Choosing a Thesis Topic

The first snow of my Freshman year. Photo Credit: Sara Bell.

After a couple months of light and mounting panic, I settled on a thesis topic. I’m now thrilled I chose this topic—it’s been particularly fun and interesting to write about—but I really struggled to get to it. There’s a few things I wish I had spent more time thinking about before I was in the thick of the fall semester, trying to handle the academic reflection that a thesis needs at the same time as midterms hit. So if you’re thinking about possibly writing a thesis next year, or the deadline is approaching and you’re in the same boat as I was, I’d recommend trying out a few things. 

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Camaraderie and the Core (on Zoom), Part II

This semester’s Zoom set-up. Photo credit: Teresa Brown.

In September I wrote a blog post on my first impressions of Zoom school. It has now been over a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I have taken nine classes over Zoom. As my senior year rapidly approaches its final days, I wanted to take some time to reflect on this final year.

Having to complete my final year of undergrad in a virtual format wasn’t something I had ever even considered as a possibility. Being 2,895 miles away from campus, waking up for a 5:40am class because of the time difference, and having to mute/unmute myself to speak in class were all things I suddenly found myself forced to adapt to. Fortunately, I have been able to return to New York City this spring and, while classes are still entirely virtual, being near campus has helped make senior year feel a little more normal.

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Footnotes Are Friends, Not Fluff

Google Scholar’s “Cited by” interface.

“Read the footnotes,” many a humanities professor has intoned to me—I will admit, in vain. When you’re crunched for time and facing a steep amount of reading per day, as many Columbia students are, the footnotes or endnotes seem worth only a skim, if that. (To maximize my printing budget, I have, on more than one occasion, carefully printed everything except the endnotes.) What I hadn’t really understood every time that advice was given, and what I didn’t grasp until (you guessed it) I set out to write a senior thesis, was that footnotes are actually essential. 

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Columbia and the Core Outside of Class

Man looking at a Rothko painting at the San Francisco MoMA. Photo Credit: Kristian Woerner.

Reflecting back on four years of Columbia and the Core, I find myself contemplating not which classes were my favorite, but which classes I will take with me for the rest of my life. Similarly, I recently discussed with a professor if I had taken any classes in my time at Columbia that “changed my life,” which I interpret as “changed the way I experience the world.”

One such class was Art Humanities. Formally known as Masterpieces of Western Art and Architecture, this class taught me some basics of art history and how to talk about art. While the class focuses on a small subset of art, the skills it teaches can be extended to a more diverse range of material. Really, what I took away from the class was how to approach a work of art and how to articulate what I see in it. Continue reading

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Paid Research isn’t Just a Dream, It Can Be Your Reality

For this blog, I interviewed Esterah Brown, one of my close friends at Columbia who’s also a graduating senior, like me! Esterah is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and studies Political Science and History. As someone with experience only in neuroscience research, which is largely unpaid, when I first learned that Esterah gets paid for the research she does with two Columbia Political Science professors, I knew I had to interview her for a blog post.

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A Year and Two Days Ago

Approaching the finish line. Photo Credit: Teresa Brown.

The first full rough draft of my thesis was due on February 26, 2021. As I was frantically working to meet this deadline I realized that exactly a year ago, ok a year and two days ago, I had stumbled upon the document that sparked the idea that would eventually become this 55 page paper. It will be exactly a year and a month for the full project when I turn in my final draft next month. Continue reading

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My Senior Year in Lit Hum or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Timeline

Photo Credit: Sara Bell

I am currently enrolled in a possibly-unprecedented combination of classes: the English Major Senior Essay, which is the department’s name for a senior thesis, and the second semester of Literature Humanities, a class typically taken by first-years. “How?” would be a very reasonable question; “why?” even moreso. I transferred to Columbia College from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, where first-years are not compelled to take Lit Hum specifically, and a fortuitous combination of studying abroad and strange timing has lined these two classes up in my transcript. 

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An Interview About Undergraduate Math Research

Photo Credit: Sara Bell

For this blog post, I interviewed Cat R., one of my friends from high school, who is currently studying pure math and has been involved in a long-term research project for the past 6 months. 

Sara: Introduce yourself! What type of research do you do?

Cat: My name’s Cat, I’m studying math at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and my research is about representing convex geometries, a branch of the larger field of geometry. It’s through a program called Polymath REU.

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Changing Tracks: Why Transfer Internally? 

Photo credit: Sara Bell

The joke goes like this: by the time I graduate, I’ll have gone to all four undergraduate schools. Now that I’ve gone through the first three, having originally enrolled in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), transferred to Columbia College (CC), and lived in Barnard housing, all that’s left to do is to wrap things up at the School of General Studies. 

I mentioned this transfer on this blog back in October. That post concerned the idea of a strict divide between STEM fields and the humanities, and why rethinking that divide can help you reconsider and clarify your academic interests. I consider myself pretty invested in this question: I started college out, after all, as a mechanical engineering major, and now I’ll graduate with a major in English. (Before you ask: due to studying abroad, I do have to finish Literature Humanities this spring, in my final semester of college as an English major. The irony abounds.) But I didn’t really get into the nuts and bolts of the transfer, why I transferred at all, or how the choice to transfer has shaped my college career in unpredictable and rewarding ways. 

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Group Research Meet and Greet

Sharing a meal isn’t the only way to get to know others. Photo credit: Isabel Wong.

When I found out seniors wouldn’t be allowed back on campus this past semester, I was disappointed for a lot of reasons. Apple picking, on my bucket list since I was little, would have to wait for a post-graduate fall; pumpkin month, in which we stuffed October full of pumpkin purée, would be noticeably less orange; even my post-finals, pre-flyout panic packing session frizzled fondly from faraway. 

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