concentrations

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It’s that time of the year when I continuously vocalize that college is really hard…and receive absolutely no sympathy. That’s probably because when I say college is really hard, I actually mean having so much fun is super exhausting…

May 1st marked the last day of official classes and the beginning of Reading Period which is a whole week of unstructured studying time for students to prepare for Final Exams. A lot of final papers and projects have deadlines during Reading Period – so much so that students can even finish all their classes before the official week of exams begin! I am always actively grateful for this week because a lot of universities have classes up until exams which I think is completely ludicrous, unreasonable, and pretty much sets you up for tons of stress eating. Good thing Harvard cares about us 😉 But don’t think Reading Period is a like a week on the beach!! Depending on your schedule, you’re probably living in the library and attending review sessions like it’s your day job. The great part is that by night, there are tons of activities lined up! Whether these activities include going into Boston for movies, study breaks (read: snacks), end of the spring semester formals, or catching up on sleep, Reading Period definitely rounds up the typical semester routine very well.

Scott & I go to a sorority formal in Boston!

Not very many kids complain about classes ending for Reading Period, but this isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate class. The semester definitely reliably blends unpredictable events into everyone’s life which can make attending every single lecture and (discussion/problem solving) section difficult. Most lectures, however, are recorded so if you absolutely can’t go to class, you can always watch the video at your own leisure. There are even tools out there that allow you to watch videos 1.5x to 3x faster – talk out upping your efficiency, though it can be hard to understand someone talking that fast. These technological advances can make life easier, but there are invaluable perks about attending lectures. A lot of my classes have “clicker” questions that are along the lines of mini pop quizzes during lecture; students answer questions that are meant to check for conceptual understanding on the spot. These responses not only help professors evaluate how well they’re communicating to students, but also help them take attendance. Besides from the logisitics, there are plenty of sweet incentives to physically attend lecture. The last day of my Physical Sciences class involved professors and teaching fellows using liquid nitrogen to produce vanilla, chocolate AND strawberry ice cream! Also one of my totally boss professors, Pardis Sabeti, catapulted t-shirts from her lab at the Broad Institute into the audience! Next week, I’ll be heading over to the Broad Institute for the first time, as Dr. Sabeti is opening her lab up for a tour! It’s pretty common for professors to go above and beyond here to interact and motivate students. I’m just glad I’m available to take advantage of these opportunities, especially during Reading Period when my schedule is a bit more free.

During the semester, Pardis threw oranges to students who bravely answered questions during lecture.

For her grand finale lecture, there was a specially made t-shirt catapult! What a crowd pleaser!

It’s inevitable that the end of the semester brings a lot of stress with final exams, projects, and papers, but it’s important to realize that we have a lot of accomplishments to celebrate as well! We can celebrate with food, formals, and free t-shirts, but what we’re really celebrating is each other, with a focus on the graduating class. Many seniors dedicate over a year to their thesis. Theses can be either mandatory or optional, depending on your unique concentration/secondary field (major/minor) combination. Regardless, a thesis is undoubtedly a grand accomplishment whether it was mandated or voluntary! Thus, concentrations will hold thesis receptions and presentations to provide opportunities for seniors to rightfully boast about their hard work!

My friend presenting her thesis on babies in movie format!

I’m a neurobiology concentrator, a department with an optional thesis. Every spring, there is a neurobiology thesis presentation where seniors voluntarily present their work in a very informal manner. In fact, the goal is to present their thesis in one minute in any kind of format! Students can either go the traditional route and speak with a powerpoint guide, but students have also written poems and made movies to share as well! Each student is presented with an “award” that’s something along the lines of “best thesis with the cutest subject” (babies) or “best thesis research location” (Italy). Don’t be too quick to brush these awards off as jokes though! A lot of them come with monetary prizes, such as the prestigious Hoopes Prize!

The end of every semester calls for a celebration honoring our hard work. This semester is a bit special because in light of recent tragic events in Boston, it also seems imperative to celebrate Boston. Other bloggers and I have mentioned before that’s it’s a tad difficult to motivate Harvard students to get off campus because there’s always so much to do on campus and because it’s like we’re constantly living in a time crunch.

However, when you have tickets to an NBA playoff game, you get off campus without hesitation! My roommate scored amazing tickets for the both of us to the 4th game between the Celtics and Knicks. It was a crucial game for the Celtics since they lost the first 3 (of 7) games in the series, so my roommate and I made sure to cheer extra loud, especially in overtime when the Celtics pulled through for their first win in the series! I have to admit I’m pretty much a fake Celtics fan (being from Southern California and all), but this didn’t stop me from constantly bragging about my attendance to an NBA playoff game. Campus is less than half an hour from TD Garden which is a great arena for not only sporting events, but also music concerts and much, much more! I can’t believe it’s taken me 3 years to make it out to TD Garden, but I’m beyond glad that I can check that off my bucket (grucket) list!

I hope this blog shows you that Reading Period is really fun and a week to absolutely look forward to – prefrosh, I’m really excited for you! – but remember that fun is exhausting too, so it’s also critical to balance with work. Kind of a lie, since my work thus far has been pretty fun. This semester, I took my favorite math class ever: Math 19a, modeling and differential equations for the life sciences. The majority of topics we covered had direct, real world implications. It’s a course that’s offered every semester and this semester had an (abnormally?) low enrollment number which catalyzed a really close pset (problem set) group aka new friendships! We had 2 exams during the semester and instead of a typical final exam, we had a final paper. I know it sounds crazy to have a math paper, but it’s probably one of the best works I’ve produced here as an undergraduate. My topic focused on modeling the periodic outbreak of whooping cough and although putting numbers and equations into written words was a new challenge for me, I’m proud with the finished project I submitted! The day after my math paper was due, I had an exam for my Genetics class (the class where they catapulted t-shirts). If you’ve been counting, that’s 2 classes down! I’m almost ready to submit my final paper for my Dopamine junior tutorial, bringing myself around for my Spanish research paper, and then I have a few days until my Physical Sciences exam on the last day of finals (May 18th). Between studying, I’m going to try to pack so I can avoid what happened at the end of sophomore year. When school finally ends (insert bittersweet feelings here), I’ll have a few days to get myself together and then I’m leaving the country for the entire summer! I don’t think I’ve posted a blog about my plans, so I’ll keep you all lingering until next time 🙂 Wish me luck with my last week of junior year!

 

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Two suitcases – one for summer clothes and one for winter clothes. One backpack with a laptop, toothbrush, and a passport.

This was my arsenal of protection for five countries in three months. I know I wasn’t exactly roughing it to the extreme, but it sure felt like it at times, especially when my bus company left me at the Peruvian-Bolivian border and my mess of sobbing tears triggered the sympathy of a different bus company to bring me into Bolivia…pretty much my favorite sob story from the summer.

At the age of 20, I’m beyond proud, honored, and lucky to say that I feel like an experienced world traveler. I know that passport photo headshot copies are as useful as eye drops and burn ointment to carry around with you. I know that I can go four days without showering and still be happy. I know that I can survive without a smartphone to Google Map me out of any bad situation.

It’s extremely comforting as well as empowering to discover some of my hidden capabilities. And I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say it feels just as great to be home at Harvard. Home sweet Harvard! 

The heart wants what it can’t get in a really sick and twisted way. I’ve wanted to travel and roam freely since I could string a grammatically correct sentence together, but there were low moments while traveling when I just wanted to be home and settled. I couldn’t wait to return to Mather (my upperclassman “house” or dorm) and have the luxuries of a dining hall where I would never eat potatoes again.

Sure, I may have returned to this:

College essentials

5 loads of laundry later…

But when your college roommates are as welcoming as this:

Welcome back/catch up session with the best friend and roomie!

Then your high spirits help you make your beautiful single into:

I’m excessive 🙁 but I’m working on it!

I’ll never take having a home base for granted ever again. It also helps to live in Mather – one of the twelve upperclassman houses at the undergraduate college – because our house motto is “Singles for Life,” meaning that each student is guaranteed a single room. I’ll admit that I’ve been very spoiled in my college housing lotteries since I’ve never had to bunk with anyone and because the singles in Mather are inside a bigger suite so you can control your degree of isolation for studying purposes!

There are seemingly endless perks concomitant to entering your third year of college – having a room triple the size of your sophomore room is just one of them. My other favorite elderly perk is my increased class elective freedom. Since I’ve completed several of my basic core classes such as physics and orgo (organic chemistry) for both my premed and Neurobiology concentration requirements, I’m now facing much more relaxed requirements with guidelines such as “one advanced Neurobiology class” with more than 20 choices to fulfill it. Having so many choices resulted in my craziest Shopping Week ever.

Shopping Week is referred to as the first week of every semester because students are free to walk in and out of any classes at any time during the week – we essentially shop and sample any classes that our hearts and minds desire. Although it can still be difficult to project if you’ll enjoy the class for the rest of the semester, Shopping Week takes part of the guessing factor out and allows students to make educated decisions when selecting classes. The week is also a lot of freedom that most college students don’t ever experience (my high school friends like to remind me how lucky I am) so I always make sure to try to appreciate the entire week!

Study Card Day” marks the end of the first week of school which is the same as the end of Shopping Week. Students submit to the registrar Study Cards which list the classes they’re planning to enroll in for the semester and sometimes these cards require professor/adviser signatures depending on the course.

I had a lengthy shopping list of classes that sounded super interesting, had a great Q guide score (the Harvard version of ratemyprofessor.com), and had colorful recommendations from my older friends. Although this is a good problem to have, the choices layered the week with stress which is actually a topic that the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, where I work as a research assistant, has discussed. The midst of stress can blur the bigger picture and make your week dreadful. When I had six classes competing for one slot – four of the six occurring simultaneously – I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable since I would be walking out of intriguing lecture classes the size of ~15 students in hopes that maybe another class would be even more engaging.

It wasn’t until I ran into a recently graduated sorority sister by surprise while crossing the streets of Cambridge that my attitude about being a class shopaholic changed. She more than willingly listened to me vent and reassured me. As we parted, she turned to reiterate that Shopping Week’s evil twin of chaos is always short-lived and worthwhile. All the diligent course sorting I’m doing now will make a better semester because my classes and workload will be customized to my interests. I instantly felt better about my situation and lingered around how I feel like my youth has passed but my wisdom hasn’t arrived yet.

What students see on my.harvard.edu

After a short yet long week of shopping and meetings with advisers, I’ve decided to take 4.5 classes. One of my courses counts as “half” a class because it only meets for 1.5 hours every week (3 hours is about the average) but I’ll be taking the class throughout the whole year. Even though it’s a year long course, it will only count as a full one semester course. This special class is my Neurobiology 95hfh tutorial on Dopamine. I was weary about taking a whole class on just one neurotransmitter, but the professor, S. Barak Caine, is beyond riveting! He’s so passionate about the topic and has a knack for transmitting that excitement onto his students. I was hooked after just one lecture and I’m really excited for our class on Monday! Neurobiology tutorials are capped at 12 students so it’s a great way to get to know a professor, especially since the classes really thrive on discussion. Throughout the year, we’ll be focusing on developing skills to critically read and understand scientific articles.

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 50 – Literature and Medicine

This class double counts for a General Education requirement as well as for my secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. I’m a little nervous about the class because I’ll never consider English and Literature my thing, but the professor, Karen Thornber, is a phenomenal public speaker and is very aware that a 2 hour lecture can be difficult to sit through. I’ve only been to one lecture, but it seems like we’ll be attacking how literature throughout the ages has tried to capture illness and disease. I’m looking forward to further developing my writing skills!

Molecular and Cellular Biology 145Neurobiology of Perception and Decision Making

This marks my second course that counts as an advanced Neurobiology course and it was the golden course chosen because of my recent realization that I’m a closet economics person. I started working at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory at the beginning of my sophomore year and therefore have been more exposed to economic professors and research topics ever since. Its always been a fascinating work environment because I hardly think of every facet of life in an economic viewpoint which motivated me to take this class so I can further dive into this thought process. The title of the class is pretty self-explanatory, but what excites me most is our final project which will mimic a grant proposal for a research topic of choice!

Mathematics 18 – Multivariable Calculus for Social Sciences

Math 18 is a brand new class this semester – well it has a brand new name and an upgraded structure! It use to be called Math 20 and it’s required for students on the Honors Economics track. It’s suppose to be like the Math 21 series, but instead of physics applications, we’ll be using economic models. I came across this class as I was looking into Math 19a (Modeling and Differential Equations for the Life Sciences), a Neurobiology concentration requirement, and shopped it just because I was curious. The professor, Meredith Hegg, is new to the university but teaches the class with such energy, encouragement, and enthusiasm that I would have felt stupid for missing a grand opportunity if I didn’t enroll in the class. Math 18 is only offered in the fall, whereas Math 19a is offered every semester, so I’ll definitely be taking Math 19a next semester. For now, I’m pretty happy with taking Math 18 just for fun, although the first three psets (problem sets) have been pretty tough and lengthy. It’s been a little rough because I’ve never taken an econ class so I don’t know what terms like substitutes and complements mean, but there’s tons of support for the class. Meredith Hegg has office hours three times a week and the two undergraduate course assistants also hold a multitude of office hours as well.

Spanish 61nThe Ethics of Business

I’ve had my eye on this course since last spring semester!! I wanted to skip Spanish 50 to take this class because I felt like I’ve had enough Spanish grammar review for a lifetime, but everything happens for a reason. This semester is the perfect semester to take this course because it focuses on businesses in Latin America which is where I spent the majority of my summer! It’s so fun to be able to relate my experiences in Peru and Bolivia – especially because 2 other students who participated in the same DRCLAS (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) program in Peru are also taking the class with me! This is my first Spanish class that is like a normal class, just conducted in Spanish and I love it!! The 1.5 hours go by too fast and I spend most of that time laughing. It’s also a nice change to only be talking about corn and potatoes instead of actually eating it 🙂

Yes, 3/4.5 of my classes deal with economics/business even though I’m definitely a Neurobiology concentrator. Yay for liberal arts education! As I said before, I’m still really refreshed and excited about this upcoming semester! I’m eager to do my assignments and have no trouble seeing the real life applications of my class lessons. Junior year is starting off with a blast and I wouldn’t change anything about it! Hopefully I can maintain this attitude until the end of finals…

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I’ve had the honor of speaking with a handful of prospective/admitted students curious about life at Harvard College. I really enjoy speaking to these students because I was definitely in their position – where I was just dying to know what Harvard life was like – and their intriguing questions allow me to adequately reflect on my time as an undergraduate – an activity I wish I did more of! #runonsentence

There’s a few questions – some that I didn’t anticipate – that seem to come up frequently so I wanted to dedicate a blog to share and perhaps even plant new seeds of thought! #ambitious

But before acting on this endeavor of answering popular questions, I wanted to preface with a mini autobiography to make all the bias that I weave into my answers really obvious.

My name is Jeanie Nguyen. I’m currently a rising Harvard undergraduate junior, 20 years old and I spent the first 18 years of my life mostly in Southern California. So yes, I love Avocado (like it’s a real person, hence the capitalization/personification) and I can be quite snobby about my Mexican food (but Taco Bell is totally legitimate and if you don’t think so, you obviously haven’t had a chalupa). Essentially, I talk about being from Southern California like it’s something to brag about. I’m that premedical student who carries band-aids, burn ointment, and eye drops wherever I travel; and I’m concentrating in Neurobiology (major), secondarying in Global Health and Health Policy (minor), and pursuing a Spanish Language citation. I’m pretty adventurous/spontaneous: I love trying new things whether that’s food or activities!

In addition to warning everyone of my incredible bias, I also need to have a length disclaimer. My answers are really long, ramble for an eternity, and are probably only partially applicable at best. I throw out tons of information that I would have appreciated someone else telling me, but I’m really random and minor-detail oriented. If you don’t hate it, keep the questions coming! 🙂

 

Question 1: What would you say is the “best” dorm around?

At Harvard College, the freshman live in the center of campus – called The Yard – and these buildings are colloquially termed “dorms.” Most people know about Harvard Yard because it’s the heart of campus and where the oh so popular John Harvard statue is. The Yard is always beautifully manicured – even after such wildly muddy events like Yardfest and Harvard’s 375thBirthday Party – so living here your first year is such a marvelous privilege!!

Harvard’s 375th Birthday Celebration = Tons of people in the Yard + Rain = Mud for days!

Since the university follows a residential college way of housing, after your freshman year, you move out of the yard (reluctantly?) and into upperclassman houses – or “Houses” for short. You stay in the same House for your remaining time as a student although you move in and out of different rooms within the same House. Dorm locations are definitely ideal, but the love and community concomitant to House life is worth the 15 minute walk in the morning!!

I lived in Wigglesworth as a freshman. A lot of my non-Harvard friends were genuinely upset with me that I didn’t immediately tell them that I lived in a building called Wigglesworth. The name is actually somewhat fitting as it lies above the subway (colloquially called the T) so when the subway trains pass, you can feel the floors of Wigglesworth (Wigg) tremble – not annoying as it sounds! But then again, I lived on the third floor so I felt less of the impact. My really good friends were on the first floor though and I was never bothered by it. I also studied a lot on the second floor so I feel like my opinion takes a lot of perspectives into account!

There’s this period of time during the summer – I think it begins after the day you commit to your college of choice – where your future fellow college peers start friending you on Facebook. Although I normally hate adding people I don’t know, I felt really obligated to accept because I just wanted to be accepted!! Haha you really don’t have to accept – and you really shouldn’t accept unless you’re comfortable with casually exclaiming “Oh yeah! I know you because we’re friends on Facebook!” in a lot of conversations. This Facebook thing is applicable to the questions because I remember a great deal of people posting about how they were hoping to get Wigglesworth so when my housing letter came in the mail, I was excited about the result!

Wigg is known for its hard wood floors (so much better than nasty carpet that can stain easily!) and fireplaces (although you can’t use them). I’m pretty sure all rooms in Wigg have a common room in addition to bedrooms although students always have the option of making their common room into a bedroom to maximize the number of available singles. Wigg also has the luxury of in-suite bathrooms so no yucky, typical college bathroom woes. We also have our own laundry room and trash room in the basement so we don’t need to go far to take care of these chores (unlike student in Grays dorm for example). There’s also a bigger common room in the basement with study tables, comfy couches and a big flat screen TV with cable for those dedicated to Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl.

My room was the only room on the third floor and was super spacious. I loved it! And so did my three roommates! Every time I walk pass my old room, I definitely look at it fondly. Between the four of us, we had one double bedroom and two singles. To be fair, we switched rooming situations half way through the year.

Our common room at its messiest while switching rooms!

Don’t judge us!

Also, I lived in the smallest subsection of Wigglesworth (there are three subsections), fondly termed the Wigglet and since only about ~30 students are lucky enough to live here each year, the community can get pretty close and just as cute as its name!

Wigglet (2010-2011) – Convocation Day in the Fall … 10 points to whoever can spot the baseball player in the popular Call Me, Maybe parody

Since Wigg lies on the perimeter of the Yard, along Massachusetts Avenue AKA Mass Ave, it can be a trek to Annenberg/the Science Center which basically is on the opposite side of the Yard. However, there are many perks to being along a main road such as being < 3 minutes away from CVS (convenience store), JP Licks (dangerously delicious ice cream shop), and the T stop!

I can’t even really think of any common ways people bashed Wigg. When you tell people you’re from Wigg you generally get an excited response (since Wigg is a really large dorm and it’s likely that you’ll run into other Wigglers) or at least a nod of respectful approval. “Go Wigg or Go Home!” is a common phrase that should be chanted not only proudly, but frequently.

If you’re already tired of my bias, I can’t blame you. Here’s my apology, please accept:

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/harvard-university/755111-wigglesworth-good-bad.html

http://www.epinions.com/review/educ-Colleges_and_Universities-All-Harvard_University/educ-review-10E4-319E6AB-39C555C4-prod5?sb=1

A more comprehensive overview (applicable to the unlucky ones 😉 )

http://fdo.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k3806&pageid=icb.page346386&pageContentId=icb.pagecontent716927&view=view.do&viewParam_name=Dorms_Crimson.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Harvard_dormitories


Question 2: Any advice on packing stuff up/shipping stuff out east?

At the airport before my freshman year began, en route to moving in – I couldn’t pack light if my life depended on it 🙁

If you know my middle name, you would never ask me this question. A lot of people would consider me a bad packer. I can’t say that I completely disagree, especially after my catastrophe at the end of my sophomore year. However, my reputation is sort of like a misnomer! I tend to never schedule sufficient time to pack adequately, but I do pack smart!

My friends are most impressed by how meticulously I pack. I weave dryer sheets in between my clothes when I pack them, especially if the clothes will be packed for a long time, so they always come out smelling like I just washed them! Additionally, Instead of putting things straight into a cardboard box/suitcase, I generally like to put it in a trash bag first. This trash bag method is awesome because it serves as another bad odor prevention mechanism. I also found this method helpful while traveling Europe this summer because I stayed in dorm-like hostels where I shared bedrooms with strangers so I would be uneasy about the security of my belongings; but since any potential thief would have to go through my trash bag first, it would probably wake me up too!

I make tons of paper copies of my name and phone number that I put not only on the exterior of the box, but the interior too. This is an idiot proof method when storing boxes in a common area which is the kind of storage Harvard provides (to students outside a certain radius). If anyone accidentally/not-so-accidentally takes your box, there’s really no way to justify them playing dumb since my information is everywhere!

When storing my boxes in a common area, I also like to tape newspaper to the outer sides of my boxes for easy identification. Some people like to use wild duck tape, but these types of tape are commonly sold in stores so multiple people may have the same tape. No one really tapes newspaper and since the surface area of newspapers is larger than duck tape, it’s also easier to spot in a room that’s literally filled from floor to ceiling with boxes! Newspaper is also free!! Woo!

I also enjoy performing activities in an economic fashion. This is really just a fancy way of saying that I’m cheap. However, I’ll never be cheap with packing tape. You need to buy the good stuff and use tons of it because it’s not worth it ever if a box rips and your belongings become separated/lost! Friends also become eternally grateful for your extra tape.

Being cheap also means that I hate buying boxes too! I would much rather put money towards my churro funds rather than cardboard. Definitely ask stores for their cardboard boxes since most recycle them anyway. I tend to rely on my parents’ company for boxes when I’m at home.

As for physically relocating things to campus, make sure to triple check your baggage allowances on your mode of transportation and don’t be shy about asking for student discounts. It never hurts to try. Domestically, I usually fly with Southwest airlines because they allow 2 free checked bags and a carry on which is the most “free” I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, my parents flew out to help me move in so I called dibs on their check ins!

I literally imagined myself dying in the cold from my first East Coast winter and thought I had to buy tons of coats before leaving, but this is definitely not something you have to do. It’s hard to find appropriate coats in Southern California anyways. I’ve conformed and have become a big fan of the Northface brand though. You may not want to admit this to your parents, but you really don’t need a new wardrobe!

Embracing the cold before Freshman Formal #YOLO

I still wear my SoCal tanks and tees under a big coat in the winter. Your coat just needs to be good enough to withstand the wind + rain + snow for your <15 minute walk to class because your classrooms will be waiting for you all warm and toasty! Note that umbrellas don’t help!! Buy a wonderfully comfortable coat with a hood to strut in because it’s typically too windy for umbrellas and you wouldn’t want to hold an umbrella anyways! All you want to do in the winter outside is to bury your hands in your pockets.

Rainboots are a separate case from coats though. It rained within the first three or four days of my arrival on campus and I’ve never regretted investing in some rainboots as a preemptive strike. Every time I walk in/through a puddle in rainboots, I’m still incredulous that my socks aren’t soaked!!

If you were spoiled with amazing weather all the time like me, don’t let the threat of East Coast winters scare you!! I love experiencing four seasons. In fact, it’s best to experience leafy autumns and snowy winters in college where you don’t have to rake or shovel anything yourself!!!

Definitely not raking anything…

                                                                                                                               Question 3: What are some of the must-sees/must-dos at Harvard?

This is one of the more difficult questions to answer because interests vary so widely. But I hate it when people use that as an answer to a question. I’m already incredibly biased and don’t want to be hypocritical too!

When I think back through my time as a Harvard College student, there are definitely some defining moments. I LOVED embracing the East Coast culture and being a coxswain for the Men’s Heavyweight Crew team! Definitely one of the best, once in a lifetime experiences!!

I’ve said it before and I won’t ever stop saying that one of my ultimate, favorite aspects of Harvard is the people! I’m obsessed with sitting around and doing absolutely nothing but getting to know my peers. Everyone is so freaking interesting and hilarious! We’ve also collectively racked up enough good stories for a lifetime. It’s come to that point where I’d say our lives are more interesting than TV – interesting, not dramatic!

Most of my greatest memories are on campus/campus events – like meeting celebrities!!! You’ll be on tons of email listservs as a student where the spam can be annoying but a lot of the pubbed events are super interesting/exciting opportunities!!

I believe in Harvey Dent!

 

 

Representing the Wigglet around Shaq!!! Casual run in…

                                                                                                                     I do really want to start taking even more advantage of my environment by completing everything on Natalie’s list though!

                                                                                                                     Question 4: Is there any advice you would offer your freshman self (or a lost freshman), knowing everything you know now?

Two prominent mistakes (one personal and one academic) come to mind when I think of my personal freshman year – although we all know there were several committed.

Most of my friends are surprised that I identify myself as an antisocial person. The beginning of freshman year is just super overwhelming because not only have you left all your family and friends, but you’re now in a whole new environment with thousands of strangers! Albeit the strangers are friendly, I had a hard time continuously meeting tons of people during the beginning days of freshman year because I always doubted whether we’d become actual friends or not. This negative mindset pushed me to rely on my high school friends. I Skyped (video chatted via internet) my high school friends a lot freshman year due to the fear that our friendship would become estranged. I definitely don’t regret staying in touch with my high school friends because the ones I Skyped all the time are the ones that give me a strong reason to come home; but, I do feel like the fear of losing my high school friends shouldn’t have been stimulating anxiety. It’s definitely a natural fear to have, but after becoming super busy sophomore year, we’ve kept in touch less throughout this past year. However, I still feel just as comfortable around my high school friends to this day as I did 2 years ago. In fact, thinking about them right now makes me feel simultaneously really lucky for having their continuous support and really stupid for ever fearing that our great friendships would diminish. Therefore, if I could reassure little, lost freshman Jeanie, I’d demand her to not worry so much about her loving connection with her friends and family back home.

After the emotional stabilization, I would definitely tell myself to not try to plan my life. College comes with waves of intense sensations of fear that you’ll fail at everything which will propel you to try to plan your life. This endeavor isn’t possible – at least not your freshman year; it becomes more of a likely possibility your sophomore year and that’s why you declare your concentration (major) your sophomore fall semester rather than during your freshman year which is what most other universities have students do. During your freshman year, it’s best to talk to upperclassmen, your assigned academic adviser, your PAF: Peer Advising Fellow community, faculty and etc. to learn all the classes that are truly geared towards your interests. You’ll learn so much your first year about the differences between class series and the importance of sections, so that the life plan you made freshman year will render itself useless in a matter of a few conversations! It’s best to wait until your sophomore year to start planning how all of your courses will fit in the short time you have as an undergraduate.

I am fully aware that I’m advising you to take your hands off the wheel during your entire first year and that this request is a horrifying one! But enjoy your time as a wide eyed freshman and feel free to be a little lost! Just don’t be so lost that you can’t give a tourist directions to Annenberg.

Holy smokes. My answers always turn out to be soooo much longer than anticipated!! I really hope that the information overflow isn’t overwhelming because that is definitely not its purpose!!!! You truly don’t need to know any of this information because I didn’t and I am (arguably) fine, I promise! AHHHH SORRY!

There are also tons of other resources for any burning questions you may or may not have! One of my favorite finds are Harvard Q&A groups on Facebook. We’re all guilty of wasting time on Facebook so you might as well satiate your curiosity that way! Most of the time it’s benevolent Harvard students answering questions – yay!

                                                                                                                                                                                        **Excuse any slang/improper English please! I’ve been speaking and thinking in Spanish so hard these days while living in Peru – and LOVING it!!!!!

***UPDATE (24 June 2012)

One thing to start thinking about is money on campus – meaning banks. I am no longer an advocate of the sock drawer so one thing I made sure to check for during prefrosh/Visitas weekend was nearby banks. I know of a handful of people who chose to keep their local, small town banks but I feel like the majority of students have local banks for convenience. Once you do your research and choose a bank, you can start thinking about credit cards. And just because you’re going to college doesn’t mean you can’t bring your parents in on this – they have much more experience than you! One additional thing to keep in mind is that many, many Harvard students travel abroad at some point during their undergraduate careers so if you like to plan super ahead, take into account international fees/cards/offers.

Random list of local banks from the top of my head: Harvard University Credit Union, Bank of America, Citizens Bank, TD Bank, Citi Bank

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I was taking a look at my planner today, and I realized that there is less than a month left in the semester.  This year has flown by so quickly, and I for one am a little unnerved about the fact that I’m about to wrap up my sophomore year.  Generally speaking, I’ve had an incredibly positive Harvard experience, but this spring has been my favorite semester by far.  I think that one of the reasons that this semester has been so enjoyable is that I have found my “academic soul-mate” in the History and Literature Department.

At Harvard, you do not declare your concentration until the end of your first semester during your second year.  I love that the College gives undergraduate students three semesters to shop around before they declare, because it gives students the opportunity to explore all of their options with minimal pressure.  In fact, I hadn’t seriously considered History and Literature as a concentration until this past fall.  Since I was able to take my time looking into prospective concentrations, I now go to class every day without any regrets about my decision to study History and Literature.

History and Literature (Hist and Lit for short) is an interdisciplinary field in the Humanities.  It’s actually the oldest concentration at Harvard (it celebrated its centennial in 2006 according to the Harvard Handbook), and is unique to the College.  In Hist and Lit we do our best to understand the historical and literary significance of a given text, and connect the text to larger themes.  To be honest, my own mother still gets a little confused when I try to explain the difference between “History and Literature” and History, Literature, and English, so feel free to check out the profile on the department’s website if you want more information!

In Hist and Lit, my field of interest is America (1607 to Present), but students can choose to study Latin America, Postcolonial Studies, Medieval Europe, Early Modern Europe, or Modern Europe as well.  Each field offers a selection of tutorials that are, without a doubt, the backbone of the department.  The tutorial is a required course that Hist and Lit students take every semester following their declaration.  Tutorials basically promote the integration of History and Literature.  The sophomore tutorial, which I am enrolled in now, is taught by two professors, one to represent each field, and all tutorials are kept small to facilitate discussion.  Tutorials allow students the opportunity to practice and perfect the research and writing skills that they need to succeed in interdisciplinary scholarship, but they shift their focus as students progress, so my junior and senior tutorials will be a little different.  The most exciting (and intimidating) part about being a History and Literature student will be my senior thesis.  Since it is an honors concentration, seniors are asked to produce a 10,000 to 15,000-word thesis about a subject that they find to be interesting, important, and relevant to their fields.

Me and a classmate as we get ready for our Hist and Lit tutorial! One of my tutorial leaders, Dr. Jeanne Follansbee, was kind enough to let me use some of the photos that she took during our tutorial for this week's post. Jeanne is the Department Head and the authority on literature for the class.

Harvard has over 40 concentrations that undergraduates can choose from, so there really is something for everyone.  Every department has something special to offer, and if you don’t feel at home in any of the departments you are welcome to declare a Special Concentration and design your own plan of study.  I love my concentration because I get to sample a little bit of what the other departments have to offer.  History and Literature is a unique and dynamic field, and I cannot imagine myself in another discipline.  Humanities or bust!

Tutorial in action! That's Dr. Steve Biel at the end of the table. He's the one of my tutorial leaders, and our history representative.

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Hello everyone!

GOOD LUCK ON YOUR ACCEPTANCE LETTERS(if you’ve received your emails/letters by the time you’re reading this, congrats)!!!!!! Last year, this time, I was freaking out the entire day at school, biting my nails and checking my email virtually every two minutes, counting down the time until 5pm. AND THEN MY ACCEPTANCE EMAIL wasn’t sent out until 6:45pm! So good luck!

Sorry that I missed my post last week; I was really busy until Friday came ’round, and it was already too late ): Right now, I’m at the Greenhouse Café, one of Harvard’s many dining locations, sipping on a soy chai latte and editing a few of my essays for Friday. Last night I had not one, but TWO rehearsals for The Nostalgics (at the quad) and for SOL Cupsi (in Kirkland basement), which meant I had to miss out on a lovely Indian-food study break (wop). However, I love both of those activities, so it was fine with me!  CUPSI will be going to LA in late April (yay! lot’s of fundraising to do) and The Nostalgics will be competing for the opening of Yardfest on Friday (ahh). Check out the poster I made in my printmaking class for this event!

Yardfest is a huge celebration and music concert in April, and this year The Cataracs and Das Racist will be playing; hopefully my band will be opening for them, in front of everyone! Last year Far East Movement, Sammy Adams, and White Panda came; this year’s lineup isn’t too exciting, compared to U-Penn’s Tiesto and Yale’s T-Pain and Passion Pit lineups. But what can you do…except get someone better for next year! (Beyonce, anyone?)

I’ve been relatively busy this week, and will be next week, as it is Advising Fortnight for the freshmen, which primes us for our concentration decisions. My calendar is full of fun events, such as “Cool Cupcakes and Hot Munchies” from the Anthropology department, a dinner with the African and African-American Studies department, Romance Languages and Literatures meet&greet, and Enviro-Sci and Public Policy tea! I’m really excited to decide on my concentration (major) and secondary (minor), but I have a while (luckily we declare next November) because I have no idea what I am going to do! It’s not like I don’t have ideas; I’d love to do Franco-Italian Studies, Environmental Studies, African Studies, Anthropology, and Architecture, but sadly I can’t “double major” or “joint concentrate,” as we call it here, in many of these concentrations. There are just too many requirements that I’d have to complete by the time 2015 rolled around. Also, Environmental Studies is not a real concentration here; it’s part of the Visual and Environmental Studies concentration, but is not a fixed path and varies widely based on what you’d like to study within that concept. And architecture isn’t a “real” concentration, either; there’s History of Art and Architecture, which does not prepare you for Architectural studies. So I am going to have to do some research to create my own path here, and I will have the resources if I put my mind to it.

 

Panorama from top floor of William James Hall!

As hectic as this will all be, I’m very excited to have a set direction for my academic studies. It will definitely constrict me, and I’ll have to make some hard decisions, but I will end up with a concentration that I enjoy. (And if I don’t, there’s always petitioning for a change of study and grad school!) Joint concentrations are pretty difficult to make work, but if my so-called “electives” (aka the language courses that I’m obsessed with) count towards my requirements, I’m set! I just have to do what I love, and make my huge dreams a reality. It’ll happen.

Speaking of making dreams a reality, I will be going to Paris this summer!!!!!! I received a huge Rockefeller grant for summer study, and will have a crucial jump on my concentration requirements by studying in France! I’ve never spent the summer in a city, but I’ll be home for a few weeks in June and a few in August to get a breath of country air and swim in the river near my house. I’m going to have to get into a good athletic schedule so that I don’t become too heavy from all those pastries … yum. Also, two of my really good friends will be spending the summer there, one interning in a Neuro lab and the other doing the Columbia-Penn French program. (Oh so fun.) I can’t wait! I have yet to receive another very important grant from the Romance Language department, but it should show up tomorrow as a lovely birthday present. (I’ll be 19, yay!) Check out what I could design with my potential future concentration in my potential future city!

 

So, that is all for now 🙂

Happy spring!

-Reid

 

 

PS Check out some Harvard Talent, for those of you who are still unsure of whether or not Harvard is the right fit for your artsy-selves.

(Leah Reis-Dennis from my band!)

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Happy New Year! I can’t believe 2012 is already here. It is unbelievable how time flies, and it definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve been at Harvard for two and a half years already. I told you all I would keep you updated on how my planning for the spring semester is going, and it looks like I’ve decided on only one course so far: “Engineering Sciences 123: Introduction to Fluid Mechanics and Transport Processes.” Okay…so from the title alone, this class isn’t exactly one that I’ve been dying to take since declaring my concentration (major) as Biomedical Engineering. It sounds like there is going to be a lot of physics and applied math involved. I love the latter, but can’t say the same about physics. While I’m not a physics person by any means, I’m open-minded, and this is indeed a concentration requirement.

As far as the other courses in my schedule go, there are a bunch I am looking at.

  • “Computer Science 51: Introduction to Computer Science II”
  • “Government 1093: Ethics, Biotechnology, and the Future of Human Nature”
  • “Societies of the World 24: Global Health Challenges: Complexities of Evidence-Based Policy”
  • “Engineering Sciences 91r: Supervised Reading and Research”
  • “Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1266: Gender and Sports”

OFF ON A TANGENT: You’ll notice that I’m considering many courses that don’t have to do with engineering. When I applied to Harvard, I indicated on my application that I intended to pursue engineering and stuck with it. No one actually declares a concentration until his or her sophomore fall. However, applying as an engineer, I was conscious of the fact that Harvard isn’t a traditional engineering school, but that’s what was really attractive to me. I liked the idea of being a “Renaissance Engineer” because I have many eclectic interests. Sure, I love math and science and those are the two subjects I focused on in high school. But I have a great appreciation for English literature (Shakespeare’s King Lear, anyone??), ethnic studies, technology, and global health, to name a few. I knew that Harvard would be able to offer me opportunities in engineering in the context of a liberal arts education, which set it apart from many other, solely technical universities that I was considering.

There are actually several other courses I’m looking at, but these really stood out to me. Selecting courses is extremely difficult, because there are thousands to choose from, and only so much time in one semester. On top of deciding between which subjects I’m most interested in, finalizing my schedule also comes down to logistics, including requirements, class meetings, exam dates, etc. In addition, I haven’t spoken to any friends about classes yet. At least one person usually ends up finding a gem that I didn’t. With so many courses, it’s easy to overlook many of them, let alone one. It usually all ends up working out some way or another, though. When it’s shopping week (check out Jeanie’s post if you aren’t familiar) towards the end of the month, I’ll post a screenshot of my final shopping schedule–I’m sure it’ll look crazy hectic with all of the aforementioned courses and then some. New semester, new courses, new year…I’m really looking forward to 2012 and new challenges, ups, downs, and memories in general!

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In my last entry, I vaguely described undergraduate research pathways because I’m definitely not an expert – that’s why OCS (Office of Career Services) is here to help! What I can fully describe is my reasoning behind choosing to work at HDSL (Harvard Decision Science Lab) and why I’m a happy research assistant (RA).

I developed a profound fascination for neuroscience and chemistry in high school and wanted to ensure that these interests continued developing in college. With these pursuits in mind, I enrolled in the required introductory Life Science 1a (combination of biology and chemistry, GREAT introductory class, beautifully designed and organized, enthusiastic professors!) course Freshman Fall and signed up for Chem 20 (introduction to organic chemistry) during my Freshman Spring. While choosing classes for Sophomore Fall, I felt like I had neglected my neurology interests and (probably) overcompensated by enrolling in two MCB (Molecular and Cellular Biology) Classes: MCB 80 (Neurobiology to Behavior) and MCB 115 (Cellular Basis of Neuronal Functioning). After thoroughly enjoying the material and problem sets in both MCB classes (MCB 115 more so than MCB 80), I decided to declare Neurobiology as my concentration (major). Along a concentration path, you can choose to follow different tracks which slightly alter your required courses in order to reroute you to the cores of your interests. I considered the Mind, Brain, Behavior (MBB) track because I sometimes find myself wandering away from the chemistry aspect of brain functioning and dabbling into the psychological aspects. However, blending Neurobiology MBB requirements with pre-med requirements on top of my secondary and language citation requirements would make me an undergraduate student for a very extensive amount of time.

Instead of pursuing psychology in the classroom, I ventured to pursue the subject in the lab. When I discovered that HDSL was looking for undergraduate research assistants (to pay!), I jumped at the opportunity and applied.

In the lab, I work closely with 3 postdoctoral students on a daily basis and have closely interacted with two professors this semester by working on their research projects. My job is so exciting because my tasks range widely; I perform everything from literature reviews, checking human subjects in and out of experiments, setting up and analyzing physiological data to running experiments.

Working in the lab has also created a new community. As an HDSL RA, I’m a member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) which holds semi-monthly luncheons for all RAs to come together and share what projects we’ve been working on in the lab. This past week was my turn to share.

I’m simultaneous working on 2 projects (and about to start another one that I’m REALLY excited about). In one project, I’m more involved with processing physiological data and in the other project, I’m more involved with running the experiment. I chose to present on the latter project which is about the influence that stereotype threats have on both individual and group performances. To investigate these stereotype threats, we’re examining female mathematical performance in different situations.

As I get more familiar and comfortable with the lab, I look forward to aligning my work schedule with specific professors whose research projects are particularly interesting to me. Saying I enjoy the flexibility and opportunities that the lab provides is definitely an understatement! I look forward to becoming more involved in the lab and look even more forward to blogging about it!!

 

*P.S. I’m really sorry for all the acronyms and abbreviations!

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The theme of last weekend was: The Future! So it’s pretty safe to say a concomitant theme would be: Hot Mess.

Most colleges ask freshmen to state their major at the beginning of their undergraduate journey. However, Harvard knows that its students’ interests are synonymous to windy tornadoes that could really take us anywhere. Meaning, Harvard will nod and smile reassuringly when we throw around intended concentrations (AKA majors) during our freshman year, but will only take official documentation during our (supposedly wiser) sophomore year. Throughout this process of declaring our concentrations, sophomores will meet with both concentration and academic advisers to develop a list of classes we intend to take during the rest of our majestic time as an undergraduate. All this pondering and planning really puts things in perspective because you can realistically chronicle required/desired classes for your concentration, secondary, citation, and even indicate that you plan to study abroad! SNAPS to academic clarity and a sense of purpose!! … at least for now…

But let’s discuss a topic that isn’t as deathly intimidating as your long-term-future life plans. Let’s talk about your relatively-shorter-term future life plans!

By now, it’s undeniable that the best season, summer, has ended and autumn is in full swing.

Lucky residents of Mather, an upperclassmen house, get a friendly reminder of East Coast beauty every time they step outside.

And let’s just skim over the perpetually frosty winter season and move right along into spring – more specifically Spring Break! As a person who strives to radiate California, I imagine tanning, beach volleyball, and lemonade as three necessary factors for a perfect Spring Break. However, college serves as a perfect time to not only redefine yourself academically, but also redefine what trivial things, like Spring Break, can mean to you. Last year, during my first Spring Break as a college student, I traveled to New York City with a group of Harvard students I didn’t know in order to volunteer with God’s Love We Deliver and tour medical schools. After this week, I left New York on a bus back to Harvard with the same group of Harvard students who were no longer strangers, but instead great friends!

Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) (basically the Harvard version of Key Club International) is the altruistic heart of Harvard College and one of the many beautiful programs they run is called Alternative Spring Break (ASB). Last year, I participated in the ASB New York Premed trip which actually convinced me to commit to the premed track after being hazy for what felt like a lifetime. ASB trips not only foster friendship due to the inherent intimacy of a small group travelling, but also is the perfect harmony of productivity and fun! I’m definitely obsessed with ASB and that’s one of the reasons why I applied to direct the trip this year. I was partnered up with another sophomore to direct the trip and I certainly cannot verbally express my excitement about the great potential the trip has! Although the trip won’t occur until March 2012, paper applications have closed and we spent the long weekend interviewing over 70 fantastic applicants! Although these three loooong days of interviewing really cut into my physics midterm and biology paper writing time, I just can’t contain my excitement for this trip!! Maybe I’m just REALLY excited for The Game (at Yale this year). GO HARVARD!!! YAY IVY LEAGUE CHAMPS!!!

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With so many great opportunities on campus, it’s easy to think there are more than 24 hours in a day. For example, I’m going to eat sushi with my roommate and his girlfriend in the Square for lunch tomorrow. Yes, anytime I can eat sushi is a great opportunity. Perhaps a more Harvard-relevant (and actually great) opportunity is that I’ll be attending a Q&A Session with Mark Zuckerberg on Monday evening. I’ll be sure to post about it. But back to the point of me mentioning these things. I budgeted my time pretty poorly this week. It’s official–I pulled my very first all-nighter on Thursday, November 3, 2011.

I’m taking Computer Science 50, which, in my opinion, is one of the quintessential Harvard courses. It’s one of my favorite that I’m taking this semester. There’s a cult-like following on campus, and it’s designed for both concentrators (“concentration” is our word for “major”) and non-concentrators alike. The course is actually available online for free. If you’re even slightly interested, check out the first lecture. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I’m usually on schedule (thanks, GCal!) but I think everyone’s allowed a freebie in having a lapse of judgment when it comes to managing time. Thursday just happened to be mine, but I was in great company and super productive. Now, don’t get me wrong, some hours were more difficult to get through than others, but time was flying by as I coded away. Aside from talking about things I’m really passionate about with friends (equal rights, inequities in healthcare, volleyball, X-Men, cheesecake…not necessarily in that order), programming is probably one of the most intellectually stimulating things I’ve taken up since being here. There’s a very methodical thought process behind it, and it requires you to think both logically and critically. I’ll admit that it’s wicked frustrating when you have an error that you can’t seem to spot, and if you look at your computer screen long enough, everything just ends up looking the same. It’s kind of like when you say a word over and over and it suddenly morphs into incoherent jibber-jabber. Luckily, I was surrounded by friends who were all working on the same problem set. We were all very determined and it was a great, collaborative atmosphere. If one person was having an error, someone else was able to help him or her through it.

My favorite part of the evening came towards the end of our marathon, around 6 AM, when we all decided to go to Weeks Bridge to watch the sunrise. Even with morning practices and lift when I was on the volleyball team, I had never been awake early enough to see the sun come up. We all agreed that it was beautiful, and I really regretted not having my camera on me (…then again, I didn’t plan on staying up all night…). Standing there overlooking the Charles River and watching the sky change colors made me realize that I should try to set my alarm to catch a sunrise every so often. Whether or not that will actually happen is another story–but it’s a nice thought.

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I have mentioned in previous posts that I have been spending a lot of time this semester working on my senior thesis (!)  I am happy to report that I turned it in last Monday and am excited for the rest of senior spring! Because I am a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator, the bulk of my thesis involved experiments in lab that I performed during my junior and senior years, and during the summer before senior year. This past semester, I then spent most of my time writing up my experiments and making figures (and doing a lot of editing!)

One of the things I realized as I finished up my thesis during Spring Break is that things generally take longer than you expect—which makes time management crucial to college (and most periods in life!). For example, on Sunday afternoon, I sat down to do a final read-through of my thesis. I expected it to take about an hour since I was just looking for spelling errors. Six hours later, I finally converted my Word document to a PDF and headed to Kinko’s to print out five copies. Two hours later, I had printed out five black and white copies, reprinted and inserted all the color figures, and had the copies spiral bound. It was awesome to see my thesis put together and ready to turn in!

The next morning, I headed to the MCB office to officially hand my copies to Tom Torello, the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies for MCB and CPB. Every concentration generally has a celebration when seniors turn in their thesis. MCB/CPB had lots of yummy drinks (including mimosas!) and homebaked cookies!

Although I forgot to take a picture with Tom, Eric ’11, and I (with Eric and I looking a bit tired…) here are somewhat representative pictures of the final stages of the senior thesis:

(1) Printing and binding the thesis!!! (My thesis!)

(2) Turning in the thesis!!! (Kevin ’11 with the Neurobiology Advisors Tamily and Ryan)

(3) The aftermath – my roommate Emma ’11 surrounded by (some of) the books she used in her thesis


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