Hey everyone! This blog post is a little different than prior ones. I thought you might be interested to see what my friend Hannah is up to this summer and so she's taking over my blog for the week. Enjoy!
Hi! My name is Hannah, and I’m a friend of Julia’s who is working in a quantum chemistry lab this summer. Julia and I thought it might be interesting for you to hear about Amherst from a science perspective, especially involving undergraduate research (yes, it does happen!) and what sort of research I’m doing over the summer.
First, here’s a little information about me. I’m from a suburb just outside of Los Angeles, and I’ll be a sophomore next year. At the moment, I am leaning towards majoring in either chemistry or neuroscience, and I’m starting down the pre-med track. But science isn’t my only interest. I play French horn in the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, last semester I played in a woodwind quintet, and next year I plan to play horn and/or trumpet in a jazz combo. To brag to those classical music buffs out there, I played principal horn on Mahler 5 last semester as a freshman, and the horn obbligato part was played by a freshman as well, and neither of us are music majors. Like Julia, I am on ACEMS, the student-run, on-campus EMT group. In the rest of my free time, I enjoy knitting, baking, and admiring Aston Martins (alas, from afar).
And now getting to summer science. Amherst has a great program called the Summer Science Research Fellowship Program that offers 10-week paid (that includes housing, a meal plan, and $4000!) fellowships open exclusively to freshmen and sophomores. Each year, the program organizers put together a list of labs that are interested in having summer students. There is a fairly simple application process, but it is competitive. This year there are about 25 of us working on projects ranging from designing lasers that emit stable frequencies of light to studying cholera to determining the rotational spectra and geometry of molecular complexes (which is what I’m doing). The projects are designed by the research advisors (supervising professors) to be independent, but help is always available and given. So my project really is mine, but the professors in charge of my lab are there if I get stuck.
I am working in a quantum chemistry lab with Professors Marshall and Leung where I am using rotational spectroscopy to determine the geometry of a halogen-substituted ethylene molecule and argon complex. At the beginning of the summer, I had no idea what any of that meant, so don’t worry if it sounds like gibberish! Put very simply, I’m trying to determine where an atom is with respect to a specific molecule. Before working in the lab, I had no advanced or special preparation other than AP chemistry in high school and a year of general college chemistry. But over the course of the first few days and weeks, I was given a crash course in quantum chemistry and gradually began to understand what was going on and how my project would work. The professors and other students in our lab have been invaluable resources, and everyone has been helpful, patient, and extremely kind.
In our lab, there are three students – two rising seniors working on their theses and me. Each of us has individual projects to work on, but the environment is very much collaborative. We all help each other as best we can, whether that means explaining what exactly nuclear quadrupole coupling is or choosing the right music to play on Disney Tuesday. While at times the work is intense and focused, we also enjoy each other’s company and have become good friends. We make lab family portraits in Microsoft Paint (I’ve included one here), and we have affectionately named our spectrometer Cuddles. We also blast Taylor Swift and Brittney Spears loud enough to be heard in other labs and down the hall outside. We’d like to think we’re pretty cool as chemistry labs go.
At the beginning of the school year, all of the summer research fellows will present what we have all been working on, but for many of us, our research does not end with the summer. Next year, I will continue to work part-time in the lab to continue the work I started in June. The beauty of small undergraduate institutions like Amherst is that the research is still happening, but there aren’t any grad students to compete with. So when you hear stories about undergrads doing research in labs at Amherst, it isn’t unrealistic. It does happen, and it happens incredibly frequently.
If you have any questions about science research, don’t hesitate to send me an email! I’m also more than happy to talk about music at Amherst, moving to New England from Southern California, or anything you think I may know something about. You can contact me at email@example.com.
Last week, I went on a wonderful adventure. Some friends and I went to a fire pit near campus and made absolutely delicious s’mores. I hope all of you have tried s’mores, but if not, they are a mouth-watering combination of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows roasted over a fire. It was a wonderful way to spend a warm Wednesday night in the summer.
As I sat around with four of my friends, I realized how lucky I am to be surrounded by such interesting people. Obviously, Amherst values diversity and explains its initiatives on the website here. As important as statistics are, I want to use the friends I happened to be hanging out with as an example of how much Amherst allows me to befriend very different people.
- Geographic Diversity: We grew up all over the world. I’m from Wisconsin, but my friends are from California, Massachusetts, Moscow, and one grew up in multiple South American countries. Two of us grew up in the suburbs, two in cities, and one in a very rural community.
- Linguistic Diversity: This is what impressed me the most. Between us, we know seven languages fluently (English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Latin, Portuguese) and that’s not counting repeats. For example, all four of my friends spoke French, even though I only speak English.
- Diversity of Extracurricular Interests: We’re involved in lots of different ways on campus. The group included two members of Glee Club, one varsity athlete, one member of the orchestra, an Amherst Association of Students (AAS) senator, an actress, two members of ACEMS, one person who tutored at a local school, one member of the mindful meditation group, and a member of the Outing Club, just to name some of the many things we do on campus.
- Diversity of Academic Interests: I’m an Economics and Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought double major. My friends are Economics and Political Science, French and Environmental Studies, Math, and Neuroscience majors.
- Political Diversity: While we lean liberal (we did have a Russian socialist in the mix after all), we represent a range of perspectives on all kinds of issues. For example, the NSA surveillance program came up, and reactions ranged from full support of the program to complete opposition.
- And, of course, Diversity in S’mores Technique. From burning the outside of the marshmallow by plunging it into the fire, to carefully creating a slightly crispy golden brown shell, to skipping the marshmallow and just having melted chocolate on graham crackers, we each have our own style.
I love that Amherst students are so interesting. I love knowing people who approach the world in different ways. I love being surrounded by people who care about understanding perspectives different than their own.
I’ve been asked on tours what I think Amherst college students have in common. The best answer I can come up with is that Amherst students are passionate about something, whether it’s academic, extracurricular, or a hobby, and want to share that with the people around them. Beyond that, I’d say Amherst students are often very different in the way that they approach the world. Learning from my classmates has absolutely opened my eyes in a way that my homogenous high school could not and makes my experience here at Amherst more valuable than I could have anticipated.
Please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions about Amherst or college or life in general!
Fourth of July
Hello! I hope everyone had a fun Fourth of July. This was a very different Fourth of July for me. Normally, I’m home in Milwaukee and we go to a local parade and fireworks. This year, I enjoyed Amherst’s version of the Fourth of July!
The day started late because I took full advantage of a day off and slept in. I generally like to stay busy, but there is something to be said for sleeping late once in a while. When I finally got up, my friend Hannah and I went for a walk around campus. We went to the Wildlife Sanctuary and strolled along one of the shaded trails to avoid the summer sun.
After visiting the Wildlife Sanctuary, we headed over to one of the dorms, Plimpton, for an afternoon of grilling and relaxing. The grill out was planned by some older students and they invited everyone on campus. This is one of my favorite parts of Amherst. Any big event on campus, whether planned by the Administration, student groups like the Social Council, or an informal group of friends, is open to anyone. Everyone on campus was welcome to this grill out and it was fun to see so many people in one place. Amherst is a pretty small college, with only 1800 students, but I’m still meeting new people. It was funny to try to convince one person that I actually am an Amherst ‘16. We are both rising sophomores, but we’d never met or even seen each other before the Fourth.
After dinner, we went over to the University of Massachusetts football stadium. The town of Amherst had a carnival and fireworks that night. There were wonderful games, snacks, and events. From a pie eating contest to sack races, it was wonderful. Hannah joined the Community Band for the summer and they played some stellar music. As they played Stars & Stripes Forever, the fireworks show started. As Juan Gabriel, an international student who has lived all over the world, said, bald eagles were crying from the beauty of the moment. Kidding aside, it was a wonderful night. The town of Amherst holds all sorts of fun events throughout the year. From “A Taste of Amherst” where local restaurants set up on the town green and sell small dishes so you can try lots of places, to a weekly farmers market with delicious local food, the town of Amherst has a lot happening. The fireworks were incredible and everyone agreed it was a wonderful night!
Here is a slightly dark photo of Jonny, Miu, and Juan Gabriel competing in a sack race. They are on the right waiting to start:
I like to think I’ve always been a little bit nerdy. I’ve always loved historical fiction (and I’m looking for a recommendation for a good summer read. Email me if you have a tip!) I read the newspaper as much as I can and think The Ethicist in the New York Times is worth checking each week. But a class I took this spring, called Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice, has taken me to a whole new level of nerdiness.
The class discussed the relationship between legal institutions and democratic practice, focusing especially on the Supreme Court. For our final paper, we were asked to write an opinion as if we were a member of the Supreme Court on the case of Fisher v University of Texas. It was a fascinating exercise to try to muster all relevant precedents to create a strong legal argument. We looked at the Oral Arguments from the case and relevant previous decisions by the Supreme Court.
I loved the class, but it has definitely made me even nerdier. I have actually started reading Supreme Court decisions because I’m interested. I was on the SCOTUS blog this morning, repeatedly clicking refresh, waiting to see how the court rule on the case of Fisher v University of Texas. When the decision finally came out, I immediately read it, and then went downstairs to talk to Andrew, another summer tour guide who also took Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice. He had also just read the case and was equally excited to see the ruling. After discussing our takes on the topic, we emailed our Professor, Lawrence Douglas, to ask him what he thought of the ruling because he is such an expert and offers very nuanced opinions.
Before taking Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice, I never really cared about the Supreme Court, but the class provided me with the context and the background to understand and care about the rulings. I love that Professor Douglass inspired me to care about the law in a way that I didn’t before his class.
So yes, I waited for the Fisher v University of Texas ruling in the way some people wait for the new episode of Game of Thrones (looking at you, fellow tour guide Jonny.) And yah, it’s a little nerdy, but I think the Supreme Court is pretty cool.
I thought you guys might enjoy a stellar picture of Jonny when he gets to watch Game of Thrones. Just kidding- this is him enjoying a cool drink from Lime Red, a restaurant in town.
Homesick for Amherst
Hey guys! I’ve been back in Amherst for a couple of days after going home for two weeks. While I was home, I experienced an interesting phenomenon. I was homesick, but not for my life in Milwaukee. I was homesick for Amherst. I realized that over the course of the year, Amherst had become a part of me. Here are the things I missed most when I went home:
- Tea Time. Every Wednesday night, my entire floor would get together for an hour to check in. While we never actually had tea, we did have snacks and talk about our highs and lows for the week. It was an incredible opportunity to bond with people who I now consider some of my closest friends. We are already planning reunions for next year.
- Val. Valentine Hall, or Val, is the one dining hall on campus. While it’s nice to enjoy family dinners in Milwaukee, I miss the community of Val. Because everyone eats in the same place, you are guaranteed to see people you know. It’s fun to get a two minute update on a friend’s life while waiting at the stir fry station. It’s hard to be away from the community of wonderful Amherst people.
- The Professors. Yesterday, I was reading an article on President Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo Bay and I wished I was at Amherst. One of my professors, Lawrence Douglas, actually traveled to Guantanamo this spring to cover the trail of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He stayed on the base and watched the proceedings. If I were at Amherst, I would have stopped by office hours to get his opinion on the article.
- The Wildlife Sanctuary. Amherst has a 500 acre sanctuary with miles of hiking trails that borders campus. Just by walking for a few minutes, I can feel like I am alone in the woods. It’s a great place to get some exercise, but it’s also nice to get a break from school and enjoy the peace of nature. Being back in a city makes me wish I could just stroll down to the woods like I can at Amherst.
- My Friends. This is, by far, the hardest thing about being away from Amherst. Being at a school like Amherst means that at the end of the semester, your friends scatter across the country and the world. It seems crazy that I only met these people nine months ago! My Amherst friends have become family and I miss them so much! But, we are staying in touch. In the four days since leaving Amherst, I have skyped with a friend in California, sent snap chats to Seattle and Phoenix, sent Facebook messages to New York and Nigeria, and called a friend in Denver.
In just a year, Amherst really has become my home and I definitely felt homesick being away from it! Fortunately, I am now back for the summer and get to enjoy Amherst again. I'll be working in the Admissions Office all summer, so I'm back in Massachusetts!