Senior Year

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

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

Move in Day

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

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

Summer Staff Party

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

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

Dewolfe Kitchen

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

Eliot House cookout

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

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

Until next week,

xo Caroline

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Yikes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on life. This semester has flown by. And I feel like I say that in every other post I type. It’s true, though!

The past few months have been stressful and emotional. Senior year is weird. I think it’s starting to hit me that I only have one semester left. It’s bizarre thinking I won’t be seeing my 7 roommates everyday or that I won’t be able to head down to dinner with them in the dining hall next year. Aside from friends, there are also so many classes I want to take before graduating. There’s just not enough time!

Looking towards the future, searching for a job is quite possibly the most daunting task I’ve ever had. As a senior, the culture here can be quite stressful and cause you to doubt yourself, especially when you feel like you’re the only person who has no idea what you’re doing next year. I’ve heard it all: unbelievable job offers that my peers have landed, to medical school folks either with a research position or those who are going straight to becoming a physician, to people who are just planning on taking a year to travel the world. However, there are so many people without plans who just aren’t as visible, which is what I keep trying to tell myself. I’m currently in the midst of applying for different opportunities, all of which I’m incredibly excited about. I know I’ll find something I love, but it does, indeed, get difficult hearing about people who have already figured out the next several years of their lives, so to speak. I miss being an underclassman. I think these feelings come with being a senior and would exist regardless of where I went to school. The thought of being somewhere other than the place that I love so much and have come to call home for the past three and a half years is incredibly scary. I don’t want to leave Harvard.

Me and one of my roommates Paul!

Me and one of my roommates Paul, Harvard-Yale 2012

Before we get any more nostalgic, seeing as I still have 5 months left as an undergraduate, let’s talk about the present, something more uplifting! This past weekend was Harvard-Yale, as Jeanie mentioned in her last post. We have this huge rivalry with Yale (surprise!) that dates back since the beginning of time. Each year, students and alumni from both schools gather at Harvard or Yale (the location alternates schools every year) and reunite all to watch the Harvard-Yale football game in what is probably the most memorable weekend of the fall semester. This year, The Game (yes, it’s a proper noun) was at home at Harvard Stadium and I had the opportunity to catch up with a friend from Yale! Funny story–she and I met at Harvard’s Pre-Frosh Weekend (now called Visitas) back in 2009. She ultimately chose Yale, but we’ve kept in touch since and had our first meal together in my dorm building, Quincy House, since we first met as seniors in high school. It was so nice catching up with her and we had a great conversation about our experiences at our schools. There were too many good memories to pack into such a short meal!

Me and Catherine, the other Co-Chair of Quincy's House Committee

Me and Catherine, the other Co-Chair of Quincy’s House Committee, Harvard-Yale 2012

As far as The Game goes, we won 34-24! My class, 2013, has been really lucky because we haven’t lost once since we’ve been Harvard students. I think Yale needs to step up their football game 😉 In her post, Jeanie mentioned the Rhodes Scholar interviews that occur every year on the weekend of Harvard-Yale. There were indeed not one, not two, but SIX winners from Harvard this year! Of those six, four live in Quincy and three are friends of mine! We’ve been laughing saying that there must be something in the Quincy water. All four winners literally live within 20 feet of each other in the same hallway. I can poke my head out my door and see their rooms. I’m so happy for all six of them. What an achievement–definitely worth missing The Game for!

I’ve been home, just about 40 minutes north of campus on the border of New Hampshire, for a few days now on Thanksgiving break. I also went shopping at midnight yesterday (or early this morning, rather) for Black Friday, which is a day of the year when many retailers open their stores at ridiculously early hours with huge sales to get rid of much of their inventory. It’s one of the biggest days in the United States for the retail business, as well as a day when many people get their holiday shopping done. It sounds crazy that I went at midnight, and even crazier that I drove back to campus to pick up some of my roommates and blockmates (up to 8 people you choose to be placed into the same House as you after freshman year)! I guess that’s one of my favorite parts about being a local student. I can go home for breaks, bring people with me, or just drive back to campus if I want to hang out with my friends. We had too many people who wanted to go shopping, so my roommate/blockmate, Adam, rented a Zipcar for the entire morning. We took advantage of a lot of the deals and shopped until 7 am!

Shop 'til you drop?

Shop ’til you drop?

I’m trying to relax, spend time with family, and eat leftover Thanksgiving desserts (pie, anyone?) before heading back to campus on Monday morning for Reading Period and exams. I’ll be sure to update more regularly now that the crazy part of the semester is over!

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I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather lately. I can’t seem to kick this cough! However, the weather in Cambridge is beautiful today so I’m trying to look on the bright side–no pun intended 😉 The past few days have been overcast with a few drizzles of rain showers so seeing the sun is really refreshing. The unpredictable weather here is both a blessing and curse because you get so much variety but you never know when it’s going to rain, even if it’s beautiful and sunny!

I can’t believe it’s already October. Where did September go? Senior fall is definitely in full swing. Schoolwork is picking up and we’ve already entered midterm season. Luckily, I don’t have any midterms that overlap in the same week, whereas I know several people who have two or three exams over the span of just as many days. I don’t know which is better. On one hand, having every midterm in the same week gets them over with, but on the other end of that argument, it’s not as stressful to take them one at a time. I’m taking an engineering course called “Innovation in Science and Engineering” (ES139) this semester, and there are no exams. My midterm was making a video that depicts how a successful person went about “Problem Selection.” My friend Min and I chose to profile Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of We basically made a montage of pictures and video clips with our voices narrating Jeff’s story. It was a pretty untraditional midterm assignment. I’ve never done anything like it for a class at Harvard before, but we had a lot of fun with it. I’m definitely not a huge fan of exams, so I thought it was a cool way to assess what we’ve learned so far.


Me and Min!

I’ve been getting a lot of meals with people I’ve lost touch with since freshman year. These are people who, for whatever reason, I didn’t spend too much time with as a sophomore or junior. It’s actually really nice to catch up with old friends, especially to see what their Harvard experience has been like compared to mine. It’s also really nice to reminisce about things that I might not be able to talk about with friends I met in later years (i.e. my pre-orientation experience with Dorm Crew or my freshman year entryway). One topic I’m still getting used to is “the future.” It has come up in every single meal or conversation I’ve had with someone who is also a senior and I haven’t seen for a while. I’ve heard everything from medical school to investment banking to graduate school at Oxford. It’s both scary and exciting–but I’m trying to keep a healthy distance away from the future and live in the present. I try to remind people we still have a year left: a whole quarter of our Harvard experience!

It’s a short week for me. Today is Columbus Day in the States, and therefore I don’t have any classes. I also don’t have any classes on Fridays this semester (the first time this has ever happened). I wish I wasn’t feeling under the weather, or else I’d be outside enjoying the sun. I’ll probably venture out into the Square anyway for tea or Starbucks with one of my friends later this afternoon. Quickly going back to this idea of memory lane–I suspect many of you who are high school seniors are also having similar conversations about the future. Make sure you take some time to enjoy senior year! It’s probably a mix of a whole lot of emotions but I encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity you can!

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It’s such a strange feeling being a senior. The start to the semester has been incredibly busy, and I echo Caroline’s sentiments about senior year being a completely different experience than any of the others. I’ve also been putting myself out there in the job search, trying to get my foot in the door somewhere. I’ve been learning a lot about different industries and trying to see where I feel like my skills could have the most impact. It’s a pretty daunting idea–the thought of entering the working world scares me a lot. I love school and have found a home in Harvard that I don’t want to leave.

Before the job search, I was able to have fun with the Crimson Key Society (CKS), which is a service organization Caroline, Kemie, and myself are a part of. CKS is essentially Harvard’s welcoming committee, and we give campus tours and run Freshman Week (what we call first-year student orientation). Some highlights include the First Chance Dance, the Freshman Talent Show, as well as our annual showing of Love Story. We all dress up in 70’s gear and dance outside the Science Center to songs by music groups like The Jackson 5 and The Bee Gees before the showing of the movie, which is always a lot of fun!

My friend, Jill, and I before our showing of Love Story!

My friend, Jill, and I before our showing of Love Story!

Besides getting back into the swing of things, my dorm building, Quincy House, recently had our annual Field Day and Exorcism. There are 4 teams each year: sophomores, juniors, seniors, and staff, and every team has a different colored t-shirt. While Field Day sounds like a sporting event, you actually don’t need much athletic ability at all. And yes, the entire staff of our House show up to compete, from our Housemasters, Lee and Deb, to our House administrator, Larry, to our Resident Dean, Judith, and our entire staff of Tutors and even their children! We compete against each other in balloon toss, dizzy bat races, limbo, and tug of war (to name a few), and it’s just an overall great welcome back event that gets everyone involved in some friendly competition. I was the limbo champion last fall, only to experience a bit of an upset when I got eliminated in the second to last round this year. An even bigger upset, however, was when my class (2013–the defending champions from last year), came in second behind the staff.

...seconds before an epic fail of falling in the second to last round!

…seconds before an epic fail of falling

Senior year has been quite a ride already and it’s only been a few weeks! I’ve met some amazing new people and I’m super excited for what’s to come. I’ll keep you all updated–best of luck to those students in the States who also just recently started school! #YOLO #YOSYO!

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It’s strange to be back at Harvard as a senior.  Many of the buildings, spaces and social settings that once felt forbidding or intimidating are now familiar and sweet, freighted with associations and memories.  For most seniors, I believe the campus feels more comfortable and navigable than ever before.  But this semester, in an unexpected way, Harvard feels brand-new to me again.  I’ve been looking at my peers and surroundings with something like the convict’s heightened consciousness of being alive.  The clock is ticking, and these are experiences to savor – days to feel in their fullness.

My senior friends have already started to talk about their “lasts.”  The Last Fall Semester, the Last First Day of School, the Last Fall Formal – even the Last Move-In Day.  While it may seem like we’re prematurely eulogizing our time at Harvard, I prefer to think of it as a way of noticing – a way of establishing ourselves in the very present moment.  It’s our way of honoring the traditions and quirks of undergraduate life that we’ve internalized over the past three years.

Amid the excitement of year number four, and the relief that comes with reaching long-awaited milestones, part of me deeply envies the incoming class of 2015.  The grounds are graced once again with a Yard full of freshmen, most of whom have only vague plans for the next four years.  To them, college is a series of unknowns stretching into the future, studded with manifold new beginnings.  While they’re picking and choosing their favorite Student Clubs and course-loads, I’m hustlin’ to fill my final Core requirements.

But then a thought occurs to me: In many ways, I can still take advantage of the very same on-campus possibilities as the first-years.  Sure, it’s too late to change my Concentration.  But in most other aspects of campus life, senior status doesn’t preclude me from joining a club or a sports team, or from making new friends, or from trying courses in a different field.  Boston is still waiting to be discovered, and there are still spots on campus that seem mysterious and unexplored.  To my fellow fourth-years, both at Harvard and elsewhere: let’s not forget that we still have an entire year of college left before us, and that new beginnings are for everyone.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This fall brought the first of the lasts: my last first day of fall semester, my last move-in to my beautiful single in Mather House, my last Activities Fair. It was bittersweet, and I can’t believe I am already a senior!

Every semester at Harvard since my freshman fall, I have taken four classes, which is pretty normal. This year, one of my classes is Molecular and Cellular Biology 99, a full-year indivisible class for my Honors Thesis (most classes, however, are a semester long). Taking MCB 99 means that I am expected to go into my lab for at least 15-20 hours a week (in reality, a lot more) and take three other classes each semester. Having a lighter course load allows me to devote plenty of time and energy to my thesis project! At the end of our first semester in December, we are graded on the introduction and outline of our thesis, and at the end of spring semester, on the actual thesis! It’s pretty exciting to know that in March my thesis will be submitted J

As you can see from my course schedule below, my life looks pretty empty. However, lots of that time is spent in lab or extracurriculars, so it fills up pretty fast! Actually, I have very few hours of actual class time this year compared to previous years. As a science concentrator, many of the introductory and mid-level classes have lecture, section, and lab, which meant that freshman through junior year I could have as much as 25 hours of class a week.

My class schedule for senior fall

Psychology 16: Developmental Psychology is taught with the Graduate School of Education. We get to learn about how children develop from birth—how they attach to their mother, how they learn language, how they express emotions, and how they learn to lie! We have readings before lecture each week and have to write three papers throughout the semester, which isn’t too bad. Since I’m a Psychology secondary field, the class counts as one of my three electives for my secondary.

Psychology 1861: Developmental Psychopathology—you may have noticed a trend—I’m really interested in child development! This class looks at psychological problems and mental disorders in childhood and adolescence; for example, we have studied depression, anxiety ADHD, and autism. It is by far one of the best classes I have taken at Harvard, even though it’s four hours straight every Thursday (an hour of section followed by three hours of lecture!) What’s really nice about upper level classes is their size—this class has about 20 people, so we get to know each other and the Professor and Teaching Fellow really well. Although three hours seems like a long time, it goes by pretty fast—we normally cover lecture slides, several student presentations, and often have a guest speaker or get to Skype with one of the researchers we read about!

United States in the World 11: American Health Care Policy is, not surprisingly, about health care in America. It is a General Education class, and like many Gen Ed classes, meets twice a week for one and a half hours with a one-hour section once a week. Since I don’t have a background in health policy, it is really interesting to gain some understanding of our health care system and what the recent reform actually means!

Life Sciences 1a: An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology—I’m not actually taking this class (I took it freshman fall) but like I mentioned in my previous post, I’m one of the upperclass facilitators, so I have to either attend lecture or watch the lecture videos and read the notes to prepare for the student study networks where students can ask us about the class and get help on their weekly problem sets.

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