A Reflection on the Past Year

NB: Below is a letter I wrote to one of my scholarship granters as an update on my past year. I quite like the writing, so would like to share it with everyone here as well.

The coming of June always brings a mixture of feelings: nostalgia for the year that has passed, anticipation for the year to come. It has been just under a year since I received your generous scholarship to study at Yale. Actually living at Yale is very different from simply imagining it from home in Bellevue. The sheer number of opportunities and challenges that come my way everyday seems to constantly catch me off my guard: whether it is trekking up Science Hill to attend a Nobel laureate physics talk or using the Yale Omega Supercomputer Cluster to create a simulation of our early universe. Each day brings a new chance to push myself beyond my previous limits.

Arriving as a dazed freshman in August, from a 24-hour journey of bus, plane, subway, and train, I stepped onto Old Campus with awe and excitement. To imagine that these venerated brick buildings would be my home for the next four years was beyond exciting. What was less exciting was the muggy, 83-degree weather, with no prospect of air conditioning in our dorms. No matter. The next nine months would bring rain and shine, puddles and happiness, my first major snowfall (along with the required Freshman Snowball Fight), the first witnessing of a sunset and a sunrise (with 7 hours of frantic programming in between). Did I know that the year to come would bring me so many varied interactions, that I would grow closer with friends from India, Kenya, and Singapore, that I would find a stronger voice in both scientific writing and about the interaction of race in America, that I would find strength in midnight runs with friends to get greasy food, as we struggled to stay awake to do more work? Likely not. But I think that standing in the center of these towering elm trees, I got a sense of what was to come.

My journey into the field of my passion, physics, has been hard earned but very fruitful. I have been fortunate to take the most intensive freshman physics courses, teaching everything from classical mechanics to general relativity, as well as a smattering of electives, from learning astrostatistics and machine learning to attending a graduate cross-listed course on how to utilize powerful algorithms to process gigabytes of data. Mastering these subjects was no small task. Countless late nights of banging my head against my (too-thick) Electrodynamics book and just as many problem set sessions with a group of similarly-minded friends helped get me through the difficult course material. Through it all, I not only found a stronger sense of purpose in studying how the universe works, but also, a stronger community of friends and teachers. They helped me not only learn the material, but love every moment of it. So even when I earned my first B+ in my Astrostatistics course, my first non-A grade in 13 years of education, I was able to take it in stride and see it as an increased chance to improve in the future. This summer, I am working with the Yale Astronomy department to apply those statistical skills to use, analyzing the spectra of satellite galaxies in order to better improve cosmological models.

Of course, coming to Yale has many more draws than just physics. I have been fortunate to take several humanities courses, each of which deeply enriching my knowledge. By far, the most powerful course I have taken so far has been a lecture on Eastern Europe since 1914. This course, taught by acclaimed writer and historian Timothy Snyder, transformed my view of a classic large lecture into a stage where magic, through spoken knowledge, is performed. Each lecture brought brilliant insights into the underlying structure of how this little region transformed the world with its numerous political and social ideologies. I loved the feeling of thoroughly engaging in a subject that I had never explored in depth before. Similarly, my architecture freshman seminar gave me a new eye to see the magnificent buildings and monuments surrounding Yale. Although I may have annoyed my friends with my random architecture facts, knowing the Yale architects who influenced the modern city helped make this campus feel home all the faster.

Beyond coursework, I have found a diverse community to be thoroughly engaged in. From writing articles to running conferences, every single day is a new adventure with guarantees of interesting encounters. My primary engagement has been with the Yale Scientific Magazine; of which I am sending you three of our past copies. As the nation’s oldest college science magazine, I am proud to be an Operations Manager on the business team and a contributing writer. This past issue featured my quantum technology article on the cover! I have been able to speak with numerous research faculty and engage in bridging the gap between esoteric research and the general public. Through this work, I have woken a passion in scientific communication, to convey what I see as the beautiful message of science to the entire world. In addition, I have found more families with the TEDxYale, Yale Undergraduate Research Association, Society of Physics Students, and Ivy Leadership Summit groups. Each group has a different dynamic and different people, but I feel just as home in each one of them.

Through this exciting time, I have not forgotten about home, nor the vision I had just a year ago. As my parents visited me over this past Memorial Day weekend, I recounted my desires to apply this new knowledge to the future and to one day be a professor. Even though I can say with more clarity that the road ahead is not easy, I still strongly desire to become a physics professor and to conduct research at the cutting edge of humankind’s knowledge. I would want to inspire students as my teachers are now inspiring me.