One More Semester, One More Defining Characteristic

If a meanie were to hold a gun to my head (likely situation now that my upperclassmen house/dorm community, Mather, is hosting a house-wide game of Assassin) and asked me to name the most important lesson that I’ve learned at Harvard, I would be ruthlessly murdered due to my indecisiveness. However, if the bully had just rephrased the question to inquire about my takeaways per semester, I would have lived to tell the tale.

As the semester falls to a close and Reading Period (the week before final semester exams where no official classes take place – a week to study and hopefully relax!) begins, my slightly slower schedule is concomitant to much reflection time. When I look back on each semester in retrospect, it’s always been easy for me to identify one activity that my whole semester revolves around.

Freshman Fall: Coxswaining for the Men’s Heavyweight Crew Team (Yes! Girls can do this…WHAAAT?!)

Freshman Spring: Chem 20 (an introductory organic chemistry class)

None of my friends knew the three other classes I was taking…'Nuff said.

Sophomore Fall: Working as a Research Assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Lab, located at the Harvard Kennedy School

Being a member of the math and science community, the pressure to perform research always exists. Lucky for me, I’ve always perceived this pressure as a challenge I’m willing to confront. I left this challenge on the backburner last year as a freshman though. So when I started comparing myself to my peers (a dangerous road I forbid you to travel down), I felt like I was slacking which resulted in a handful of freak-out moments during my Freshman Spring semester. I didn’t join a lab freshman year (totally normal!) because I wanted to wait for a topic that I’m genuinely fascinated by in order to avoid a tragic dive into a project I was only faintly interested in. Waiting and relying on fate can literally be one of the most frightening tasks! BUT just make sure you keep your eyes peeled and your mind open. In our fast paced lives, it can be hard to side step long enough to accept that some good things take time. But boy, am I glad I waited…

Within the two weeks right before the start of the Fall 2011 semester, I applied and interviewed for a position as a research assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory (HDSL, this is a moment where I wish we had a twitter so I can tell you to follow us…). This type of research would be completely different from all my academic and commercial research experience during my high school years because there would be no mice, pipettes, or microscopes involved! Although these differences were an enticing and an exciting aspect of the job, the unfamiliar environment was also a source of fear.

However, saying I was scared of that is just like saying I’m scared of opportunity; it’s ridiculous! After one semester of working at HDSL, I can already say that I’m obsessed. Not only does the job pay me well, but I also get to interact with many undergraduate and graduate professors while working on their projects, and working with post-doctoral students has given me significant insight in graduate education.

The surrounding Harvard Graduate schools were one of the prime reasons why I decided to enroll at Harvard College instead of other universities. I’m a big advocate of undergraduates exploiting opportunities from nearby graduate schools – also it gives me a (false?) sense that I’m not a member of the Harvard Bubble community. But that’s definitely not to say that there isn’t a virtual cornucopia of opportunities on the undergraduate campus. The Office of Career Services (OCS) frequently partners with undergraduate (and graduate) departments to hold informational sessions about upcoming opportunities in research as well as in the internship/job market and beyond! You also can’t use “I’m busy” as an excuse for being ill-informed because user-friendly informational websites are abundant. If this isn’t overwhelming enough, you can take it upon yourself to investigate what individual professors are researching and directly approach the professors to inquire about whether they need assistance or not! The opportunities are literally endless; but it’s also extremely important to keep in mind that having too many opportunities is a good problem to have.

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