Problem Set (pset)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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If you’ve never personally experienced a group of teenage girls sobbing after an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I’m going to write these next few lines under the assumption that you have a pretty good idea of what this hot mess looks like.

On August 17, 2010, seven hours before the take-off of my first flight from San Diego to Boston, I was standing in a garage, in a circle with my very best girlfriends. As we all strived to stay as classy as possible, we couldn’t hold back the streamlining tears that came concomitant with our hyperventilation. There was no denying that our lives would change drastically, our friendships would be challenged, and that we were drowning not only in our tears, but also in our profound fear of the unknown. Within this moment, we were sure that our worlds would ruthlessly collapse because we wouldn’t be sharing sandwiches or seeking shelter from the seagulls or comparing our carrot sticks at lunch anymore. Yes, these were indeed defining characteristics of our bestfriendship.

That’s why this time of the year is so exponentially imperative: two of my friends from home share a birthday on November 10. You can find me scrambling around Harvard Square attaching symbolism to each item purchased while reciting the nine steps of neuronal development (it’s midterms, round 2 season). With my birthday presents, however, I prefer to emphasize the importance of the birthday letter. So after I finished collaborating on a physics problem set (endearingly termed pset), I spent a few hours pouring my heart and cheesy humor into the lines of college-ruled loose leaf paper, until I realized I had a physics lecture in 4 hours and haven’t slept yet…whoops!

Sometimes on campus, it can seem like an ongoing challenge to get less sleep than all of your friends. This isn’t because Harvard students are obnoxiously competitive in all things related to life (did you notice I collaborated with other students to complete my physics homework??); it’s because we’re all trying to create marvelous memories of our college years. None of the stressful Math 55 psets will be distinguishable in the end and none of our organic chemistry exams will seem so pinnacle. What will be ingrained in our memories are the times when our friends in the Quad wanted to Skype about a pset because they live so far or the times you snorted because that nerdy joke just hit the spot. You’ll remember your friendships because it’s the friendships – not the psets or papers – that endure. So to all you current college applicants out there, don’t worry about losing touch with your friends because both, your memories and relationships, will last!

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