Better late than never, right? Here is my holiday gift to my blog: a very overdue post of the last three and a half months.
Happy Thanksgiving! I’m evidently pretty terrible at writing while I’m in school, but so much has happened that it’s hard to summarize it down: I’ve taken a very valuable course that showed me I’d been writing scientific essays wrong my whole life, I took on my thesis and am almost done with it, I presented at a bat conference in Puerto Rico (!), and took a break from science with one of the best classes ever.
Way back after first block I started to write something, so I’ll start with that then speed a little faster through time:
Wow. School has started. In fact, my senior year of college is already one-eighth of the way finished.
Somehow, I thought this year wouldn’t be as stressful. I hoped I would find time to do all the things I like to do and not cry once over a homework assignment. It’s a good reminder that my personality does not change quickly and certainly not because I am simply one year older. Old habits die hard; this year will have to be a slow lesson on how to live calmly and peacefully.
That doesn’t mean I can’t also have a blast. It always takes time for me to adjust to a place, but I do finally feel very at home here at Colorado College. I know the people I want to spend time with (even if I don’t always get a chance to), and how to accomplish what I need. I have favorite professors, favorite study corners, and exciting classes to take. While I am delving deeper into what I love and am familiar with, I am also exploring new activities: I’m learning Hebrew, hip hop, and blues dancing. I’m also living in an apartment with three amazing women I barely knew before this year and it was such a good decision.
Speaking of less good decisions, I’ve already accidentally missed important deadlines for my future (goodbye Watson and a score of other fellowships), have failed to look up even a single graduate program, and neglected to schedule my courses in a way that I have any hopes of getting a decent score on GRE or ETS Biology exams (“I have a great idea: why don’t I take genetics AFTER I have to pass important exams that will be 25% genetics material”). I am petrified because I don’t know what I will do next year—I feel so successful with my previous research and I am confident in my abilities to design and carry out research, but for once, I don’t think I have the background to present myself well on paper. At this point in the game, everyone has really cool research experience.
This first block was extremely valuable. I learned more about how to think critically in my literature searches, carefully construct a research idea, and write scientifically so that every single word matters. It was a very hard class and forced me to look at what I want to do from a very technical viewpoint. Since I love writing, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that I’m not actually good at writing scientific papers (and still have a lot of problems with sentence structure, flow, and conciseness in general).
The class was called Advanced Ecology and we got to design a theoretical research project on anything we wanted. I chose a study on wild dog feeding behavior inside and outside of protected areas, which reminded me how interesting East African predators are.
One of the highlights of the course were the field trips. There weren’t as many as perhaps I would have liked, but the rest of the class was so important we didn’t have time for as many trips. It was also a reminder of why I love being in upper level Biology classes: beyond the teacher, the students are all so amazing that they each have something really interesting they can teach you. For instance, we had one student who was a good birder on the trip, and another who knew an incredible amount about plants and trees.
We visited the Waldo Canyon burn scar (at least the area we were allowed on) to look at the patchy effects of fire and re-colonization efforts, Rocky Mountain National Park to watch the elk rut, and a few other locations for general ecosystem ecology.
Overall, it was the perfect mix of intense, valuable work and fun.
I just got back from my block break trip camping near Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t see as many elk as I was hoping, but it was calming to just be in nature. I was sick with a cold for much of the trip, so it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been (we fit way, way more people in our tent than it was intended to hold), but it was a really nice reminder that I have made some incredible friends here at CC.
And now back to the retrospective. After Advanced Ecology, I had my thesis block. I really loved getting to dictate my own schedule, work at my own pace, and having the library to myself while everyone else was in class. I probably didn’t work quite as hard as I could have, but I still got a lot done. I was so proud of myself when I could identify a statistical test I needed to do (and after checking in with my advisor), look up how to do it online or in a book, and run it on a computer program. I felt very accomplished. I was also a little dismayed at how much I needed to change on the version I’d been working on for publication. After what I learned in my first class, I had to almost completely re-write everything. But it wouldn’t have been fun if I didn’t need to change anything.
I also realized what a social person I am. When I spent three hours working alone in the library each morning, by the time lunch rolled around, I really wanted to talk with and be around other people. It’s funny because I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat introverted but I don’t think that’s true at all anymore. Shy, maybe, but I definitely need and desire less alone time than I used to.
One of the many advantages of setting my own schedule meant that when Michelle Obama came to visit in the next town over, I didn’t have to cut class to go see her. It was amazing to hear her speak—she is incredibly strong, intelligent, and well-spoken. Watching her talk and being so close reminded me of how passionate I was about her husband when he was first running for office. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of those moments, and I came out of the event reminded of why Obama actually hadn’t disappointed me that much, really, and why it really mattered to me that he get a second term.
The wait to see the speech, however, was an entirely different matter. For a 45 minute speech, it’s hard to justify waiting over six hours to hear it. Luckily, CC drove a huge group of student over in busses, so there were a lot of friends around to pass the time with; but even as inspiring as it was, I probably wouldn’t have gone if someone had told me how long it would take.
The process of writing my thesis culminated in a presentation at an international conference for bat research, NASBR. Last summer, my advisor from Costa Rica emailed me and invited me to attend the conference in Puerto Rico. Three months and one CC Venture Grant later, I stepped off the plane in San Juan prepared to present at the first research conference I had ever attended.
It was an incredible experience. I had done so much work on my project, that it was intimidating to put it all on the line and preset my research in front of hundreds of people who were actually experts in a field I had only gotten a brief taste of. It was really comforting to have Bernal, my advisor from Costa Rica, there at the conference too. I was extremely flattered when I got to meet one of the authors of the main supporting paper I used in my project, who really liked my presentation; I thought it was a good sign that we both had the same ideas about the implications of the research and where one could go next with further studies.
I’m not sure that bat research specifically is what I want to do in the future, but it was an incredible confidence boost to present at the conference, and it was fun to meet other young researchers doing interesting projects.
One downside was that the conference was very busy, so I didn’t get a chance to explore Puerto Rico. It seemed like a very interesting country, but the conference was in a resort hotel on a little peninsula separated from the rest of the city, so everything around the hotel was phenomenally expensive, geared towards rich tourists, and very uninteresting. The one trip I got to take downtown was much, much more interesting, but I would’ve liked a chance to explore some more.
After I got back from Puerto Rico, I started my first “just for fun” class I’d taken in a long time. It was called Hip Hop Aesthetics, and I had signed up for it at the beginning of the year after I saw the professor, Idris Goodwin, speak and present an excerpt of a play he wrote about Midwest high school kids learning how to rap. It was so impressive that I signed up for his class (which happened to fall on my free block) as soon as I walked out of the theater.
I was not disappointed. It was one of the best classes I have ever taken, because of the professor, the students, and the subject material. I was never really exposed to rap or hip hop while I was growing up, so I walked into the class without much appreciation for the subject matter or any understanding of its history. The course focused on the music of hip hop (DJing and MCing, the backbone and lyrics of hip hop), but we also learned about b-boying (dancing), graffiti, and spoken word performance. We also wrote and performed rap and spoken word poetry in class. It was creative, informative, soul-searching, and fun. I can’t really do it justice here, but I really discovered a new expressive outlet for my love of wordplay and poetry, and a new art form that I enjoy listening and watching.
For many readers whom I suspect don’t know much about rap or hip hop, I have a few quick suggestions that might give a sense of why I really enjoyed learning about the genre:
One song is called The Message, by Grandmaster Flash (sometimes considered the father of hip hop): <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4o8TeqKhgY>. It’s a good example of conscious lyrics, fun wordplay, a neat sense of rhythm. We also looked at a few different common themes of rap songs, one of which was songs about where you’re from. One good example is Digable Planet’s Where I’m From: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl-pjb7y3y0> (lyrics at http://rapgenius.com/Digable-planets-where-im-from-lyrics). I really like the style and how well it mixed multiple artists. Finally, a more recent example, that highlights the political function of hip hop, is Lupe Fiasco’s Bitch Bad: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3m3t_PxiUI>. Lupe explores issues of race and gender in mainstream media and rap, which is an insightful topic people don’t think of when they think of rap.
I’m still trying to write rap songs now that the class is over, and it gives a really good appreciation of how talented these artists are. Someday I might be able to really do it, so it’s a fun new hobby to try.
I also had a chance to do some fun things during that block. I’ve gotten closer with my roommates, who are all such cool people. Navin and Achini were both in the Diwali (a Hindi festival of lights) celebration on campus, and I had a lot of fun taking photos.
That brings us roughly back to the present. I just finished a wonderful Thanksgiving with Max in Chicago. I got to see his friends again and be a part of his world for a little while. It was a very packed weekend: I got to see Idris’ play that was showing in Chicago that was (roughly) about discrimination and difficulties among black academics in less racially integrated areas; Max took me to a play called Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind: 30 plays in 60 minutes, by the Neofuturists, which was an incredibly fun experience; then I got to meet up with family friends Bill and Bernardine, who are always so enlightening and comforting to talk to; I also got to see a friend who was on my Costa Rica abroad program, which was so wonderful because I always sort of assume I’ll never see those people again. We packed so many activities (and food) in, but I was so glad we did. It’s hard to be so far away from family all the time—I miss my twin.
I still don’t know what class I’m taking next block. I just found out that I have an open block, so I can take whatever I want. I’ve mostly narrowed it down to an interactive “fun” physics class on flight that will take us to wind tunnels and interact with the Air Force Academy, or an intermediate acting class on Shakespeare (with only three students in it last time I checked) with a professor who is supposed to be incredible.
I chose the drama class, which is challenging because I haven’t done acting in so long, but also easy enough that I for once have time for other things as well. I do really miss science though, and I’m glad I’ll be getting back too it next semester. Nothing else works me quite as hard or fascinates me quite as much, even though the humanities are extremely fulfilling in other ways.
I just finished Dance Workshop, which is a student-run dance show. I performed on a slightly sprained ankle (I had an embarrassing accident that involved texting, walking, and stairs), and did not manage to make it any worse. It was also very, very fun. I got to meet a lot of new people, move my body, perform, and be incredibly silly.
[Update: you can watch a video of that dance, and all the others, on youtube. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qes2gIk_qjc&feature=plcp ]
So far this has been an amazing semester. I’m having so much fun as a senior that I’m terrified of next year. I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know exactly what I want to be doing, how to get the jobs I think I want, or whether the job market is such that I can even get a job. I’m terrified of sitting at home not doing anything worthwhile, which is extra scary now that I feel so accomplished at what I do and so ready to do good work. Also, I decided I really want a dog, which requires a bit of money and stability. For now, I’ll just keep having a great time and working hard, and hope that I can get everything together before the end of the year.