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As a Harvard student, I think one of the fastest lessons you learn is that the word “midterm” is a misnomer. These tests should really be re-coined as exams because they seem to happen all throughout the semester rather than just in the middle of it. Some classes won’t have midterms (maybe they’ll have papers) while some classes will have up to three midterms (more common in science classes).

This week, my big exam was in my LS2 (Life Sciences 2: Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy) class. It was a 50 point in-class exam and students had 50 minutes to complete it. We were very thoroughly notified that time would be a critical issue, but this didn’t help with my anxiety. There really isn’t any time to think! I truly had to know everything about germ layers, embryos, sensory impulses, and etc. inside and out to be able to not think yet thoroughly answer all the questions. Whether or not this crazy-fast recollection of physiology and anatomy will ever help in the future is still TBD. When this exam was over, I definitely had less on my plate – but still enough on my plate to keep me a bit overwhelmed.

My senior fall midterm schedule is looking pretty nice since they’re spread out over a few weeks. However, I’m still running from meeting to appointment to interview in a (hopefully) hot mess fashion.

In my EMR 20 (Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 20 – The Business and Politics of Health) class, my professor David Cutler cut a deal with his students: if students volunteered to present in groups the pros and cons of the New York Soda Ban, those students would be able to drop a pset (problem set). This class has a pset due every other week which seems nice at first because most psets are weekly. However, these psets tend to be longer and since I’m very interested in the international development trend of the course, they take me longer as I research my tangent thoughts. Long story short, I volunteered to present the cons concomitant to Bloomberg’s Soda Ban and was placed in a group of 4 students total. Group presentations – especially when you cannot select who to work with – can be wild cards. My “con” group was great though! We were super organized, efficient, and productive. Everything was seamlessly shared on Google Drive and we even ran through our presentation at least twice the night before! It was definitely one of the best group project dynamics I’ve ever experienced to date. Coincidentally, we all represented four different years of the university; I really appreciated not only meeting new peers, but also listening to their different perspectives and knowledge about the university. Harvard students employ an outrageous amount of acronyms so it was funny to see which ones freshman learn first. From class selection, sleep/eating schedule, to our approach on how early to start psets, our opinions and preferences all varied yet were all similar as well. I can’t really articulate the common thread linking all Harvard students, but there’s something warm and fuzzy keeping us together through our experiences in Annenberg (the freshman dining hall), The Yard, and beyond.

The group presentation is just one of the many ways Cutler makes his lecture-format course interactive. He’s one of the best professors I’ve ever had in terms of transforming lectures into an active, rather than passive, activity. He challenges us with questions and then uses our answers to pose higher level thinking questions. He’ll poll us on our opinions before and after discussing certain topics like whether or not we should improve the economy to improve health or focus on healthcare first to have the enhancement of the economy follow. I’m really enjoying the lectures thus far!!

Outside of class tests and projects, I’m starting another research experiment as a Research Assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Lab. I’ll be working with a fellow from the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences. Since we employ human subjects in the lab, it’s always hard for me to determine how much information to disclose so I’d rather err on the conservative side. We’ll be spinning around the Dictator Game to answer our research questions about impulsive decision making and bargaining.

This week is also the beginning of the PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association) mentoring program that I’ve been involved with since my freshman fall and have been directing since my sophomore fall: BRYE Teen. (I’ve warned you all about our ridiculous amounts of acronyms!) PBHA is a student-run, umbrella public service organization that supports hundreds of different programs serving the elderly, the youth, and every person (or animal!) in between! BRYE stands for Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment and has many subcategories such as BRYE (afterschool) Tutoring, BRYE Summer (summer camp), and many more. My co-director and I have been working super diligently this past first month of school to recruit both mentors and mentees. We’ve been nervously waiting to see the fruits of our labor and I’m more than happy to report that the fruit turned out sweeter than what we were hoping for!

My favorite thing about PBHA is that it connects you with your community as well as other students. Many of my friendships have blossomed from being involved in mentoring and PBHA in general. Once a month, PBHA serves dinner and hosts a meeting called Cabinet where directors from various programs come to give updates and learn about the other aspects of PBHA they might not be aware of – sort of like a behind the scenes look. The PBHA Cabinet meeting is a great place to learn about how Harvard students have been spending their time!

Although the theme of my week has been running around from task to task, I try to make time to stop and smell the roses. The establishment of the new Science Center Plaza has helped me make time to stop and smell the roses. The new plaza is incredible – and even more so in the nice weather we’ve been having in Cambridge! I’m glad that no more students will have to go on without the plaza. It’s a unique and thriving place to meet with friends, have lunch, and get tan! I’m pretty sure I always naturally smile when passing the plaza. There’s also a tented area where farmer’s markets happen with frequency along with other special events too such as health fairs and boutique shops!

Coincidentally at the same time as Obamacare?

Health = fresh fruit baskets


Great use of space


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As I mentioned last week when I was describing my course schedule for the semester, I’m taking more independent classes this term. These less structured courses are a new experience in my academic career and I’m nervous-excited as I venture into this personally new unknown. Hopefully, I’ll be able to manage my time and work well enough to not go crazy come November.

One of the two of my more independent classes is GHHP 91r (Global Health and Health Policy Supervised Reading and Research). The goal of the class is to write a mini-thesis on a topic of choice under the supervision of a faculty adviser who is there to help focus my topic as well as grade me at the end of the term. I’ve (tentatively) chosen to continue my topic from the summer when I was performing clinical trials about maternal health and nutrition (vitamin A/iron supplementation during pregnancy within malaria-endemic regions). However, I’ve been unable to secure an adviser as of yet. I’ve been emailing and meeting with people like crazy and I have (false?) confidence that I’ll find an adviser eventually, but this process has been much more difficult than I anticipated and thus, I have been a bit discouraged.

Good thing this discouragement doesn’t carry over from classes to my extracurricular activities! This week of school has been focused on my “work” outside of the classroom.

In my search for a global health adviser, I was directed to a Harvard initiative about raising awareness about malaria. There’s actually a competition open to all Harvard affiliates and I’ve gathered 3 of my friends to form a team with me and enter. When I first perused the article and found out about the competition, I definitely thought it was cool, but something I would never enter due to no time/thinking I would never win. However, I still attended their informational session and ran into some friends there. We threw around the idea of forming a team and I’ve been super determined to enter with a great idea. We don’t have any ideas yet though — but we’ve been having a blast trying to come up with some! Okay, so most of our meeting time is spent joking around and relaying stories, but the few serious minutes we had were pretty productive. We’ve scheduled a meeting with the head of Malaria No More and intend to schedule many more with professors and whatnot.

I’ve not only never entered into a contest of this sort, but also wouldn’t have seen myself doing something like this. I’m getting really excited about my team though since we come from many backgrounds (life sciences, economics, education, computer science), it’s been really useful to bounce ideas off of each other!

This Defeating Malaria contest is definitely more of an academic extracurricular. However, I’m also involved with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) which is an umbrella organization running a bunch of programs geared towards public service and volunteering in the community. Mentoring was a huge part of my high school years; I mentored elementary students afterschool all throughout high school. When I moved across the country for college, I knew I wanted to continue mentoring and the opportunity to mentor the heavy immigrant population in Dorchester was perfect because it would also help keep my Vietnamese language ability alive.

I joined the Teen sector of the BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) program during my freshman fall and started directing the program the following year. At the beginning of each semester, PBHA programs like BRYE work diligently to recruit student volunteers. I spent a lot of time this week interviewing applicants. I’ve also stressed the importance of recruting mentees this year so I’ve been calling a lot of families in Dorchester and utilizing my proficiency in both Vietnamese and Spanish. BRYE has truly been the best application of my language abilities and I love it!

One more “extracurricular” that I’ve tacked onto my schedule for my senior year has been trying to find something to do post-graduation. My plan is medical school, but not immediately. I’m hoping to fill in my gap year(s?) with something related to the medical field and hopefully this different insight will help me become a better practicing doctor when the time comes! Besides from looking into research fellowships, I’ve also been on the job hunt for healthcare consulting/tech firms. I’ve never actually sought out a job before and this whole process of networking and interviewing has been intimidating! I had a phone interview with a healthcare software company this week and apparently that went well enough so that I’m at the next stage of their hiring process: a skills assessment. It’s essentially an online logic test from what I gather. There will be a proctor just sort of watching me as I take this 2 hour test, but I won’t be able to see the proctor! I’ve never done anything like this and I’m nervous – probably more nervous than what’s good for me. I’m taking this logic test this week and just don’t know what to do with myself since I feel like I can’t prepare for it…

So I’ve been trying to relax. I’m a senior and I’m not currently active in the medical school application cycle. There are endless reasons why I should be having a great time…and I may or may not be exploiting them. However, the ticking clock ticks louder senior year because time is definitely running out to do everything I want to do! But one step at a time right?

One thing I’ve always wanted to do was to get money to throw a party. Thanks, Harvard! There’s a student run group on campus called Drug & Alcohol Peer Advisors (DAPA) and they give out grants every week to students who apply for funding. I decided I wanted to host a party revolving around guacamole and although I requested $40, I received a good $20 for guacamole and everyone was so impressed. It was the best. I definitely want to continue taking advantage of this resource to feed all my small cravings 🙂

I sort of have this problem where even when I’m full, I won’t stop eating. It’s the worst. I’m just glad I have an affinity for exercising to counter my bad habits. I have my third Boston Half Marathon coming up in three weeks and have been experiencing anxiety about it for the past three months. I don’t ever feel ready for long races! But around the end of every September, there’s a community 5k event called the Brian Honan. It’s an amazing event, full of community and spirit! Harvard also sponsors a huge group of runners at the event so registration is free for us! Today was my third Brian Honan as well as my best 5k time! A huge group got together for the event and some of us even jogged back together with a stop at the football stadiums to run up a few stairs before heading over to brunch. Today was just overall an amazing day! It was downpouring at 6am in the morning but the sun was out and the day was beautiful by noon when the race started!

In the summer of 2012, we were all in Barcelona together. In the fall of 2013, we’re still running happy at the Brian Honan 🙂

It’s been a great week, but I need to stop ignoring my classes. Midterms are coming up…what?! Midterms are definitely the sneakiest thing in college.

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You’ll hear everyone talk about Senior Spring like its a legend – as it should be! We started from the bottom, now we’re here — maybe Drake is so catchy because everyone can relate.

But why wait for the spring to start the legend when the class of 2014 can start now? I’ve been constantly denying my imminent entrance into “the real world” (where I’ll have to pay things like rent and electricity … and cook for myself … maybe) while simultaneously reminding everyone of my senior status to demand the profound respect I should automatically deserve. Long story short, I’ve been beyond enjoying my first two weeks of school.

I can attribute much of my happiness to the freedom of my class selection. I’m concentrating in Neurobiology (concentration is Harvard’s fancy word for major) and pursuing a secondary field (Harvard’s fancy term for minor) in Global Health and Health Policy; I still have a few course requirements left as well as some classes that I have to/want to take in preparation for medical school. A lot of the classes overlap so that they double/triple count for things so it’s been really manageable — and dare I say FUN! Now that Shopping Week is over and Study Cards have been submitted, I know what’s ahead of me (at least academically) this semester!

*Shopping Week:The first week of every semester where students are free to drop in or leave any classes. Students can use this week to their advantage by getting a feeling for the professor and the course material. You can get a sense for a class from a syllabus, but attending a class – even if it’s just for a few minutes – will give you more familiarity with what you’re committing to for a whole semester!

*Study Card: A physical piece of paper with a list of classes students want to enroll in – there is a deadline date and time that this must be submitted. There’s a fee if it’s turned in late, but there are plenty of email reminders so this should never happen! Also, depending on what classes you’re taking, professors may need to sign the Study Card in order for students to enroll. The add/drop date is after the Study Card deadline so classes still aren’t exactly set in stone for a few weeks!

The list below are the classes I’ll be enrolling in for the rest of the semester. I’ll start off with the official university description in italics and insert my personal commentary as well.

I’m really excited about my classes this semester because I’m taking 2 more independent classes. The good side is that I have a lot less hours of structured class which makes my job search for next year a bit easier, but the flip side is that I’ll have to constantly remind myself that there is a ton of work for those independent classes! It’s my first time taking independent classes – take this as a plea to keep your fingers crossed for me!

Life Science 100r: Experimental Research in the Life Sciences

(fun fact: the “r” in a course name means that you can repeat the class!)

A  laboratory course that immerses students in a dynamic project-based research environment. Participate in experimental projects directly linked with ongoing faculty research. Students select a project from the following research tracks: neurobiology, microbial sciences, cell biology, and synthetic biology. New projects, including some in other research fields, are offered every term. In a highly collaborative atmosphere, students form a fully-functional and diverse research group based on the sharing of ideas and progress reports between projects. New projects every term. Students collaborate to form a fully-functional and diverse research group based on the sharing of ideas and progress reports between projects. The spring microbiology project is part of the “genomes to Biomes” series.

This is class one of two of my independent classes. This class physically meets every Thursday afternoon where students from every project must attend and there will be presentations on the progress of their project. It’s a wet lab class that I’m completely stoaked for because I really haven’t done too much wet lab (read: pipetting and the like) outside of the labs associated with classes. I did a lot of wet lab research outside of classes for summer internships during my high school summers, but have been preoccupied with taking advantage of Harvard’s abroad resources during my college summers.

I generally just love research. I’ve never been in a better environment. All researchers are the epitome of chill. For example, they aggressively insist on being called their first names! The down side can be that the timescale just feels like the slowest thing ever because some experiments (i.e. dealing with cell cultures) can be very time consuming, but the bright side is that you get to set your own hours! Students will have access to the lab 24/7 too! I think the chill setting of research is fostered by the researchers’ strong curiosity in their work – we’re internally motivated to completing our experiments in order to answer our own questions. Being immersed in such an academically driven environment will only do me good.

We’ve only met twice and the lab part hasn’t actually started yet, but I almost cannot contain my excitement. Seriously. The professor of the class, Alain Viel, is amazing and he has been the topic of my conversations with both my social peers and academic superiors. My favorite joke Alain has told so far happened when he was explaining the logisitics of the lab and said that there are two types of lab jackets: disposable and non-disposable. “A non-disposable jacket is a disposable one with your name written on it.” He also brought us presents for being students!

Moose teddy bear presents for enrolling in LS100r!

For the semester, I’ll be working under Cristopher Bragg‘s experiment on modeling hereditary dystonia in human neural progenitor cells. We’ve been talking about knocking in and out some genes and casually isolating RNA. Our first hands on lab has been scheduled for this coming Monday. The project has a team of 6 undergraduate students and we plan on meeting Monday night to prepare for our presentation on Thursday. Hopefully we’re setting both the tone and the pace for the rest of the semester!

Life Science 2: Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy

Why is the human body the way that it is? This course explores human anatomy and physiology from an integrated framework, combining functional, comparative, and evolutionary perspectives on how organisms work. Major topics, which follow a life-course framework, include embryogenesis, metabolism and energetics, growth and development, movement and locomotion, food and digestion, stress and disease, and reproduction. Also considered is the relevance of human biology to contemporary issues in human health and biology.

I think this class has a reputation on campus for being the class most likely to mirror medical school. It’s a class heavy on its memorization so I’ve been intimidated for a few years. In addition to the three hours of lecture every week (pretty standard for a class), there is also 3 hours of lab. I had my first lab this past week and I couldn’t stop talking about it because we dissected a dogfish and a lamprey and I simply love cutting everything up. It was more of an exploratory surgery lab and there was residual adrenaline in my system for two subsequent days.

CAUTION, you may not want to see the pictures below…

Dogfish – ventral dissection

I found FOUR babies in my dogshark! Each with its own yolk sac!

Everything I cut seemed to lead to more babies, but I eventually found its stomach…and its final supper!

The heart – I still can’t wrap my mind around how small this heart is!

One of the professors of the class, Daniel Lieberman, is super cool. If you’ve read any of his books, it’s obvious that he loves to run and a handful of my undergraduate friends work in his lab to study running forms. Outside of lecture, I tend to see him every Sunday morning as well during our warm up for Harvard On the Move, which is a group open to the entire community that encourages people to exercise whether if it’s walking, running, or even doing stadiums!

Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 20: The Business and Politics of Health

Health and medical care pervade every aspect of our lives. This course uses quantitative methods (graphical analysis, algebra, data analysis) to examine issues related to health, disease, and systems for delivering health care. Topics to be covered include differences in health between rich and poor countries, differences in types of medical care and who receives it, and the political context for reforming health care policy. Techniques for analysis will be developed and demonstrated in class and section. The course uses examples from a variety of international settings, but focuses mainly on health and health care in the US.

I’ve never heard about this class and therefore, it wasn’t on my radar when I was planning or shopping. Word of mouth made it a popular class though as the number of students who enrolled actually doubled their expectations, which meant that they hired more staff for the class since its goal was about a 1:12 TF (Teaching Fellow – usually a grad student, along the lines of a TA/CA teaching assistant/course assistant at other universities) to student ratio. The professor of the class is David Cutler, who strikes an incredibly rare balance of being super knowledgeable as well as not being scary-intimidating. I plan on scheduling a meeting with him soon in hopes of him helping me with my mini-thesis (see next class below).

I’m really excited about this class because it combines global health with statistics which I’ve never done before! I’m also hyper-interested in all the topics because it seems like I was exposed to many of our discussions when I was in Africa this past summer pursuing clinical research in maternal health and nutrition. Our last lecture revolved around HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. I can for sure say that if I wasn’t involved in my summer internship, I would not have been as impacted nor interested in the last lecture.

Global Health and Health Policy 91r: Supervised Reading and Research

Supervised reading leading to a long term paper on a topic or topics not covered by regular courses of instruction.

Call me a slacker or whatever, but I’m not writing a senior thesis for my neurobiology concentration. I had a few weeks when I was really into the idea (I wanted to see if there was a neurological mechanism to preference construction – essentially determining whether or not brain activity was involved with playing favorites!) and planned out a whole proposal and everything too. However, I would have had to commit my summer to thesis research in Boston and when the opportunity to pursue clinical research in Tanzania appeared, I couldn’t resist hopping on a plane!

Although I won’t be writing a thesis for my neurobiology concentration, I’ve decided to write a mini thesis for my Global Health and Health Policy secondary field. I want to write about maternal health and nutrition within the context of malaria — essentially continuing my project from the summer. Since this is an independent course, it requires an adviser. I asked the principle investigator from my summer clinical trials to fulfill this role, but I was, unfortunately, rejected as he is more than busy! This has pretty much led me to scramble and in my frantic state, I’ve emailed tons of people (that I don’t personally know) in the hopes of them blindly agreeing to advising me or pointing me in the right direction.

Maternal health in terms of malaria is a pretty specific expertise so I was having trouble in my quest for an adviser. As of now, I do not have an adviser. BUT things are looking up! (Fingers crossed!) Harvard is actually hosting this Defeating Malaria competition. I’ll explain more about the competition later (next post!) when I understand the details myself, but I’ve reached out to one of the organizers of the competition and she has been an angel about referring me and connecting me with the right people.

After I secure an adviser (knock on wood), I’ll have a better sense of my topic for my research paper. By the end of the semester, I’ll have at least 20 pages written about maternal health and malaria — WOOT!

Neurobiology 101hgf: Synpases – Molecules, Networks, and Behavior

The synapse functions as a fundamental signaling unit of the nervous system, and underlies all forms of brain activity. We will first explore the biology of glutamatergic synapses, focusing on receptor function and synaptic plasticity. Then we will address how synapses function in neuronal networks and direct behavior. The course will highlight important biological concepts as well as technical advances.

A full time College student normally enrolls in four classes per semester. Yes, I’ve already listed four courses, but before you go judging me as this crazy hyper-motivated Harvard student committing academic suicide, this Neurobiology tutorial I’m about to describe is technically half a class! It counts as half a class per a semester and lasts throughout the entire year. Therefore, it will count as one full course by the time I graduate.

Neurobiology tutorials are typically taken by juniors – I took one last year called Dopamine which has become enormously popular after my classmates and I endlessly raved about it. Tutorials are really small and intimate classes based on our discussion about the current scientific journals we read. I love it. Reading research articles has been one of my favorite homework assignments since MCB 145 Junior fall semester; I find it one of the most fulfilling activities that are challenging. There are some things that are just hard because they’re mean (organic chemistry) and some things that are hard, but still fun to decipher (reading science papers)!

At the beginning of the school year, there’s always a neurobiology tutorial fair where all the teachers come with syllabi to talk to interested students. I talked to Geoff and Helen at the fair and they were too adorable for me to not take the class. They insisted on both being present at every class and just seem to genuinely care about undergraduate students. Plus, they provided cookies during class.


That’s my academic roadmap for the semester! I’ll talk more about my extracurriculars in my next post because a Harvard student’s life would be incomplete if he/she only attended class…as corny as this sounds, that was Real Talk.

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Let’s live a bit in the past for this blog, yeah? I’m the worst when I start drafting a blog then never get around to finishing it! If it’s any consolation, I’m posting from Tanzania (experiences that I’ll speak to in upcoming blog posts!!).

Welcome to Final Examinations Week! (All proper pronouns to emphasize its importance and legitimacy.)

Accomplishments since my last post include, but (hopefully) aren’t limited to: writing an 11 page Spanish research paper and having a full on conversation with none other than Miss Amy Adams!

I’ve been dreading this Spanish paper since the beginning of the Spring semester so I guess it’s pretty fair to say I had adequate time to mentally prepare – this doesn’t necessarily mean I had adequate time to academically prepare…

This research paper was for my Spanish 90c class (Representations of Racial Belonging and Difference in the Hispanic Caribbean) which was essentially a history-literature course taught completely in Spanish; it was my first language class that wasn’t about grammar! I decided to write my final paper about the development of Cuba as an independent nation and its quest for a unique national identity and how this development was directly correlated with the rise of the sport of boxing as well as Nicolas Guillen’s representation of them in one of his poems. It was really interesting researching boxing in Cuba, but extremely difficult eloquently translating my ideas into Spanish…Like all-nighter difficult, running to the dropbox with freshly printed paper in hand minutes before the deadline difficult – my version of the run of shame. More appropriately, I was also in yesterday’s clothes having been in the library all night. Currently painting a picture of college’s worst moments, you’re welcome.

Truth be told, I definitely was not obsessed with the class. I thought a lot of the themes were repetitive and the discussions didn’t really help me form an opinion one way or the other, although it exposed me to many different opinions. The primary source readings were also really hard as a lot of the text included Creole and French – languages which I am not familiar with (at least for now! I am tentatively planning to enroll in French during my senior year…). Since the class wasn’t heavy on grammar, I don’t feel like I grew as a writer, but my reading and listening skills have undoubtedly improved. The coolest take away from this class was my individual section with my TF – talk about private school!

After submitting this paper, I had 4 days of nothingness before my last final exam. I had no problem filling these days with packing, “lasts” with friends, and getting off campus.

Their leftovers…maybe creepy, but creepy-awesome

I have some really good friends at MIT who are seniors so we scheduled one last meal at The Friendly Toast – a place I’ve never heard of but it’s apparently a really popular place on the MIT campus. Maybe even popular to the greater world too as Amy Adams, husband, and daughter (whose birthday they were celebrating!) were sitting at the booth next to our table!! I was initially staring because their daughter was so FREAKING CUTE as the server brought out a Mickey Mouse shaped pancake with a candle on it. My friends made a comment how it could be Amy Adams which I took as a joke until a quick Google search was full of “Amy Adams in Boston” hits. She’s filming a movie (with Bradley Cooper – what I would have given to have him at breakfast too!!!!) in Boston. My friends and I planned our approach and practiced what we were going to say. The plan was for me to say “Excuse me” as they were leaving their table and someone else would ask to verify her identity. Our plan went very smoothly! The meeting had a very “life comes full circle” feel to it since we had all watched Sunshine Cleaning when we were all stuck together during the weekend of the Nemo storm! We raved about this Sundance type movie while she said it was nice to meet us. As you can see, the fan-girling was completely mutual. I then spent the whole day on a celebrity high.

Breakfast, although off campus, was really convenient for me because I had a tour of the Broad Institute later that morning. The tour was scheduled through my LS1b (Life Sciences 1b: Genetics) professor, Pardis Sabeti, who is a baller. She went to undergrad at MIT, then to Harvard Medical School as well as grad school (doctor-squared), and now has a lab (that’s also international) at the Broad (which is pronounced like Brode by the way). The tour was about an hour as we went to multiple buildings and visited all the machines we had discussed during lectures!

The institute is relatively new and has a gorgeous lobby open to the public! This tour is a great example illustrating the greatness of unstructured time during Reading Period and Finals Week.

Everything is done by robots!!

A ton of their walls are either white boards or glass – talk about never missing an idea! You get to the point where you think you can write on just about every surface! Pretty much a dream study space.

Pardis’ lab takes an annual picture. Everyone in her lab is someone in the original painting and for those who missed photo day, they were photoshopped into the sculptures in the back! It’s like family pictures on a whole new level.

Some of the offices have beautiful views of Boston!!

Necessary end-of-the-tour group photo

One of my favorite parts of LS1b this semester was sequencing our own genomes for class! There’s a lot of liability involved with this lab project so you can imagine that students who wanted to participated signed the crap out of waivers. The experiment spanned a few weeks and involved tons of PCR-ing, PCR purifications, and sequencing/analyzing with chromatograms. The best part is that we understood every step of the process! It was really cool to see the machines that sequenced our genomes. With these sequences, we tried to match our genotype to expected phenotypes (i.e. if we’re early/late risers, if we’re lactose tolerant, etc.). Ah, the sweet life of being nerdy-cool 🙂

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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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Hello all!

Signing in after what amounted to a very long sabbatical from writing.  I hope everyone is doing well through these colder months (Boston just got another big snow storm… typical), and that y’all have been finding some really awesome content on the blog!  I do have to say that the opportunity to write for you guys over the course of my now two and a half years at Harvard (OH MY GOSH!!!… time has flown!) has been an extreme honor.  It has helped me reflect on my life here and my development as a person.  And the opportunity to meet people who have read this blog, especially some you who are in the classes below me at Harvard now, is really mind blowing.  So thanks guys!

What has my life been since I last posted?  Well, it has been transformational.

It is interesting to be a college junior because it is perhaps the first time one can look back on their college experience and see growth—personal, academic, experiential, philosophical (and maybe around the middle if you’re not careful).  I look at pictures of myself as a freshman and see a younger version of myself today.  I reconsider my ideas and beliefs about life and see a thoughtfulness and regard for other points of view that I didn’t used to have.  I think back to all of the cool experiences that Harvard has given me and feel thankful for every day.

Me and a few friends back in September

Since last writing, I was elected as President of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), the nation’s largest student-run public service nonprofit, and the bastion of community-based service at Harvard.  As a student-run 501c3, my position is technically President of the Board of Trustees, and from that office, I work with a team of student officers and adult staff to run 1,400 person strong organization.  Being in this position, while crazy and insane (I seriously have a full-time job while trying to be a student), has challenged me in ways I could have never anticipated and set me on a path I never could have predicted I would take.  From learning how to schedule every second of my day, to how to facilitate a good training/meeting, to how to contribute meaningfully to the Harvard campus and to the Greater Boston area, I have taken so much from this experience even as it asks so much of me.

Vice President of PBHA Sam Greenberg ’14 and me doing PBHA work

I love working with people.  I love thinking about team dynamics, appreciating the unique strengths of everyone in the room, and supporting people in a way that makes them feel valued and productive.  And I love especially working with the amazingly gifted students I find in PBHA.  Within our Officer Team this year (as we call ourselves, DreamTeam2013), each person arrives with a different story, and each person has new insights and thoughts to offer that challenge me to question my assumptions and consider sometimes things that are fundamental to our society – IT’S SO COOL!

A team circle-up at the end of our week-long PBHA Officer training — “Nonprofit Management Intensive” — back in January (I’m the one in the gray sweater).

Not a day goes by when I don’t find myself wondering, “Well, why is it that way?” Or “How do I reconcile these two conflicting ideals/experiences/philosophies in my life?”  And the confidence I have developed in understanding myself and my world strengthens daily.

Woah, I just got deep really fast there.  Sorry if that was a lot.

So for the sake of all of our sanities, I’m going to narrow this post down to what I did this past week, rather than try to cover months of lost time.

My schedule for last week

Allow me to refer to my handy-dandy Google Calendar!  Hmmm… let’s see.  Well, I went to a lot of meetings, as per usual.  With over 30 hours of PBHA “on the clock” time (as in, not including checking and sending emails, writing proposals, planning agendas, and all the outside work), it’s easy to see how it is my main thing.

I also went to class and had a paper due on Thursday!  This semester I am taking some really interesting classes – History 1280: History of the Soviet Union, History 1629: China and the Environment, Ethical Reasoning 24: Liberty, and Sociology 95: Research for Nonprofits.  I have found each of these classes to be fascinating and love the range of material I am learning.

Last week I also got to go to the celebration of Teen Empowerment’s 20 year anniversary where they honored Mayor Menino for his commitment and service to Boston’s youth!  It was so amazing to meet and see a lot of Boston’s major public service players, people who have committed their lives to making the world a better place and live passionately.

Finally, this weekend a friend of mine from back home in Pittsburgh came to visit!  It’s always the best to connect with people from home and talk about Pittsburgh-y things.  One thing that I have learned is that people from Pittsburgh will never shut up about how awesome Pittsburgh is (myself included).

This coming week is going to be a scary one!  I have so much to do to get ready for Spring Break and then BAM!— I’m off to Madrid for Harvard Model Congress’ Europe Conference!  I cannot wait to meet and work with all of the high school students I am about to coach through a mock National Security Council session!  And after the conference, some friends, and I are going to the Canary Islands where I intend to tan (let’s be real, I’ll really just burn) and soak in as much relaxation and Vitamin-D as I can before returning to the craziness of life here.

So strap on your seatbelts y’all!  I’m back to posting every week, and this year is going to be a crazy ride.


Kate Meakem

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A few weeks ago, while a few of the bloggers were walking home from the blogging dinner reunion/meeting, I asked one of our new teammates Rob about his freshman year, specifically about the contrast between his fall and spring semesters. It’s insanely beautiful how most college students adapt to new campus environments. You start off in the fall with little hope of losing that deer in headlights, wide-eyed freshman glow. Yet you come in hot at the beginning of the spring semester shopping classes like you have a closet of awesome, high end swag already. I was mostly surprised by the idea someone threw out there that the spring semester is always better than the fall. I cannot wholeheartedly agree. On a scale of 1 to 10, both semesters are AWESOME with its own perks and defaults. However, I do think spring is more conducive to social activities.

You may or may not have gasped at the fact that I’m talking about social activities on the Harvard College blog. It’s only human nature that after feeling trapped in an igloo prison during seemingly perpetual winters that we want to bust out, or rather bust a move. That’s why I made sure fellow blogger Scott was at my sorority’s spring social event called Crush. It sounds semi-violent when all the girls start talking about who we “crushed,” but it’s the most elementary school-innocent conversations because each girl gets the opportunity to anonymously crush two boys. The social committee hand makes invitations and delivers them slyly to each door. It is then in fate’s hands whatever happens after. Love at first sight? Maybe. What I do know definitively is that Scott and I won the dance battle.

Although Harvard does not recognize fraternities and sororities (meaning we’re not like a student recognized organization that can, for example, reserve rooms on campus), I’ve really enjoyed how my sorority connects me with not only other students on campus, but also in the greater Boston area. Nearby Tufts University which also has a sizable active Greek life is inviting one more sorority to campus which led me to explore their campus this past Monday when I was representing my chapter during Kappa Alpha Theta’s extension presentation. At this event, there were Thetas from Harvard, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and BU (Boston University), as well as the national fraternity president! It was a pleasure mingling with Thetas at other campuses to see what their experiences have been like because all of our campus specific involvement differs, but there’s an unparalleled similar foundation upon which the first female fraternity was built upon.

Don’t get me wrong, spring semester has its academic rigors as well! I had my second midterm of the semester this past Tuesday in my Math 19a class. I was honestly, initially dreading this math class because my math course last semester met 3 times a week and had a pset (problem set) due EVERY TIME we met. Not okay. However, I’ve grown to love Math 19a. The class is really small and I feel like we’re already a community! Might even go ahead and say that it’s my favorite class this semester! This math class focuses on applying differentials to the life sciences, modeling predator-prey systems to epidemics and human heart positions within the body. The material totally makes all the premed sides of me tingle with warmth. By all means, I’m not saying I was excited for the midterm, but it helps that I adore the professor.

Math 19a is taught every semester, which in my opinion, is pretty rare since most classes are usually just taught in either the fall or the spring. It’s taught incredibly well, but most notably for the freshness of the class. There are advantages of it the class being help every semester such as the professor is consistent, extremely knowledgeable, and familiar with how students will grasp certain concepts. However, there comes a point when some professors who have been teaching the same course for so long that it becomes mundane and seems too rehearsed. Math 19a, however, sort of “refreshes” every semester. The professor changes the scientific articles that each set of students read and analyze as well as the psets, warm up problems, and lecture notes. These seemingly small changes make grand differences because it keeps everyone involved on their tippy toes rather than complacent and comfortable. I’m a big fan of the class and I’m nerdily looking forward to integrating math into my biology knowledge!

My midterms are spaced out pretty well this semester; I really have nothing to complain about. My next exam is Monday night in LS1b (genetics). I have to be honest that it’s been a little hard to study with Spring Break on my mind. I do have exciting plans for my vacation, but on campus, the few days leading up to Spring Break is Housing Day…) where all the freshmen (self-grouped into ~8 friends) get assigned an upperclassman house to live in for the rest of their undergraduate years!

For the freshmen, this waiting period is full of unknown and maybe some excitement. The upperclassmen have the most fun job of advertising their own respective houses though. Students (more often than not) always have pride for their respective houses as you can hear in everyday sly comments in casual conversations. This house spirit magnifies with great intensity the weeks leading up to Housing Day though because there is so much glory to be had when freshmen rightfully desire the house in which you reside.

This time of year is very exciting because everyone’s (hidden) talents come out. In order to publicize the greatness of an upperclassman house, there are Facebook fan pages and pep-rally-like events/study breaks. Yet my absolute favorite form of spirit is Housing Day videos which are typically parodies on culturally relevant/hilarious matters in the media. I’ll leave you with a few videos:

My house/best house, MATHER HOUSE last year jumped on the Call Me Maybe coattails and created this gem:

This year, we wanted to double up and went with a James Bond twist with the help of the House Masters and Administration!!

Last year, Quincy House came in a close second to Mather’s Call Me Maybe by adding their Quincy flare to the movie Inception:

As you can see, not all the parodies are current. We appreciate throwbacks too!

Adams House (notorious for the gaudy gold decor) came out with a real gem – or should I say they struck gold?

I have to say that the best throwback this year was Lowell House, known for their loud bells:


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Bleh! I partially drafted this blog weeks ago and never got around to actually finishing it! Super bad on my part with my time organization and discipline. We’ve all been cranking out job/summer applications and now midterms are coming in hot too. All the bloggers promise to be more on point from now on out though! Follow us on Twitter! And ask us questions 🙂

One of the most common and frequent conversations you’ll hear around campus is about how fast the time flies. However, this realization is typically made in retrospect, near the end of the semester when we’re all reminiscing. The crazy-unique aspect of this semester is that me and most of the people I talk to all agree that we’re living in a fast-forward type of life; we can feel time zooming by and there’s nothing we can do about it except enjoy.

There are probably many factors contributing to the speedy sensation of my life. I felt a little jipped of my J-term (January term, winter break) because I had to study for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). This isn’t to say I didn’t have an amazing break because I turned 21 and had the chance to catch up with my favorite old friends and family. Also after my MCAT test, some of my closest Harvard friends and I took a road trip to New Hampshire to relax and snowboard/ski. It was my first time in an East Coast state outside of Massachusetts and New York. It was awesome to snowboard for the first time on the east coast and I would definitely never have had this opportunity if I didn’t attend college on this coast (so for all those who are experiencing a little cold feet anxiety from moving to the frigid cold, if I can survive happily, you definitely can too!).

After one of the most relaxing weekends snowboarding in New Hampshire, my friends and I returned to school to shop (classes) until we dropped. Actually, I wasn’t planning on shopping too many classes because there are a ton of freshman premed requirements I have yet to take (oops?); yet my nonresident tutor and the OCS (Office of Career Services) premedical adviser managed to offer me contradictory advice about my class options. One adviser suggested finishing the premed requirements so I could have them on my transcript when I apply to medical school this summer, but the other adviser suggested I explore more global health classes. This led to a frenzy of class shopping and I entered into random lotteries for classes I was initially planning on enrolling in my senior year.  In the end, I chose to take 4.5 classes – the same amount I took on last semester.

The half class can be explained  by my dopamine neurobiology tutorial. My concentration is Neurobiology, which is a department which offers year-long tutorials, but credits you for a one semester class. This may sound like the worst trade off ever, but the class only meets once a week for 1.5 hours total, whereas normal classes will meet for at least 3 lecture hours a week (this excludes section and lab hours which all in all can sum up to like 9+ hours/week!!). My tutorial is about Dopamine and the concomitant disorders that come with the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons. It’s a super interesting class – we have 2 lecturers, but only one has spoken in class so far. The cool part is that our speaker will send our written assignments to the lecturer who we haven’t met yet so it’s graded with minimal bias. We had a written assignment about drugs and their effectiveness over J-term, and just to prove that Harvard isn’t ridiculously strict, my professors gave me a few days grace period because the written assignment was due the day before my MCAT. The class is awesome because the setting is a big round table discussion and the professor is one of the most knowledgeable person ever – we try stumping him about neurology/disorders every week, but still have not been successful!

This semester, most of my classes are heavily populated by freshman and my only reasoning behind that is my older friends have/will soon be graduating so I need need to be replenishing my friend pool. It was a pretty smart choice looking back 😉

LS1b – Life Sciences 1b – Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution

Word on the street is this class was terrible a few years ago. We’re talking a Q score of 1 (out of 5). Q scores refer to the Q guide which is Harvard’s version of In attempts to improve, this class has been totally revamped. Last year, it was taught by the amazingly charismatic Andrew Berry and this year, as I’m taking it, there’s a great group of faculty. There’s been 2 main lecturers so far and more to come as the class progresses. Kevin Eggan kicked off the class well with his undying energy (and well-dressed behavior – he’s known in the department as best dressed!). Our second lecturer, Hopi Hoekstra, along with People like to refer to Kevin as Sexiest Genius. I’m obsessed with Hopi though. She is SUPER entertaining and puts the hard facts into a creative historical context which really motivates what you learn, making it easier to learn. I was talking to a friend the other day about one of Hopi’s lectures – I literally just felt so glad to be in that lecture hall at Harvard. My friend then teased me about high 5-ing all the freshman among me, but that’s what I wanted to do!! Her lectures are so entertaining. I can’t wait for the full rotation of faculty for this class!

This is a science course with a 3 hour section/lab component; it combines discussion section with lab, something not very common at Harvard. My favorite lab yet has to be when we swabbed our cheek cells for DNA and then analyzed it via PCR (polymerase chain reaction). My genotype says I should be a very early morning person, someone who can taste bitter, and an athletic sprinter. Some of my phenotypes would suggest otherwise…

PS 1 – Physical Sciences 1 – Chemical Bonding, Energy & Reactivity

This is the class at Harvard that mirrors Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry from high school the most – a class which I absolutely L-O-V-E-D.  The professor is really enthusiastic and passionate about the material, but he’s also more of a theorist than a researcher – doesn’t influence the class dynamic too much, but it makes the demonstrations Hilarious (with a capital H) because he’ll forget some of the safety rules that other faculty try to grind into us. There has been fiery explosions and liquid nitrogen. Need to say, a lot of concomitant Oooo’s and Ahhh’s.

This class comes with a 1 hour discussion/problem solving section along with a 3 hour lab. Problem solving sections are weekly, but lab is kind of once every 2 weeks. Last time in lab, we set Cheetos on fire and measured the surrounding temperature change to calculate the caloric energy content of our snack sample. I’m not hating on the lab, but it would have been better if there were Cheetos to actually eat. Maybe we could have measured the energetic content by seeing how many push ups we could do after eating Cheetos? I’ll suggest it in the Q guide feedback I give at the end of the semester 😉

Both LS1b and PS 1 have “clicker questions” during lecture. Clickers look exactly like this. During lecture, a slide with a clicker question will come up and the professors will give you some time to respond with one of the multiple choice answers. Then the next slide will illustrate bar graphs of the percentage of students that answered to each corresponding multiple choice answers. Clicker questions are like mini pop quizzes during lecture; sometimes credit is awarded for accuracy and other times credit is awarded for participation (like a way of taking attendance). Whatever the point system is, it’s more of a conceptual checkpoint to make sure students are not only paying attention, but also understanding the way information is being presented. I’ve grown to really like clicker questions and they help wake me up sometimes too 😉

Spanish 90c – Representations of Racial Belonging and Difference in the Hispanic Caribbean

This class is taught by a visiting professor and it’s taken some time for me to appreciate and enjoy the class, but I can now honestly say that I like the class! The topic is super interesting and the class doesn’t emphasize memorization of history. There’s a lot of psychology and sociology involved because we’re examining racial tensions and various controversial issues so this would be my favorite aspect of the class. It’s essentially a history course taught in Spanish. My positive feelings towards this class were hesitant because there’s so much reading to be done every week! However, the silver lining is that some of the readings are in English. The flip side though is that a lot of the Spanish primary sources we read are in ancient dialects and there’s really no hope of me understanding that.

I think my turning point with regards to this course came when I was assigned an individual section – I’m talking one on one, me and my TF (teaching fellow) chilling in a lounge. There’s about 15 students taking the class and everyone can meet during this one time the professor suggested except for me because I have math lecture. Instead of finding another accommodating time for everyone, the TF just decided to personally reschedule with me! Thus, I individually meet with my TF every week for 35-45 minutes discussing the readings. Advantages: it’s less than the one hour section, I get to know my TF really well and she gets to see how well (or awful) I speak Spanish. Disadvantages: I have to do every single reading to be prepared for any of the questions she asks me (but by doing all the readings, I’m definitely getting more out of the class…and my tuition), I miss out on the comments and analysis by my peers. Considering all, I’m definitely glad these individual sections are happening because as intimidating as it may be, I don’t think I’ll ever get an experience/opportunity like it. Unless I get like a Spanish tutor later in life.

Math 19a – Modeling and Differential Equations for the Life Sciences

I really like math guys. So I’m not the best at it, but it is pretty easy for my to find myself enjoying matrices, phase planes, and the like. Mmm, I just took a moment and considered whether admitting that paralleled social suicide. Whatever, I do hate the Friday psets (problem sets) though. Definitely takes over my Thursdays, but the class is awesome. It’s a super well structured class! The professor has been teaching this class both fall and spring for a few years now and has it down to a T. However, he definitely does not do the exact things verbatim – i.e. he does different warm up problems, example problems, assigns different article readings and psets. More teachers need to follow his footsteps because it’s what keeps the class fresh and exciting for each group of students. He makes every math problem seem like magic because everything just feels so logical and reasonable, so much so that it simply cannot be real life. The class reads scientific journal articles and either analyzes the proposed mathematical model or creates one to explain natural phenomenons such as population growth, predator vs. prey, etc. Overall, an amazingly taught and supported class. It’ll be more amazing after the first midterm this Tuesday though…so much studying to do!!

The House Masters of my upperclassman house, Mather, had a deliciously welcoming spread of desserts for Junior Parents Weekend!

Can’t study too hard this weekend though because it’s Junior Parents Weekend! Parents are welcome whenever, but on one special weekend during the Spring semester, parents of third year college students are invited onto campus and a lot of events take place for them to experience what Harvard life for their child/children has been like for the past ~3 years and it’s a nice way for them to familiarize themselves with the landscape before Graduation! My parents didn’t come out from California, but my best friend and roommate is from Connecticut and her parents have basically become my East Coast parents. They definitely have taken me out to dinner on consecutive nights this weekend and always make me feel beyond welcome into their family. When I was making friends here at Harvard, I wasn’t expecting to make new families too, but I’m overly grateful that the unexpected has transpired.


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Wow! It’s been such a whirlwind of a week!! That’s literally (due to this nasty, rainy weather lately) and mentally (midterm season!)


Happy October everyone! This month marks our one month of school. If you ask any non-freshman student, we’ll tell you that it simultaneously feels like we JUST started school and that we’ve been here forever. Many things are still relatively new – we’re still getting the hang of balancing our new combination of assignments as well as establishing an organization and studying method curtailed to this semester’s classes – however, academia has been a critical part of our lives for so long that these activities seem second nature to us.

I had my first midterm of the semester this past Wednesday night so I’ve spent the majority of my free time preparing for my first of three exams for Math 18 (i.e. going over class notes, class worksheets, homework, and additional practice problems). Normally, midterm tests are held during scheduled class times, but math exams, for whatever reason, are typically held during the evening. My midterm was scheduled for 6-7:30pm but I had my Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 50: Literature and Medicine section from 5-6pm. There are strict attendance policies for my Lit & Med class (they’ll deduct from your grade if your absent!), but know that flexibility indeed exists within the rigid structure of Harvard. I emailed my TF (graduate student Teaching Fellow – essentially the same as a TA at most other schools) a few weeks before my math midterm asking for permission to either leave early or to attend a different section for the week of my math exam. She allowed me to leave a few minutes early which was probably the best part of having a math exam!

Despite all my extensive review for the math exam, I didn’t really know what to expect and was somewhat nervous going into the test. It’s a new class this semester, so there are no reputations like “exams are tricky” or “exams are essentially the practice tests” to help build your expectations. I felt pretty good during the test though and felt even better after it – because it was over!

I immediately felt the post-midterm laziness (that I’m still suffering from)! I spent the rest of the night talking to friends, catching up on my comedy television shows and getting excited for my sorority’s fall formal.

It feels like I haven’t been academically productive in a while, but I can tell you about the productivity in other aspects of my life!

In preparation for the Boston Half Marathon 2012, I’ve been trying to run longer and longer runs. Thank goodness I have the Charles River and the Esplanade to run along, but on certain days, ~10 miles can feel like much more even with my pumping iTunes beats. One of my best friends (who I traveled Europe with this past summer!) is currently training and fundraising for the Boston Marathon 2013 by making an extra effort to run all throughout Boston. I took advantage of her creative routes by running with her into Chinatown where an elementary was holding a fair with cotton candy, photobooths and carmelized popcorn!

We even met (and danced with) Pooh Bear!

This long run throughout downtown Boston and eventually ending up in Chinatown made the time pass by very quickly. I love when (physical) productivity effortlessly blends in with new, fun experiences! I’m definitely looking forward to being more adventurous on my runs by being more willing to deviate from the riverbanks. Next weekend, I’ll be running the Boston Half Marathon for my second time. I’m feeling pressure to beat my time last year but I think this is only possible if the rain gods have some mercy and cancel the predicted rainy forecast!

Another long term project I’ve been involved with since my freshman fall semester is called BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) Teen. This is a program I direct through PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association), essentially the central hub of public service work on campus. The teen program runs once a week, on Saturdays, at a Vietnamese Community Center located in Dorchester, where (recently) immigrated students gather to work on homework, supplementary lessons we’ve created, arts & crafts, and we often strive for field trips to museums/Harvard’s campus. This is my second year directing the program and I feel like this year will be easier than last, not only because my previous experiences will help me solve future problems with much more skill, but we’ve received a lot of generous financial assistance to run the program this year.

At the end of the 2012 spring semester, I applied to the Presidential Public Service Fund (PPSF) grant to alleviate some of BRYE Teen’s accumulated deficit – a heavy burden that started before I became a director. Luckily, BRYE Teen received this generous grant as with a handful of several other programs (see the university’s generosity here!). PBHA partnered with Dean Evelynn Hammonds for a reward reception where program directors gave a short summary of their programs’ goals in exchange for a hefty and generous check.

Presidential Public Service Fund grant reception with Dean Evelynn Hammonds

It’s so rare (and difficult!) to unite 20+ PBHA program directors and hear about their passionate work so it was really a beautiful event to attend. I know that my program, BRYE Teen, would have great difficulties running without these funds so all my volunteers and participants are eternally grateful for this financial support and encouragement!

Needless to say, it’s been a phenomenal week! There are no classes held on Columbus Day, so the long weekend is looking extra marvelous. I don’t have any midterms this coming week, so I’m looking forward to doing some learning without intensive pressure!


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Remember back in those elementary/middle school days where you were always so excited for any field trips because the locations were always SO COOL (i.e. local fair, museums, zoos)?? Then you hit high school and the field trip locations may or may not have gotten worse, but there was still excitement because it usually meant less work for the day…

Well, college field trips are the best. You’ve probably heard tons of people say that college is the best and that it’s way better than high school. I have to agree with this statement (even though I LOVED high school) because in college, you really do become your own boss. Therefore, college field trips are basically trips to anywhere you want and the itinerary includes whatever your heart can possibly desire at any given moment.

This is a continuation of my off campus exploration series! Although I’m proud of myself for actually getting off campus more rather than just saying I will, I’m worried that my goal to explore outside my comfort zone is more like a New Year’s resolution which will die out in due time. With this fear in mind, I’m going to soak in every moment I spend off campus.

It’s much easier to get off campus when I’m organizing an event with a group of people so I took advantage of my leadership position as Vice President of Philanthropy on the Panhellenic Council (Panhel) and organized the Fall Philanthropy event in the next town over.

Each semester, Panhel strives to organize a volunteering event that unites the three sororities and fraternities on campus (note that the University does not officially recognize these 6 organizations). I’m hoping to establish consistency and familiarity which will boost number of participants, so during the fall semester, I partnered with Cradles to Crayons and in the spring semester, I plan on concentrating my efforts on Relay for Life. The event at Cradles to Crayons happened last weekend and was pretty successful considering we more than doubled our numbers relative to last year! It was really exciting for me, as the organizer, to see people pumped about the event! We spent a few hours early Saturday morning sorting clothes, cleaning shoes, and creating care packages. It was awesome to die of cuteness over all the adorable baby clothes while simultaneously instantly seeing your impact because the packages we made would be delivered soon to get kids ready for the start of school and the transition of seasons.

Clothes need to be reviewed for quality and then organized into age/size groups before being packaged.

Same rigorous process for shoes!

It was a weekend of early mornings because on Sunday, there was an annual, community Brian Honan 5k walk/run event. I first heard about the Brian Honan race through HCMC (Harvard College Marathon Challenge) as a sophomore and have vowed to participate every year that I can because it’s an AWESOME event!! The course is smooth and slightly hilly and there’s FREE: food, tshirts, and finisher medals! The aspect that most attracts me is how free it is, especially because the Harvard Community Affairs Office prepays slots for Harvard students and employees.

The 5K was on a gorgeously sunny and breezy day. Everyone was in high spirits and the positive energy was resonating all around. I don’t think I could have sported a bigger smile for the rest of the day (despite my sore muscles)!

We were all in Barcelona together this summer!

It’s like they won the Olympics or something… (ps Check out the custom Harvard-Brian Honan free swag!)

The event also had a carnival/fair-like character because there were booths with local businesses as well as street art for your creative juices and a live band performing for your dancing juices. 






Even though I’ll always consider myself an amateur runner, my habits of running have definitely built a wonderfully unexpected community for me here at Harvard. People are always willing to run with you at extreme hours (i.e. 6am, midnight!) as well as give you advice on mysterious pains. In a sick and twisted yet beautiful way, there’s a uniting aspect of running your body down physically that’s also slightly addicting. One of my long terms goals is running the Boston Marathon and because I won’t be ready for it this spring 2013, I’ll be living vicariously through one of my friends who is fundraising and running it in 7 months! If you’re interested in running (around Boston), you can even check out her running adventures here! She’s running with the support of HCMC who reserves a few slots for Harvard students in the Boston Marathon each year. I always love seeing my peers challenge themselves in ways beyond academia and lucky for me, everyone here seems to push themselves out of their comfort zone frequently.

Although I’m extra-appreciating my time off campus, this does not at all mean that I’m not appreciating my time on campus as well! I can’t believe it’s happening, but junior year is starting off as the best year ever! I know I say that about every year, but it’s been incredible to get back into a nice routine and reconnect with my friends. My profound happiness also stems from my courses – I’ve never been happier with my class schedule.

In one of my more recent blogs from this semester, I listed the 5 classes I’ve enrolled in. Midterm season is lurking – or is already here for some of us! I call it a “season” because once your first midterm hits, more and more keep bombing you until Final Exam Week. Thus, it’s a perfect time to update how classes are going!

Neurobiology Tutorial – Dopamine

Relative to my other classes, we haven’t done too much because it’s half a class each semester, but meets for the entire year so will eventually count as one full semester course by the end of my junior year. Shopping week wasn’t a facade because this class is still riveting! There’s so much enthusiasm from the professor and he seems to effortlessly make topics and tangents connect in the end. My favorite part thus far are the video clips about research experiments we watch because he’s trying to train us to critically watch and listen to these interviews. I use to mindlessly watch and listen and just blindly accept what they’re throwing at me, but now I’m beginning to question the validity of their experiments, data, and interpretation – I feel like a boss! Our first assignment is to read a scientific article and be ready for discussion Monday; hopefully, the critical analytic skills are transferable to fine print.

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 50 – Literature and Medicine

I don’t think I’ve ever had this much reading assigned to me in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever read this much of the assigned reading, haha. I can’t lie and say I’ve read it all – the college way of life and sacrifices has not allowed me to read all of it (yet?). Since this class is more of a GenEd (General Education requirement) for me, I’m honestly not prioritizing it. But when I’m procrastinating from my other assignments, I’m happily reading for this one! This class is stretching me in new ways. I’ve never taken the time to think about the patient’s perspective or the importance of how and why someone chooses to describe pain. Analyzing the (positive and negative) emotions concomitant to being a doctor have kept me intrigued during the weekly 2 hour lectures! Our first submitted assignment was due this week – it was a 2 page response paper and we had the option of performing a close reading of a passage from anything we read or interpret a theme prevalent in many of the works we’ve focused on (analogous to a compare and contrast mini essay).

Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) 145 – Neurobiology of Perception and Decision Making

GAH, this has been my favorite class! We meet twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and a half each. On Tuesdays, the class splits into 2 and we discuss the assigned scientific articles. Weekly written reports on these articles are submitted, but 4 students each week have the option to present the article to the class rather than submit a written report. I volunteered to present first, which was a little nerve wracking because I had no standards to work off of, but it went very well! It was a pretty casual presentation, with people butting in to ask questions and express their opinions which is exactly what I wanted! Discussion based classes are awesome in theory, but it really only works when students are willing to take risks and participate. The beauty of this class lies in the fact that it’s more of an upper division class and upperclassmen are more willing to voice their thoughts. Then on Thursdays, the professor lectures (we also had 1 guest lecture already!), but still strives to keep the class very interactive. We’ve had tons of 3D image-illusion examples in class and the interesting material is our natural caffeine!!

Mathematics 18 – Multivariable Calculus for Social Sciences

Bleh, so many fixed feelings about this class. I’ve been learning a lot, yes. The concepts I’m learning are not only applicable, but also easily useful in real life, yes. But all these pros are quickly countered by the fact there’s no credit-incentive I’m receiving for this class since it’s entirely an elective for me. There are 3 psets a week and they’re always pretty difficult which means I designate the majority of my homework time to math. I saved the worst con for last: the final for this class is not only on the last day of finals, but it’s also on my 21st birthday! I was hoping to go home earlier than December 21st, but nope, I’ll be embracing the snow and bone chilling cold until then. At least I can rely on the constantly glorious Southern California weather? Help me with more pros here people.

Spanish 61n – The Ethics of Business

Love this class! Two kids who I spent the summer in Peru with are taking this class so it’s great to talk about our experiences and relate class material back to real life, personal experiences! We’ve had a mixture of reading, writing, and movie watching assignments. My teacher is one of those people who would own at Jeopardy because she’s incredibly knowledgeable in all categories of everything. It’s my first Spanish class that isn’t based on grammar, but rather runs like a normal class, just in Spanish. It’s definitely a transition because grammar has always trumped content in lower level Spanish classes, but now it’s flipped!


I once was asked in the comments section of my blog how I organize for classes.

I’m a binder person so I’ll designate a binder for each class or split up a binder for multiple classes (typically grouping together classes that happen on the same day so I don’t have to carry too many things on any particular day) using tabs and within those tabs, I’ll divide up class notes, reading notes, section notes, lab notes, etc. depending on the demands of the class. If you look around my room, you’ll probably never guess that I’m super organized with my schoolwork, but I can be very type A about the organization of my school business. I probably get these attributes from my elementary habits when teachers required you to organize in a certain way.

With regards to notes, I like to use different colored pens sparingly and hardly highlight anything. For a few of my premed requirement classes (i.e. organic chemistry and physics), I’ll rewrite my class notes so it’s not obvious that I was semi-dozing off in the early morning lectures. I get all middle-school-girl-giggly when my notes are aesthetically pleasing because for whatever reason, I keep my notes forever. I kept all my notes/assignments from high school and was finally convinced to throw them out right before moving to college.


See all the stacks of paper I have on the top of my bookshelf?? That’s the accumulation of my academic-sweat since freshman year of college. These are only the notes I write down, but I take notes with my laptop for certain classes as well! I basically cherish my notes like they’re my chromosome-carrying babies and have this fear that one day I’ll want to know something specific, will remember where I wrote that fact down, but won’t have my pretty, pretty notes to look back through them. This is ridiculous, yes, especially because inventions like the internet and Wikipedia exist, but I can’t help it!

As for studying habits, I’m not much of a re-reader because I personally perceive that task as inefficient and I frown down upon inefficiencies. To trick myself, I’ll read pretty slow the first time around which increases my material absorption and will review my notes to write papers, complete psets (problem sets), and prepare for exams. I discovered that practice problems in preparations for exams have an immensely greater importance because any good exam will test your ability to apply concepts learned in class to varying situations rather than to regurgitate facts.


Harvard is academically rigorous – there’s no reason to deny this because we should be proud of it. However, I hope that you can realize that it’s both rigorous and fulfilling in more areas of life than just academia! Next week, I have my first midterms (in math and Spanish), my sorority’s formal, and the Boston Half Marathon! That’s stress in all aspects of my life – academic, social, and physical – and I’m nervous-excited to take on these thrilling obstacles!!

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