Category Archives: Academics

Why you should study Chemistry (even when you are terrible at it)

(P.S.: I know I promised a part 2 to the previous post but life happened.)

I am a Chemistry minor. (Cue dramatic gasps)

Chemistry is my kryptonite. I was never good at it, I never felt comfortable or confident working through the problem sets. Every time the exam time rolls around I have an impending feeling of doom, and I will inhale as much coffee as Elder Price in Kitguli (wink wink Book of Mormon wink musicals wink). There is something about the flowing arrows, the orbitals, the abstract structures on paper that are actually three dimensional that never clicked with me.

However, as a Pre-Health student I have to take Chemistry; I have to take not only Chemistry but also Organic Chemistry. I came out of those classes realizing how smart everyone seemed, and wondering if I was dropped as a child. However, with only one remaining class to fulfill a Chemistry minor, I decided to go for it. I bit my lower lip and closed my eyes as I chose CH431, Mechanistic Organic Chemistry, as my final science class of my undergraduate career.

I was ready for the worst. I mean, for someone who barely struggled through the normal organic chemistry classes, why should I expect to understand the sophisticated research done by the most renowned chemists around the world?

Here is the opening of a paper that we studied in class:

“Cyclobutadinene (CH)4, is the Mona Lisa of organic chemistry in its ability to elicit wonder, stimulate the imagination, and challenge interpretive instincts. No other organic compound combines such a fleeting existence and so many different synthesis, with such a propensity for different chemical reactions, and with the variety of calculations of its structure” (Cram, D.J.., Tammer, M.E., Thomas, R. (1991). The Taming of Cyclobutadiene. Angew. Chem. Int. Eng. 30(8): 1024-1027)

Look at the language. You can almost see him studying this unstable compound at a Sunday night, his window bearing the only dim light in the empty hallways. You can feel his sweat as he stared at the graphs from some machine under fluorescent light among test tubes, and see a roaring beast, a lion with a regal and golden mane to be admired, a wild horse to be tamed. You can hear his glee as he ran test after test and found a new frontier, and with chemicals as his machete, he chopped through tall trees of confusing signals from NMR readings until he found the treasure, the tiny peaks that characterize a tamed cyclobutadiene.

Organic Chemistry was hard for me because it is such a foreign language. As a high school student chemistry was straight forward and simplified, full of fill-in-the-blanks; as a college student, it is more about learning its grammar and trying to be creative with the material, having an eye to not let all the flowery pictures cloud you from the ideas. It is tough, at least for me. But hey, you never fail until you gave up.

But was it worth it? Yes, it was. To me learning chemistry was like learning art for some. I might never become a chemist, as many who major in art will never become an artist, but I acquire a taste for chemistry as people acquire an eye for artwork. When facing a masterpiece in my CH431 class, I can understand the intricate paintwork, the cleverness of the colors, the hidden motifs as Professor Das (CH431 instructor, funny and engaging professor, and one of the nicest person ever) take my hand and guide me. (Cue “A Whole New World” from Aladdin).

As someone who majored in Psychology, many a times I found myself confined into only one scope of knowledge, but Colby has always challenged me to look further. Through screenwriting classes, ocean biogeochemistry classes, classical music classes, I found myself enriched not only in a broad range of knowledge but an eye for things that connect to each other in the most unusual ways. The interconnections between differences were the basis of my application to the Watson fellowship, and even thought I did not get chosen, I planned a proposal that I am proud of, a proposal that studies how resilience can be built from so many interpretations of the same beliefs across the world from Bhutan to Ghana.

In CH431 we learnt about the argument between chemists bickering and defending their naming of a newly discovered molecule, and Professor Das told us that either of them could be right; this reminds me of the nature/ nuture arguments that eclipses every Psychology topic ever, and how it is only a matter of your perception as an informed scholar and how you contribute to the discussion. I see how researchers and experts from many disciplines are purely people who pour their love and soul into their work, much like you and me as we write a paper or engage in a class discussion. Ultimately knowledge is power, but more importantly, knowledge is passion. Discovering new territories is just the first step, what is more important is how you share this new world and what action you take.

I sit in my CH431 class like a child reading Harry Potter; even though I might be a muggle and a social science student, I can see the magic of Chocolate Frogs, of hemicarcerands, of the Nimbus 2000, of allenes and zwitterions, of Hogwarts, of Organic Chemistry.

So thank you, Professor Das; even though I will never be the model Chemistry student, you opened doors to a world that I thought I was not welcomed. Thank you, Colby, for giving me a liberal arts education that let me see the threads that holds the fruits of people in different disciplines together.

Study Chemistry, because why limit and underestimate yourself when the world of knowledge is for you to explore? Color outside the lines; color outside the paper!

 

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Snowed In — Part 1: the adventures

Ah, snow.

When I am old and wrinkly, I will fondly remember Colby as the snow covered wonderland where students built snowman in JanPlan and little cardboard red hearts on Valentine. I will remember the warmth of hot chocolate on the Street, and tiny snowflakes that covered the roofs like powdered sugar on ginger bread houses. For now, I will struggle through the knee deep sludge to class while avoiding the icy slopes of death.

Colby is covered in snow around five months of the year. When spring rolls around, there will still be stubborn mounds of snow that has been seasoned to rock-hard ice bricks, refusing to melt away, as if judging your willingness to shed the large puffy coats and wearing sleeveless.

With snow comes lots of fun activities. I have heard tales of cross-country skiing (I have no clue what that is), sledding (it counts when I did it with lunch trays, right?), snow shoeing (that just sounds like what I do everyday to school, but made fancy), and (normal? regular?) skiing. Fun fact: I did skied once and it was amusing when you get the gist of it; when I was learning and skiing down the slope with the speed of a turtle fearing for a icy death, it was amusing to others. Especially the kids.

Being less of an outdoorsy person, I enjoy quieter, less deadly activities. I love going to Boston on the weekends to have hotpot in Chinatown with my friends; there is something soothing seeing beef and veggies and tofu and seafood bubbling in a delicious stew. Since it turns dark at around 5:00pm during the cold months, I usually could not fight the urge to curl up on my comfy chair (which I got in the Rescue Sale for $8) and read while nursing a hot cup of tea. Hot beverages are the God’s reward for freezing cold, so I indulge in hot chai, apple cider, coffee, tea, matcha latte, and everything else.

One of my favorite things to do is to take a hot mug of tea and walk to the bench in front of the Alumni Center in the middle of the night. Staring at the blue light of Miller reminds me of the beauty of Mayflower Hill, and memories over four years in Colby.

The second semester is always busy for me; I tend to overestimate my ability, or I like to think that  I am inherently a daredevil who loves a challenge. There are many sleepless nights, so perhaps my favorite winter moments are sitting in front of Runnals after a long night and watching the sky turns from Indian ink blue, to a rich royal purple, a fiery red, tangerine, and finally a crisp blue of a winter morning. The bird chimes and another Colby morning has broken, bringing another day of adventures.

 

 

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A House Divided

Often, these blog posts rant and rave about the various pluses, pros and benefits to all the aspects of my Colby life. But today, we need to take a step back and recognize a vital flaw in the system.

 

A flaw? An obtrusive crack? But where? Well. It’s right in front of you in the most central location of Colby College: Miller Library. A not so long time ago, during the spring 2013 exam season, a restructuring of sorts began. Drills began to roar and books were tossed about like notebooks after a final exam. The noise was about 7 decibles above white noise. This made studying without ear plugs and a pair of Dre Beats or Bose sound cancelling headphones playing classical music on top close to impossible. Plus, it was sunny outside. But I digress.

 

The problem was not so much that a renovation was in process, but that the acolytes of the basement library were to finish their spring exams and find themselves homeless the next time they wandered into Miller bleary eyed, none too worse for wear and tear. Homeless? But don’t the disciples of the underground section of Miller have homes in the Apartments, Hillside, AMS, off-campus? Yes. But what about their home away from home? Their second home per se. Destroyed. Annihilated.

 

This fall when they and I, in other words we, entered Miller library we were aghast. Not only had the first floor and second floor and third floor (all topics for three more blogs) been changed beyond recognition, but our cubicles and tables amongst the stacks of Hemingway and Faulkner and Government documents had been replaced by the Great Miller Basement wall. The message was clear: “Thou shalt not pass.”

 

I’m not sure if the message meant my classes or into the basement, but one by one we discovered we were now to be sent on a journey to find a new place to study. RIP.

About Jeb Waters

Hey, I am a junior originally from Connecticut, now living in Maine, although I live off campus currently. I am a Philosophy major with a minor in Administrative Science. I also play lacrosse at Colby and am a member of Mayflower Hill Capital. In my free time, I run a music blog, get down to the gym to play squash or go on adventures around Maine.
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Back To Reality

Oh there goes January. I can’t say I’m 100% ready to be jolted back to reality. Somehow Jan Plan goes by too quickly. But I guess all good things come to an end. So long to a schedule that repeats itself for 25 days straight something like this: Wake up, work out, eat lunch, do work, nap, play lacrosse, hang out with friends. At this point it’s pretty much a blur, but maybe it’s supposed to be.

 

A break from the winter doldrums, Jan Plan allows us to ease into the month of February with a glimmer of hope that spring is on the horizon of the horizon, or will be in a month or so. Hopefully. If this polar vortex keeps going it could be snowing until May. But I guess it could be 75 this coming week too. It’s a roller coaster.

 

But anyway, off with Jan Plan and on with the second semester. I may not be entirely ready, yet I honestly can’t complain because I get to start some pretty cool classes this spring. We start with some standards, but then to top it off we have a little Chinese Philosophy with Professor Jim Behuniak and what looks like a daunting but interesting Cormac McCarthy author course. (He wrote The Road and No Country For Old Men.)

 

Also, getting back to having a schedule is pretty nice. The high-flying life of total independence and all the free time in the world is actually kind of hectic in Jan Plan. It turns out, in life, that structure is a neat way to stay on top of things, keep organized and maintain a schedule to do your laundry and clean the kitchen.

 

It may be more work. Time management may be necessary too. But by the end of January, a return to normality is welcome and needed. And so next week, the second semester begins…

About Jeb Waters

Hey, I am a junior originally from Connecticut, now living in Maine, although I live off campus currently. I am a Philosophy major with a minor in Administrative Science. I also play lacrosse at Colby and am a member of Mayflower Hill Capital. In my free time, I run a music blog, get down to the gym to play squash or go on adventures around Maine.
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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yes, I’m aware Christmas has passed. And we’re not even at Colby for the holiday season, so what’s the most wonderful time of the year here? Jan Plan. Of course there is skiing, although it’s been too warm and all my friends are back in town, but that is happening at any liberal arts school in New England. What isn’t happening is the opportunity to take one class for one month that is usually pretty unique.

Last year, I took the Human-Microbe connection. I learned some neat facts about biology, what occurs in all the fermented food I eat and got my non-lab science class out of the way in just 12 sessions. Granted they were three hours a pop, but who’s counting?

This year, I decided to make my own independent study though. Following in line of my philosophy major, I decided to do an Independent Study in Yogic Philosophy. I have an advisor, a few texts to read and practice asanas and pranayama most days of the week. Asanas are the actual physical exercise part of yoga. Pranayama in layman’s terms is the control and use of breath.

This particular study is two credits. For three credits I would have had to write a 20-page research paper. For one credit, I would have had to write a short response. Two credits means two five page papers. Not bad.

I get to read two texts: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Bhagavad Gita, both interesting philosophy from a viewpoint I have not yet encountered in my Philosophy major.

Having an independent study is great not just for the fact that I get to essentially create my own course, but because I am in preseason for lacrosse. Since it’s an independent study, I don’t have class, so I have to self-direct and manage my own time, which is vital for in season. And, I can plan my work around all my lacrosse workouts I have this time of year.

My only regret is not having done an independent study sooner.

About Jeb Waters

Hey, I am a junior originally from Connecticut, now living in Maine, although I live off campus currently. I am a Philosophy major with a minor in Administrative Science. I also play lacrosse at Colby and am a member of Mayflower Hill Capital. In my free time, I run a music blog, get down to the gym to play squash or go on adventures around Maine.
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The finals are here. Be scared, be very scared.

Alas, tis the season of finals are upon us again. After three years, I have perfected my routine for optimal cramming. What are some of the tips to survive this intense period?

  1. Wake up early. The campus is full of people trying to secure a spot in the library or an empty room to hit the books, and the earlier you drag yourself out of bed, the higher the chance that you don’t need to share a table with three other people in the noisy part of Miller. The campus is a battlefield, and you want a snipper spot.
  2. Take short, power naps. Let’s be realistic here, most of us are not going to sleep a lot during this week. It’s perfectly okay, it is part of being in college. No judgement. So, I take short twenty minutes naps every few hours to recharge. Suit yourself, some people like to go for a run, some people eat hot pockets, some people make snow angels, some people gosip. Just relax once in a while.
  3. Healthy snacks. I eat food during the finals week. Somehow I am Takeru Kobayahi, inhaling everything in sight like a vacuum cleaner. If you see me you will wonder where all the food went in my five feet frame. I don’t even eat because of flavor but to focus on the wriggly lines in books. In order to prevent future health problem, I buy healthier snacks like dried fruits, carrots and hummus, and greek yogurt.

Finals are scary, I am not going to sugar coat it. However if you set up daily plans and take breaks, you will be just fine. Christmas is right around the corner!

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Bigelow: The Secret Confessions of a Psychology Major

Note: I had been sitting on this for a while now, but since we had an information session last night, this seems like a good time to post; note that I wrote these with the best of intentions, and the Bigelow program had been fun.

Dear Bigelow,

Last time I sang you praises. I talked about your charm, your magical smile, your gorgeous body; but there are times when I just feel like I am no good. I am a psychology major, yes, a lot of people would say that we are not a match made in heaven, but I always thought you love me just the way I am. But sometimes you just move so fast, and I felt like I was just dragging along. We had so much good times, and we had our lows, but fact is, I loved what we had. If someone give me a chance, I would do it all over again.

Here’s a list of things that we need to discuss.

  • The materials are not easy; you probably should brush up on your chemistry and biology in the summer before you start the semester. I mean it. Also, just insist on asking the scientists questions until everything is absolutely crystal clear. So clear that when a candle shines through your understanding, a blinding white light will bring hope to a post-apocalyptic world. Still, be prepared.
  • Research on the sea is no cruise. There are no cocktails or polo shirts with cardigans. There are a lot of fun memories, and it is amazing when everyone would work together like a well-oiled machine. But there are also huge waves hitting you while you try to cling on to the bongo nets, there are rumblings in your stomach while you try to concentrate on changing filters. Also, you cannot jump off the boat and take a swim; the water is freezing and it is just not allowed. Bummer. I really wanted to swim with seals!
  • You will likely not get a huge portion of your work back until the very end. The very end meaning when your scores appears on the Colby website. Scientists are busy people, so it is understandable that they may not have the free time to look at your lab report. This means that you may not have a clear idea about how the quality of your work, and it may be hard to improve when you are not sure. The professors are really nice and encouraging and would tell you that you are doing fine. My advice is to keep on asking and going over your work with them. I really think it would be awesome to have more feedback, a clear marking matrix, my course work back for future improvements. I am still waiting! :D
  • The last week are packed with deadlines. you have your presentations for the field study course, your final exams, your lab reports, and your poster for personal research. You will never lust for the free coffee as much again in your life. (Did I mention there was free coffee last time? There is free coffee. And tea. Chai latte. Hot chocolate.)
  • Always voice your concerns. It is a new program and everyone is still trying to figure out the best plan. Bigelow is ultimately one of the friendliest place I have ever been, so make use of the welcoming atmosphere to make the Colby-Bigelow program the best ever.
  • Ask about requirements! The teachers are more than happy to work on how your course of study collides with what you learn at Bigelow; sometimes they need a little push and gentle reminder though.
We will work this out, my darling. The most beautiful relationships are always flawed, and our faults makes our best qualities shine even brighter. Until we meet again.
Love,
Josephine Liang
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Expectations vs. Reality

What we expect in life is often different from reality. For example, I fully expect myself to grow into a towering 6 feet tall when I was a little kid.

In reality I achieved an astounding 5 feet. Well, if you come to think of it, I did attained 5/6 of my goal, which is not that bad. I do have some difficulties reaching most things though.

As a senior, it is pretty interesting to compare what I expected and what I actually achieved in my four years. Here are some of them:

Expectation:

I expect that I am going to get ALL As in my classes. Like, I won’t even be able to deal with an A-. I was that crazy person.

(This is adapted from this post in (the awesome) Hyperbole and a Half: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html)

Reality:

Well, I did not get all As in my classes; I have my fair share of less glamorous grades. What I can say with confidence is that I had dabbled in a wide variety of classes, and that I tried my best in all of them while juggling with my campus and off campus jobs. I leant a lot and definitely made Colby my own experience.

Expectations:

Join all the clubs! Especially during my first semester, I signed up for so many different things in the Club Expo. I ended up darting across campus, jumping from one event to the other. (I still do that sometime)

Reality:

Reality is a stone cold bitch. The truth is you just don’t have that much time in your life to do every single thing. I realize that I am human (despite suspicions that I am actually a cat: I have a looming dark side, and I love napping, warmth, and condensed milk), and I would rather be more engaged in select activities and be truly immersed, rather than being burdened by everything.

Expectation:

I will eat like a rabbit, and exercise like a hyper puppy. I will be ripped.

*excessive carrots will turn you yellowish orange

RIPPED! Werewolf ripped.

Reality:

Who am I kidding? I love food, and food loves me. There are few things in life more magical than sharing a 2am pizza with my friends, and cooking is like magic. Think about it, you are taking chucks of muscles, plants, roots, and put them through death and fire. You end up with complex and flavorful dishes that brings the world together. I mean, have you even notice how many of insideColby blog posts are about food? A LOT. Check the front page; it is like 4 out of 5.

I try to be healthier by buying spinach and adding it to most things I eat. I make salads some times.

Other times I am just lazy and eat junk food the whole day.

I also go to the gym once in a while. In warmer days, I walk to most of my destinations. If you see a tiny Chinese person walking to Shaws, it is probably me.

Expectation:

I will have a schedule that I follow to the point. To. The. Minute.

Reality:

Yeah, right. The thing is, I do keep a schedule, but there are things that you cannot plan. For example, during freshman year I had this one schedule where I planned when I will socialize, which is sort of ridiculous when you think about it; I planed to the hour when I would go and talk to my friends. Sometimes you just have to go out of that little blue schedule book and seek adventure. Live a little, enjoy the surprises.

Carpe diem.

I am happy to say that my four years in Colby are probably not what I expected, but the reality is so much funner and more awesome beyond my imagination.

 

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Two And A Half Hours

There is nothing better than seeing your desk start like this:

In which passer-bys ask, “Is this all yours?”

To which you feel like replying, “yes, somehow every single piece of paper used this semester is on the table in front of me.”

This might mean you’re ready for your final two and a half hour midterm. It might mean you’re not. Either way, those papers are hopefully transferring (at least by osmosis) into your mind for at least the next day. Once your binder closes and the jitters begin, it’s time. Cell phone on vibrate. Check. Black pen or pencil. Check. Auditorium exam seating for all sections. Hopefully check, otherwise things can get pretty hairy.

The next two or so hours are spent in a pure concentration state. What Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yeah, try saying that one time fast) would call “The Flow State.” Your mind flows, the ink flows and time flows until the announcement of “Ten minutes. There will be a curve (Thank God). Five minutes. Two minutes (don’t they realize this just breaks my flow state, not to mention my cash flow statement?) Please hand in all tests.”

And just like that it’s over. A month and a half of school has already flown by and it’s the first break of the school year. And then, your desk looks like this. Almost a blank slate:

 

And so does my mind. For now, I think I’ll head up around the coast to Rockport. Maybe travel down to Portland tomorrow. And if there’s enough time, hopefully I’ll get some camping in – I’d sure love a fire. I need those papers for something now that testing’s over.

 

About Jeb Waters

Hey, I am a junior originally from Connecticut, now living in Maine, although I live off campus currently. I am a Philosophy major with a minor in Administrative Science. I also play lacrosse at Colby and am a member of Mayflower Hill Capital. In my free time, I run a music blog, get down to the gym to play squash or go on adventures around Maine.
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Obligatory introduction post

So, I know this is a little late, but since it is a brand new semester, I would like to take the time to say…

I am Josephine, I like food.

Wait, I am pretty sure people already knows that. I would also like to add that I love cats, books, movies (good and bad), and my bed. I love love to travel, and I love love love being with my friends (old and new), and then travel and eat and read and watch movies together.

I am a senior this year at Colby. Yes, it is just as glamourous as you think. Oh, the sky is sparkling with haunting deadlines, my life is filled with gorgeous stacks of textbooks that I barely understand, champagne glasses of caffeinated drinks, confetti of tiny panic attacks about where my future lies beyond college. Just… perfect.

It is times like this that I appreciate my friends inside or outside of Colby, and my awesome professors. They had been there for me, they tolerated me even when I just walk into their offices/ dorm room with a basket of problems and rants, patiently sort through them one by one, and fold them neatly and put them away with me.

So I would like to extend a hand to anyone reading this, and tell you that everything is going to be okay. If you need to borrow a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to talk to, I am more than happy to be that body part (jkliang@colby.edu). I would love to be your friend.

That’s it for now, stay tuned for my adventures at Colby!

 

 

 

 

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