Crystal Zhu is a sophomore and potential neuroscience major. She is a member of Wellesley’s varsity Swim & Dive team and enjoys being involved in hands-on research in her science classes. Crystal hopes to make a difference someday by finding cures to currently incurable diseases. She believes that her biology laboratory experience from the summer was a good precursor to the many more years of scientific research she has ahead of her.
Francesca: Can you tell me a little about what you did this summer?
Crystal: From May to the end of July, I participated in Wellesley’s science research program. In particular, I was working with 4 different biology professors including Tess Killpack, Jocelyne Dolce, Christa Skow, and Julie Roden.
F: What did you do with these professors?
C: We did a research project where we were making changes to the Bio 111-113 lab curriculum. We were working to make it more exploratory for the students. I was working with two other students, Esther Jaffee and Noor Pirani, as well. There were two particular projects that we needed to work on this summer. One was looking at the freshwater plankton populations in the bodies of water around campus. The other was looking at the food preferences of a common agricultural pest, the cabbage looper.
F: What was the purpose of these experiments?
C: Basically, every single lab class was formatted to allow the students to first get used to what they were working with. Our research was intended to make students question organisms they work with and search for answers. An example of a simple question would be, “how does the sampling location impact the diversity of the plankton population?”
F: What was this particular lab created for?
C: This particular lab was created to give first year and sophomore students, who have not yet had the opportunity to do research, the chance to gain exposure to laboratory work over the summer. The professors wanted students who are unsure about their career paths to have early exposure to research in their college careers. The course is being held only temporarily in the summer. It could potentially continue, but it was not meant to be a permanent thing.
F: How much time did you invest in this summer program?
C: I was working every weekday from around 10am-6pm. We were collecting samples, and analyzing our data.
F: What was the most valuable lesson that you learned from this research opportunity? Would you recommend this to future students?
C: I learned that science can be a very creative process, and you can think of new ways to interpret data. It’s also very unpredictable; things that you don’t expect will often happen. You just have to be innovative. In terms of recommending it to other students, this kind of lab really introduces you to the mindset you need to have when doing research. I think it was a very guided way of doing research, because the professors were always there to help you, and it really does prepare you for work in other labs. It familiarizes you with the process of how to think and analyze results. For any first years or sophomores thinking about doing research in the future, it’s a perfect way to start.
F: Wow that’s a great program! I’m glad Wellesley is doing something like this to prepare its students. Speaking of Wellesley, who is your most influential professor here?
C: That’s a tough question. All of the professors at Wellesley are highly qualified in their own ways. In their lectures, they bring up interesting points that stimulate your mind in ways you wouldn’t be just reading a textbook. One of my professors that particularly stood out to me was Professor Imber. I took his class, “So You Want to be a Doctor?” freshman year. It talked about not only the science aspects of being a doctor, but also the social and ethical views as well. It showed me that being a doctor is not just about seeing patients, but there’s a lot more to it than I originally thought. It was a seminar style class, but it was extremely influential to me. Since he’s been teaching at Wellesley for a while, he always brought extremely informed stories to the table and used a lot of analogies that engaged me and enriched my learning experience. He told us that once we were his students, we would always be his students, and we could come to him for anything.
F: Sounds like he truly cares about his students. Wellesley is great because the professors here really get to know their students and interact closely with them. I know that was one of the main reasons why I chose Wellesley. What was the reason that made you choose Wellesley?
C: After visiting Wellesley and seeing what it was like, I knew I could build confidence and grow as a person and intellectually here. It was also nice because I’m only an hour away from home, and I was recruited to swim here.
F: What do you like most about being on the varsity swim team?
C: Starting from my first year it was nice, because coming in I already knew a group of people. It’s comforting knowing that you always have a team that has your back. Although times get tough, you always have teammates to go to. Eating meals with your teammates, practicing, and going to meets with them really makes you feel like you’re part of a community, and I thought that was very special.
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F: Going forward in your college career, what are the plans you have in store for the future?
C: Currently I’m considering a neuroscience major. It’s very multidisciplinary, and it combines my diverse science interests. In the future, I want to find ways to improve our biological understanding of illnesses in order to better the lives of sick people. This is why I want to start researching now, so I can hopefully gain a better feel for the research process for when I want to help others in the future.