By: Nike Izmaylov '19
To perform well in the study of science, one must first learn to think like a scientist and have the adequate tools to perform it. From understanding statistical mechanics to being introduced to laboratory procedures during freshman fall, the students of the experimental new Life Sciences 50 course take two classes in one, which all of the work that that entails.
The limited class-size of 25 students allows for greater interaction with each other, as well as professors and TFs, which creates a friendlier, more tight-knit atmosphere than the large-lecture-halls alternative of LS1a and simultaneously places more pressure on each student. However, the curricula of LS1a and LS50 diverge, with the former focusing on specific chemistry and the latter on physics and mathematics in a biological context.
Perhaps the crowning jewel of LS50 is the dedicated lab time. While the labs of LS1a focus on teaching concepts such as acid-base titration, the students of LS50 are tasked with performing experiments that further actual research. At the moment, the students are assisting with testing the relative fitness and gene expression of double-mutated C. elegans and have learned various experimental methodologies in use in labs around the world today, including protocols for PCR, growing bacteria and worms on plates, cleaning DNA and RNA, and more.
Due to LS50 counting as two classes, some freshmen worry that that they may not be as adequately prepared as if they had taken LS1a and a mathematics course, such as the biological-focused Math 19a. Others appreciate the broad range of different techniques taught in LS50, applicable regardless of the scientific or mathematical field that they eventually choose to study. Ultimately, LS50 is a novel and rigorous experience for students interested in science, particularly biology or chemistry with a splash of mathematics and physics, and willing to put in the work and effort to achieve greatness.
By: Julia Canick '17
Now that reading period is almost upon us, it’s time to start thinking about how to study for those tricky science exams. Here are some tips—though some may seem glaringly obvious, it’s important to make sure you leave no stone unturned!
Go to Office Hours
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Office hours are a little-utilized resource, where you get to pick your professors’ brains about anything that is unclear to you, or anything in the curriculum you’d like to discuss. It’s a great opportunity to get to know your classmates and get your last-minute questions answered.
Do Every Practice Problem
Do them. Every. Practice. Problem. Go through class lectures, section problems, problem sets, and extra reviews—more often than not, problems on science exams are derived directly from problems you’ve seen before! Go through them, and make sure you understand exactly how they work.
Explain it to your Grandmother
Albert Einstein once said, “you do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” Maybe you don’t have a grandmother in the near vicinity of your college campus, but the idea still stands: explain concepts to your friends who aren’t as well versed in the sciences. They’ll be able to point out when you make jumps in your logic, or don’t fully understand an idea—this will give you a great jumping-off point for future studying.
By Nia Walker ‘16
Emily is a senior at Harvard (in Dunster House), pre-med and concentrating in Neurobiology with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy
[On why she chose neurobiology] “Coming into college, I knew I wanted to study neuroscience after doing research in high school in a neuro psych lab. I have just always been fascinated by what drives people to think, feel, and act the way they do. Neurobiology is the perfect way of using data driven science to figure out the psychological underpinnings of people and behavior.”
[On neurobiology at Harvard] “I really like the department, and the advisors have particularly been very helpful and available. I have been less enthused by some of the requirements—for example the introductory courses like MCB 80 and OEB 57. However, I appreciate that there are a lot of diverse courses accepted for neurobiology credit. Neurobiology is one of the more interdisciplinary concentrations, and I have enjoyed my experience overall.”
[On choosing neurobiology again] “If I stayed a science concentrator, I would pick neurobiology again. I wonder sometimes if I should have branched out and tried a non-science concentration for more balance as a pre-med. If I hadn’t done a science concentration, I might have considered anthropology or sociology.”
[On her favorite experience at Harvard] “My best academic experience occurred freshman year. I took a course about health care disparities in the U.S. my freshman spring. At the time I’d also just started volunteering with Health Leads, a group on campus that offers health consulting and support to low income areas throughout Boston. So I was learning in the classroom about these issues and getting the opportunity to see what it truly means for everyday people each week. I could see the connection between classroom learning and real life experience. It changed my mindset on what health care means, what the most pressing issues are, and what I can do to best aid others.”
[On her reflections of her Harvard experience] “Something I wish I’d done earlier is form more relationships with mentors. I wish I’d taken more advantage of that resource—getting to know my teaching staff and finding mentors from the start of freshman year. I would tell people to find mentors early, especially those who are in your fields of interest and who you see yourself possibly becoming someday.”
by Allison Oliva, '18
One of the reasons to go to a University like Harvard is the opportunity to do something that changes the world. For many STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) concentrators, that “something” is research. In an interview, on a tour, or written in bold on a brochure, world-class research opportunities are promised to the wide-eyed undergraduates lucky enough to claim this university as theirs.
As I discovered when I arrived at Harvard, one does not receive their lab assignment with their admissions decision. On campus many freshmen, sophomores, and juniors want to make their way into prestigious Harvard labs, and for the new kids, the lab hunt can be mysterious, intimidating, and frustrating. Six people in my dorm entryway alone were actively attempting to find a lab as winter break, and summer internship deadline, approached. The stress of securing a coveted lab position does not go well with midterm woes.
Fear not, though. Research is not imperative to be successful at Harvard, and although it is a great experience for STEM scholars, lab work absolutely can wait until Sophomore year, Junior year, or the summer. It’s a lot of work, and for a student adapting to the new pressures of college life, it can be beneficial to wait a semester or two before adding a big commitment like research on your plate. If you just can’t wait to start plating petri dishes, though, I’ve compiled a list of tips based on ways my friends from the class of 2018 found their way into labs.
1. Ask an advisor: A friend of mine planning to concentrate in physics found a lab willing to train him by talking with his advisor. Academic advisors can be a great resource if they are in the department or field you want to study. Even if they seem to work in an area unrelated to your probable concentration or research interests, many have far-reaching connections in the academic world. It never hurts to mention your desire to start research to someone assigned to help you get the most out of your freshman year.
2.Talk to friends and family: It’s a small world sometimes. Another freshman found a lab position by mentioning his interest in stem cell research to his sister, an alumnus, over the phone. She discussed it with a friend who had done stem cell research at Harvard, and he talked to his old principal investigator (PI). This crazy web of people-knowing-people landed my friend a position in this PI’s lab from a simple phone call.
3.Talk to professors: I know it is easier said than done, especially in the huge lecture courses (LS1a, the typical Harvard introduction to Life Sciences, *cough, cough*), but professors have office hours for a reason. If you are too intimidated to speak up in class or stay after to ask a question, attend office hours with a question or two about a topic from class that piqued your interest. Professors want to get to know their students, and they want their students to succeed. If you show genuine interest, they will do their best to help you achieve your goals. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t offer you a position in their lab right away either, finding a lab is similar to a treasure hunt. A little patience and a lot of determination are critical.
4.Attend events: My seminar lab partner found her lab by attending the Life Sciences undergraduate research fair. At the fair, she saw a poster describing research in which the researchers knocked out genes in zebra fish and observed the effects. She spoke to the researcher about the experiments, asked questions, and exchanged emails. Later on she sent a follow-up email and was asked to attend a lab meeting. Second semester she started doing research in that lab. The events held by the Office of Career Services or the departments are done to allow students who don’t have connections to make them. As another benefit, events like the research fair display a variety of research projects in different fields (in this case, different life science fields). If you don’t know what interests you, a showcase event can be a great place to start identifying your favorite research topics.
5.Google it: Like many, I lacked connections, and attempts to use my advisors and professors as resources helped me in my search, but didn’t prove instantly fruitful. I found labs that expressed interest in undergraduate assistants by scanning the Life Sciences concentration page research section, reading the Mind, Brain, Behavior lab listings, and keeping a watchful eye on the bulletin boards in the Science Center. When I saw a lab that looked interesting, I read through the lab page and a paper or two that the researchers recently published and sent an email expressing my interest in their research. I cannot say how critical it is to truly have and convey genuine interest in a lab’s research topic. If you pick a lab purely to do lab work, but do not actually like the area of research, it could be a negative experience for both you and those you work under. For every four or five emails, I would get an interview or an email asking for more information about me. I got three of these positive responses, but none of them resulted in a lab position. Finally, I was so frustrated that I googled “Alzheimer’s research Harvard University”. I knew that I wanted to do research pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease because of my family history with the disease, so I started going down the list, clicking on the top hits. I found a lab whose research shocked me. Their experiments were methodologically elegant, and the results both excited me and gave me hope. It was something that I wanted to know more about, that I wanted desperately to be apart of. I was very intimidated by the lab, made of post-docs and a handful of graduate students, and complained to a friend that the lab had no undergraduates in it. He responded, “Then you’ll get to be the first one.” I was. Moral of the story: if research is something you really want to do, don’t stop looking for a lab that is willing to help you. You have something to offer, even if it is just enthusiasm and a killer work ethic.
No two paths into research are identical because there are a myriad of ways to connect to labs. The most important thing is to be resilient and to choose work that you are sincerely interested in learning more about. The rest will fall into place, even for freshmen. Best of Luck!
SPOTLIGHTING SCIENTISTAS: Local Edition
We interviewed four girls who study in STEM fields at Harvard, to see how they’ve enjoyed the experience so far, and to ask what advice they might have for prospective concentrators. We posed the same set of questions to each, adjusting for their specific fields; the questions were:
- What’s the most fascinating aspect of your field to you? Do you love what you study? Why?
- Which classes have you taken in your field that you’ve loved? Have there been any that you strongly disliked or have been really bored in?
- Do you study anything else at Harvard (double major/minor/citation)? Do you find that the two fields intersect at all? How do you feel about interdisciplinary work?
- If you were to pick any other major, what would it be?
- Do you have a favorite moment connected to your studies?
- Have you done any research in your field? What’s that like for you?
- How do you think your studies will contribute to any of your future schooling or career plans?
- Any advice to others hoping to study in these fields?
Below are their insights, narratives and pointers.
Junior, Adams House, Mathematics
“I love how math lets you see everyday parts of life in a completely different way. For example, one problem we had was classifying the uppercase letters in the English alphabet into homeomorphism classes. Roughly, this means into groups of letters that can be bent or stretched into each other, like U, C, I, J or Y and T. It's fun to understand not only the solution to a problem, but the underlying logic behind WHY that's the solution.
Probably one of my favorite math classes was Math 23. I took it freshman fall and it kind of blew my mind. Proofs were so incredibly different from math I'd done in high school, so it felt like I was discovering math all over again.
I'm really interested in politics and policy, so I spend a fair bit of time at the Institute of Politics. I can definitely see a mixture of the two fields in using mathematical techniques to solve problems inspired by political issues. Some other indisciplinary mixes aren't as easy to make work, like my citation with Mandarin. I did manage some crossover, though. I bought my Abstract Algebra textbook online and it turned out to be a version from China! Luckily though, except for the cover, everything was in English.
If I weren't in math, I would absolutely be somewhere in in the STEM field. If I had to pick some completely different major, though, I could see choosing Religion. Similarly to math, it's all about people around the world approach some of the most difficult, ancient and important questions we face.
My favorite moment was in high school. One day I was doing something related to trigonometry and I realized that, not only was I good at math, I was actually really enjoying myself.
Last summer I did the RIPS program at at the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics in LA. It was a really fantastic summer (if you're interested in math, absolutely apply!). In general, though, research can be an incredibly empowering experience. At the end, you and your researcher partners understand a particular problem better than perhaps anyone else in the world. It's great to get to explain something to your professors, instead of always listening to them explaining things to you.
I'm still figuring out my future plans, but rest assured, it will certainly involve math.
[On concentrating in Mathematics] DOOOOO ITTTT! But seriously, studying math is a lot of fun. In general, study what you're interested in and don't hold yourself to any other requirements - not what other people think you should do, not even what you were planning on doing 6 months ago. If you're really in love with a subject, you'll find a way to make it work.”
Junior, Winthrop House, Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
“Stem cells have so much untapped potential for regeneration and restoration of the human body when it comes to disease. A lot has been discovered about them in recent years but different stem cell therapies have yet to be perfected. What makes studying HDRB and working in a SCRB so cool is that you get to see first hand for how these cells can help treat or cure diseases.
SCRB 167 was one of my favorite classes at Harvard thus far. Each week we got to read papers on different diseases and see how different stem cell therapies could be used to treat the disease. Because the class was held at the medical school, we also had the opportunity for different patients with diseases from that week’s topic come in and share their experience with the disease and the various treatments that they’ve endured.
If I were to choose something outside of science, it would probably be Romance Languages. It would be wonderful to reach a level of fluency or proficiency in many languages and be able to communicate with other people in different languages and read various texts.
I currently work in a lab that studies hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in zebrafish and I’ve spent a lot of time growing niche cells for zebrafish HSCs. Consequently I’ve been doing lots of zebrafish kidney dissections and transplants of cells via intraperitoneal injections. Research has definitely been a learning and growing process for me but has really come to be something that I’ve enjoyed and it’s exciting to see your hard work pay off (or not) and tackle the next challenge. I also plan on going to medical school so most things I study in science at Harvard will contribute to my general knowledge as I enter medical school.
My advice is to definitely get involved in a lab early! So many of the things you learn as an HDRB concentrator become so much more applicable as soon as you start working in a lab!”
Senior, Leverett House, Chemistry, Physics, & Biology (CPB)
“This is super cliché, but I love that you can understand a single object or system in so many different ways on so many scales of time and space – I love that you can take a complicated biological entity like an organism and break it down into tissues, cells, molecules, then untangle molecular function, then the kinetics and thermodynamics of why all those processes happen at certain times and rates, feedback loops and how everything coordinates... And then to zoom back out and see the coordinated activity of that individual, the ecological impact of its species, the evolutionary pressures that created it, the scales in time over which that process occurred. To know that something as exquisitely complex as a cell functions entirely through the elegantly simple laws of physics is truly nuts. It’s overwhelming.
I loved: Chem 20, 30 and 40, SCRB 157, Chem 170, SystBio 204. I did not love: Chem 27, MCB 52.
I’ve taken three computer science classes, so not quite enough for a secondary, but I find that programming is hugely important and helpful in the natural sciences and conducting my own research. I think programming and statistics should be a larger part of all science education since they’re so incredibly useful for how you think about the world.
[On her favorite CPB moment] When I walked out of the Chem 20 final. Or a couple moments when I’ve understood something in lab for the first time and made the connection on my own – even if that realization was that my experiment wouldn’t work, it’s gratifying to notice yourself understanding more and more. Designing experiments by myself for the first time (even though they generally failed.) Of course when things work that’s also great but so far the feeling of growing more independent and getting better at research is the most rewarding thing.
I’ve worked in labs since freshman year, in Jack Szostak’s lab from freshman through junior year and now in George Church’s lab for my senior thesis. The research I did in Jack’s lab was spectacularly interesting, probing the origins of life itself, applying the principles of evolution to nucleic acids in order to engineer catalytic molecules – very exciting to walk the line between chemistry and biology that way. I learned a lot of chemistry and a lot of what it means to be a scientist (which, for the most part, is dealing with failure) but I realized around the end of junior year that if I am going to seriously pursue science as a career, it would be nice to have experienced more than one lab environment. The Church lab is also doing some very interesting things, and I found my interests were evolving toward exploring existing biological systems, which I do now, in particular the biology of extracellular vesicles and their RNA. Conducting scientific research has been my main extracurricular activity all throughout Harvard and at this point in time, I plan to do it after Harvard as well – it has been frustrating, exhilarating, enormously challenging, hugely educational and absurdly fun. I would recommend it to anyone.
Right now the plan is to work in a lab for a year after I graduate and then apply to PhD programs in chemical biology, so I imagine I’ll use a lot of what I’ve studied!
[On advice] Do research! Start as early as you can and spend as much time on it as you can. That’s where you really learn how and why science is done. In college you spend a lot of time catching up on foundational knowledge in your field without having sustained access to the real mysteries that drive people to do this their whole lives, and research is a way to get a glimpse of that. Take classes you’re curious about and try to push yourself – there are lots of rewards to taking the more rigorous classes! You will learn more and surround yourself with people who care more, both staff and students. Work hard but don’t stress about grades. Above all, notice when you’re full of curiosity and enthusiasm for something and actively pursue that feeling. Einstein has a great quote where he says "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about." It’s not always easy but as far as I can tell that’s what it’s all about.”
Junior, Winthrop House, Earth and Planetary Sciences & Physics
“[On great and not so great classes] I’ve really liked EPS 109 – Earth, Resources and the Environment – and Applied Math 105 – Differential Equations. The latter was very applicable in a lot of fields. While Physics 143a – Quantum Mechanics – was definitely the most challenging class I’ve ever taken.
EPS is a very multidisciplinary science field that uses a lot of Physics, and the area that I’m most interested in within the EPS domain is its intersection with Physics.
If I were to pick another concentration, I’d choose Applied Math, probably. It’s connected to a lot of what I study; and I think it’s an extremely useful field, especially regarding mathematical modeling.
[On her coolest EPS experience] A particularly cool moment was when we visited and active drilling site in EPS109 – being able to see something that we’d studied all year made our experience more real, more worthwhile.
I’m considering going to grad school to continue studying EPS; I’ve also always been interested in politics, and I know that if I ever work in government, my science background will serve me well.
Both of my fields require substantial effort, but if you invest your time in them they can be really interesting and rewarding. My advice would be to decide which subject you’re most interested in, most passionate about as early on as possible, and devote yourself to mastering that.”
President Obama, in February 2013, reflected in one of his speeches, “One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.” The work and experiences of these Harvard scientists, concentrating in fields that range from Earth and Planetary Sciences to Mathematics to Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, should be encouraging to aspiring Scientistas across the country.
These Harvard girls do amazing and interesting work within their fields; they prove not only that the future of women in STEM looks bright, but also that the future of innovation in STEM is more promising than ever before.
Imagine having a universal tool to fix any broken part in your house, regardless of how different each part was or how specific the tool would have to be in order to fit what was needed. Now imagine that the house comes with the tool while it’s being constructed, but even when it’s finished, the tool works as a multipurpose fixer in any of its rooms. If your body’s the house, then stem cells are essentially these universal tools that hold the answer to curing many different health conditions by the process of specialization of these cells in order to cater to multiple parts of the body.
Human stem cells, though unspecialized, have the ability to develop into various cells in the body to serve specific functions, and then can go on to divide so as to replenish these cells. Stem cell research allows for a better understanding of human development and how undifferentiated stem cells become specialized cells. It is also possible to gain insight as to how diseases develop and how they can be treated by examining the different aspects of these complicated cells. Stem cells can also offer more information on the efficacy and behaviors of new drugs. More than 70 major diseases and medical conditions that affect millions of people, such as cancer, diabetes, ALS, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and many more could potentially be treated or cured through stem cell research. The many potential benefits of encouraging stem cell development and research at first astounded me, but then inspired me to pursue my own interests involving stem cell research.
However it was for more than this reason that I felt somewhat awed and impressed when I heard the recent announcement by Harvard stem cell researchers. The news that the scientists were able to produce massive quantities of human insulin-producing beta cells using human embryonic stem cells signaled a new stage in groundbreaking developments for both diabetes and stem cells. This incredible scientific advance may lead to an effective treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. It was hearing news of this potential breakthrough during my Visitas that convinced me that Harvard was the place for me. If such an astounding development could be made using stem cells, I wanted to be a part of it and follow in the footsteps of the researchers and scientists that made it possible.
I was only nine-years-old when I learned what about stem cells were and how they might yield substantial medical benefits. In my case, these benefits could better the life of a family friend with ALS. To me, it seemed something out of an old sci-fi movie and I imagined it a tool that could morph into whatever shape or function in order to fit the task at hand. I wasn’t exactly far off, seeing as stem cells stand to differentiate into a targeted function that may lead to cures and treatments for people who previously had a faced bleak outlook on their conditions. Hearing that Harvard stood on the brink of pushing stem cell research into a new area that was previously unexplored made me feel more ambitious and driven considering the various ways that I could be a part of such a project that could potentially save or better the lives of others. It was inspiring hearing how those before me devoted so much to their stem cell research and I knew I needed to be there to witness their progress and to help them in any way that I could.
Harvard holds many opportunities for those looking into scientific research. The Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology offers undergraduates the opportunity to join one of 17 to 20 labs and pursue independent research projects in many areas of interest related to stem cells. The hands-on work offers students more, and better quality, experiences and immensely influences their studies. Having Harvard either provide or assist in gaining the funding for a research project alone is a promising attribute that makes the undergraduate experience at Harvard so appealing. The ease with which undergraduates can discuss research topics with faculty encourages students to go on to develop their own research projects and pursue their interests within the life sciences with the aid of influential mentors.
For those interested in pursuing a concentration involving stem cell research, development, and/or engineering, Harvard offers multiple tracks. While I’m concentrating in Biomedical engineering, I applaud how Harvard’s Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology concentration allows for research as a basis for education. Becoming aware of the multitude of research opportunities available along with the range of courses that offer a comprehensive understanding of human biology convinced me that my ambitions as a biomedical engineer and my interest in research would be best-suited at Harvard. The Bachelor of Arts in biomedical engineering option for my concentration is geared towards preparing students for doing research in labs or attending medical school, while a bachelor of sciences will allow for accreditation as an engineer. However, a number of concentration options offer undergraduates the opportunity to benefit from connections with Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute.
Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute has allowed for a network of stem cell scientists between Harvard and affiliated hospitals and the biomedical industry. In creating such a source of academic support, Harvard encourages the participation of undergraduates in groundbreaking research. Harvard has the largest concentration of biomedical researchers in the world within its community as a result. With stem cell scientists that work with various collaborating departments, Harvard researchers are able to make great strides in the field of stem cell engineering.
The importance of stem cell research along with the multitude of opportunities to pursue the venture make Harvard a stronger community for those interested. With passionate faculty and access to labs and funding, undergraduates are surrounded by ambition and possibilities that influence later research projects. Stem cells may lead to the cure and treatment to such different diseases and medical conditions that prospects are endless. Starting out as a freshman at Harvard, I feel like an unspecialized stem cell being developed to solve whatever problem comes my way.
by Natalie Janzow
The evening of December 6, the Harvard branch of Scientistas hosted a panel on female academics in the sciences. Undergraduate scientists braved miserable weather to listen to Professors Hopi Hoekstra, Pamela Silver, Emily Balskus, and Dr. Patricia Musolino speak about their experiences as women pursuing degrees and careers in their respective fields. Specialists in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Biochemistry and Systems Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Pediatric Neurology, the four women described their experiences in the sciences, responding to questions posed by moderator and Senior neurobiology concentrator Catherine Schmalkuche. In telling their stories and sharing opinions, they offered insights and advice invaluable to other women who hope to one day pursue their own careers in science.
On the imbalance between the number of women and men in their various departments, each professor expressed a similar sentiment; that recently, the imbalance has become less pronounced than ever before, but that we still have a long way to go before achieving real equality. When questioned about the severity of the imbalance especially in leadership positions within the sciences, Professor Silver specifically remarked, “transition to leadership roles is next to impossible,” and implied that in her own experiences, in order to be offered any kind of higher-level position, a woman would have to threaten to leave her department. She did, however, agree with her colleagues that recent changes are designed to expand the number of prominent women scientists at the heads of their fields. Addressing her audience of undergraduate women and aspiring scientists, she announced, “Change falls on you.”
When asked about psychological findings related to the different mentalities and perceptions of women in scientific fields, all four professors were quick to offer their opinions on the disparities between the styles and thought-processes of the different genders within male-dominated workplaces. Interestingly, each mentioned that women tend to feel guiltier and put more pressure on themselves to succeed than men. Professor Silver described how, when she received her first major position as an academic, she was “so grateful to get anything,” that she didn’t necessarily consider if it might be best for her. She mentioned that she works with female graduate students now who feel guilty when prominent departments reach out to them in part because they are women. She advised her audience, just as she advised her grad students, to use whatever they might have access to, and when offered a great opportunity, to just take it, and certainly not to feel bad about its motivation. Dr. Musolino explained that she thought it was a mistake for women to contend with the men in their fields by adopting their mentalities, which she characterized as often intensely competitive. She does, however, believe that women can successfully negotiate for their own improvement by imitating brokering tactics often implemented by men. She believes that men have a high sense of justice; and that just as men believe that they deserve to be rewarded for their own hard work, so too should their female colleagues.
Professor Balskus observed that “women don’t ask” – about potential advisors, about possible future positions, or about how to be rewarded for doing great work in their field. She stresses the necessity that women familiarize themselves with prospective positions, awards, and opportunities in their fields in order to better advocate for themselves. Professor Hoekstra expanded upon her idea by discussing awards; she mentioned that the vast majority of accolades in the sciences are presented more often to men than to women, and she suspected that this was in part because women were less inclined to ask their superiors and mentors for nominations. She, too, stressed that in order to be successful, women must be comfortable speaking up for themselves.
In discussing the importance of mentors in the development of thriving careers, the panelists described how they themselves achieved success. Professor Hoekstra emphasized that it’s ideal to find a mentor who not only conveys important information about one’s department and field, but who will also passionately advocate for his or her mentee. She also expressed her belief that mentor/mentee relationships strengthen the sense of community among scientists, and can be majorly advantageous to aspiring students and researchers. Doctor Musolino expressed her belief in the importance of learning from other women and also in the importance of developing multiple mentoring relationships. She described that in her own experience, it was easy to find people who would talk to her, but harder to find those who would take responsibility for the advancement of her career. She thus believed it invaluable to build a support group of mentors who “can keep opening doors” within one’s field. Professor Silver emphasized the individuality of the scientific process, reflecting that as scientists, “we dream, we think about things on our own.” When she did need advice or inspiration, she found that it was often more helpful to confide in peers than in superiors about her research and ideas. And while Professor Balskus agreed that it’s essential to “listen to [one’s] own scientific voice,” it’s also possible to find fantastic mentors in interesting and unexpected places.
The panel concluded by discussing the complicated contemporary issue regarding the ability of women to “have it all” – to achieve success and happiness in both the personal and professional realms of their lives. Professor Musolino alluded to the idea that women often develop a plan that conforms to an expected school-work-family trajectory. She described how her own plan was to attend and graduate from medical school and have four kids before she turned thirty; this, she said, proved extremely unrealistic. She mentioned that when she felt her own professional aspirations shifting to accommodate her family-oriented intentions, she decided to alter her plan, to focus on her work, and not to modify her professional ambitions because of the pressure she felt about her personal ones. Professor Hoekstra expressed her own supporting opinion that professional success is not determined by specific, constrictive personal-life timing. She said that life was hard to plan for, and that women shouldn’t worry about not conforming to typical personal-life timelines, that they should start building families only when they were ready to. Professor Silver expressed her belief that with shifting expectations of and the development of better support systems for working women with families, it’s slowly becoming easier and easier for women to thrive in both their personal and professional lives.
Doctor Musolino, at the close of the panel’s discussion, told her audience, “Don’t try to be ordinary when you’re not.” Her sentiment embodies what the four extraordinary women epitomize in their own lives; their advice, rooted in their own remarkable experiences and insights, will certainly prove indispensible to aspiring scientists striving to follow their example.
The Harvard College Scientista Mission:
Harvard College Scientista aims to promote the advancement of college and graduate women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) on Harvard University’s campus through campus events and campus-related resources as well as by connecting women to a larger network of women in STEM. The purpose of Harvard College Scientista is to provide women in science with the resources and support necessary to help them succeed in their current and future endeavors. We will do this through publication of online content, posting of science resources and opportunities, hosting campus events to build the Scientista community, and engaging with women in STEM at a national level. Through Harvard College Scientista, Harvard students seeking information about the status of women in science will have the opportunity to impact and be impacted by each other.
If you would like to become a member of Harvard College Scientista, have questions for us, and want more information:
Send an email to email@example.com
Join our mailing list to keep up with our latest events and receive awesome resources!https://lists.hcs.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/scientista-harvard
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By Nia Walker ‘16
You might be wondering whether pursuing a formal higher education after college is right for you. Then there is considering if you want to continue on with your formal education immediately after throwing your graduation cap into the air. Finally, you might be deciding what sort of further formal education will best suit your interests. Theseare complex and important decision, and it is one that not everyone gives the amount of thought it deserves.
Until recently, I had not seriously considered a path other than receiving a Ph.D. in science. I knew from a young age that I wanted to somehow be involved in science throughout my life. My thoughts used to be along the lines of, “I don’t want to be a doctor, but I love science. So it looks like research and/or academia and attending school until I’m thirty is what I’ll be doing.” My previous understanding of scientific pursuits has, subconsciously, been largely fueled by the people in science I have personally known and come to look up to. Now I will readily admit that I have had limited exposure to serious and rewarding careers in science.
However, college has taught me a great deal to this regard. What I am about to share with you is one of the things I quickly learned after trying on my first lab coat, pulling my first all-nighter to finish a research paper assignment, and preparing my first agarose gel from scratch for electrophoresis. There truly is a lot out there in the world to explore. As simple as this idea is, my point is that science can literally be found everywhere. It is in everything we do and everything we haven’t yet done. Traditionally, fields in science are easily categorized into either clinical or basic research, but there are countless ways to pursue careers in science that are much less discussed.
Looking into other science careers has allowed me to make a more informed and confident assertion concerning my current decision to pursue a Ph.D. To that end, I have done quite a bit of research on other potential jobs and listed six of them below for you. Perhaps you are looking for a career to dedicate your time to before going on to higher degree, or maybe you are thinking that these jobs are enticing enough to become lifelong careers. Either way, I hope these six “unconventional” pursuits spark new thoughts and more tough conversations for you concerning how and if graduate school or medical school may fit into your life’s plans.
1) Scientific Consultant
This sort of consulting provides clients with scientific and oftentimes creative solutions to environmental and social challenges. Scientific consultants have the unique opportunity to build upon their careers at the pace they desire. Consulting relies heavily on problem solving, independence, good skills in multitasking under time pressure, and a constant openness for learning.
2) Lab Technician
Lab technicians are charged with making sure laboratories run as efficiently as possible. They primarily manage samples, data, and materials in laboratories. This may be a great path for someone interested in staying connected to scientific research without being directly responsible for analyzing information and coming up with subsequent conclusions or for those who want to boost their research repertoire before going on to graduate or medical school.
3) Science Teacher
The world can never have enough dedicated and passionate individuals interested in sharing their scientific knowledge with their peers and younger persons. There are numerous options for those captivated by teaching (for example: Teach for America, teaching abroad, or aspiring to become a teacher at an elementary school or a college).
4) Science Writer or Journalist
Science writers and journalists have the responsibility of relaying important scientific news and discoveries to the general public in a way that is both relevant and accessible. From blogging for National Geographic to writing for the NY Times, there are many fitting places for people interested in science writing and journalism. (A great way to get some experience in this is by writing for The Scientista Foundation!)
5) Science Museum, Zoo, or Aquarium Worker
Whether it is direct animal care or maintaining technological exhibits, workers in science museums, zoos, and aquariums all have the opportunity to educate the public and help cultivate more specific interests in young people.
6) Science Librarian
Similarly to science teachers, there will never be a time when there are too many science librarians. They primarily assist researchers and students with locating the most accurate and important information available. Science librarians are individuals who also have easy access to the most updated scientific information available.
Are you interested in looking into this topic further? Here are some great resources.
Science Writer or Journalist:
Science Museum, Zoo, or Aquarium Worker:
High School Scientista Spotlight
Final ScientisTalk of the Semester!
When: 4/25, 6-70pm
Where: Lowell Small Dining Hall
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