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WOAH. August is over?! It’s hard for me to be in denial any longer, especially since my first day of Senior Year is tomorrow! My last fall semester Shopping Week is kicking off in just a few hours and with three years of wisdom and experience as an undergraduate, I’m still frantically constructing a shopping schedule the night before…

Shopping Week is what we call the first week of every semester when students are allowed to sit in (or walk out!) of any and all classes without any hard feelings. It’s an exploratory week where everyone strives to strike the perfect balance of our favorite professors, homework, and catching up with everyone back on campus! Although I don’t have a shopping schedule yet, I’m not exactly freaking out because we pre-term plan (PTP) which is a system where students enter courses they intend on enrolling in for the next semester in advance. Both Shopping Week and Pre-Term Planning have no strings attached which definitely eases the stresses concomitant to committing to classes!

But before we get too serious talking about commitment and classes, I wanted to wrap up my summer of participating in iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) through the Global Health Institute. I was pursuing clinical research in maternal health and nutrition in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for a total of 9 weeks. I wrote a final report at the end of the program that I wanted to share with you – below is what I submitted!

Nutrition and Global Health Internship

Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


            The summer internship abroad description depicts clinical trials addressing critical gaps in nutrition and the complex dynamic between these gaps and infectious/chronic disease as well as perinatal, child, and maternal health. The core of these epidemiologic studies entails randomized clinical trials investigating both the safety and efficacy of iron and/or vitamin A supplements during pregnancy in resource-poor settings, with the ultimate goal of positively contributing to the broader global health and health policy agenda.


I am pleased and happy to report that all of these promises of both wide-range and in-depth clinical research exposure that was laced within the internship description were successfully delivered upon completion of the internship.


Although my Tanzanian internship was my first time traveling to the African continent, this summer internship was not my first abroad experience. I spent last summer abroad in Latin America, completing a medical shadowing internship at a private clinic in Lima, Peru as well as a sustainable clean water engineering project in Cochabamba, Bolivia. My South American experiences last summer have imprinted an understanding of the slower pace traditional outside of state lines and most importantly, have honed my patience as well as my ability to both appreciate and adapt to the culture of my surroundings. For my African adventure, I anticipated similar communication barriers and delays concomitant to the abroad lifestyle. To my pleasant surprise, the task list accumulated at a beyond reasonable pace whether that entailed acquiring familiarity with the three studies or advancing the trials along.


My first task involved creating a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to regulate and track the flow of participants’ samples and data. The SOP task emerged from necessity as it seemed as if neither a written nor digital record existed; but coincidentally and conveniently, investigating informational flow through shadowing and interviews served the greater purpose of learning the details of the study and its data collection protocol. It was interesting to peak into, poke around, and then ameliorate the gap in procedure. Unlike a laboratory bench experiment, clinical trials are more vulnerable to uncontrolled and unexpected events which call for resiliency and flexibility in problem solving. This realization was also enlightening because it was my first time differentiating between protocol and practice. I admire the type of on-your-toes need for creativity that has proven to be characteristic of working in big scale clinical trials.


Drafting the SOP harmoniously worked hand in hand with the assignment of creating a matrix which visually juxtaposed the study’s various analytical laboratory tests with how the test results are utilized to determine the health conditions of participants. The completion of this task necessitated research beyond the studies’ full protocols. Scientific journals and research articles helped me not only compile the test-condition matrix, but also develop an understanding to the meaning behind once abstract large words and fancy acronyms. It was refreshing to get a big picture sense of the study as well as its details to motivate both the clinical trials and my personal contribution, especially since it is very easy to have research interns work with their heads down without grasping the grander purpose of neither their labor nor the study.


Speaking of working diligently with my head down, I brought it upon myself to familiarize myself with the Microsoft Office program of Access, software that I never heard about before this nutrition research internship. Access serves as a relational database management system that also catalyzes the export of data for analysis. I concentrated on creating Access forms for a different study that also examined maternal health called Cook Smoke with Blair Wylie as the principle investigator. My practice of creating Access forms was quickly put to good use for developing a Compromised Sample Log form. However, creation of this form catalyzed the realization that the LIS database currently in use needed to be revamped to optimize efficiency and cease disappearance of data. A Visual Basic database has been piloted and activated with intentions to record laboratory test results.


The backlogging of the first 6-7 months of 2013 has been initiated and is well underway with the new database. It is easy to perceive repetitive tasks such as entering data or counting slides and blocks as useless, time-killing tasks. However, I tried to keep an optimistic mindset because as minor as my tasks seemed on the surface, they needed to be completed in order to move on to later stages of the study. It is important to experience first-hand multiple aspects of research so that a broader sense of perspective can be more easily achieved.


With a familiarity of both a broad and narrow sense of the trials, the opportune time to visit hospital sites presented itself. I enjoyed and appreciated the diversity of the sites – some sites are located in popular, urban areas while others pop up from unpaved compounds. The drastically diverse landscapes of the sites directly reflect the wide socioeconomic gaps in Dar es Salaam’s population which is an important characteristic to include and analyze within the trials. On-site visits were exciting and eye-opening as I tried to observe and memorize every detail of the hospitals. From the common waiting room to the labor waiting room and all the way to the actual birthing room, I was entranced by all the similarities, but mostly differences, to American and Peruvian hospitals.


The hospital differences grew – in a depressing manner – with the opportunity to shadow Professor Ferdinand Mugusi at the non-paying infectious disease ward of Muhimbili Hospital. Regarding my hospital exposure, my experiences have been relatively sheltered due to high US health standards. Even when I served as a medical shadowing intern in the developing country of Peru, I was based in a private clinic where financial concerns were neither a prominent thought nor a driving factor in every patient diagnosis. Tanzanian physicians tend to favor the cheaper, more non-specific tests, if any tests at all. It is indeed inspiring to witness Tanzanian provisions of free health care to those who cannot afford it. However, it is also distressing to witness crowded conditions within an infectious disease ward where resources are extremely limited. The silver lining lies in the uplifting reassurance of how well the staff strives to evenly distribute the resources available.


As with any developing country, Tanzania is no different in that financial matters both motivate as well as limit its progress. It was ironic how financial constraints also influenced the smooth advancement of the clinical trials. I have experience with money trouble in the context of laboratory bench research and grants, but I have never seen – or have I ever been this moved by – a staff that financially contributes out of their own pocket for the sake of keeping the study alive and running. To say that such efforts are heart-warming would be a grand understatement. Seeing first hand a non-romanticized perspective of research illuminated the people’s passion for their profession – a passion I arduously aspire for as an undergraduate – as well as wholly demonstrates the kind heartedness characteristic of Tanzanian culture.


Another important and intrinsic aspect of Tanzania is their skill to work in teams. During the weekly Thursday Skype meetings with Professor Wafaie Fawzi in Boston, it was always delightful to have everyone gathered in one room, catch up on the details of the study that they are personally responsible for, as well as work towards a common goal and brainstorm solutions to problems that have arisen during the week. The most personally impactful meeting was over the topic of enrollment and raising awareness about the maternal health studies. The catch 22 dilemma consisted of our goals to innovatively enroll new pregnant participants all while not overwhelming the clinic sites. Ideas to collaborate with individual village’s community leaders as well as hire a truck with a speakerphone announcement were debated. Although the solution remains in a grey area, the sound consensus was that the shared goal was to promote our study without demoting the reputations and perceptions of the health care system. The seamless transition from one specific problem of enrollment to the general concern of maternal health programs was a critical moment to witness because it served as a reminder to maintain awareness of each baby step so that in the end, the aggregation of steps creates a path to the ultimate end goal of improving global health.

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On my way to the library a few weeks ago during Reading Period, I ran into one of my friends – this adorably small freshman girl struggling with her packing boxes. Wanting to be the hero, I graciously offered to help. She kindly refused both me and my muscles as she had already called one of her peer-freshman friends to come help her. As I waited with her in the generous springtime breeze, it warmed my heart at the thought of how one year can build insanely close friendships. In an incredibly stressful time of final examination preparations, there are still helping hands left and right if you ever need anything!

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Packing is always a struggle as Inesha and Rob mentioned because of the time crunch – you have to pack and furiously study/cram for finals! Harvard tries to smooth the chaos concomitant to the end of the semester as much as possible though by offering students free summer storage. A few of the upperclassman houses are undergoing construction during this summer which means the usual storage rooms in the houses are unavailable due to renovations; but students still get storage! The houses contract off-campus storage for us and although our storage limitations become much, much narrower (normally 10 boxes, now down to 4), it’s definitely better than nothing! I remember my family and friends at other universities scrambling for summer storage and I’m really glad that’s not an additional concern I have to worry about!

Anyways, my friend’s friend arrived promptly to help her with her boxes and we introduced ourselves to each other. He surprisingly recognized me from this blog and told me that he thought my last summer in South America was awesome. I’m still feeling all warm and fuzzy from my 45 seconds of fame, but I do feel a little bad because I definitely grilled him with questions like if my narrative of my Harvard experiences was an accurate depiction of undergraduate life here. He told me that reading this blog got him really excited for the opportunities and that he was not disappointed at all with his first year. That’s definitely what I like to hear! But that being said, there are comment sections on this blog for a reason, so definitely let any one of us know if we can speak about something of your interest because we’d be more than happy to blog about requested topics! I’m not done with my shameless plug until I pressure everyone into following us on Twitter 🙂

I continued blogging throughout last summer (2012) during my first abroad adventure in Europe (France, Italy, and Spain) and South America (Peru and Bolivia). Blogs from last summer are a great alternative to Facebook stalking myself and I hope to continue blogging this summer as well! I’ll be participating in the iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program through the Global Health Institute.

The application process for my summer ventures was grueling to say the least. I knew I definitely wanted to be abroad more than anything so I applied to a handful of programs abroad which also meant that I needed to apply for funding/grants as well. Since I was fortunate enough to have Harvard fund my last summer abroad, I wasn’t eligible for a lot of funding sources this year which means I had to get a little creative and apply to some obscure programs as well as outside-Harvard funding. I wasn’t willing to bank on getting both an acceptance into an abroad program and funding so I applied to a ton of domestic programs as well. Not only was I writing personal statements like it was my day job, I was reaching out to a bunch of previous professors/TFs (Teaching Fellows: normally graduate students who lead discussion/problem solving sections that usually supplement lectures/lab) for recommendation letters. Although it was a stressful process on top of my normal class, volunteering, and lab schedules, I think it was a really good practice run for when I apply to medical school next year!

I’m striving for a secondary field (Harvard’s term for a minor) in Global Health and Health Policy and am beyond elated to be researching through the Global Health Institute this summer!! The Institute offers amazing summer programs both domestic and abroad (details can be found here) and also guarantees funding which is every student’s dream come true! In researching the programs, I became really interested in nutrition because it’s a topic I’ve yet to explore in any of my classes, but it’s also a topic that I think about every time I eat (which roughly translates into 6x/day)! I applied to the abroad programs that revolved around nutrition (i.e. Barbados, Brazil, India, and Tanzania). After submitting an online application, students interview with the program coordinators who then pass your application along to the appropriate researchers. Second round interviews then take place with the researchers- at least theoretically (I didn’t have a second round interview).

Around the same time as the  online application deadline for international program applicants, the Institute organizes modules that are designed to help you prepare for your abroad experience. These modules try to jump start your way of thinking to be more open and inclusive as well as prepare you for the inevitable dangers of being in an unfamiliar location. Professors as well as students who participated in past years run the module to speak/preach about their experiences. There are three modules in the spring semester before the international internship begins and then one more follow-up module the following fall semester. The modules last anywhere from 2-4(?) hours and take place on pretty arbitrary nights. For students, this is a huge block of time for either class or homework so it can be really difficult to attend. The Institute nudges attendance by advertising that applicants who attend are more likely to be selected to participate in the program. Plus, the event is catered and they give out fancy folders and notebooks! These modules aren’t mandatory until they extend you an offer and you accept the summer internship. Make-up modules were also held on a Saturday during Reading Period for students who couldn’t attend the regular sessions, only going to show the program’s flexibility and how willing they are to work around students’ needs.

In all honesty, these modules sounded like a waste of my time because I can be unjustifiably arrogant about my traveling skills. I think that since I’ve roughly traveled in Vietnam, Peru, and Bolivia, I’ll be able to survive in any other (developing) country. I’d like to think I’m a good level of paranoid about my sense of security abroad, but there were a lot of tips that I haven’t considered (i.e. checking the tires before entering vehicles). All in all, the program does a great job with availing students resources in order to prepare for our trip abroad. They make sure we make health clinic appointments so that all our vaccinations are up to date, help us schedule meetings with our mentors, as well as print out personalized articles about our destinations! I openly complimented the project coordinators about this because I was super appreciative of being babied while I was prepping for finals!

My destination is Tanzania! I’ll be researching maternal health and nutrition within the context of malaria and its connection with iron and vitamin A deficiency. I. am. so. excited! The principle investigator, PI, of the studies is Wafaie Fawzi. We tried to schedule a meeting before I left for Tanzania, but our schedules unfortunately conflicted too much. He’ll be coming  to visit sometime in June though so I’m excited to meet the face behind the Skype calls – every Thursday, we Skype call Wafaie to give him a weekly report and discuss timelines of the study.

I’m not exactly sure how SURF works, but with regards to iSURF, there are always at least 2 students sent per destination so no one is traveling alone for the summer. My program partner is Leanna, also a member of the class of 2014, a proud resident of Lowell House, and a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator (major). We didn’t know each other before being paired in the program so I reached out to her to meet up on campus so we would at least know what each other looked like before arriving in Tanzania. She’s a pretty seasoned traveler in Africa – having studied in Ghana and Kenya in different programs. I was excited about the expertise she was bringing to the table, especially since it’s my first time on the continent! Having the opportunity to participate in iSURF was as exciting as making a new friend! Depending on my internet resources abroad, I’ll be updating weekly 🙂


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How do we tell a chef from an amateur, a piece of culinary art from mere lowbrow attempts at home cooking? Is there any real difference at all, and if so, on what expertise does this distinction rest?


This is the basic question that my research fellowship with Harvard’s Schlesinger Library attempts to answer. As summer is slowly winding to a close, so too is one of my post-graduation summer endeavor. Many days in an overly air-conditioned library have finally brought together an illuminating bit of research on the topic of culinary aesthetic shift from the post-WWI period in the United States to the post-1975 period.


To give you a bit of insight, I thought I’d feature a few of the clippings from my research below—all photographed from the culinary magazine Gourmet through-out different time periods.


Taken from a 1952 copy of Gourmet, during what many describe as the time of high modernism, this advertisement elucidates the proliferation of mass production and appeal to authority typical of products under the period of Fordist modernity.

Compare this to the advertisement below from Gourmet in 1975, featuring instead an emphasis on small batch production and eclectic (or D-I-Y, do-it-yourself) style.

While I’ve traced a number of factors that played into this shift in culinary aesthetics of which only one example is shown above, one of the most telling is the distrust of totalizing views of cooking as art that was so prominent in the 1950’s of French-cooking traditionalism and extensive chef training leading to a distinction between the chef and the amateur. Chefs-as-artists became co-opted into materialism completely through advertisements (James Beard) and more easily through television cooking shows (Julia Child) with the advent of TV.


Of course, this is all just to give you a flavor of what my summer has looked like, and also to show some of the truly interesting research materials at one of Harvard’s libraries. On a less scholarly but no less important side, summer in Cambridge has proven to once again offer a wealth of opportunities of leisure time for any student (or post-grad) who happens to be around for these few months.

On Sundays Cambridge closes down a section of the street between the river and Harvard Square allowing of jogging, walking, or bike riding without the innumerable cars to push you off on a sidewalk. During the summer though, they have a new program called Sunday Parkland Games where everything from badminton to hula hoops, along with team games (potato-sack race) and free yoga classes from Karma Yoga Studio! It was so much fun, it felt like being a kid again during our elementary school relay games.

If anyone is in the area, this will be going on for the next two Sundays and strongly urge you to come check it out.

Besides that, Fridays have also become a time of routine as the workday from 3:30-5pm for The Harvard Community Garden. The Garden has grown beautifully with the addition of its annual crops, and has been a great place to take free yoga classes put on by Harvard student and my Yoga-Teaching-Training classmate Kelly, as well as to take classes on everything from tea making to pickling. Most Fridays they even have a movie at the garden at night.

As the month comes to a final close, I’ll make sure to check back in one more time for more updates on spending the summer in Cambridge.



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I mentioned briefly before that the second half of my post-graduation summer would be filled with days on my computer in a café and scanning books in Harvard’s Schlesinger library—all part of the research grant I received from the Carol K. Pforzheimer fellowship. As I have just begun to immerse myself in this research, I thought I’d give a more in depth overview of the fellowship, the research process, and the information I’ve collected so far.


What’s great about the Carol K. Pforzheimer grant—like my thesis grant before it—is that the research topic can be on any anything as long as it utilizes the Schlesinger Library’s holdings. Grants are for expenses of up to $2,500 and the final research can be published in a variety of forms. The Schlesinger Library has a wide variety of holdings on women’s history, cooking, and poetry, among other topics.


My own specific topic is, “The Postmodern Culinary Plate”. Through this project I plan to compose a thesis-sized project to answer the question, “How do contemporary shifts in food and drink culture in America highlight an actualization of a postmodern paradigm within present American culture?”


I have begun to find and access old (before the 1980’s) food and beverage advertisements, particularly of popular products sold by large corporations (e.g., Folgers, Hostess, Wonder Bread). Film and photographs on microform held in Schlesinger are of particular relevance, as are magazines as well with advertisements in them. I will also find and access old cooking magazines from the early 20th century until now. This will help aid my subproject of understanding the move away from small-scale, artisanal food products towards standardization in America (assembly line, processed foods, rise of McDonalds, etc.) after WWI and WWII, and back again towards a revitalization in “artisanal” and locally made foods (as per the “localism” movement) today. Third, I will be researching the history and rise of chefs and specialists within the culinary field. Papers by individuals in the culinary field, including Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher and others held in Schlesinger will be of particular relevance here. Fourth, I will use the Schlesinger collection of cookbooks to trace a history of certain food items that today have been subjected to deconstruction by molecular gastronomy chefs (e.g., Tortillas Espanola deconstructed by Chef Ferran Adrià, or the drink the Bloody Mary deconstructed by Chef Dave Arnold). Additionally, menus, letters and diaries that help place the evolution of a food will also be useful. This historical understanding of how a food gains its meaning (what it should look like, taste like, smell like) can then compared to the way that food is deconstructed (a tool of postmodernism) in contemporary culture, subverting the “meaning” of the food by exposing the multiple meanings within it (e.g., how using all the ingredients of a Bloody Mary but combining them in a different way presents a related though unrecognizable product).


Researching in Schlesinger has been unique as none of the books from the library can be checked out, nor can bags be brought upstairs; photocopying has to be done by librarians so bringing a photo camera is encouraged instead. To preempt this, I started out spending hours at nearby Diesel Café (in Davis Square, Cambridge) and Simon’s Coffee Shop (in Porter Square, Cambridge) to search out the books, microfilms, and archives before arriving at the library. Here’s a quick look at some of my current reading list:


1. My Life in France – Julia Child: (Autobiography), this text provides a history of the perceived qualities of an American cook in the 1950’s (seeking simplicity, timeliness, and an emphasis on early food preparation and reheating).

2. Tuning into Mom: Understanding America’s Most Powerful Consumer – Michal Clements, Teri Lucie Thompson: (Non-fiction), this book has a chapter describing how branding and the marketing of brands works to appeal to the consumer of a mother within a household.


3. The Rise of Yuppie Coffees and the Reimagination of Class in the United States – William Roseberry: (Non-fiction), this article describes how the recent rise in gourmet coffee in the United States is not brought on by a new agency of the “yuppie” class, but actually is an extension of a post-capitalist society whereby the consumer only believe he or she is a political actor and is instead a mere chooser where all choices support the same political framework.

4. The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat – David Beriss and David Sutton: (Non-fiction), this article describes how restaurants have become a space for theatre and performance that frames the symbolic economy of the “city” (where food and restaurant identity function as a center of consumption).



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Janet Song, Chemical and Physical Biology Concentrator in Quincy House, Class of 2013

This summer (as with the past 2 summers and 2 school years), I’m working in the Macklis lab in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB) thanks to funding from the Harvard College Research Program. I’m a rising senior concentrating in Chemical and Physical Biology, who loves watching football, playing cards, and eating froyo.

The SCRB department in the fall

An aerial view of the SCRB department

I study corticospinal motor neurons (CSMN), which are the neurons that control voluntary movement – like moving your arms or legs. CSMN are located in the neocortex (the “cerebral cortex”; that’s the part of the brain that makes us human) and extend axons through the brain and down the spinal cord to make connections at every level of the brainstem and spinal cord, from the controlling centers for the face in the brainstem to the cervical spinal cord located at our neck, down to the lumbar cord located at our lower back. I am interested in characterizing genes that are specifically expressed either in the population of CSMN that extend axons to the cervical spinal cord or those that extend axons to the lumbar spinal cord to see what roles they play in axon outgrowth and building the “circuitry” during development. As you can probably imagine, understanding the development of CSMN is important for spinal cord injury (in which CSMN damage leads to paralysis) and diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease (in which CSMN are the brain neurons that degenerate and die, leading to paralysis).

Green shows the path that CSMN that project to the cervical cord would follow, while red shows the path that CSMN that project to the lumbar cord would follow

The Macklis lab uses mice to study CSMN development. One of the ways we investigate how genes function during development is by doing experiments using in utero electroporation. As the name suggests, this allows us to mis-express or knock-down the gene we’re studying in specific progenitor cells and neurons. We then analyze the developing mice a few days after that. Single genes each do specific things, like individual concert instruments, and, together, orchestrate the incredibly complex developmental processes that build the brain!

Of course, I wasn’t born with a pipette in one hand and a test tube in another. When I first joined the Macklis lab way back in freshman year, the only things I knew about neurons were that some of them were located in the brain and that they allowed us to form conscious thoughts. My Principal Instructor, Professor Jeffrey Macklis, paired me up with postdoctoral fellow Vibhu Sahni, who has been an amazing mentor through the years. Both Prof. Macklis and Vibhu have been instrumental in helping me to grow as a scientist.

Lab isn’t always fun though. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated the same experiment over and over again because it failed the first time (and the second time and the third time …), and the hours are nothing to sneeze at. Mice aren’t thinking about what day of the week is convenient for you when they become pregnant or give birth. And I, along with most of my fellow undergraduates, spend time in lab on the weekends as well.

At the end of the day, though, I’m here doing research because I genuinely enjoy it. There’s a special kind of excitement that comes when you discover something that no one else in the world knows, and it’s that sense of possibility – combined with a pervasive curiosity about biological systems – that keeps me motivated. As I apply to graduate programs in biology this coming fall, I hope that I will continue to possess a sense of wonderment and inquisitiveness about the natural world.

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Since my last blog post during Wintersession, campus has become a lot more lively because everyone is back. I’ve finally decided on my schedule, which includes several new things that I’ve never tried before.

  1. I’m working in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) undergraduate labs under the direction of Sujata, my concentration (major) advisor for Biomedical Engineering. Sujata and I met earlier this week to decide on a project that I’d be interested in. With sustainability and this whole “Green is the new Crimson” initiative on campus that was implemented in recent years, we decided a really neat project would be to work with naturally-derived, renewable materials. This semester, I’ll be performing both biological and mechanical characterization of these materials with clinically relevant cell lines and exploring them for biomedical applications. For example, perhaps a corn-derived material or fabric could be used in supporting the lungs of someone who is suffering from emphysema (loss of elasticity in the lungs) or just had a heart attack. I’ll essentially be trying to mix these things to see if corn-derived materials can be used in things like medical devices and to see whether or not they can be used in the body safely, without adverse side effects.
  2. I am taking 5 courses! Well, my research counts as a course, so it isn’t the traditional class with a lecture and homework. While it isn’t all that unusual for someone to take 5 classes, the typical semester here includes only 4, which is what I’ve always done. Regardless, I’m excited, and I think I’ll be able to manage it.
  3. I have 8:30 am class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For those of you high schoolers reading this, that may sound very late. However, you realize that in college, 9:00 am becomes your 6:00 am as an undergrad. Of course, I woke up at 6:00 am in high school for a 7:15 am first class and was so accustomed to it that it just became part of everyday life. Waking up past 6:00 am was considered sleeping in. But in college, 9:00 am is pretty early, and 8:30 am is nearly unheard of (in my experience, I’ve found that very few classes meet before 9). This is, indeed, tragic, but having done it for a week, it’s not all that bad. I guess I’m being a bit dramatic, but it’s nice to be done with class for the day by 10:00 or 11:00 am, which is before some people even start!

I’d like to invite you all to follow us student life bloggers on Twitter. Our username is @HarvardBloggers (, and it’s simply another way for you to connect with us. We’ll be tweeting about life on campus, as well as whenever one of us has a new blog post! Check it out!


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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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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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