Check us out here from now on: https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/hear-our-students/student-blogs
As a Harvard student, I think one of the fastest lessons you learn is that the word “midterm” is a misnomer. These tests should really be re-coined as exams because they seem to happen all throughout the semester rather than just in the middle of it. Some classes won’t have midterms (maybe they’ll have papers) while some classes will have up to three midterms (more common in science classes).
This week, my big exam was in my LS2 (Life Sciences 2: Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy) class. It was a 50 point in-class exam and students had 50 minutes to complete it. We were very thoroughly notified that time would be a critical issue, but this didn’t help with my anxiety. There really isn’t any time to think! I truly had to know everything about germ layers, embryos, sensory impulses, and etc. inside and out to be able to not think yet thoroughly answer all the questions. Whether or not this crazy-fast recollection of physiology and anatomy will ever help in the future is still TBD. When this exam was over, I definitely had less on my plate – but still enough on my plate to keep me a bit overwhelmed.
My senior fall midterm schedule is looking pretty nice since they’re spread out over a few weeks. However, I’m still running from meeting to appointment to interview in a (hopefully) hot mess fashion.
In my EMR 20 (Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning 20 – The Business and Politics of Health) class, my professor David Cutler cut a deal with his students: if students volunteered to present in groups the pros and cons of the New York Soda Ban, those students would be able to drop a pset (problem set). This class has a pset due every other week which seems nice at first because most psets are weekly. However, these psets tend to be longer and since I’m very interested in the international development trend of the course, they take me longer as I research my tangent thoughts. Long story short, I volunteered to present the cons concomitant to Bloomberg’s Soda Ban and was placed in a group of 4 students total. Group presentations – especially when you cannot select who to work with – can be wild cards. My “con” group was great though! We were super organized, efficient, and productive. Everything was seamlessly shared on Google Drive and we even ran through our presentation at least twice the night before! It was definitely one of the best group project dynamics I’ve ever experienced to date. Coincidentally, we all represented four different years of the university; I really appreciated not only meeting new peers, but also listening to their different perspectives and knowledge about the university. Harvard students employ an outrageous amount of acronyms so it was funny to see which ones freshman learn first. From class selection, sleep/eating schedule, to our approach on how early to start psets, our opinions and preferences all varied yet were all similar as well. I can’t really articulate the common thread linking all Harvard students, but there’s something warm and fuzzy keeping us together through our experiences in Annenberg (the freshman dining hall), The Yard, and beyond.
The group presentation is just one of the many ways Cutler makes his lecture-format course interactive. He’s one of the best professors I’ve ever had in terms of transforming lectures into an active, rather than passive, activity. He challenges us with questions and then uses our answers to pose higher level thinking questions. He’ll poll us on our opinions before and after discussing certain topics like whether or not we should improve the economy to improve health or focus on healthcare first to have the enhancement of the economy follow. I’m really enjoying the lectures thus far!!
Outside of class tests and projects, I’m starting another research experiment as a Research Assistant at the Harvard Decision Science Lab. I’ll be working with a fellow from the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences. Since we employ human subjects in the lab, it’s always hard for me to determine how much information to disclose so I’d rather err on the conservative side. We’ll be spinning around the Dictator Game to answer our research questions about impulsive decision making and bargaining.
This week is also the beginning of the PBHA (Phillips Brooks House Association) mentoring program that I’ve been involved with since my freshman fall and have been directing since my sophomore fall: BRYE Teen. (I’ve warned you all about our ridiculous amounts of acronyms!) PBHA is a student-run, umbrella public service organization that supports hundreds of different programs serving the elderly, the youth, and every person (or animal!) in between! BRYE stands for Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment and has many subcategories such as BRYE (afterschool) Tutoring, BRYE Summer (summer camp), and many more. My co-director and I have been working super diligently this past first month of school to recruit both mentors and mentees. We’ve been nervously waiting to see the fruits of our labor and I’m more than happy to report that the fruit turned out sweeter than what we were hoping for!
My favorite thing about PBHA is that it connects you with your community as well as other students. Many of my friendships have blossomed from being involved in mentoring and PBHA in general. Once a month, PBHA serves dinner and hosts a meeting called Cabinet where directors from various programs come to give updates and learn about the other aspects of PBHA they might not be aware of – sort of like a behind the scenes look. The PBHA Cabinet meeting is a great place to learn about how Harvard students have been spending their time!
Although the theme of my week has been running around from task to task, I try to make time to stop and smell the roses. The establishment of the new Science Center Plaza has helped me make time to stop and smell the roses. The new plaza is incredible – and even more so in the nice weather we’ve been having in Cambridge! I’m glad that no more students will have to go on without the plaza. It’s a unique and thriving place to meet with friends, have lunch, and get tan! I’m pretty sure I always naturally smile when passing the plaza. There’s also a tented area where farmer’s markets happen with frequency along with other special events too such as health fairs and boutique shops!
If you ever consider visiting Harvard, don’t come when September transitions into October. I’ve never noticed this before – and maybe it’s just a coincidence this year – but every aspect of everyone’s life has recently magnified. These heightened responsibilities stem from upcoming midterms, extracurricular club/volunteering activities, job recruitment…and the list goes on forever. Once October hits, students can no longer deny that school has started and autumn is in full swing. Actually, maybe visit this time of year because it’s so freaking gorgeous with the leaves changing colors.
Classes are strangely picking up – meaning we’re still in the calm before the storm, but people are getting antsy because it’s very obvious that the storm is extremely imminent. I’m going to turn the other cheek with regards to this storm though and focus on the fun things in my life while I can.
Mather had a Magic Show! Mather is one of the twelve upperclassman houses – it’s known for it’s concrete high rise tower (19 floors!). Students live in The Yard (the heart of campus) their freshman year and move into one of the upperclassman houses for their remaining three years of undergrad – this is called the residential college system. Each upperclassman house has a wide range of house-spirit building activities. Think constant pep rallies. For example, some days will be marked as “community dinners” where only residents of the house are allowed to dine in the dining hall. Houses will also hold Stein Clubs, also known as Happy Hour, once every 2 weeks where there’s just a ton of free food and drinks along with great music — these are the best way to start your weekend relaxation! A personal goal before I graduate is to attend every house’s Stein Club
Fun fact: Most (all?) Harvard houses will be renovated in the next few years! We’re in the process of a long term renovation process which is really exciting because who doesn’t like the new small of architecture?? However, at the same time it’s pretty scary because I’m definitely going to come back to my 10 year reunion clueless of the new names to each building!
Back to my main point, Mather had a Magic Show! Joe Schwarz came and put on an intimate show for about 10 people. He talked about his nontraditional love for science. It was really exciting to not only see him perform tricks as well as explain them, but also hear about his surprising application of his scientific knowledge. At Harvard, there are a handful of paths that most students go down post-graduation: consulting, finance, med school and law school are the top ones that automatically come to mind. In the moment, students can start to feel like there are no other paths, so refreshing events like the Magic Show are very helpful to remind students that the world is bigger than what we think.
…which can also remind us that we should branch outside of the Harvard Bubble – it’s very common for students to hardly step foot off campus. I’m pretty guilty of being trapped in said bubble and that’s why when my sorority organized a group to fundraise and participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s about 4 miles down the river, I jumped on the opportunity! It was a great Sunday afternoon spent before the onset of midterms!
I’ll update in a few days about midterms…ugh
As I mentioned last week when I was describing my course schedule for the semester, I’m taking more independent classes this term. These less structured courses are a new experience in my academic career and I’m nervous-excited as I venture into this personally new unknown. Hopefully, I’ll be able to manage my time and work well enough to not go crazy come November.
One of the two of my more independent classes is GHHP 91r (Global Health and Health Policy Supervised Reading and Research). The goal of the class is to write a mini-thesis on a topic of choice under the supervision of a faculty adviser who is there to help focus my topic as well as grade me at the end of the term. I’ve (tentatively) chosen to continue my topic from the summer when I was performing clinical trials about maternal health and nutrition (vitamin A/iron supplementation during pregnancy within malaria-endemic regions). However, I’ve been unable to secure an adviser as of yet. I’ve been emailing and meeting with people like crazy and I have (false?) confidence that I’ll find an adviser eventually, but this process has been much more difficult than I anticipated and thus, I have been a bit discouraged.
Good thing this discouragement doesn’t carry over from classes to my extracurricular activities! This week of school has been focused on my “work” outside of the classroom.
In my search for a global health adviser, I was directed to a Harvard initiative about raising awareness about malaria. There’s actually a competition open to all Harvard affiliates and I’ve gathered 3 of my friends to form a team with me and enter. When I first perused the article and found out about the competition, I definitely thought it was cool, but something I would never enter due to no time/thinking I would never win. However, I still attended their informational session and ran into some friends there. We threw around the idea of forming a team and I’ve been super determined to enter with a great idea. We don’t have any ideas yet though — but we’ve been having a blast trying to come up with some! Okay, so most of our meeting time is spent joking around and relaying stories, but the few serious minutes we had were pretty productive. We’ve scheduled a meeting with the head of Malaria No More and intend to schedule many more with professors and whatnot.
I’ve not only never entered into a contest of this sort, but also wouldn’t have seen myself doing something like this. I’m getting really excited about my team though since we come from many backgrounds (life sciences, economics, education, computer science), it’s been really useful to bounce ideas off of each other!
This Defeating Malaria contest is definitely more of an academic extracurricular. However, I’m also involved with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) which is an umbrella organization running a bunch of programs geared towards public service and volunteering in the community. Mentoring was a huge part of my high school years; I mentored elementary students afterschool all throughout high school. When I moved across the country for college, I knew I wanted to continue mentoring and the opportunity to mentor the heavy immigrant population in Dorchester was perfect because it would also help keep my Vietnamese language ability alive.
I joined the Teen sector of the BRYE (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment) program during my freshman fall and started directing the program the following year. At the beginning of each semester, PBHA programs like BRYE work diligently to recruit student volunteers. I spent a lot of time this week interviewing applicants. I’ve also stressed the importance of recruting mentees this year so I’ve been calling a lot of families in Dorchester and utilizing my proficiency in both Vietnamese and Spanish. BRYE has truly been the best application of my language abilities and I love it!
One more “extracurricular” that I’ve tacked onto my schedule for my senior year has been trying to find something to do post-graduation. My plan is medical school, but not immediately. I’m hoping to fill in my gap year(s?) with something related to the medical field and hopefully this different insight will help me become a better practicing doctor when the time comes! Besides from looking into research fellowships, I’ve also been on the job hunt for healthcare consulting/tech firms. I’ve never actually sought out a job before and this whole process of networking and interviewing has been intimidating! I had a phone interview with a healthcare software company this week and apparently that went well enough so that I’m at the next stage of their hiring process: a skills assessment. It’s essentially an online logic test from what I gather. There will be a proctor just sort of watching me as I take this 2 hour test, but I won’t be able to see the proctor! I’ve never done anything like this and I’m nervous – probably more nervous than what’s good for me. I’m taking this logic test this week and just don’t know what to do with myself since I feel like I can’t prepare for it…
So I’ve been trying to relax. I’m a senior and I’m not currently active in the medical school application cycle. There are endless reasons why I should be having a great time…and I may or may not be exploiting them. However, the ticking clock ticks louder senior year because time is definitely running out to do everything I want to do! But one step at a time right?
One thing I’ve always wanted to do was to get money to throw a party. Thanks, Harvard! There’s a student run group on campus called Drug & Alcohol Peer Advisors (DAPA) and they give out grants every week to students who apply for funding. I decided I wanted to host a party revolving around guacamole and although I requested $40, I received a good $20 for guacamole and everyone was so impressed. It was the best. I definitely want to continue taking advantage of this resource to feed all my small cravings
I sort of have this problem where even when I’m full, I won’t stop eating. It’s the worst. I’m just glad I have an affinity for exercising to counter my bad habits. I have my third Boston Half Marathon coming up in three weeks and have been experiencing anxiety about it for the past three months. I don’t ever feel ready for long races! But around the end of every September, there’s a community 5k event called the Brian Honan. It’s an amazing event, full of community and spirit! Harvard also sponsors a huge group of runners at the event so registration is free for us! Today was my third Brian Honan as well as my best 5k time! A huge group got together for the event and some of us even jogged back together with a stop at the football stadiums to run up a few stairs before heading over to brunch. Today was just overall an amazing day! It was downpouring at 6am in the morning but the sun was out and the day was beautiful by noon when the race started!
It’s been a great week, but I need to stop ignoring my classes. Midterms are coming up…what?! Midterms are definitely the sneakiest thing in college.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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).
Things conquered in Tanzania:
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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!
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??
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!
Things NOT conquered back at school:
Unpacking, class schedule
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.
This past week, I have been spending some quality time at home before heading back to campus for my junior year. Having been away from home this whole summer, I am really glad I had the opportunity to come back to California and see my family. It has been eight months since I last came home, and even though I have been have some great adventures, there is no place like home.
These last few days of vacation have given me some time to reflect on my summer experiences. Firstly, I had the chance to work at the Women’s Tennis Association. Here, I was able to follow my passion and help campaign for gender equality. I have wanted to work at the WTA for awhile, so I am really glad that I had the opportunity. For the second part of the summer, I was traveling and playing tennis in France. I will always treasure this experience as I learned a lot more about myself, through the process and gained a more global perspective.
There are several things I learned this summer, and the top three are listed below:
1. We are all more alike than we are different.
My travels in France really made me formulate this opinion. Despite our cultural, and language differences, deep down, we are the much more similar than we are different. We may speak different languages, and wear different types of clothing, but we all enjoy the same fundamental things in life.
2. Life is too short to be stuck in an intermediate state.
With the introduction of technology, it is really easy to escape reality. You have the option to deviate from reality by texting a friend, or playing a game on your phone. Having spent so much time away without a phone, and constant access to the internet, I realized how much freedom lay in the ability to remain in the present. There are so many wonderful opportunities right in front of you, and it only takes a closer look to see them.
3. Never make judge a book by its cover.
It is human nature to attach labels and stereotypes to people based off their looks and first impressions. If you take the time to get to know people, they might surprise you. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people this year, and found that a lot of people have very interesting stories.
I hope everyone had a great summer, and I am really excited for the start of the new school year! I can’t believe I am going to start my junior year, but I am really looking forward to the new school year!
Three teammates and I are spending the second half of their summers playing tournaments in France. It has been fun getting used to the European red clay, meeting fellow players at various tournaments and keeping our games sharp for the 2013-14 season. Here is the third blog entry:
After our tournaments in Dax and Urt, the team headed to Sarlat. This would be the last tournament that all four of us would be competing in together. When I booked my plane tickets in March, I knew I would be in France for one week longer than my three teammates. Sarlat proved to be unique from the other clubs as this was the tennis club where the famous French Tennis player, Younes Aynaoui, grew up playing tennis (he played the second longest professional match against Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals of the 2003 Australian Open). To our surprise, he entered the tournament, and unsurprisingly, he won the tournament without dropping a set. Obviously, he is a very good tennis player, but I was taken aback by how nice and humble he was. After the tournament ended, he was nice enough to invite me to hit, and was really keen on offering advice.
After the tournament, we dropped my three teammates(Alex, Conor, and Nicky) at the Bordeaux train station. As the train pulled around the corner, I felt twinge in my heart. It was sad to see them leave, but we had so many great experiences these past four weeks, and knew we would have these memories for the rest of our lives.
While competing in the Sarlat tournament, I met a Harvard Alumni who grew up in the area and also played tennis at the club. It was nice to have the same college connection and he invited us to have dinner at his house and meet his family. Since we had a couple of days off before the next tournament he offered to show the rest of the team(Bells, Will[our coach], and myself) around the city. Traveling through each town you don’t always realize how much history lies there, and it is fascinating to think all the important historic events that have happened over the years. Most of the landmarks in this particular city included castles that were constructed during the Hundred Year’s War between France and England. I’ve always had a fascinations for castles, so I am really thankful that they took time out of their busy schedule to show us around.
From Sarlat, we drove to the town, Le Bigue. This was one of my favorite tournament of the whole trip. Like the other clubs, everyone was hospitable, but every night, the club had dinner for the members and players and they wouldn’t let you leave until you had three or four helpings. There was a vegetable garden right next to the club, and everything tasted great. While my French had been getting better throughout the trip, most of the members spoke English which made the communication process much more fruitful. As this was one of my last tournaments it was great to reaccount all the adventures my teammates and I had, and I had a nice little fan base by the last day of the tournament. I played one of the best matches of the trip in the finals, and was really sad to leave Le Bigue.
After Le Bigue, I played my last tournament in Northern France at Normandy. It was my 9th and final tournament, and I knew would feel remorse after the last match. When I got to the club, I found out the matches were going to take place in the indoor clay courts, which was a little surprise. Clay is my least favorite surface and it was fitting I had one more chance to prove myself on the surface. I reached the final without dropping a set, and found myself against a veteran clay court player in the finals. His experience showed as I dropped the first set 3-6. With much support on the sidelines(my coach Will, and close friend Bella), I was able to event the match with a 6-3 win in the second set. In the third he struck first and took a commanding 3-1 lead. Whether it was my last match, or that I had played so many matches on the trip, I was able to find another gear and won the final set 6-4. After his forehand went wide I glanced at my coach as we couldn’t believe I won a tournament on clay. While the club lacked the community feel of the many other great clubs I’ve played at, it was fitting last tournament, and will always have a special place in my heart.
After the tournament we packed up the campervan, for the last time, and headed to the Paris Airport. That’s it for my adventures in France! It was an unforgettable five weeks, but am looking forward to head back to the states and spend a week at home. At the end of the week, I will be posting my final reflections from the summer. Stay tuned!