Hayley-Go-Lucky

Thoughts from a neuroscience pre-med journeying through JHU.

Not Sad Yet

My final semester as a college student is almost over. While I’m definitely in denial about how much time I actually have left, I’m also not that sad about it. Yes, I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day. I’m going to miss the Hopkins campus and my lab on the med campus. But I’m not done with school yet. I’ve decided to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience, meaning I will be in school for another 6 years.

This August I will be starting at Mount Sinai at the Icahn School of Medicine. I’ll be taking courses like Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Pathophysiology of Neurological & Psychiatric Disorders, Neuropharmacology, and Advanced Topics in Synapses. Throughout my time at Hopkins, my neuroscience classes were always my favorite. Next year I will be able to specialize even further within molecular and cellular neuroscience.

Mount Sinai's Library > B Level

Mount Sinai’s Library > B Level

Basically I’m not that nervous about graduating because I’m just avoiding the real world for 6 more years. I’ll be living near Mount Sinai on the Upper East Side in a building full of medical students and graduate students. Even all the furniture is provided. I will also have ample opportunity to make friends during the weeklong orientation program preceding the start of classes.

View from my new apartment building!

View from my new apartment building!

The only part of Hopkins I’m not going to be able to replace or recreate next year, though, is my group of friends here in Baltimore. Next year we will be scattered all over the Midwest and East Coast. While a short plane ride isn’t too bad, it’s going to be an adjustment from being roommates and neighbors here in Baltimore. I have no idea how often we will all be able to see each other. We will be starting stressful jobs and grad programs where we will probably be busier than we are now.

This Friday is the Young Alumni Tent party, one of the most highly anticipated parts of homecoming weekend. Although I’m excited to see some of my friends who have already graduated, it will be bittersweet thinking of leaving all my current Hopkins friends.

Leaving Hopkins

I’ve been MIA. Its already April and I’m still playing catch- up on work from February. After spending last semester at research full-time, I was super eager to come back for classes on campus. But instead of spending Sundays in the Reading Room, I’ve spent the past 2 months traveling.

This past fall I spent a significant portion of my time applying to neuroscience PhD programs. The next step in the application process was to visit all of the schools for an in-person interview. Since it can take from 5 to 8 years to finish your PhD, each program wants to make sure that you will be happy in the program and living in the area for such a long period of time.

The night before my very first interview I couldn’t sleep at all. I had spent days researching the neuroscience faculty and reading their papers, terrified they would ask me detailed questions about glial biology that I wouldn’t be able to answer. My trip to Mount Sinai in NYC was nothing like I expected. The first day I was there I did have 5 hour-long interviews, but they were nothing like I expected. I spent the day having interesting conversations about neuroscience instead of being questioned about my knowledge in a formal interview setting. Afterwards, the group of 20 applicants was taken out for a three-course dinner with endless wine. I explored central park, saw Swan Lake at the Lincoln Center, and even competed against other biomedical sciences phd applicants in Escape the Room in midtown.

Central Park: one block away from my potential future home

Central Park: one block away from my potential future home

After my first interview at Mount Sinai in NYC, I had interviews in Seattle, Chicago (multiple times), Los Angeles, and back to NYC again.  In Chicago I got to see the Second City improv group perform and visit the Bean in 5 degree temperatures. In LA I spent the afternoon at the Getty, one of the most beautiful art museums I’ve ever been to.  In Seattle I visited a “bean to bar” chocolate factory and viewed Mount Rainier from the University of Washington Campus. Although being wined and dined in cities all over the country was an amazing experience, after two months of straight travel I wanted to be back at Hopkins. I missed my friends and the routine of going to class everyday.IMG_0394IMG_0390

Although the University of Chicago may have a library that looks like its straight from Hogwarts and UCLA’s weather can’t be beat, I missed the community at Hopkins. One of my very last interviews was right here in Baltimore. As I was interviewing at Johns Hopkins, I realized I had a tough choice to make. I love this city. I love my lab. I love the academic community that makes Johns Hopkins neuroscience so strong. I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to stay. At the same time, I think its time for me to explore a new city and force myself to go out and make new connections.

The view of LA from The Getty

The view of LA from The Getty

As I’m finally coming to a final decision about which graduate school to attend, the reality of leaving Hopkins is setting in. I’m trying my hardest to slow time down and appreciate the little things I love about this campus.

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.

Julia at 7am pre-MCAT!!!

Julia at 7am pre-MCAT!!!

Farhan presenting his fancy model

Farhan presenting his fancy model

Further Adventures as a Hopkins Pre-Med

Being pre-med at Hopkins comes with a lot of advantages. We have amazing faculty who support us through the horrors of organic chemistry and physics. Our pre-professional office assigns every student with his/her own personal advisor. We have the Johns Hopkins Hospital right down the road from us for any research, shadowing, or clinical position we could image. Although I am grateful everyday for the opportunities and guidance that has helped me along this (sometimes terribly arduous) path, my involvement with the Women’s Pre-Health Leadership Society (WPHLS) has been responsible for some of the best experiences I’ve had as a pre-med.

This year I have been on the executive board for WPHLS as the programming co-chair, specifically I was in charge of planning our annual spring conference. Every spring we host a conference where we invite many physicians and scientists as guest speakers so students can learn about their careers and experiences in the health profession. The theme of this years conference was “Shaping The Future: The 21st Century Physician.” I wanted the conference to highlight the advancements and discoveries being made in medicine that will affect healthcare. What we learned from the physicians at the conference could someday affect our own medical careers!

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Although this year’s theme of the conference focused on changes in technology and medical education, every the WPHLS conference is based in the importance of equality between males and females in medicine. To this day, women are still underrepresented in medicine, and even less represented in science. I wanted the conference to open a dialogue about how men and women can both address and amend these issues in healthcare.

Introducing our lovely WPHLS Co-Presidents!

Introducing our lovely WPHLS Co-Presidents!

Although the night before I was so nervous I don’t think I slept, the conference went on without any major hiccups! Our opening speaker, Dr. Tammy Brady, a pediatric nephrologist, spoke about how technology has improved her relationship with patients, and how it has helped her work from home, allowing her to keep a full time job and also be a mother of three.

I wanted the conference to be less formal and more interactive, so I decided to include 4 roundtable discussions. We had 16 physicians and scientists sit at a different table while students rotated around to speak intimately with the guests. During one of the breakout sessions I had an amazing conversation with Dr. Shukti Chakravarti. She told me how she started off her research by discovering a specific protein, and has since followed its function and role from the extracellular matrix to roles in immune regulation!

My roommate, Julia, came to support me and connected with a physician during the breakout sessions!

My roommate (and fellow pre-med), Julia, came to support me and connected with a physician during the breakout sessions!

Our closing speaker, Dr. Sharon Bord, told us about the gender stereotypes she faces everyday in the office. She said many patients don’t recognize or acknowledge that she is a doctor instead of a nurse. She ended her talk about how she has been fortunate enough to have amazing mentors who encouraged her to look past any inequalities to become an emergency medicine physician.

Dr. Sharon Bord, our closing speaker

Dr. Sharon Bord, our closing speaker

I left the conference that day feeling extremely grateful and inspired. The members of WPHLS were so helpful the entire day. Their hard work made the conference run as smoothly as it did.

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I was also so inspired by all of the guest speakers. Hearing about their struggles and achievements in medicine was an experience I will never forget, and has given me the courage to go forward and follow their footsteps.

I never would have thought that coming to Hopkins would give me opportunities like I had at this WPHLS conference. It was equal parts scary and rewarding trying to put together this conference, but it was a valuable learning process!

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Leaving the “Hopkins Bubble”

Life as a Hopkins student is busy. Our days are packed with classes, clubs, and spontaneous social events that keep us fully occupied and entertained within our campus. The “Hopkins Bubble,” as students affectionately refer to it, is real and very consuming. But we live in Baltimore! When you look past the beautiful brick and marble buildings of Homewood you discover an amazing city. This past semester I’ve already found new restaurants and events definitely worth sharing!

Early this semester my friend, Farhan, took me rock-climbing only ten minutes away. On weekends the prices are discounted, and the couple of hours we spent climbing left me sore for days. Although the gym on campus is great, it was nice to experience a new workout!

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Okay while there are definitely no ski slopes in Baltimore, one of the very first weekends of the semester a group of my friends decided to take a day trip to Pennsylvania to go skiing. The drive was only an hour but after 20 minutes we were out of the city and felt like we were hours away from city-life. Our mini-vacation left us feeling refreshed and ready to take on the semester!

On top of Liberty Mountain with Julia!

On top of Liberty Mountain with Julia!

A few weekends ago my parents came to visit to celebrate the completion of my first round of midterms. We decided to check out the Lexington Market for lunch. The massive indoor market was established in 1782! There was live music and the place was packed. We decided to try Faidley’s Seafood for their famous crab cakes, which did not disappoint. I also sampled amazing fried chicken and a few Berger cookies, a fudge cookie unique to Baltimore.

My lovely parents enjoying the BEST crabcake in B'more

My lovely parents enjoying the BEST crabcake in B’more

This past Friday I went to Alloverstreet, an art walk that showcases many galleries in Station North. Many MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) students showcased their talents. Alloverstreet happens every first Friday of the month, and I plan on going every month! I can’t believe that such a unique event is happening just one stop away on the Johns Hopkins shuttle!

My favorite painting from Alloverstreet

My favorite painting from Alloverstreet

Although there is ALWAYS something to do on campus every day of the week and at all hours, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent this semester exploring Baltimore and the surrounding area. I had no idea that my decision to come to Hopkins meant I’d also fall in love with a new city.

My Favorite Hobby

I’ve always loved to read. My strongest memories from middle school were of my favorite young adult novels. In high school, with sports, extracurriculars, and lots of A.P classes, my reading time dwindled. Then when I came to Hopkins and decided to delve deep into a neuroscience major, I thought my reading days were over. I was so, so wrong.

Freshman year I was influenced by the great (now alumnus) JHU_Noah, to join NeuroJAYS (The JHU Neuroscience Association For Young Scientists). Once a week NeuroJAYS meets for about an hour to discuss a neuroscience journal paper. At this point in my life (and this is embarrassing) I barely knew what a research journal was! I had never actually read a scientific paper. The first paper we read had a long and complicated name…in which I didn’t understand a single word. My knowledge of neuroscience at that point was pitiful. But I absolutely loved each Wednesday night meeting. I loved spending a solid couple of hours trying to digest what the paper was actually saying, asking questions, and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses.

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Research papers are like stories. In fact, my PI is fond of saying at lab meetings “what story is the data telling us?” Every paper has an introduction where the main players (the molecules/proteins/cells) are introduced, and a methods section which details how the story was created. Next come the results—the main storyline, complete with colorful figures (diagrams, beautiful cells, and graphs). At the end of the paper comes the discussion section, the conclusion in which the story comes to an end. Like in every good essay or novel, the theme even broadens to global importance.

At the end of my freshman year I started working in a lab. The faculty member I worked under handed me a packet of papers to read to gain some background knowledge. It took me weeks to get through them. I was googling almost every word, and I couldn’t understand any of the protocols used in the paper.

I now have two years of research under my belt, and reading papers has become much easier and so much more enjoyable. This summer while I was working in lab full time, I became enamored with a new project. Along with Leslie, a grad student in the lab, we developed a potential new mechanism for transdifferentiation of a progenitor cell. I spent an entire week reading papers related to the topic. I’d get into work at 9 am and still be reading at 5pm. Call me crazy, but that was the most fun week of the summer. I just love to read.

This semester I’m taking two upper-level Neuroscience electives called the Cellular and Molecular Biology of Sensation, and Emerging Strategies in Biomedical Research. Although the semester has just begun, I already know that I am going to love them.

In Emerging Strategies in Biomedical Research we are learning about some of the amazing, cutting-edge techniques being used in the lab today. Today we learned about optogenetics, a crazy method of activating and depressing specific cells in vivo using a specific wavelength of light. Last week we learned about Brainbow mice, a complex transgenic model in which the neurons fluoresce all the colors of the rainbow! The assignments for the class are to read related papers to the research method and write analyses of the papers.

Brainbow = Rainbow Brain

Brainbow = Rainbow Brain

Cellular and Molecular Biology of Sensation is a class that focuses on the research being done in molecular neuroscience on all of the sensory systems. Our first lecture was on the discovery of electrical tuning in turtles. Although turtles don’t have cochlea, they hear just as well as humans!! Every week we have to read a related paper on the subject.

Next week NeuroJAYS will start up again. Instead of being the freshman with zero experience and a thousand questions, I’m excited to pick out the papers and help explain them. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in just three years at Hopkins.

Although during the semester I can barely fit in any pleasure reading, I’m still reading for hours every day. Somehow I was lucky enough to keep reading, my favorite hobby, as an integral part of my life.

Intersession Bucket List 2016

Its winter break and I’m home, happily sleeping 12 hours a night in my own bed and stuffing my face with cookies. Finals seem like a distant memory, but spring semester is still weeks away.

I’m looking forward to my favorite time at Hopkins: Intersession! I found out about it when I was touring Johns Hopkins for the first time.

Our tour guide explained that intersession is a month-long term where students can take classes for pass-fail credit. The classes are free, the dorms are open, and the meal-plan is included in your fall tuition! I immediately loved the idea of allowing students to explore new academic fields stress-free! Freshman year I took a biochemistry lab called “Foreign Gene Expression Lab” where my partner, JHU_Dan, and I spent three weeks trying to insert a gene into E.coli.

Ice Bucket Forever

Ice Bucket Forever

Sophomore year I again stayed in Baltimore for intersession. I’ve always been oddly fascinated with Greek Mythology, so I decided to take a 1-credit course about the heroes and monsters of the Pantheon.

This year I’m going to do research full-time in the lab I’ve been in for the past couple of years. I’m particularly excited because we will be analyzing some in vivo experiments that were started all the way back in August!

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Many of my friends are coming back this year to take classes ranging from stand-up comedy, to the chemistry of chocolate. I even have a friend taking a class abroad spending three weeks in Africa!

One of the main reasons why I love intersession, though, is that you have time without the stress of a full class schedule or homework to explore Baltimore! While I’ve been home relaxing, I’ve compiled a list of things I want to do and accomplish this January.

 

  1. Explore the BMA and the Walters Museum: The Baltimore Museum of Art is free for students, and the Walters is free for the public! While I’ve gone to both before, I haven’t spent extensive time viewing all the exhibits. I’m looking forward to spending a Sunday afternoon at the Walters, and then getting a cup of coffee at the nearby Dooby’s.

    Still Life with Oranges at the BMA

    Still Life with Oranges at the BMA

  1. Get In Shape: Okay I guess I could do this one anywhere, but during intersession fitness classes at the rec center are free. I’m looking forward to relaxing at yoga and maybe learning how to finally bike properly at a few spin classes.
  1. Explore New Restaurants: I’ve spent three years searching and finding amazing restaurants all over the city. Grano is the place for pesto; the Helmand serves incredible Afghan cuisine, and Yama Sushi has the freshest (and cheapest) rainbow roll in Baltimore. But I’ve become comfortable in my favorites. Zagat just listed Baltimore second in a list of the top 17 food cities! I’ll be trolling baltimoremagazine.net for new and exciting food stops.
  1. Tackle New Recipes: With all my free time I’m excited to get exotic in the kitchen. I have all the ingredients to make Tom Kha Gai in my pantry and I’m going to finally make my favorite soup. I have a google doc full of recipes I’m going to attempt.

    Rosemary lamb chops with creamed swiss chard, one of my favorite meals we make!

    Rosemary lamb chops with creamed swiss chard, one of my favorite meals we make!

  1. Go Hiking: Since I was little, my family has been taking me on hiking vacations and adventures. During the school year, though, it’s hard to justify taking an entire day off from work to hike. I plan on taking advantage of this insanely warm weather (sans snow) to explore Maryland’s state parks with my friends!

    The view from Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park!

    The view from Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park!

Three Years Ago

I spent my last night of break with one of my closest friends from high school. In the small Connecticut town in which I live, nothing is open after 8 pm so we ended up just driving around town and catching up. Somehow we ended up in the parking lot of out high school. Memories came flooding back. It’s been almost three years since I graduated. Today in our weekly SAAB (student advisory admissions board) meeting, I realized that we will soon be welcoming in the class of 2020! Suffice it to say, I’ve been feeling old.

In the three years since high school my life has changed a lot. But after seeing Dan, my friend from home, I realized how much we had both changed as individuals. I’m a different person today.

This time three years ago I was a nervous wreck. I applied early decision to Hopkins and was terrified I wasn’t going to get in.

I’ve thought a lot about the one piece of advice I would want to give graduating seniors. I would say, don’t be afraid of what’s to come. Accept the changes in your life, and maybe let them change you. We grow up in our parent’s households. We are our parent’s children. We absorb their values and rules without hesitation. But at some point we all have to leave home.

I came in to Hopkins as a history major, but I decided to take classes in all different departments my freshman fall. Introduction to Neuroscience stood out from the rest. Although I had loved my history classes the most all throughout high school, I realized I was ready to explore a new field. I’ve since spent every semester taking core required science classes and upper level neuroscience courses. The way I think is different now. I have a different perspective on life.

I’m not sure if I would have observed the changes I see in myself today if I hadn’t come to college with a truly open mind. I urge every somewhat shy, nervous and naïve graduating high school seniors to take risks and do things you have never done before. After getting a good education, isn’t that what college is really about?

 

What I’m Grateful For

Its almost thanksgiving, which means I’m taking time to pause and appreciate everything that I’m grateful for. Hopkins has given me life-long friends, a community, amazing opportunities, and a home. But after finishing my very last biochemistry lab last Monday, I would like to openly thank the Undergraduate Teaching Labs. The UTL, as it is commonly called, was completed just in time for the class of 2017. My freshman year I had chemistry lab on the top floor of the UTL. While a four-hour lab bright and early every Friday may sound like a college kid’s nightmare, the beauty and modernity of the lab made it difficult to complain.

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The building was constructed as an extension of Mudd Hall. Mudd is one of the many classic red brick buildings on campus. It houses the biology department and various lecture halls. The UTL was built right next to Mudd. While half the building is brick, the back wall is four stories of complete glass.

This year, I took biochemistry lab in the UTL. My partner and I purposefully chose the lab bench nearest the full glass window. Sunlight pours in and keeps us sane while we try to finish four-hour lab protocols.

Joe, my lab partner!

Joe, my lab partner!

In addition, the equipment in the new labs is amazingly advanced for undergraduate students. We each get our own set of micropipettes, a personal spectrophotometer, and a set of endless glass test tubes.IMG_1542

My freshman year of intersession, I took a lab called Foreign Gene Expression Lab. I spent everyday in the UTL, but I didn’t mind.

First Gel: a monumental moment in any scientist's life

First Gel: a monumental moment in any scientist’s life

Right now I’m sitting at my desk at my research lab at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. There are zero windows. Thank you, Hopkins, for the Undergraduate Teaching Labs.

The Month of the Pumpkin

Halloween may seem like a holiday for children. And yes, maybe trick-or-treating door to door is something (almost) all of us have outgrown, but this October I fully immersed myself in fall-related activities.

A few weeks ago some friends and I went pumpkin picking at a nearby farm. Just fifteen minutes away from the city we found ourselves in at a small apple farm complete with a corn maze and hayride. After a few apple cider donuts dipped in hot cider, I felt like I was back home in Connecticut.IMG_0989

After picking out the most perfect pumpkin I could find, I attempted to carve it. I went with a classic jack-o-lantern. Although everyone agreed it was a cop-out, I really didn’t care. I was just excited about roasting the pumpkin seeds I had scooped out.IMG_1139

I’ve also gone a little crazy on including pumpkin in everything I cook. Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pasta, Julia and I even made pumpkin mac and cheese on Halloween.IMG_1009IMG_0898

Every year for Halloween, my group of friends has gone down to Fells Point, one of the largest Halloween festivals in the country. To this day my all-time favorite costume was freshman year when we dressed up as the cast of Grease. This year we spent considerably less effort on our costume (me as a scientist, Julia as a lab mouse). I basically wore what I wear every weekday in lab.

RIP Sandra Dee

RIP Sandra Dee

Just drugging my mouse

Just drugging my mouse

Instead of going to Fells this year, we decided to invite some friends over. I had so much fun decorating cupcakes and putting up a few decorations.

Hey JHU_Dan, JHU_Molly and JHU_Emily!!!

Hey JHU_Dan, JHU_Molly and JHU_Emily!!!

It’s November already (how did the semester go by so fast?!) but I’m not ready to give up pumpkin muffins or this spirit of fall.

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