thesis

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And, we’re back! What a week it has been. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I was moving into my freshman dorm room in Hurlbut. Fast-forward three years, six semesters, a lot of homework, and even more fun, and here I am starting my fourth and final year at Harvard. Senior year is here!

It’s been a crazy week here at school, full of new beginnings and a lot of nostalgia. I keep thinking of all of the “lasts” and the “last-firsts” I’m experiencing. Last first day of school, last first class of the semester, last fall shopping period, last fall study card, last first Sunday brunch, and so many more. My parents drove me up to Cambridge last Saturday to help me move into my new Eliot dorm room – my last dorm room on my last Eliot House move in day. My dad did most of the heavy lifting, lugging boxes, books, suitcases, and even my futon up three flights of stairs. My mom and I helped a little bit… we mostly offered moral support.

Move in Day

My dad, taking a break from moving in….Good thing I have a futon!

Despite the excitement of move-in day, it honestly feels a little bit like I never left Cambridge. I spent the bulk of my summer here working for the Student Financial Services Office (SFS) at Harvard Law School. I loved it! I wore a lot of different figurative hats during my internship with SFS, processing student loans, quality checking financial aid awards, and fielding questions from law school students. The SFS office is pretty small, but boasts some of the hardest working people I’ve ever worked with. I’m grateful to have had that experience.

Summer Staff Party

Summer Staff Party at the Law School! They had a nautical themed pie eating contest…just another Tuesday at work 😉

Staying in Cambridge over the summer was a lot of fun. The weather was glorious (most of the time) and my apartment building, Dewolfe, was just a short walk to and from work. Of course, Dewolfe had nothing on Eliot House, and it feels pretty good to be back to my home away from home. This past Tuesday Eliot House hosted a Welcome Back BBQ. It was great to enjoy the delicious food, good company, and to hear about the wonderful summers my Eliot House neighbors had.

Dewolfe Kitchen

My roommate, Kendra, making bacon in my kitchen at Dewolfe. She’s holding up a plate that the bacon burned through! It was really good bacon, though…

Eliot House cookout

Our amazing Eliot House chefs getting ready for the Back to School BBQ.

I’m looking forward to the rest of my senior year! I’ll be busy with thesis writing, classes, extra curricular activities, and saying goodbye to one of my favorite places in the world, but I’ll be sure to find fun and interesting things on campus to tell you about.

Until next week,

xo Caroline

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Spring is in the air!

Judging by the warmer temperatures, the sunshine, and the waves of tourists on the sidewalks, spring is well on its way through Harvard Square. Cambridge in the springtime is always wonderful, especially after a winter like the one we’ve had (Nemo, anyone???!!). The air seems lighter, smiles seem brighter, and walking from class to class is increasingly more pleasant. I actually wore flip-flops during a shopping trip earlier this week. I’ll let you know when it’s time to break out the Bermuda shorts.

I haven’t fully be able to enjoy the sunshine, however, because I’ve been working on my History & Literature (H&L) Junior Paper. Last Monday I, along with all of the other juniors studying H&L, was required to hand in a 6,000 word research essay on the topic of my choice. While the last few hours of writing, editing footnotes, and searching frantically for any misplaced commas were nerve racking, the experience as a whole was great! I decided to research the French-Algerian War, and I got to study works by authors like Fanon, Pontecorvo, Bouchareb, Aussaresses, etc. I learned a lot, and if you ever need to know anything about French or Algeria between 1954 and 1962, I’m your go-to girl.

The Barker Center

The beautiful Barker Center is where most of my History & Literature classes, including my tutorial, are held.

This research paper was essentially a culmination of the H&L Junior tutorial. As a modern European H&L concentrator, one of my graduation requirements is the H&L junior tutorial. It is a two-hour meeting between me, my tutor, and two other students (or colleagues, as they are referred to in the department). It may sound daunting: two hours of talking between four people seems like a lot, but honestly, the times flies. The greatest thing about the H&L junior tutorial is that it is student led. We have a great tutor who is a member of the H&L Department and under her guidance we create our own syllabus, complete with secondary and primary source material of our own choosing. Pretty cool, right? Not only are we getting to study history through a literary lens, we’re also getting to choose the history that truly interests us and we’re crafting that lens ourselves.

One of the main purposes of the paper is to prepare us to begin writing our thesis, another requirement for graduation. But more on that next year…with this particular essay behind me, I plan on fully enjoying the rest of Junior Year!

Until next week,

Caroline

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Wow, it’s been a while! It’s currently blizzarding a bit outside, and I’m not sure when it’s going to stop. I grew up on the border of New Hampshire, so I’ve been over the snow for years. It’s definitely not my favorite part about New England, but everyone else seems to love it. Check out Caroline’s post from earlier today for some pictures!

Prom pose!

Prom pose!

Last Sunday, Jeanie‘s sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, had an event at a local restaurant in Harvard Square. We danced the night away and were able to snap this fun “prom pose” picture! It’s always a good time spending time with other bloggers. The event was my fun for the weekend because I had a busy week coming up, both academically and extracurricularly. I would argue that this week was my worst week of the semester, with two midterms on Tuesday and Wednesday, along with meetings for student groups and lectures all in between. I think I slept a total of 6 hours during that two day window. Relatively, I have it pretty good since I’m not writing a senior thesis (hence the title of this post–Thesis Shmesis), which, depending on one’s concentration, have staggered due dates all this week, next week, and even post-spring break. After my exam on Wednesday, I was on an adrenaline kick and decided I would do something nice for my thesis-writing friends who live on my floor. I made a wall of encouraging memes, as well as printed out motivational posters and taped them to everyone’s door. It took me about an hour, which was a lot longer than I expected, but I think (well, at least I hope) that people were surprised. The decorations also added a lovely touch to our hallway.

Thesis Encouragement Wall of Memes

Thesis Encouragement Wall of Memes!

A few hours after postering and finishing my project, I came home to a Facebook notification that had me tagged in a photo and read, “THANK YOU to whoever posted this sign, but James might be a bit confused why it’s on his door… :)” I realized I should be a bit more careful when running on such little sleep…check our the photo below.

Woops–wrong door!

I spent all morning yesterday filming a “Senior Spring Hype Video” as we are so unoriginally calling it for now. We had about 30 seniors show up to our film location in 10 minute intervals, and we asked them to dance, flip their hair, make faces, and act goofy in front of the camera. I’m in the process of editing all of the footage now into a 2 minute clip that we’re setting to fun music. We’re planning to release the video when we get back from spring break since most people will have much less work to do and can really bask in all the glory that is senior spring. We want people to really take advantage of our last few months here and this video will be an awesome way to welcome everyone back to campus. I’ll post the link when it’s up on YouTube!

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I can’t believe it’s June already! Even though I finished exams way back on May 12, it’s been a pretty constant rush over the past few weeks: I transitioned from school immediately into a backpacking trip for Harvard FOP, and then have been spending the past couple of weeks starting research for my senior thesis. Here’s an update on what I’ve been up to!

Exam period was absolutely crazy for me this year: I ended up writing 75+ pages in four days (distributed across papers and take-home finals) and then had two tough exams right at the end of the week. Needless to say, I was pretty burnt out by the end of it all, and was really grateful to have the opportunity to go up to the woods on a training trip with FOP. This year, I was leading a “switch” training trip, which meant that my co-leader and I spent ten days in New Hampshire teaching trainees the art and form of FOP trip leading. Most of the time, we got to kick back and relax while the trainees practiced leading; other times, we would set up “simulations,” which gave them the opportunity to practice their outdoor medical training. “Switch” trips are half backpacking and half canoeing, and we were really lucky to have BEAUTIFUL weather while we were out on the lake. It was 75 degrees and sunny almost every day!

 

My trip at WFA medical training

Me and my co-leader!

Throwing up the switch "S" at sunset

Once I was out of the woods, I started transitioning into research for my senior thesis.  I think (?) I wrote about this briefly in an earlier post, but I was really fortunate to find an advisor from the Sociology department who’s allowing me to work as a research assistant for him on a study that he’s developed for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. I was able to put some questions on the bigger survey that will directly target the issues of health and healthcare that I’m looking to address in my thesis, and have gotten a lot of support in developing my question and using different research methods. It’s been really interesting to be part of the bigger project, as it’s my first time doing formal research outside of the classroom, and I think it’s been a great opportunity to get a taste of academia. Between my 3-4 weeks working as a research assistant for this summer and my 9-week summer internship for a consulting firm, I’m hoping to get a taste for different post-grad options. (It’s also terrifying to already be thinking about “post-grad options,” but that can be the subject of a different blog post)

I took my first trip to Coney Island this summer!

This coming week is going to be exciting for a couple of reasons: Wednesday is my 21st birthday, and I’ll be officially moving into my summer sublet in Cambridge this coming weekend. I also spent this past weekend celebrating my younger brother’s 16th birthday… Needless to say, there’s a lot going on around here! I’m looking forward to my last official week of summer before my internship starts!

We're turning 16 and 21 in the same week!

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FedEx/Kinkos, 12:17am the morning before my thesis is due

It’s official! My thesis has been turned in, despite accidental hole punching, buying the wrong binders, and picking up printouts from FedEx at midnight, it is done! I, luckily, wasn’t feeling as disheveled as I look above once I finally got my print out, but perhaps a bit delirious (though I also just really like that hat). There was even a nice ritual to turning it in, signing your name off, being congratulated, and getting a free Government tote bag.

 

To celebrate, at 5pm the day my thesis was due, the Government Department had a toast with the department staff and other students who had made it through. My only advice at the end of it all, besides choosing an advisor you can talk openly with, is to make sure you really love your topic. I know everyone says that, but it is not that you must just “like “ or “love” your topic, you must “REALLY love” it because you will get sick about reading it and writing it if not (and probably even if you do).

 

And upon finishing my midterm for my “American Food: A Global History” course, Spring break has arrived. In our last section for this course before break, we went over our final research projects for the year. I’ve been looking forward to this project all semester, as it will be the first (and hopefully not last) time I get to really utilize Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. I’ve never seen such an extensive archive on food and women (two academic subjects of my fascination), including everything from old cookbooks aboard military ships from the 1700s to the first U.S. vegetarian magazine.

Leaving my midterm I saw this beautiful ornament near the Religion Department

As I wait for that time, this week at least offers a nice break with some friends visiting and a trip to New York to see my brother. From my “American Food” class, I’ll bring along “The Jungle” (an assigned reading) for some nice company on the bus ride (besides my boyfriend, who just sleeps the whole time anyway). Hope you all are enjoying spring too if you’re near my part of the world!

Oh yeah, and as some of the other bloggers here have already mentioned, this week was housing week where freshman are sorted into their houses for next year (a la Harry Poter style minus the fancy hat) and upperclassmen in each of the houses welcome in their new housemates with social events and awesome videos. I’m in Leverett, but the Quincy Housing Day video for two years has been epic (see if you get the reference)!
~Natalie

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Inside America’s Test Kitchen

It’s crunch time. Midterm, essay, thesis due… and then a week of pure celebration also known as spring break. I’m not sure if it was thoughtful or actually unsympathetic that teachers and the Government department planned these due dates as such but I’ll go with the former.

 

Basically that means from this moment on out, for the next week I’ll be cuddled up in my bedroom and Lamont library with the continuously glowing computer light to keep me company. Yet, it’s not as bad as it sound. The myriad of other students all doing the same around me brings forth a sense of camaraderie with everyone else thinking the same, “two days until my thesis is done forever”, “six days until spring break”, and the like.

 

As a last minute push to procrastinate against the inevitable slew of work however, I journeyed earlier today with the Food Literacy Project to America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) (located in Brookline in Boston, MA). Our group and the FLP coordinator Louisa took an afternoon train to the location where ATK (the PBS cooking show) is filmed as well as the headquarters for the magazine Cook’s Illustrated and show Cook’s Country.

The Test Chef’s in action!

While I wasn’t able to grab a shot of him, we got a glimpse of ATK host Chris Kimball as we tour the location, meet and did a Q & A with some of the test chefs, and did a tasting of our own. While our tasting consisted of three varieties of dark chocolate, ATK often has to do full tastings and then recommendations of less pleasant food items on their own, such as red wine vinegar or fish sauce.

 

The whole atmosphere was ripe with enthusiasm and foodie passion, and there were delicious smells wafting from every corner. We were even able to raid their library and take home a few select cookbooks and magazines, which I’m looking forward to trying out soon.

Test #??: Wedge Salad

Indeed, it seems this whole week has been quite the foodie experience. Last night I helped film and do the sound recording for a community dinner hosted by FLP in Currier House featuring Tamar Adler and Professor Richard Wrangham, a discussion on the future of cooking. I took a freshman seminar with Professor Wrangham on human evolution and war, but it was great to have a discussion together and with other students on evolution and foodways (he wrote the book, Catching Fire). For any potential Harvard freshman, I truly recommend taking a freshman seminar if one of them piques your interest—it was a great experience to have such an intimate seminar with such a great professor as a freshman.

 

In any case, this was a great first event in a series we are starting of community dinners through FLP (“Harvard Talks Food”) to connect professors, academics, and other experts in the food industry with Harvard students as a way to build dialogue and food education. And then prior to that, I was running about a pound or so of guacamole through campus on the way to the Culinary Society’s Annual Guac’ Off (guacamole making contest)! This event is always a hit with students, but who doesn’t love guacamole, prizes, or food competitions? Local burrito restaurant Qdoba and Boloco provided delicious guac’ and queso cheese for those watching the competition.

 

All-in-all the whirlwind of a week was not much of a calm before the storm—it fact, it was quite the storm itself (the snow just continued to pile down as I attempt to ride by bike around campus yesterday). Yet the fun and education experienced made up for it.

 

Hope you have a good weekend and check-in after the “storm”!

 

~Natalie

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One of my favorite things about Harvard is the vast array of extracurricular to get involved in—you have a passion, there’s probably a place for it. If you haven’t noticed, food is one of mine. Not just the taste but also the ability of food to bring together community, create dialogue, and allow us to aid the world through a meal. And, indeed, at Harvard there’s a place for that passion—a group called the Food Literacy Project (FLP).

 

Created and funded by Harvard University Dining Services, this unique group hires student representatives from each undergraduate house—as well as a few additional representatives—to increase food literacy on campus.  We host study breaks in the evenings, lectures on the weekends, and community dinners whenever. Whether the subject is the question of the ethics of Genetically Modified Foods, or helping soon-to-be-leaving seniors learn how to shop & cook for themselves, students around campus help facilitation discussions on the important issues.

I’ve been so lucky to be part of this group of individuals truly excited about what they’re doing. And the energy was once again flowing this past weekend at our semester’s first FLP retreat, where we generate great ideas and made and devoured fresh vegetarian sushi (see pictures below).

 

As the Lowell House Representative, I’m currently putting together plans for a community dinner series featuring some of my favorite professors. One I’m hoping to host an event with in Professor Ted Bestor, an expert on the Japanese Tsukiji Fish Market and the Political and Economic effects of the global fish trade. Perhaps another vegetarian sushi night will be in order.

 

Speaking of passions, the beginning of the semester has been a torrent of applications and meetings and interviews, all maybe, possibly, hopefully. The Culinary Society (of which I’m the Vice President) is currently underway planning our big event for the semester—a guacamole making contest and festival (Guac’ Off), a previous smash the last few years. The whole planning experiencing has been overwhelming and emotionally rewarding at the same time as we it has become time for those of us who are seniors in the club to hand off the baton to the next officers.

 

And then there’s that pesky thesis.  When times get rough, the best thing is knowing you have a friend’s shoulder to lean on. My friend Anita has been invaluable in our mutual venting, crying, and oh-my-gosh-we-can-do-this experiences through our own push to write a thesis. Her block-mate Angelia has been great in realizing I’m not alone when it comes to uncertainty in our writing. I realize now that the greatest value of writing a thesis is in the process itself, of following through, of learning to create something full, and of how to deal.

 

Perhaps that’s one of the greatest values too of Harvard as well—I sure have learned a lot on that front. Academics aside for the moment, it’s now officially Friday evening and time for a movie with friends at our local independent theater, The Brattle Theatre. Hope you enjoy you’re weekend too!

Ps. Here’s a picture of my house cat that I just couldn’t leave out—adorable or what?

 

~Natalie

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Summer simply flew by this year. Was it not only yesterday that my friends and I were going in a joyous post-finals swim in Walden Pond? [An amazing retreat by the way in Lincoln, MA site of where Thoreau wrote Walden].

 

My last summer of college and it truly felt like it; I spent the majority of the months doing research for my political theory thesis, interviewing professors and lawyers in international law. But in between I made time for something that’s been extremely influential to my time at Harvard: meditation and yoga.

 

 

Practicing yoga at Wanderlust in Northern California

 

I was lucky enough to spend a week helping to set up and take down a yoga and music festival up in gorgeous Lake Tahoe, CA, Wanderlust. Renowned instructors and musicians all came together for the event including Michael Franti and The Wailers.

 

Helping to build the meditation dome at Wanderlust

 

During the bustle of the school year, whenever classes or extracurricular life might seem overwhelming, it was so calming to be able to attend yoga classes at our school gym or participate in Harvard Meditation Club. Just remembering to breathe makes day-to-day life that much more vibrant!

 

All in all, Wanderlust was an amazing experience and I was glad to have the weeks before and after to hike and explore in Northern California. If you ever get the change to kayak across Lake Tahoe, defiantly do it. Just be careful getting out of the kayaks, I ended up more wet at the end than intended!

 

Preparing for a kayak and hiking adventure with friends


I also devoted a lot of my summer to helping start and teach at a new Urban Gardening Club at home in Los Angeles, CA. I think the highlight had to be helping one of my neighbors tend to his egg-laying chickens: chickens are surprisingly friendly birds with such distinct personalities. I even helped my parents start their own backyard vegetable garden and compost site.

 

Grape tomatoes from June just beginning to sprout

 

The tomatoes have nearly quadrupled in size by the time I left and we had so many extra zucchinis we were able to donate bundles to the Gardening Club for neighbors in need.

 

Now that the school year is well under way, I’m still craving those fresh vegetables, but lucky Cambridge has a wealth of farmer’s markets to choose from.

 

Until next time,

 

~Natalie<3

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I can’t believe it is already August! My apologies for not posting sooner, but I have a very long wrap-up post for all of you, and I may occasionally post to let you know what post-college life is like.

To finish up my previous posts, I started junior year excited to pursue an MD/PhD and registered for the SAT of medical school: the MCAT. Most of junior year was spent juggling classes and lab with studying, and I was ridiculously happy to be over with the MCAT when I took it at the beginning of reading period in May. From there I jumped straight into applications, which are centrally organized through AMCAS. The summer between junior and senior year I was trying to get data for my senior thesis in lab and writing draft after draft of essays for my primary application (which gets sent to all medical schools) and my secondary applications (which are specific to each medical school). In general, MD/PhD applicants follow a similar timeline to MD applicants, but we have more letters of recommendation (including a letter from every lab we have every worked in) and generally more essays, with the extra essays focused on our research and why we want to get two degrees and stay in school for a really long time. We also have longer interview days – I had anywhere from six to twelve interviews over a two to three day period per school, so fall of senior year I was lucky if I was able to make it to class (I ended up missing over forty days of school, and spent a lot of time getting work done on plane flights).

As I waited to hear back from programs (although some MD/PhD programs are rolling, many wait until march to release all of their spots as each school as so few spots) I wrote and rewrote my senior thesis, had it bound at kinko’s (which is open 24 hours!) and turned it in to the MCB Office. The process of writing my thesis was the most intellectually satisfying experience of my time as an undergraduate, and I am very grateful to my PI and postdoc for the time they put into mentoring me—I learned so much about neuroscience and kinase signaling pathways, but also about science as a profession. After turning my thesis in, I had the opportunity to revisit some of the MD/PhD programs I was deciding between, meet with professors I have admired throughout college, and hang out with the friends I had made during the application process. And then it was time for senior week and graduation!

My roommates and I at the Picnic! (courtesy Cara ’11)

Graduated!

It doesn’t feel too different to have graduated from college just yet but I will definitely miss Mather Dining Hall and not having to cook for myself! Of course, I didn’t go very far—I am now an MD/PhD candidate in the Health Sciences and Technology Program at Harvard Medical School/MIT (and all but one of my roommates and most of my blockmates and friends are still in the Cambridge/Boston area). This summer we started off the program with a summer course and a graduate school lab rotation, and in less than two weeks I will be getting my first white coat!

I was so lucky to graduate from college and be able to start the next phase of my life that I am incredibly excited about, and I hope the class of 2015 has a wonderful first year at Harvard College—it may not seem like it now, but the next four years will go by fast, so do your best to make the most of them!

If you have any questions about the MD or MD/PhD route, feel free to contact me at Alissa_D’Gama@hms.harvard.edu (Yes, my email has an underscore and an apostrophe!)

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Last week, I helped launch a campaign for President of the United States. I’m a blogger and foreign policy advisor, and we already have a multitude of other advisors, a campaign manager, press secretary, and even an embedded reporter.

Okay, so this isn’t exactly a real campaign. Instead, it’s a simulated presidential election for a class I’m taking at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) on political communication. Instead of just learning how campaigns are run and how to deliver messages to voters, we actually give speeches, write press releases, and then help our candidate prepare for the debate that serves as the capstone to the course. Throughout, we’re receiving feedback and lectures by the professor, who is an active political consultant and manager on actual presidential campaigns.

Taking courses at Harvard’s graduate school is one of the lesser-used treasures of Harvard. If the 1000+ courses offered through the College and the Faculty of Arts and Science aren’t enough, there are 1000s of additional courses available through Harvard’s graduate schools. Are you deeply interested in policy making and politics? Take a class at the Kennedy School. Want to revolutionize education? Try out the Graduate School of Education (GSE). Interested in the legal issues surround tech companies? Cross register at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School. Cross registering is simple: just get permission of the professor, get a form signed, and then you’re in. Many concentrations (such as mine, Social Studies) even offer concentration credit for a number of the courses.

While I took the political communication class on a whim, having the Graduate School of Education has both inspired me to write on education for my senior thesis and learn more about my specific topic, education technology, before I begin my research this summer. I took the course “Education Policy Analysis and Research in Comparative Perspective” last semester where I learned to think about how to implement programs and policies in practice, considering economic, political, and physical constraints. While the College’s strength is in liberal arts, providing a strong foundation in theory, this shift in thought forced me to think in new ways.

Beyond the course, taking classes at the graduate schools also offers a number of prospectives from people outside of academia. The GSE course included a number of guest lectures from educational entrepreneurs, heads of international aid agencies, World Bank economists, and more. Through the Kennedy School course, I’ve even heard from one of Obama’s current speech writers. Having taken the courses, I have been able to meet the students at the respective graduate schools, who are experienced in their respective disciplines and can provide perspective on what it’s like to actually work in the field in the real world. Finally, you’re able to build out a network of professors in subjects you’d like to get to more involved in; in fact, my GSE professor is actually helping me with my thesis over the coming year.

While the College offers plenty of courses, exploring the graduate schools is yet another way to learn about subjects in greater depth and try something new!

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