One of the defining elements of a Princeton education is independent work. Every A.B. student must complete a junior project and a senior thesis, and every B.S.E. student must complete a substantial independent project during the course of their concentration.
In fulfilling their independent work requirements, each Princeton student must develop — and demonstrate — the full range of abilities and traits that we seek to cultivate in undergraduate students: mental discipline; independence of mind and judgment; the capacity to pursue a subject in depth; the ability to design and execute a complex project; the skills of analysis, synthesis and clear writing; and the maturity and self-confidence that grow from mastering a difficult challenge.
It should come as no surprise that such an ambitious undertaking demands an extraordinary investment of time and resources — starting with the students themselves and their faculty thesis advisers in the academic departments. The Office of the Dean of the College is devoting resources to this effort as well. For several years now, we have supported the Writing Program in offering senior thesis boot camps. In 2012, recognizing the pivotal connection between research and independent work, we took the additional step of hiring our first director of undergraduate research, Pascale Poussart. As one of her first assignments, the director of undergraduate research worked closely with the Writing Program’s Kristin Dombek and with each department to develop comprehensive guides for independent work in the respective disciplines. She is also developing a variety of campuswide initiatives designed to enhance the quality and visibility of the undergraduate research experience as an integral component of a Princeton education. One such initiative is a student research blog, where undergrads share their experiences and provide valuable insight to facilitate future research projects.