College Drop-Out (Kinda)

This week marks the end of the first “midterm” week at Hopkins. My friends are cramming for upper-level classes and writing papers. Freshmen I’ve talked to are extremely scared for their first “college” exams. Meanwhile, I’ve forgotten what its like to stay up till 3 am in the library. This semester I’m not enrolled in any classes. I realized last spring that I only needed two more classes to graduate. Instead of graduating a semester early, which is fairly common at Hopkins, I’ve decided to take this semester off and instead come back for one final semester in the spring. This past summer I worked full-time as a research assistant at a multiple sclerosis lab at the hospital and I decided to continue working this fall to finish up my projects.

I still get to take pretty pictures at work: Astrocytes forming the blood-brain-barrier

I still get to take pretty pictures at work: Astrocytes forming the blood-brain-barrier

Although every semester at Hopkins has been unique, this fall has truly been a change. I think the biggest adjustment for me was being off-campus all day. I didn’t realize how much I saw my friends throughout the day! I’ve been missing spontaneous coffee hangouts and strolls around the quads. I do miss lying out on the beach in-between classes and soaking up some sun. On the other hand, it’s been really nice spending so much time with my lab. We all go to the Northeast Market together a few blocks from the hospital every day for lunch, and we take turns bringing in bags of candy for afternoon sugar breaks.

Our beautiful campus

Our beautiful campus

I also didn’t realize how much I would miss classes. I almost burst into tears at the beginning of the semester when Julia, my roommate, went to Barnes and Noble to stock up on fresh notebooks and mechanical pencils. I’ve loved the first day of school every since my first as a kindergartener. It was pretty sad realizing I was missing out on my last “first” day of school ever. Alternatively, I’ve been exposed to a whole new side of learning at research. Each Tuesday afternoon, the neuroimmunology department has a guest speaker talk about his/her work. Last week I listened to Dr. Rangaramanujam Kannan share his work in nanoparticles. He has designed PAMAM dendrimers onto which he can attach drugs. The dendrimer nanoparticles deliver drugs to specific subtypes of glia in the brain. I love how I am exposed to exciting new research everyday at work.

It’s also extremely nice to be able to work on my research projects without the stress of homework. I can stay at work as long as I like, and I can spend whole weekends working without thinking about studying for upcoming tests. In the past, it has been difficult to carve out the time to make the trek all the way to the hospital when I have so many hours of class every day and homework assignments and readings.

Exciting research day: finding brain tumors in mice!

Exciting research day: finding brain tumors in mice!

In addition to research, this semester I am in the middle of applying to graduate school. I have decided to pursue a PhD in neuroscience! I realized that scientific research is something I have always been passionate about. I am extremely excited to be able to spend 5+ years working in a lab towards my doctorate. I have compiled my long list of schools and I am now writing the many personal statements and research statements necessary for the applications. So far it’s been a lot of work, and I’m not nearly close to being finished, but it has been a reflective process. I have been thinking back to how my research career started. I was so young when I walked into my first neuroJAYS (neuroscience journal club) meeting. I knew nothing when I walked into my first science class, Introduction to Neuroscience. I can’t believe where I am now.

Although I may not be a student, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying senior year with my friends. We enjoyed a beautiful evening watching the Orioles beat the Yankees, and have been going to all our favorite restaurants.

Friday night at Camden yards

Friday night at Camden yards

It has also been amazing to watch my friends be so successful! Julia just took the MCAT, a monstrous test that she spent all summer studying for. Farhan presented his senior honors thesis on a framework for predicting tissue-specific effects on rare variants. JHU_Dan is simultaneously studying for the GRE, applying to grad school, and obtaining his masters in philosophy this year! So many of us are applying for jobs, and making decisions about what we want to do with our lives. We were confused, naïve, and more like children than adults when we all met freshman year. We have all come so far.

Farhan presenting his fancy model

Julia at 7am pre-MCAT!!!

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