Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interviews Are Exhausting

Harvard's interview weekend for the graduate Program in Neuroscience was this past weekend. And so it was that I happened to be sitting in the airport Thursday morning before my flight, sporting a new black peacoat with my carry-on bag in front of me (with gloves, hat, and scarf easy to reach in the outer pockets). There I met another applicant from Berkeley, and we boarded the plane together, chatting about our majors, the interview, and our expectations.

About an hour after our arrival at the hotel, the first year grad students picked us up in groups to take us to pre-arranged dinners at various restaurants around the city. It was a nice opportunity to talk to not only the grad students, but also the other recruits, the majority of whom I will probably see at future interviews (we'll all be best friends by the end of this, I guess!).

Anyway, for the night, we stayed at the Best Western Inn a couple blocks from the Longwood medical campus, which was convenient, as the next morning turned out to be quite snowy.

A short walk down the street, and we arrived at the Harvard Medical School campus, where the program and many of the faculty's labs are housed. Nearby were the many hospitals and medical institutes where most of the remaining faculty worked.

We had 2 half-hour interviews that morning, with a short break for a talk (during which my eyes were closing not for lack of interest, but for lack of sleep) and lunch, followed by another 3 interviews, and then a reception/mixer at which we could mingle with and talk to other faculty we were interested in working with.

Busy day. Exhausting, really. And so of course that night everybody was taken on an outing to King's for bowling fun! Except the few of us under 21, who went instead to an improv comedy show (Improv Asylum, check them out if you're in Boston - they were pretty good). We had a little time before the show, so we walked a few streets up and down the North End, and got some cannolis from Mike's Pastries.

The next morning, we got on a bus to visit the Cambridge campus (where Harvard's undergraduate college is located) and the faculty working there. Our bus, however, turned down a small side street lined by snow-covered parked cars. Almost at the end of the street, we got stuck. There wasn't quite enough space for the bus to pass, but we were too far to back all the way out. So after some discussion, we disembarked the bus and walked a block in the snow to our target, the building with whale skeletons just hanging around.

Some talks, pizza, and fun faculty stories later, we scurried down to Harvard Square, where we got what was purportedly "the best hot chocolate in the world" (Madagascar for me - I liked the flavor of "citrus with a hint of vanilla"). Extremely rich and chocolatey, and certainly quite yummy. While there, I happened to spot an entire store devoted to my namesake, though unfortunately I didn't get a chance to go inside.

Our hot chocolate done, we waited in the cold for the M2, early enough to visit the library and see the skull of the legendary (to neuroscience students, anyway) Phineas Gage.

You may have noticed that is the library, not the skull. I have no pictures for you because there was no photography allowed. Sorry. Here, instead, is a helicopter flying in to one of the medical centers, which I couldn't fit in anywhere else in the post.

Returning to my story, that last night, the recruits had dinner with some of the faculty members, either at their homes or nearby restaurants. The advice they all reiterated? When you're choosing a thesis lab, don't focus on a specific topic. Keep an open mind, but pick a lab based on the mentor. Good parting advice. I will keep it in mind.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interview the First

I'm heading to Boston in the morning for my first interview weekend. I'm excited, and a tad nervous, but it should be a lot of fun. Weather report says it won't be snowing on either of the days I'm flying, though it will be snowing Friday. I got myself a nice warm peacoat in preparation, and I've got some layers packed away, so I'm hoping I won't freeze too much.

I'll post a report and some pictures upon my return. Arrivederci!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Grad Interviews

Berkeley's on the semester system, so school starts on Tuesday, Jan 18th for me. If my New Year's Resolution were to go to all my classes this semester, I would fail within two days. Not because I'm lazy, but because I have grad school interview weekends that often start Thursday or Friday.

So I understand having interviews Thursday/Friday means professors at the school don't have to come in on Saturdays and Sundays, but for me, it means I won't be going to my Friday class for at least 6 weeks in a row. On at least 5 of those weeks, I'm going to be missing all my Thursday classes as well. And sometimes the Wednesday ones too, for those on the East Coast (and also UCSD). Wouldn't be so bad flying in the other direction, but I have to start 3 hours earlier here.

I still have one class I need for my major, a class I need in order to graduate. And I'm going to be missing almost 1/3 of the lectures for that class. I really have to talk to the professor too, because I recall correctly, the midterms for that class tend to be Thursday nights. Lovely.

So I'm flying across the country every other weekend, interviewing within California the other weekends, missing classes I'll have to catch up on, including one for my major, and trying to do research for my honors thesis at the same time. And I don't even get to go home every couple weekends to recharge.

I think I understand now why so many people take a year off. Here's my suggestion to future grad school applicants: even if you know what you want to study, and that you want to go to grad school, think hard on when to apply. If you're applying to a bunch of places that you think you have a pretty good chance of getting in to, and you still have requirements to fulfill during your last semester, it might be to your benefit to wait. Find an internship or a job for 6 months or a year, and apply the following spring.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy new year! It's 2011, and in a couple weeks, I will be beginning the end of my undergraduate career. My last semester, my first grad school interviews, my second brown belt (I hope).

I would tell you my resolutions, but I don't believe in resolutions. If I see something I need to fix about myself, I try to fix it starting the day I notice it. Why wait till New Years? Most of those resolutions fail anyway.

I'm not saying I'm completely successful in my efforts either, but at least I last a couple weeks. And then a couple weeks again next time I notice it, etc. Eventually, I get there, without having to wait a year in between trials.

Slow and steady wins the race, right?