I grew up in
Ithaca, New York,
a small but 'gorges' quintessential college town. With about as many college students as
full-time residents, the city pulsates with an educated and youthful vibe. Three colleges
— Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College — are
located within just a few miles of Ithaca. Growing up in a college town was a lot of fun,
there were always sporting events, lectures, and festivals going on. But Ithaca wasn't just
fun, it also afforded me a lot of opportunities.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue a course of study in science. I was good at it
and I enjoyed the inquisitive and ever evolving nature of the field. So when I entered high
school, my number one goal was to find what particular field of science I wanted to study. I
started by taking biology in my freshman year (9th grade). I thought I had found my niche. I
liked learning about how and why the natural processes around me occurred and I had a knack for
remembering all the different species, processes, etc. Taking physics in my sophomore year
changed that view though.
At my high school, practically everyone took chemistry their sophomore year. The couple of
students who took physics instead of chemistry were looked down upon and considered less
intelligent and motivated. It was 'established' that physics was easier than chemistry. (This
was more due to the structuring of the classes, as well as the enthusiasm and skill of the
teachers, than to the subject matter of the course.) I decided to break away from the usual
track and take both physics and chemistry in my sophomore year, something unheard of at
my school. It became apparent to me very quickly that I loved physics and didn't care much for
I got my first taste of real research during the summer after my sophomore year, when I was
able to intern in Dr. Wakshlag's oncology lab at the Cornell University School of Veterinary
Medicine. The work was much harder than anything I had previously been exposed to but I loved
it. The dictionary became my new best friend and I'm surprised I didn't break Google and PubMed
that summer with how many things I looked up. I thrived on the challenge though and found
myself becoming more engaged and interested in my work than I had ever been in any of my
classes. After spending hours in the lab each day, I would go home and collect still more
information on the topic I was researching. I noticed how much more engaged and interested I
was in my research than I was in classes and I started to become interested in pursuing
research as a career path.
I had a non-traditional high school senior year: I attended
a TST-BOCES program located on the Cornell campus. When my friend first told me about New
Visions, which focuses on
exploring student's individual interests and encourages the integration of research into the curriculum, I immediately
wanted to sign up. I applied and was accepted into the program along with 13 other students from the surrounding area.
In the program, three days of each week were research days. I was placed in Dr. Winans's
microbiology lab at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. My research dealt with the
topic of swarming motility in Burkholderia cenocepacia. In this lab setting I was able
to discover what it really means to do research: finding papers written by others in the field,
creating and disproving hypotheses, inventing experiments, running many trials, and often
having to go "back to the drawing board". Just as in Dr. Wakshlag's lab, I found myself much more engrossed and
engaged in my research than I ever was in any of my classes. My research experiences in high
school confirmed that I wanted to explore research as a career option.
My next big decision was which college(s) to aspire to. As a junior, I was convinced that my
first choice should be an elite university in California where I could enjoy the sun year
round. My parents weren't too keen on me being so far from home though and told me that I
should be searching for schools on the East Coast.
My dad was the one who first suggested Stony Brook. I was skeptical at first, arguing that I
had never heard of Stony Brook, meaning it wasn't a school worth talking about. My father
persisted and forced me to visit over Columbus Day weekend. I fell in love with Stony Brook on
this visit. I had the opportunity to talk to the Undergraduate Program Director for physics and
astronomy, Dr. Abhay Deshpande. He explained to me that he had chosen Stony Brook, over the
other colleges that offered him a position, by asking himself this question: where could he
make the greatest contribution to his field? For him the clear answer was Stony Brook. Stony
Brook being a research university they encourage both their professors and their students to do
research. Stony Brook is also only a short drive away from Brookhaven National Laboratory.
When I asked Dr. Deshpande, what percentage of the undergraduates do research? His answer was:
"... about thirty percent of students, but about one-hundred percent of those who are proactive
and seek out opportunities." Stony Brook offers numerous research opportunities, has a world
class physics program, is close to home, and all for a fraction of the price of other
My two favorite subjects are physics and calculus. My love for both subjects stems
from their ability to explain and quantify the world around me. I also liked that these two
subjects, more so than others in my opinion, are not always logical, making them more
challenging. For example, common sense would say that a heavy object falls faster than a light
object, but physics explains that they fall at the same rate. It would seem impossible to
calculate the volume of a horn with an infinite surface area, but the
Horn of Gabriel problem.
in calculus teaches us you can.
I started talking to Dr. Noé in the spring of my senior year. He had seen my
application to the WISE program and felt that I was a good candidate for Stony Brook.
He helped convince me that Stony Brook was the right fit for me and put me in contact
with a student from the Honors College and WISE. In the end, I decided that the Honors
College was a better fit for me, but I was still interested in doing research in the
Laser Teaching Center. Dr. Noé said that I could join his WISE students and do
research for PHY287 credit.
It is currently my third semester working in the LTC and I have loved every
moment of it. I am excited to have the opportunity to help Dr. Noé
with the four new independent research students this semester and I hope we can
inspire a love of optics in them. As of November 2013, I have also been working
in Dr. Thomas Weinacht's research