffeine, however not as much as one would think. About 40% of the student body does not consume caffeine, and on average Princeton students drink 1 cup per day. But they consume this caffeine at the wrong time. According to when people drink their coffee, Princeton experiences peak caffeine at 9 PM. This helps explain why most Princeton students don’t go to bed until after midnight. They drink caffeine too late in the day and thus do no feel tired until later. In addition, these consumption habits most likely explain why about 25% of Princeton students report struggling to fall and stay asleep at least two times per week. If you sleep enough you won’t need caffeine, but if you require the stimulant don’t drink it past 2 PM.

Becoming a sleep friendly campus could have a major impact beyond just academics

The results of this inquiry suggest that there is still much to be learned regarding sleep at Princeton. I hope that these results have excited you enough to support or actively participate in some of the following areas:

  • Study the impact of sleep deprivation on mental and physical health at Princeton
  • Conduct interviews with students to better understand why they don’t get sufficient sleep
  • Think carefully about how night time activities impact the Princeton student experience as well as their overall wellbeing
  • Incorporate a form of “sleep education” into RCA training and First-year Orientation
  • Quantifying the impact of sleep deprivation on grades and “success” at Princeton

Princeton specific data by Matthew Marquardt Other sleep facts from Matt Walker’s “Why we sleep”