Shopping Week

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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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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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Although it’s only been a handful of days, I feel like I’ve been on campus for at least a few weeks already! I guess my quick-comfortable level serves as a testament to how much at Home I feel at Harvard. After traveling all summer, it is REALLY nice to be settled in one place again.

When I say I’ve been traveling all summer, I really mean literally traveling all summer – and I’m not even abusing “literally” here! When my last final took place in the spring semester this past May, I had 3 days at school to get myself ready for my internship in Africa! When my clinical research internship ended, I traveled down Africa – alone and meeting up with other Harvard students – and made a pit stop in Dubai and London before returning home to California where I did a bit of domestic traveling as well! Harvard took me to Africa and I definitely took advantage of the great geographic location!

Please allow me to semi-quickly summarize the end of my summer and outline what the first 4 days of school have been like. One ending is just another beginning ! 🙂

Part 1: Amsterdam

I know the Netherlands doesn’t really make sense in the context of Africa, but the Amsterdam airport is a huge international hub for flights. The cheapest flight from New York City to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania involved a 13 hour layover in Amsterdam during the middle of the day. Let’s just say I was far from complaining and very eager for my new passport stamp!


Things conquered in Amsterdam:

Stroopwaffles & Cheese, Eye Film Institute, Free walking tour in Spanish, Flower market, Chinatown, Vondelpark, Anne Frank’s House (!)

Part 2: Tanzania

I scored an internship through Harvard’s Global Health Institute program called iSURF (international Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) through which, for the first time, I pursued clinical research projects revolving around maternal health and nutrition. I loved the research topic, my co-workers, and the grad school friends I made!  During my time here, I picked up enough Swahili to barter and speak to taxi drivers – thanks to my dedicated co-workers who doubled as translators. There’s no denying that a big chunk of my heart stayed in Tanzania. Living abroad gave me a grander perspective on the disparities in health access and socioeconomic status which is helping me clarify what profession I want to follow after graduation. Thinking a bit shorter term, I’m also looking into following up on this topic of maternal health and nutrition by writing a mini thesis this fall semester in a GHHP 91r course (Global Health & Health Policy, Supervised Research and Reading).


Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Things conquered in Tanzania:

Biking in heavy traffic to work, Impersonal greetings in Swahili, General nightlife scene, Zanzibar, Arusha, Moshi & last but not least Mt. Kilimanjaro!!!

Part 3: Zambia

I’m pretty sure I made everyone nervous – including myself and my credit card company – when I bought a one way ticket to Tanzania. I knew I wanted to visit Cape Town, South Africa ever since my roommate went the summer after her freshman year and refused to stop talking about it. In the roughest of rough travel itineraries, I intended to go from Cape Town to Bolivia in order to join in the forces of Refresh Bolivia, just like the end of my summer 2012. However, when flight prices from Tanzania to South Africa were $500 more than what I expected, and when flights from South Africa to Bolivia were $1000 more than what I had budgeted for, I had to sadly face reality by accepting that I wouldn’t be able to “Refresh Bolivia” this summer.

Perhaps this huge itinerary change came as a blessing in disguise because I had more time to focus on the journey to Cape Town rather than just the destination. I took a 3 day train (note this mode of travel is highly NOT recommended) from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Zambia. I stopped in a few places in Zambia, but was mostly interested in Victoria Falls. I met a few people in Zambia that redefined altruism by taking me in when in need. Since I was traveling by myself, I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities. It’s very empowering to travel alone and I can’t thank the universe any more profusely than I do every single day for affording me this opportunity to not only explore the world, but also explore what I want to do in this world!

Gorge Swinging over Victoria Falls, Zambia

Things conquered in Zambia:

Kapiri Mposhi, Lusaka, Livingstone, Zambezi River sunset cruise & gorge swinging/abseiling/zip lining over the Falls

Part 4: Zimbabwe

TripAdviser recommends seeing Victoria Falls from both the Zambia and Zimbabwe side – I second this recommendation! I crossed over the border and explored the waterfalls from this side as well. This was one of the more developed destinations out of my itinerary so I took advantage of the available WiFi and hot water. Continuing my travel southwards, I caught a flight out of Zimbabwe to South Africa to meet a fellow 2014 Harvard classmate and iSURF intern who had been working in Uganda for the summer.

Free showers at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Things conquered in Zimbabwe:

Victoria Falls, Bulawayo

Part 5: Cape Town, South Africa

No more overnight trains and sketchy buses for me – from here on out I would by flying high 🙂 After a week of solo backpacking in central Africa, I was more than ready for any and all companionship! One of my good friends from school, Jen and I had thrown around the idea of traveling in Africa together since we would both be iSURF interns. Africa is a very large continent so I tried to remain realistic while throwing ideas around, but as emails were exchanged and flight information was forwarded, there was no hope in containing either my or Jen’s excitement! We did a ton of research and planned an intensive yet flexible itinerary to take advantage of our 5 days there. We even met up with a fellow rising senior who also arrived to town around the same time we did for thesis research. (Tangent: He’s a statistics concentrator writing a senior thesis on wine…so he got funding to travel to Cape Town, wine capital of the world! Anything. is. possible.)

Cape of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa

Things conquered in Cape Town:

Stollenbosch, Camps Bay, Table Mountain, Hout Bay (seals!), Chapmans Peak, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and its Lighthouse, Boulders Beach (penguins!), Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Greenmarket Square & VA Waterfront

Part 6: Dubai

When I was booking flights from Cape Town back home to California, I learned flights from Cape Town to London were ridiculously cheap. I’m a sucker for a sale so I booked. Initially intending to spend 2-3 days in London, I actually spent 5 days there due to flight sales. I won’t start raving about London here (that’s the next part!), but Dubai comes into play because I had a 12 hour layover from 2 am to 2 pm. After getting lost for hours in their enormous airport, I managed to leave the airport and hop onto their sweet metro system which helped me see as much as I could in my 6 hours of daylight! It was a bit stressful trying to spend all my Dirham currency, but that’s maybe the only kind of stress I’d welcome.

Jumeirah Beach, Dubai

Things conquered in Dubai:

Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach, Mall of Emirates & Dubai Mall

Part 7: London (and Cambridge)

Words just don’t do justice when it comes to expressing my love of London. I had the absolute best time and on a budget too! You may be thinking London on a budget, whaaattt?! But thanks to Harvard’s diversity and international presence, I made a really good British friend last semester who was beyond helpful in my London trip. He connected me to his high school friends who offered me free housing (as well as free tour guide services!) and he even made a detailed itinerary of London and Cambridge. I also had a lot of help from other Harvard friends who either studied abroad in the UK or who had traveled through London earlier on in the summer. I’m undeniably a California girl at heart so it means a lot when I say London is incredible despite its gloomy reputation.

London, UK

Things conquered in London:

Natural History Museum; Biking through Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square; Leicester Square; Chinatown; VA Museum; Science Museum; St. Paul’s Cathedral; Modern Tate Museum; The Angel in Islington; Shoreditch; Covent Garden; Piccadilly Circus; Kingly Court; Camden Market; Tower of London; Westminster Abbey; Big Ben; St. James Park; Princess Diana Memorial Walk; Cambridge/Kings College

Part 8: Los Angeles

Domestic Harvard friends are impressive as well! It was cheaper to fly London > Los Angeles (LA) > San Francisco (SF) rather than London > San Francisco directly, but I would land in LA too late to be able to catch a same day flight to SF. I called upon 2 of my blockmates (blockmates are a group of up to 7 other friends that you make during your freshman year and tell Harvard you love them enough to commit to living in the same upperclassman house for the next 3 years of your undergraduate life) who are LA natives. They very willingly picked me up from the airport, energized me with the famous In-N-Out, housed me and entertained me until my flight the following night. College friends very quickly become family and although I already knew mine are very reliable, it still warms my heart that they very willingly cater to my outrageous needs!

Santa Monica pier, Los Angeles, California

Things conquered in LA:

In-N-Out, Reactivating my American Phone, The Melt, Santa Monica Pier, LA traffic

Part 9: San Francisco

I’m not originally from the Bay but my best friend from college was finishing up her internship there and my best friend from high school attends UC Berkeley – do I have to further explain why this trip to SF was so completely necessary and amazingly timed?? I hadn’t been up to Northern California since participating in a science camp (Young Scholars Program as UC Davis) in 2009 so it was nice to come back and play tourist in my home state!

Crissy Field, San Francisco, California

Things conquered in SF:

(spontaneous) Giants v. Red Sox game, HRD Cafe, Ikes Sandwiches, UC Berkeley student life and UC Berkeley Kappa Alpha Theta chapter (it was awesome seeing sisters on the opposite coast!), Coit Tower, Crissy Field, Dolores Park, Washington Square, Lombard Street, Palace of Fine Arts & Nick’s Crunchy Taco Tuesday

Part 10: Home Sweet San Diego!

I have 2 influential factors when creating a travel itinerary: flight prices and free housing. Due to these 2 factors, I only managed to sneak home for about 4 days! This would be the shortest amount of time I’m at home during a break from school ever! I do not plan on making this the norm. It was too short, but well worthwhile! Thank goodness my parents and sister had free time to hang out with me and love me. Home was fabulous as always. However, due to my extreme circumstances of 4 days, I was spending time with my family by day and chilling with my high school friends by night – and in between these appointments, I visited the dentist and optometrist too! Sleep? What is that??

Sunset from Iron Mountain, San Diego, California

Things conquered in San Diego:

Family, Friends, Food

Part 11: Boston (and Cambridge!)

I’m lucky to have family friends in Boston who eagerly greet me at the airport and drop me off on campus with enough food to feed an urban county. This luck continues on campus as my friends warmly welcomed my return. Catching up with everyone, unpacking, and shamelessly shoving my face with Asian fruit took up the one day I had before classes started. During my final year of Harvard (!!!!!), I have 1 Neurobiology concentration requirement, 2 Global Health and Health Policy secondary requirements and 2 General Education classes left. This definitely is not a lot as some of them can double count and I have 2 semesters to fulfill everything. With my General Education courses, I have tons of freedom which means a hectic shopping schedule and a blind hope that everything will be figured out when Tuesday 5 pm rolls around – Tuesday is Study Card day when students must turn in a list of courses that they intend to enroll in for the semester and some classes need instructor signatures which can be a tad stressful on occasion. I’ll know my classes by the next blog though!

Mather Courtyard, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Things NOT conquered back at school:

Unpacking, class schedule

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

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

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

Nutrition and Global Health Internship

Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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Two suitcases – one for summer clothes and one for winter clothes. One backpack with a laptop, toothbrush, and a passport.

This was my arsenal of protection for five countries in three months. I know I wasn’t exactly roughing it to the extreme, but it sure felt like it at times, especially when my bus company left me at the Peruvian-Bolivian border and my mess of sobbing tears triggered the sympathy of a different bus company to bring me into Bolivia…pretty much my favorite sob story from the summer.

At the age of 20, I’m beyond proud, honored, and lucky to say that I feel like an experienced world traveler. I know that passport photo headshot copies are as useful as eye drops and burn ointment to carry around with you. I know that I can go four days without showering and still be happy. I know that I can survive without a smartphone to Google Map me out of any bad situation.

It’s extremely comforting as well as empowering to discover some of my hidden capabilities. And I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say it feels just as great to be home at Harvard. Home sweet Harvard! 

The heart wants what it can’t get in a really sick and twisted way. I’ve wanted to travel and roam freely since I could string a grammatically correct sentence together, but there were low moments while traveling when I just wanted to be home and settled. I couldn’t wait to return to Mather (my upperclassman “house” or dorm) and have the luxuries of a dining hall where I would never eat potatoes again.

Sure, I may have returned to this:

College essentials

5 loads of laundry later…

But when your college roommates are as welcoming as this:

Welcome back/catch up session with the best friend and roomie!

Then your high spirits help you make your beautiful single into:

I’m excessive 🙁 but I’m working on it!

I’ll never take having a home base for granted ever again. It also helps to live in Mather – one of the twelve upperclassman houses at the undergraduate college – because our house motto is “Singles for Life,” meaning that each student is guaranteed a single room. I’ll admit that I’ve been very spoiled in my college housing lotteries since I’ve never had to bunk with anyone and because the singles in Mather are inside a bigger suite so you can control your degree of isolation for studying purposes!

There are seemingly endless perks concomitant to entering your third year of college – having a room triple the size of your sophomore room is just one of them. My other favorite elderly perk is my increased class elective freedom. Since I’ve completed several of my basic core classes such as physics and orgo (organic chemistry) for both my premed and Neurobiology concentration requirements, I’m now facing much more relaxed requirements with guidelines such as “one advanced Neurobiology class” with more than 20 choices to fulfill it. Having so many choices resulted in my craziest Shopping Week ever.

Shopping Week is referred to as the first week of every semester because students are free to walk in and out of any classes at any time during the week – we essentially shop and sample any classes that our hearts and minds desire. Although it can still be difficult to project if you’ll enjoy the class for the rest of the semester, Shopping Week takes part of the guessing factor out and allows students to make educated decisions when selecting classes. The week is also a lot of freedom that most college students don’t ever experience (my high school friends like to remind me how lucky I am) so I always make sure to try to appreciate the entire week!

Study Card Day” marks the end of the first week of school which is the same as the end of Shopping Week. Students submit to the registrar Study Cards which list the classes they’re planning to enroll in for the semester and sometimes these cards require professor/adviser signatures depending on the course.

I had a lengthy shopping list of classes that sounded super interesting, had a great Q guide score (the Harvard version of, and had colorful recommendations from my older friends. Although this is a good problem to have, the choices layered the week with stress which is actually a topic that the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, where I work as a research assistant, has discussed. The midst of stress can blur the bigger picture and make your week dreadful. When I had six classes competing for one slot – four of the six occurring simultaneously – I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable since I would be walking out of intriguing lecture classes the size of ~15 students in hopes that maybe another class would be even more engaging.

It wasn’t until I ran into a recently graduated sorority sister by surprise while crossing the streets of Cambridge that my attitude about being a class shopaholic changed. She more than willingly listened to me vent and reassured me. As we parted, she turned to reiterate that Shopping Week’s evil twin of chaos is always short-lived and worthwhile. All the diligent course sorting I’m doing now will make a better semester because my classes and workload will be customized to my interests. I instantly felt better about my situation and lingered around how I feel like my youth has passed but my wisdom hasn’t arrived yet.

What students see on

After a short yet long week of shopping and meetings with advisers, I’ve decided to take 4.5 classes. One of my courses counts as “half” a class because it only meets for 1.5 hours every week (3 hours is about the average) but I’ll be taking the class throughout the whole year. Even though it’s a year long course, it will only count as a full one semester course. This special class is my Neurobiology 95hfh tutorial on Dopamine. I was weary about taking a whole class on just one neurotransmitter, but the professor, S. Barak Caine, is beyond riveting! He’s so passionate about the topic and has a knack for transmitting that excitement onto his students. I was hooked after just one lecture and I’m really excited for our class on Monday! Neurobiology tutorials are capped at 12 students so it’s a great way to get to know a professor, especially since the classes really thrive on discussion. Throughout the year, we’ll be focusing on developing skills to critically read and understand scientific articles.

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 50 – Literature and Medicine

This class double counts for a General Education requirement as well as for my secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. I’m a little nervous about the class because I’ll never consider English and Literature my thing, but the professor, Karen Thornber, is a phenomenal public speaker and is very aware that a 2 hour lecture can be difficult to sit through. I’ve only been to one lecture, but it seems like we’ll be attacking how literature throughout the ages has tried to capture illness and disease. I’m looking forward to further developing my writing skills!

Molecular and Cellular Biology 145Neurobiology of Perception and Decision Making

This marks my second course that counts as an advanced Neurobiology course and it was the golden course chosen because of my recent realization that I’m a closet economics person. I started working at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory at the beginning of my sophomore year and therefore have been more exposed to economic professors and research topics ever since. Its always been a fascinating work environment because I hardly think of every facet of life in an economic viewpoint which motivated me to take this class so I can further dive into this thought process. The title of the class is pretty self-explanatory, but what excites me most is our final project which will mimic a grant proposal for a research topic of choice!

Mathematics 18 – Multivariable Calculus for Social Sciences

Math 18 is a brand new class this semester – well it has a brand new name and an upgraded structure! It use to be called Math 20 and it’s required for students on the Honors Economics track. It’s suppose to be like the Math 21 series, but instead of physics applications, we’ll be using economic models. I came across this class as I was looking into Math 19a (Modeling and Differential Equations for the Life Sciences), a Neurobiology concentration requirement, and shopped it just because I was curious. The professor, Meredith Hegg, is new to the university but teaches the class with such energy, encouragement, and enthusiasm that I would have felt stupid for missing a grand opportunity if I didn’t enroll in the class. Math 18 is only offered in the fall, whereas Math 19a is offered every semester, so I’ll definitely be taking Math 19a next semester. For now, I’m pretty happy with taking Math 18 just for fun, although the first three psets (problem sets) have been pretty tough and lengthy. It’s been a little rough because I’ve never taken an econ class so I don’t know what terms like substitutes and complements mean, but there’s tons of support for the class. Meredith Hegg has office hours three times a week and the two undergraduate course assistants also hold a multitude of office hours as well.

Spanish 61nThe Ethics of Business

I’ve had my eye on this course since last spring semester!! I wanted to skip Spanish 50 to take this class because I felt like I’ve had enough Spanish grammar review for a lifetime, but everything happens for a reason. This semester is the perfect semester to take this course because it focuses on businesses in Latin America which is where I spent the majority of my summer! It’s so fun to be able to relate my experiences in Peru and Bolivia – especially because 2 other students who participated in the same DRCLAS (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies) program in Peru are also taking the class with me! This is my first Spanish class that is like a normal class, just conducted in Spanish and I love it!! The 1.5 hours go by too fast and I spend most of that time laughing. It’s also a nice change to only be talking about corn and potatoes instead of actually eating it 🙂

Yes, 3/4.5 of my classes deal with economics/business even though I’m definitely a Neurobiology concentrator. Yay for liberal arts education! As I said before, I’m still really refreshed and excited about this upcoming semester! I’m eager to do my assignments and have no trouble seeing the real life applications of my class lessons. Junior year is starting off with a blast and I wouldn’t change anything about it! Hopefully I can maintain this attitude until the end of finals…

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Upperclassmen at Harvard have the opportunity to be really closely involved with freshman orientation, and many sophomores, juniors, and seniors jump at the chance to help new students with their transition to the College. Whether it’s by leading a pre-orientation program (Dorm Crew, FAP, FUP, FIP, or FOP), running events during Freshman Week, or advising first years, there are a hundred different ways to get involved. Personally, I am one of a rare few (in fact, there are only three of us) to get completely submerged with all things “freshman” by participating in the trifecta of orientation opportunities: advising freshmen in Wigglesworth Hall as a Peer Advising Fellow (PAF), leading orientation activities with the Crimson Key  Society, and backpacking through New Hampshire wilderness on FOP 20. This definitely means I’ve seen a LOT of the Class of 2016 over the past two weeks, but it’s been worth it!

First Up: First-Year Outdoor Program and FOP 20 

I’ve written a lot about FOP in past posts, between my time on Steering Committee and my training trip from this past spring, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I was lucky enough to lead my last backpacking orientation trip this August and I had an absolute blast. This year we had a group of eight freshmen and I co-led with Michael, a junior from Lowell House. We were in the Pemigewassett Wilderness in New Hampshire and hiked along “the Bonds,” a series of peaks with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Aside from literally five minutes of rain, we had picture perfect weather the entire trip, which made the whole thing even more enjoyable. Leading my last trip was admittedly a little bittersweet, but I was so glad I took the chance to go out one last time before the craziness of senior year.

Senior FOP Leaders just before heading out to meet our trips!

My trip! FOP 20 in New Hampshire

Peer Advising in Wigglesworth

After two years of advising students in Matthews Hall, this year I’ve moved to Wigglesworth F to work with a group of 23 freshmen alongside two other PAFs and a new proctor. So far, the experience has been great – it seems like the entryway is already getting along super well, and it was a ton of fun getting to talk to them all during orientation. While PAFs have responsibilities throughout the course of the year (planning study breaks, holding advising meetings), our efforts are particularly focused during orientation and shopping week, during which time we’re expected to help freshmen get settled into school and talk them through picking their first classes. As a full entryway team, we had several meetings over the course of orientation to talk about life in Wigg F and what freshmen should expect out of their first few weeks of school. In addition, I’m personally assigned to work with eight freshmen, meeting with them individually and offering advice on everything from class selection to extracurriculars to roommate issues.

I got a chance to sit down with all of my advisees over the course of this weekend, and it was so nice to get to know them on a more personal level. As a senior, it’s a bit of a time warp listening to freshmen talk their way through major decisions impacting their life: whether to take top or bottom bunk, how to make the most of the activities fair, or whether or not to go to the First Chance Dance with the rest of the class. I definitely experienced many of the same questions and thoughts during my own freshman orientation, and it always “brings me back” when I’m talking to brand new students during their first few days on campus. What a great reminder of all I’ve experienced to do this right before launching into senior year!

John Harvard dressed up for Move-In Day

FWK and CKS 

In the Crimson Key world, Freshman Week (or, as we like to abbreviate it, FWK) is the biggest event of the entire year: many of us spend the weeks and months leading up to it counting down and planning in anticipation. Of course, a lot of the excitement comes from the fact that Key gets to plan and execute many of the major events that occur during orientation, including the Freshman Talent Show, First Chance Dance, and small scale social activities for the new class. While the freshmen do have to spend a lot of their time going to formal meetings and seminars on life at Harvard, they also get to attend a bunch of fun activities during Freshman Week – and Key gets the pleasure of providing this “fun”. As might be expected, there are a lot of hours required to pull off FWK, which means that it’s all hands on deck for Crimson Key members. Each of the 90 members are expected to put in a number of shifts over the course of the week, ranging from 4:45 am move-in shifts on the first day to late-night clean-ups after the freshman dance. We get to wear bright red t-shirts (yes, the same shirt all week) and enjoy the fun ourselves, though, so it makes the time well worth it.

Crimson Key members staffing the Information Tent on Move-In

FWK is also highly anticipated because it offers a rare chance for the upperclassmen from Key to just hang out and enjoy each other’s company for an entire week before classes start. Key is a group of fun, outgoing, ridiculous people, and we always do a good job of entertaining ourselves over the course of FWK – whether that be on shift, going out in the Square, or just relaxing in someone’s dorm room. Many of us refer to Freshman Week as “Camp Harvard,” a time when we all get to hang out and enjoy campus and each other without the pressures of classes or extracurriculars weighing down on us.

Senior CKS members dressed up for our Love Story movie screening

Move-In and the First Day of Class 

While I definitely have spent a LOT of time with freshmen over the past two weeks, I’ve also been busy moving myself into my own dorm room, hanging out with my roommates, and picking classes for my fall semester. We’re living on the fourth floor of Dunster this year, and while our incredible views of the river make the trek upstairs well worth it, moving all of our furniture up four flights was definitely…an adventure. A few Zipcar rentals and a hearty helping of elbow grease later, though, we managed to get our three (count them – 3) couches into our big senior common room. As far as class selection goes, I’m still definitely in the throes of shopping week – for once, I don’t have any requirements to fulfill this semester, which leaves me the challenge of finding awesome electives for this fall. It’s both exciting and a bit overwhelming to head into course shopping with little definition of what I’ll be taking, but I’m eager to see what I come up with at the end of the week!

The full blocking group at the Dunster “welcome back” cookout

Move-in struggles

And to close out the post, I’m including a photo of my roommates and me from this morning – our last first day of school!

Last First Day of School!

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The chances of a Harvard student completing a pset (local nickname for
problem set) during his/her undergraduate career are equal to the
chances of said student running into a tourist in Harvard Yard.

I spy…tourists in between Memorial Church and Widener Library.

The statistics get more complicated within the context of optional
psets. Yes, these little optional gremlins do exist with the apparent
purpose of guilting us. In my experience, optional psets at the
beginning of the semester exist to remind you of how forgetful and
rusty you are, whereas the (typically) nongraded optional psets
sprinkled in the midst of the hectic semester exist as exam
style/format hints. But what about the optional psets during the

I hope I didn’t scare anyone with the thought of “summer assignments.”
In my high school, a handful of classes required students intending to
enroll in the specific class to complete reading, writing, etc.
assignments during the summer which was the leading cause of
all-nighters before the first day of class. Thankfully, Harvard
College holds a Shopping Week – the first week of each semester where
students can drop by and even walk out of classes as they see fit.
Since our schedules aren’t finalized until Shopping Week is over and
our Study Cards (the list of normally 4 classes we’ve chosen to take
for the semester) are submitted to the registrar, it’s difficult to
assign “summer assignments.” (Note that there is also a grace period
of a few weeks after Study Card submission when you can add/drop
classes!) However, some outlier courses may require something along
the lines of a letter of intention – this is something I’ll have to
submit by August 21 for a Spanish class I’m SUPER interested in taking
this upcoming fall semester. Class policies vary widely but Harvard’s
been pretty good to me about providing me with the freedom to
personally design my own summer…independent of the presence of

I’m participating in a program called DRCLAS SIP (David Rockefeller
Center for Latin American Studies, Summer Internship Program). For 8
weeks, I’ll be living with a homestay family in Peru while I shadow at
a private clinic. Ever since I converted into a premed student
freshman spring semester, a trillion and a half decisions came before
me i.e. when to take certain prerequisites like physics and organic
chemistry, or if I want to pursue one or perhaps more gap years.
Shadowing and eventually becoming good friends with these doctors
during my summer internship has given me not only valuable, but also
realistic insight to what the journey to becoming a doctor is like. I
already feel more confident in my personal timeline of when and how to
approach my medical goals, although I’m still nervous about expressing
this openly in fear that if I change my mind, everyone will hate me.

But I find comfort in the fact that everyone hates optional psets more.

There definitely wasn’t an optional pset scheduled on the DRCLAS SIP
calendar. But the 13 participants rallied together and added a pset
session…at least this is what it felt like even though we were
meeting in a mall. We needed a secure public area to meet with free
wifi to plan a trip to Machu Picchu!

Girls pic near the entrance of Machu Picchu!

And in the shopping center’s cafeteria we sat with laptops out, shared
“Machu Picchu” titled Google Doc open, listening to each other
intently but also not afraid to cut each other off, compromising,
budgeting, and typing fleeting questions on our desktop’s Post-It app.
Passionate opinions were expressed and heated debates transpired, but
no personal feelings were affected. Planning an economically feasible
weekend trip to one of the few wonders of the modern world was exactly
like a pset – we were all there to do business and come out as a
better person in the end. Almost 3 hours later, we felt on top of the
world…or at least Machu Picchu!


We trekked up the adjacent mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu … breathtaking in multiple ways

Scurrying home, we were all ready to book buses, trains, planes and
hostels. Despite the unfortunate realization that the domestic trip
would cost much, much more than we all thought it would, it didn’t
make sense to live in Peru for 2 months without venturing to these
famous ruins. A trip to Machu Picchu with the entire group would be
the first non-DRCLAS-organized trip we would all take together.

Freezing cold in Cuzco, Peru even with all the body heat!

The whole process of Machu Picchu – from organization to execution –
was what made the glue holding us together become cement. Needless to
say, spending time together on a mini-vacation within summer vacation
doing once-in-a-lifetime activities is the secret element to
friendship. But I’d also like to attribute the pset session atmosphere
for our group bonding because this potentially intense, highly
productive environment truly fosters respect for your pset-mates.

You have to hold a person in high respect in order to collaborate on a
pset because it shows that you have trust in their intellectual
capacity – when was the last time you wanted to be lab partners with
someone you didn’t think highly of? You’ll also have to tolerate, if
not enjoy, their company since it’s at the very least a once a week
commitment. A lot of my close friends come from my pset groups
actually! Regardless of whether we were friends first or became
friends via psetting, it’s almost inevitable that pset groups grow
close as the night before a deadline gets later and later. To clear all the rumors about students being nerdy and antisocial, psets foster friendship.

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SUPER sorry I’ve been MIA these last two weeks! I promise to be more consistent as of now since I’ll be living with a host family (THE nicest host family in the world!) in Peru for the next two months and will have internet access. These past two weeks I’ve been living out one of my personal dreams: Euro-tripping with friends. In a whirlwind of two incredible weeks, we were able to hit up Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome and Barcelona.

Crepes + Eiffel Tower = as Parisian as we could get!

San Marco Plaza in Venice: Home of the Scariest Pigeons

Florence: Illegal but mandatory picture of me and David! Can't believe Michelangelo touched that and I stared at it!

Perfection and Happiness captured at the Leaning Tower in Pisa – mini trip during our stay in Florence

The Roman Ruins are anything but literal

Barcelona but not the Sagrada Familia…oops

The Peruvian group beachside! It's like I never left home 🙂

I never thought I’d be able to freely roam Europe in great company, but the generous Harvard funding that I received for my summer internship in Peru bestowed me the freedom to apply my personal savings towards granting one of my own wishes. Although my Euro-exploration will always be a source of exciting/embarrassing/once in a lifetime stories that will cease any awkward silences to come, I was also without wifi whenever I wasn’t in the vicinity of a McDonald’s or Starbucks which not only made communication slightly impossible, but also made blogging a feat I could not triumph.

My Peruvian internship (don’t worry I’ll definitely be blogging more about this!) and reliable internet access begins at such a clutch time because this summer, Harvard College gives undergraduate students June 4-18 to submit our PTP (Pre-Term Planning).

Since I now proudly hold one year of organic chemistry education under my belt, whenever I see the three letters PTP chained in this specific order, I automatically think of the electron sink cofactor and freak out. Before I was enlightened (cursed?) with this knowledge, I equated PTP as PLP: pre-life planning – the mechanism Harvard used to passive aggressively force students to plan out their lives in concrete. Both these perceptions are entirely wrong.

What is pre-term planning??

PTP can be perceived as a win-win situation. Deadlines for PTP provides the needed kick in the butt for students to start thinking about next semester’s classes, how their graduation requirements fit in during their remaining time at Harvard, and future plans in general. On the administrative end, PTP gives the university a slightly more accurate count of course enrollment so that faculty can prepare and allocate resources as needed such as how many teaching fellows (TFs, pretty much the same as a CA: course assistant or a TA: teaching assistant). A student’s PTP declaration is in no way binding. You can think of it as a casual conversation with a friend who asks you what classes you’re thinking of taking next semester. Here are two official websites that explain PTP:

PTP is a new tool that started the same time I began college (Fall 2010) so you can expect that there have been a few bumps in the road. However, you can also expect that the university is actively working towards smoothing out these bumps – you can see their reaction to student suggestions through this technology forum.

The undergraduate campus newspaper, The Harvard Crimson chronicles the history of PTP pretty well in these successive articles:

But I know it’s the summer and these articles have a lot of words. I’ll try to summarize its history below, especially for those with senioritis – although if reading these blogs is your form of procrastination, I completely condone (and empathize)!

I think PTP was instated because Harvard’s system of course selection is one of the most relaxed I’ve ever heard of. Students do not have to know what courses they’ll be enrolling in until a week after the semester begins. The first week of every semester is termed “Shopping Week” because students are allowed to sit in – or walk out – of any classes they choose in order to sample the class and evaluate if they’d like to commit to the material and professor for a whole semester. With this super chill system, it can be difficult for faculty and administration to anticipate how to allocate resources in a timely manner in order to get the semester rolling. PTP helps give staff a better idea of students’ interests and more adequately prepares them for the upcoming semester.

The theoretical purpose behind PTP is awesome because it aims for optimal efficiency and doesn’t call on too much effort from students. However, in PTP’s early days, the tool used to submit our anticipated classes was absolutely horrible – and even more dreadful if you take into account the technology and coding we have available today. The tool was super redundant and NOT user friendly at all which made every student feel completely technologically incompetent. Also, the university use to request PTP super early i.e. when you haven’t yet become accustomed to the current semester’s workload which encouraged students to not complete PTP as accurately or genuinely as they could have.

The majority of the hassle on the students’ side has been diminished with the new way to submit PTP. With this most recent PTP submission, students are able to submit their intended classes directly through in the same way that students commit to their classes so the routine is not only familiar, but also easy.

Here’s what it looks like now:

much more self-explanatory!

Positive results have also been reported by Harvard: “This early and generally accurate information has allowed us to more effectively allocate course sections and to minimize late TF (teaching fellow) appointments. Possibly related, last fall we had the lowest number of TFs in recent historical memory who scored poorly on the Q (Q guide).”

…proving my original hypothesis that PTP is a win-win. Now it’s up to how much we all win!

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Hi all!

I just finished my first week of class, and the outlook is bright.  I’m all settled on my courses for the semester and it’s great to be done with stress of shopping classes.  This semester I am taking the sophomore tutorial for History and Literature (my concentration), an English seminar about the American Civil War, a history class on the British Empire, and an introductory course in French.  I feel really good about things right now and it should be a fantastic semester, but only time will tell.

In other news, this Thursday was the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ Woman of the Year celebration.  The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is an undergraduate theater company that features an all-male cast, which means that Harvard men in drag portray female roles!  This year the Theatricals honored Claire Danes as their Women of the Year (WOY) and she did not disappoint.  It’s a daylong affair and includes a parade through the streets of Cambridge, a roast of the honoree, and a preview of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ annual spring show.

I joined in on the festivities after class, so I caught the tail-end of the parade.  The parade featured a marching band, On Harvard Time (a student-produced comedy news program), members of the company, and of course the Woman of the Year herself!

Claire Danes in the WOY Parade.

Claire Danes in the WOY Parade. Unfortunately, I caught her mid-blink…

The press trolley in the parade.

The press trolley in the WOY Parade.

The band in the WOY parade.

The band in the WOY Parade.

On Harvard Time in the WOY Parade.

On Harvard Time in the WOY Parade. Please note "Drew Faust" in high spirits!

This year the show is called “There Will Be Flood”, and based on the preview it is going to be filled with hilarious puns, over-the-top costumes and sets, and fantastic talent.  The show is a student-run musical, so it’s a lot of fun to be a part of the audience and see my friends and classmates on-stage and running things.  I have already purchased my ticket to see the show in two weeks and I cannot wait!  If you’re going to be in the Cambridge area between February 4th and March 4th, then you should really consider stopping by Farkas Hall to check it out!

…On a completely separate note, I was having lunch in Adams house with my friend Lanier the other day, and I couldn’t help but notice that she got a little creative with her meal.  It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then HUDS (Harvard University Dining Services) has an off day, and the dining options are bleak.  Instead of resigning herself to the salad bar and grill (solid safety options), Lanier thought outside of the box and prepared a makeshift pizza!  She had pita bread, pasta sauce, shredded mozzarella, and a microwave at her disposal, so she made it work.

Chef Lanier with her fantastic creation!

Chef Lanier with her fantastic creation!

A closeup of Lanier's Lunch.

A closeup of Lanier's Lunch.

Alright, I’m actually not in Cambridge right now because I am on a board retreat for the Crimson Key Society in Chatham, Massachusetts, so I have to run.  I’m already looking forward to checking in with you all next week!

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Ciao a tutti!

Shopping week for second semester is almost over, with Study Cards (an official list of the courses you’re taking) being due tomorrow. Luckily, I’ve figured out my semester. I’ll be taking Intensive Italian (Italian Acd), Advanced French Grammar II (French 50), Expository Writing 20 (Expos), and a Freshman Seminar called “Pressing the Page: Making Art With Letters, Paper & Ink.” I’m very excited about this semester, especially for my seminar and Italian. They’ve been amazing so far, with Italian flying by every day and my printmaking seminar seeming too short, though it’s two hours on M/W! So far I’ve made calling cards and monogrammed notecards. Check out my first creation thus far!


I <3 Art

Anyways, get ready for a lot more artsy stuff this semester, to add to my arts list from a previous post. Seriously, this is a Liberal Arts college and my goal is to find out why.

Though all Freshmen do not have to take seminars and two languages (well, there is a language requirement, but I definitely loaded up on Romance Languages), everybody who graduates from Harvard College must take Expository Writing. Shaun talks about it from the other side of the bridge, having taken it already, but I have yet to experience this wonderful essay course. Actually, most people don’t like it, but I really love writing, and all the courses I’ve signed up for have high Q ratings (which means they’re good) and are in very close proximity to my dorm! Sweet graphic here:

Wow, Check it out! Canaday has the best location for all things Freshmen.


Anyways, these are the Expos courses I’ve sectioned for. A lot of them haven’t been offered yet, and are brand new, so I thought I’d give them a chance, even though it is risky. Imagining Animals does sound pretty interesting, though.

Location, Location, Location. (Okay, and time/subject.)

If I get sectioned into a M/W 11:00-12:00 time slot, I’ll be having bagged lunch twice a week for the next semester! Good thing Harvard offers them for all students, all the time. Also, our dining services have become quite interesting, with HUDS reintroducing the Korean Barbecue night. Let me tell you, that Kimchi was spicy! After I enjoyed my Korean dinner today with my roommate, I met a few of my bandmates and headed up to the SOCH for our first practice of the second semester. We’re playing a few songs and a lot of transition material at Harvard Thinks Big, which is a very popular set of mini-lectures hosted in Sanders Theater. Last year’s information can be found here. It was awesome seeing everyone again, even though the rehearsal was short and the walk to the quad was a bit chilly. If you’ve forgotten about my band, check out this link! Being part of my amazing mini-community was definitely the best part of my first semester, because it helped me to transition into college life much more smoothly.

Whee!!! Random Picture of Cambridge!


Another super awesome thing in my life right now continues to be The Crimson! I realized that last semester was a ton of fun, and I had the best time taking photos of sports and arts, specifically for the Fifteen Minutes magazine. Over break, I took a lot of photos, and they have definitely improved, to the point where I am proud of my photography skills. Soon I will be monitoring compers as a Junior Editor, chillin’ with them as they experience that which I’ve just done. Tomorrow, I’m covering the Harvard-Yale hockey game, and my family is coming up to watch with me. I am also “schmoozing” with some peeps (editors/my superiors/great people) in order to be (hopefully) elected Arts Photo Exec. That basically means a lot of mini meetings in order to hold a higher position than my current status. I’ll update you when I hear back, but for now, cross your fingers for me!

Arts and Sports mixed together!

The weather has been uncannily warm as of late, which definitely freaks me out a little bit; climate change is upon us, and it’s been pretty evident here in Cambridge. Hopefully it cools down, so I can use the really great skating rink on the Science Center lawn. (What? Harvard has a free skating rink? Why yes, we do.) Most of the time though, I’m inside, doing my homework so that I don’t get behind. I definitely don’t want to make that mistake again, because it creates a lot of unnecessary stress.  I’ve been doing a bit of walking recently, because I’m auditioning through  Common Casting  for Legally Blonde and Hair (the musical), and I have to hike up to the Aggassiz Theater (also home of the visitor center), Loeb Theater, and Farkas Theater. I really missed auditioning, so this process has been a blast! But I should get back to the pile of work on my desk….

Busy busy


Okay! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my post, and for those applying to Harvard, these next few months might be a little worrisome, but try to keep the admissions process in the back of your head and enjoy your last part of high school. You’ll end up wherever you need to be.


Signing off



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