|Table of Contents|
The first year
In addition to taking courses, the first year is about developing research ideas, defining your interests, and starting to fulfill teaching requirements. When you first get here, you will form an advisory committee with the help of the Director of Graduate Studies. Meet with them early on to discuss thesis ideas, additional coursework, etc. As the year goes on, you should be selecting a primary advisor and committee (about three additional people). In addition to consulting with your advisory committee and other faculty, ask current grad students for tips on selecting a committee. By the end of your first year, you should have a project, which usually leads into your thesis.
In the spring of your first and each subsequent year you will have a committee meeting. The purpose is to check up on yor accomplishments and plans and fills the formality required for reenrollment in the graduate school. In your first year, you might want to prepare for the meeting by summarizing what you have done so far and explaining how that fits into what you plan for your thesis. Although you don’t have to have your whole thesis planned at this point, it is a good idea to have some potential projects to discuss with your committee. Some people write a brief summary or put together a couple of slides to start the meeting off on common ground. Talk to older grad students with similar committee members to see what they did for their meetings.
|Grad Student Testimonials|
|“Meet with your prospective advisor early and make a plan and clarify expectations for your coursework.”|
|“In your first year, take the initiative to talk to a number of faculty about your ideas. All will be happy to talk to you, some will have useful input, and a few may have concrete suggestions or connections that will help you get started on a project. This is the best way to get a feel for who you want on your committee as well as getting feedback from the very beginning so you can gauge your progress. In your second year, check in with your committee and especially your advisor frequently and agree on a schedule with periodic deadlines for writing your proposal (e.g. initial outline, first draft of lit review, first draft of proposal, final draft). Keeping your committee in the loop through the whole process and writing your proposal in stages makes the four months before generals much less stressful. The key thing to remember is that it is up to you to initiate all of this -- while the faculty freely give advice and want to know what is going on, they are generally too busy to check up on you.”|
|“Before embarking on your first field season, you will need to prepare a proposal. As you begin researching and brainstorming ideas for this proposal, create a short literature review and continue to add to it as the year progresses and continue to do so as your ideas crystallize in your second year. This will save you a lot of time and sanity when you write the literature review for your generals proposal.”|
|“Nearly every graduate student in EEB scraps the data collected or the project started during the first field season. To reduce the resulting extreme frustration and maybe even to increase the likelihood that you can actually use this dataset/project I suggest the following: Instead of spending your first year putting together a THESIS, use the time to propose and organize a smaller, stand-alone project for your first summer. This will reduce the pressure on you and will increase your chances of getting usable data. Also, a small project will get data into your hands faster and data are what makes science happen—not sitting in a library reading articles. If you are a smart, creative person, and you are, these data will lead to more ideas and questions. And, who knows, maybe even an entire thesis.”|
The second year
Second Year Talk: Second and fourth year students give talks to the department. In the hour, there are two second year talks or one fourth year talk. Second year talks should be about twenty minutes long with ten minutes for questions afterwards. This is a good chance to present your results from your summer research, to test your ideas for your proposal, and to get feedback from faculty and students (especially those outside your lab group).
| Grad Student Testimonial
“Two things. First, TALK TO OLDER GRAD STUDENTS IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS. They've been through the process before, and it's unlikely that you're going to find a better source for information about classes, Generals, teaching, committees, and the like (beyond the official information and advice available, grad students have the experience in doing and balancing these things). Also, they usually don't bite. Second, the more time you spend thinking about projects/reading the literature/working on your project your first year, the less stressed you're going to be second year, when you have to take Generals. The better the data you get your first year, the easier it's going to be to get your project past your committee. The better you know the literature, the more impressed they'll be with your knowledge. Don't worry about the papers from the Fundamentals courses unless they're relevant to your project (or look for and follow up on the relevance to your project in them).”
General exams usually take place during April or May of your second year. The Graduate School requires that you schedule your exam during one of the university’s specified exam periods (around October, January, or May; this is flexible if something like your field work schedule prevents you from being able to have your exam during the specified dates, in which case it is easier to have the exam in advance rather than postponed).
| General Exam Tips
The details of the Generals Exam are:
- The number one rule for your general exam: Don’t Panic!
- The proposal: Your proposal should be clearly delineated into two parts: 1) a literature review that provides background and sets the context for your proposed research (about 15-20 pages), and 2) a detailed research proposal of what you want to do for your thesis (about 10-15 pages). The latter should be based on the typical content of an NSF DDIG grant proposal.
- NOTE: Since the proposal involves a lot of typing, be wary of a getting repetitive stress injury such as carpal tunnel; take precautionary measures such as having a good ergonomic setup and taking occasional breaks from typing.
- Start writing your proposal as soon as possible, about six to eight weeks before your exam. A good source of feedback is your fellow grad students. Give a rough draft to your committee at least three weeks before your exam. Once you receive your committee’s feedback, turn in a final draft at least one week before your exam.
- Scheduling your exam: Work with your committee members and their respective administrators to find a date they can all make. Do this well in advance, as the faculty have busy schedules and are often out of town. Also, make sure to remind the faculty so they do not double-book for your exam date! Make sure to reserve Eno 209 (through Amy Bordvik) or a room in Guyot (through Lolly O’Brien).
- Pre-generals beer or ice cream: The unofficial tradition is to hang out with students for a beer or two (don’t overdo it!), go for Bent Spoon ice cream, or for some other relaxing activity, the night before your exam. Make sure to get lots of sleep.
- The exam
- See #1.
- Make sure to print out and bring the appropriate forms to the exam, available on Blackboard (go to > EEB Concentrators > Forms and Information for Graduate Students > Generals) or from Lolly. Have your committee fill them in, and give them to Lolly O’Brien after the exam.
- The exams are typically three hours. Usually a third is devoted to general knowledge and two thirds are devoted to a defense of your thesis proposal. The Fundamentals courses and the material in your literature review will be a starting point for the general knowledge portion.
- Before the exam, consult with the faculty to designate a chair of the exam; this person cannot be your advisor.
- Just before the exam starts, your committee will send you out of the room for a few minutes while they coordinate their questions.
- You should have an informal presentation prepared. This should be a 5-10 minute summary of your proposal to help start off the exam.
- When you pass your general exam, you can get a Masters (of Arts). Click on the ‘advanced degree application’ link on the grad school webpage, enter you netid and password, and fill out the form.
The third year and beyond
Generally, during the third year and beyond you’ll be working on your thesis research and fulfilling teaching requirements. See the section on Annual Activities and the other checkpoints below.
You should be writing up as you go if at all possible.
Fourth Year Talk: Fourth year talks should be 40-45 minutes long, with 15-20 minutes for questions afterwards. Be prepared to manage your time if you are interrupted with questions during your presentation. This is a great opportunity to get feedback from faculty, postdocs, and other students on your thesis research.
Fourth Year Committee Meeting: For your fourth year committee meeting be prepared to show how you plan on finishing the following year. Some people prepare by giving their committee members an outline the chapters in their thesis which describes the pieces they have, those they need, and how they will finish everything and write it up in a year’s time.
Finishing: the thesis and FPO
| Thesis Timeline |
Before you start writing: Have a committee meeting
- Your dissertation does not have to be a record of everything you have done in graduate school. Each chapter should be a manuscript or a draft of a manuscript; forget about all the experiments/analyses you did that didn't work. Don't stress out about formatting, either – although the guidelines from the university are strict, there is enough flexibility to accommodate many published formats, so each chapter can usually be in whatever format is required by the journal to which you're submitting it. The only guideline to remember is that you must have substantial novel work substantially done by you while at Princeton. Check the formatting guidelines on the Mudd library webpage.
- If you have substantially cut down any of your chapters for submission/publication because of word or figure limitations, add back in any material that will make things more comprehensive for your readers. This may include material that was relegated to an appendix or supporting online material for publication. If you have supplemental material that provides extra details but is not key to understanding your work, you may want to include it as an appendix. It will be easier on your readers if you attach appendices to each chapter for which you have supplemental material instead of lumping the appendices together at the end of the document. Intersperse your figures and tables with the text, if possible, instead of placing them all together at the end of each chapter as you would do for a manuscript submission. Describe the general contents of tables and figures explicitly in the prose, not just as parenthetical references.
- You should have a committee meeting and give your committee an outline of your chapters before you start writing to make sure that everyone is on the same page about the thesis and when you are planning to defend. Discuss a deadline for your FPO with your committee – writing your thesis is easier when you know when it will all be over! Although your committee may appreciate it if you give them one or two chapters at a time, you should make sure that they have the whole thing at least six weeks before you're planning to have your FPO. This ensures that they will have at least 2 weeks to read it.
- You then have to schedule a committee meeting about four weeks before the FPO. Please keep Lolly in the loop. In the EEB department, this meeting is essentially the "real" defense. All of your committee members are supposed to be physically present at this meeting. Make sure you have looked over what you have written recently, and bring a copy of your own to the meeting to take notes. At the meeting, you do not have to give a presentation as you did for generals. Your committee members meet first without you to discuss their opinions of the thesis (so tell them where they can find you when they’re done). Then they call you in and you have a group discussion of their reservations/comments/questions. You should make the requested revisions and get it back to your committee three weeks before the FPO. They will give you their approval and sign off on the paperwork, which has to be submitted to the Graduate School office two weeks before the FPO. Check the Grad School website for required forms and a checklist. You should also talk to Lolly O’Brien, who will work through the checklist with you to make sure you meet all the deadlines.
- Make sure to bring three forms to the committee meeting: reader report (2 copies), prior presentation/publication form, and request to hold an FPO form
- For the paperwork, you will have to assign two primary readers who fill out reader’s reports: your advisor and another member of your committee. Keep in mind that the evaluation and description of your thesis’s novelty can take some time to write, so you should give them the forms for the reader’s reports when you turn in the final draft. For your FPO, you must have three principal examiners, two of whom are not primary readers. These two can be anyone on the general faculty, including committee members who are not primary readers or faculty in other departments.
- One copy of your thesis (either bound or as a pdf) must be submitted to the EEB department office two weeks before the FPO. If you submit a bound copy, it does not have to be library quality. If you're following this timeline, though, you should have had plenty of time to get the final edits done, so you might as well just get the library quality copy ready and take the same copy to the library after your FPO (this saves you the extra $50 for cheap bound copies -- all the costs for the FPO do add up!).
- Once you have scheduled your FPO (remember to reserve Eno 209), you should confirm with the examiners ahead of time that you will have enough faculty present. The Graduate School requires a list of the expected examiners in the pre-FPO paperwork due two weeks before the exam; mismatches between the list and actual faculty in attendance have never been challenged, but to be safe you should compile the list (with enough faculty for back-ups) in advance and send out reminders (possibly through Lolly O’Brien).
- Keep in mind when planning your FPO and Committee Meeting dates that faculty are not required to be on campus during the summer (many are gone from Class Day in early June until the first week of classes in September).
- It is cheaper to buy the paper and do the photocopying yourself. Hinkson's on Spring St. sells reams of library-approved paper; it costs about $40-50/ream. The best place to get your thesis bound is Smith-Shattuck Bookbinding on Rt. 206, just north of Princeton. It usually takes about 3 days to get the basic library binding done (about $35/copy), although it may take longer during high traffic periods (e.g. April).