Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I'm really glad I've been writing this blog for the past year and a half. It's definitely helped me get better at starting writing projects, which is especially important this semester.

None of my personal statements for the various neuroscience graduate programs can be quite the same. Columbia asks for everything in under 500 words, Harvard in 1000, and UCSD in 2500 (the others don't have word limits, so I can just go with the best version for those). Right now, I've got 970 words, and a little bit more to add. So I can hit 1000 easily. But paring it down to 500 is difficult because all the transitions and the flow will be gone from my piece. I'm going to have to completely rewrite my statement for that one.

Today, though, I'm working on a completely different application. It's for TeachForAmerica. I was planning on applying, but it seemed far away in the future. And then I had a meeting with one of the recruiters on Monday morning, and he reminded me just why I wanted to apply in the first place. So now I'm weighing whether I should try to get it done by today's deadline, or wait for the December deadline. The latter would lead to interview weeks coinciding with interviews for grad schools. It would also be nice to find out by January if I'm in or not.

But then again, my career goal involves going to grad school and doing research. It's not as though TFA will just be a hobby, because I'm very interested in education, but my contribution to the field in the end is probably not going to be from the level of the teacher. So I would also have to decide by January, before I found out whether the grad schools that would allow a 2-year deferral have accepted me. All in all, I'm thinking now that I should probably go with the December deadline.

It'll take longer and be more busy, but at least I'll be able to see all my choices when I decide.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Berkeley Project

One of the (many many) things that's been keeping me busy lately is something called Berkeley Project. I've written about it before. It's a community service event, but with a flashmob-like twist. No, there's no surprise, and (usually) no dancing, but it does all happen on a single day. Well, to the public anyhow. Those behind the scenes work their fingers off setting this up.

Basically, what happens is that we get some 2000 volunteers to all come out on one day and go all over the city to various sites. They work with the city and members of the community to make things a little bit better. There's gardening/tree-planting/weeding in public areas, removing graffiti, painting murals, and even clearing trails up in the Berkeley Hills. Whatever the city needs.

Some criticize us. They can't deny that we get a lot of personpower to get projects done that might otherwise be difficult, but they argue that it's only one day. However much you do in 1 day, there's still at least 364 more every year.

But we're pretty upfront about that. The goal isn't to get people into long-term volunteer positions. The goal is to draw attention to volunteering, to get people to volunteer who might not otherwise have the time or the desire. Maybe they'll find they like it and pursue the interest. Maybe not.

As I see it, though, the biggest thing is just to get Berkeley students more involved in the community. Even those living far from campus spend a lot of time in the company of other students and little with other community members. Berkeley Project Day leads to interaction between these two groups that don't usually intermingle. It gets students to notice that there are other people in the city besides themselves, and that even some of those who are not homeless and out on the street have poor living conditions. Getting people to venture outside their normal lives and into those of others is, I think, a project worth working for.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


This morning, I took the GRE Subject test in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology. It was much harder than the one practice test the ETS gave us. The test is supposed to reflect what undergraduate coursework looks like, but the ETS's idea of what that was in 2005 seems more similar to what I actually learned these last couple years.

When I take tests, I tend to use my intuition a lot. I analyze it and see if it might be wrong for any of the usual reasons (which I've learned from taking myriad tests - always mark up/write your thoughts on the paper so you can see what you were thinking when you get it back), but for the most part, I trust it. And I do pretty well. As long as I was paying good attention when I first learned it in class, it sticks with me. The details don't necessarily remain as they are, but their place in my understanding of the topic is preserved. To put it more simply, I have a map in my head. Sometimes, the names of the towns along the route may be missing, but their locations are still marked.

That's the way my intuition works. Because of this, some days it's really good, and some days (particularly if I haven't slept soundly/enough)...not so much.

The problem with this is that I don't know how I did on a test until I get it back. This time around, there were many questions where I could narrow it down to two or three choices, and then I had to choose based on what I was leaning toward. So I'll just have to wait (6 weeks!) and see.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

My first semester at Berkeley, I took 19 units. Sounds like a lot, but it wasn't really, because Chem 1a was easy after AP Chem, and Elementary Telugu - well, I could already speak, read, and write a little. It was nice, and I had time to go hang out with friends, explore the city, etc. Second semester was much the same, but with the addition of organic chemistry. But it was still okay.

Fall of sophomore year, I only took 17 units. Thing is, those 17 units comprised OChem, Bio, Physics, and Global Poverty. You know, easy classes that don't require you to spend multiple hours per class in lab and don't have much homework or reading or difficult midterms. Not at all.
Well, that plus all the time I had to spend for the ballroom dancing team meant I was constantly doing homework or reading or practicing cha cha or studying for a midterm.

"This porridge is too hot!" exclaimed Goldilocks.

So the next semester, I only put the porridge in the microwave for 13.5 seconds/units (the minimum). I quit ballroom as part of the mass exodus that occurred with those who joined our year (many factors, including politics, were involved here). 'Yay,' I thought. 'I have time to join a new club!' But now I had more time than I knew what to do with. I took the yongmudo P.E. class to replace the martial arts I had left at home. I did community service-type stuff with CalPIRG and the Berkeley Project. And still I was bored.

"This porridge is too cold," Goldilocks complained.

At some point, I managed to strike a balance. I realized that I'd much rather be busy than bored, and that I in fact work more efficiently when I am busy. I procrastinate more when I'm not, which leads to more stress even though I don't need to be stressed.

"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," sighed Goldilocks.

But this semester, my porridge is boiling again. And this time, I'm not sure I can get through it with swimming colors like last time. Two languages at the intermediate level, a neuroanatomy class with lab, psychology, and a reflection course for my practice, along with research for an honors thesis, yongmudo club, arranging sites for Berkeley Project day, and helping out with the salsa class. Oh, and by the way, I'm trying to take the General and Subject GRE tests and apply to grad school. You know, in my free time.

"Ouch, I think I burned my tongue!" cried Goldilocks.