“Welcome to Rice. Now go away!”

While that might normally sound like a rude greeting, that’s how Rice’s International Programs office eagerly greets new students in the hope of turning all owls into internationally experienced scholars.  What does that mean?  As International Programs will gladly tell you, “international experience” doesn’t just have to be your parents’ old study abroad anymore.  True, a lot of Rice students will go abroad like Allison and take classes in another country.  But universities have realized there’s a lot more other countries have to offer aside from their classrooms, and so now you can find internships, fellowships, research, and service opportunities in other countries.  Rice fully embraces this expanded view of study abroad, and has lots of resources you can consult to find the the experience that best suits you.  This post is about that expanded view.

What I love about this set-up is that it also makes it easy for almost any major to go abroad.  Four years ago (that went by fast…), when I was looking at schools, I had two basic requirements:  1) it had to be good at physics, but I could still be able to change my major (and man, how many times that almost happened at Rice) and 2) I had to be able to study abroad while doing something related to physics.  I quickly tweaked goal 2 when I came to Rice and learned about the other things I could do.  The sophomore after sophomore year, I got to go to Japan for 10 weeks to learn Japanese and do nanotechnology research through a Rice-sponsored program called NanoJapan, and it was an amazing experience. One of my friends liked being abroad so much, she decided to apply to go abroad the semester after she came back.

Or you can be like one of my more policy-minded friends.  While I was in Japan, he participated in a Baker Institute trip to American University Cairo where he got to meet Egyptian students through the Public Diplomacy and Global Policymaking program.  He enjoyed that trip and learning about public diplomacy, and this year he helped organize a student trip to Qatar to meet with Qatari college students and attend a science policy conference.

When people ask me if I’ve studied abroad, I always kind of struggle to answer with something along the lines of “Technically…”  While my friend and I may not have had the stereotypical international experience, I found my experience more valuable than just taking classes in another country.  And it definitely makes for a great spot on a resume.

The Beginning of the End

Well, hi there!  As you can guess, this is probably pretty out of date to refer to anything as a “beginning” right now.  But as a second semester senior (oh, typing that out seems surreal) I kept wondering how to start off my last leg of blogging (aside from “very late”).  This semester has been busy, but in a lot of different ways, which you’ll see in a flurry of blog posts meant to catch up on life.

But let’s start with the basics.  What am I doing this semester?  Some of you might be wondering if I’m in the throes of senioritis, with 12 hours of underwater basket weaving filling out my semester.  While I do feel the occasional pang of indecision about how to schedule my free time (“Hmm, problem set now or after the coffee house acoustic session?”), I’m actually pretty full this semester.  Part of it is because I changed my concentration in the physics major at the end of last year, so I needed to take new electives to finish my degree.  But another part of it is I realize this is my LAST semester at Rice, so there is no more putting off cool classes.  And that’s how  half the seniors I know have somehow ended up with 16-plus credit hours this semester.

The other major part of this semester is waiting.  What am I waiting for?  I’d say my degree, but since I’m still taking major required classes, that would be inaccurate.  Instead, I’m waiting to hear back about my future.  In early February, I finished all my applications for the different things I want to do next year (barring something I’ve not heard of, like getting a PhD in space… for free).  Now I need to wait to hear back.  And then I need to make a decision sometime in the next few months.  Of course, if that sounds awfully late to you, have no fear.  Some of my friends knew what they were doing back in December, depending on what sort of job or fellowships they applied for.  But for most jobs, fellowships, or graduate schools, you’ll probably be finishing applications in December or January and hoping to hear back anytime after early February.

Owl’d Lang Syne

Happy (belated) New Year!  We hope you all had a great holiday season, and enjoyed (or are enjoying) your winter break.  And if you’re a senior, I hope you turned in all your Rice application materials by the deadline.  I can empathize with you, because I’m finishing up my applications for post-grad plans right now as well.  Us owls are migrating back for the end of the winter since the spring semester starts Monday.

It feels a bit weird for me to head back this time, knowing it’s my last semester at Rice.  There’s still a lot I want to do while I’m in college, but there’s only so many hours.  It seems kind of telling that during registration for this semester, lots of my friends had to prevent themselves from signing up for like 20 hours of courses when they realized there were no more semesters they could put off electives to.  This also kind of comes up against the desire to take a smaller course load your last semester so you have time to to do all the senior events Rice hosts, or go visit companies and grad schools, or other random things (e.g. I am leaving the country for a week in 10 days, more on that another time).   This actually brings up an interesting difference between high school and college.  You probably already know that you take different courses every semester in college.  But there’s also really no set amount of courses you take each semester, either than the 12 hour minimum to be a full time student.  I’ve had semesters at Rice with as few as 12 hours (4 classes) and some with as many as 18 hours (6).  It’s up to you, your academic plans, and how much time you want to devote to classes.  This is part of becoming more independent, and it’s a pretty great part of college, even if you might be overwhelmed at first by the several hundred classes you can choose from.  To the high school seniors out there, since you can’t change your schedule, have a great last semester and finish strong!

P.S.  If you’re one of the people who emails Peter, wish him a happy belated birthday!

CAREERs and Such

Despite my insistence on being old, this CAREER actually has nothing to do with my future (well, probably).  And there is a reason I’m being insistent on the all caps and it has nothing to do with expressing teenage anger a la J. K. Rowling.  Instead, lately I’ve been gushing about my research professor getting an awesome grant from the National Science Foundation, which is appropriately called CAREER because its meant to recognize promising young professors who are great teachers and scholars.  Why it’s in all caps when it isn’t an acronym (or initialism [look who remembers their linguistics course work!]) is a mystery to me though.  But fake acronyms aside, it’s really awesome that my research professor got the grant because it means people think the work she is doing is important.

A few of you might ponder why what is ostensibly a research grant cares that someone is a good teacher.  Well, the NSF is big on the so-called “broader impacts” of your research and work, i.e. why is your work important to society and what you have done to educate or help people.  Or you could think of it as “the reason a taxpayer should fund you” clause.  Whatever you call it, it’s part of the reason I’m a science major, since I think it’s amazing to share what you learn with the world.  It’s also part of what I really like about technical fields at Rice; there’s lots of outreach opportunities.  There are now three different student clubs devoted just to science and engineering education in the Houston area.  Every year we host a Sally Ride Science festival.  I enjoy tutoring all the freshman at my residential college in physics.  And our Engineers without Borders chapters is one of the most prolific in the nation.

You also see that lots of our professors do this “outreach” thing too.  Neal Lane was Bill Clinton’s science advisor and a director of National Science Foundation and now he talks about science policy at the Baker Institute.  Richard Tapia just won a National Medal of Science for his work on on optimization and his efforts to encourage more minorities to pursue work in science, mathematics, and engineering.  I could keep going on, but I don’t think I’d ever finish our blog post.

Turning Japanese

It’s a good thing I’m in charge of this blog, or else I would be fired for not posting nearly as often as everyone else.  Oh, the perks of seniority.  What’s more ironic is that this post is one I’ve been working on since fall break, which was now like two weeks ago.  Although I’ll give a lame excuse and point out that in my schedule, mid-term recess was not the end of my finals, but actually the beginning.  One-midterm courses giveth and they taketh away.

So my midterm recess actually barely had me leaving campus.  Before you think that’s lame, let me defend my status within the hedges, by pointing out I was mostly interacting with people from outside the hedges.  Like really outside the hedges.

Let me start with a bit of background.  In the summer of 2010, I did a Rice-organized internship called NanoJapan, where I got a chance to do nanotechnology research in Japan for 10 weeks.  I’m going to limit myself to that description for now, because otherwise my blog posts might just obsess over it.  The program is basically an undergraduate student component of a lot of collaborations the Electrical and Computer Engineering department has with Japanese researchers, which is really cool.  (Okay, I’ll distract myself again and point out really quickly, if you want to go to another country at Rice, we can probably send you anywhere off in any way, shape, or form imaginable.  And the Office of International Programs is gleefully quick to point that we even sent a student to Antarctica, so we’re probably one of the smallest schools to boast student activity on all seven continents.)

So what on Earth does some project from the end of my sophomore year have to do with my last fall midterm recess?  Well, collaboration is sometimes done best in person, so NanoJapan took the opportunity of a recent international research conference in Houston to invite all their Japanese collaborators, along with the many other people who help run the program, to come visit campus.   What I really love about being a Rice student who did NanoJapan is that I also get invited to a lot of these cool events as a way to help return the favor to all the great organizers who ensured I had a wonderful time in Japan.  More importantly, I also get to see a lot of the people I worked with and became friends with, so I can honestly say I have international connections before I even graduate.  For example, I got to see my Japanese host professor at dinner and he even encouraged me to apply for an internship with his lab again!  And last year, two students from my lab actually worked at Rice the semester after I did NanoJapan.

If anyone fears that this meant I just spent all weekend hazily attending research lectures, I’ll point out part of hosting international visitors is showing them the sights.  And Houston has a lot.  We spent a day at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (AKA Mission Control AKA the “Houston” of any astronaut phrase starting with “Houston, we have…”).  And for a send-off dinner for the Japanese grad students, we took them to 59 Diner, a wonderful greasy spoon that powers many late-night sessions for Rice students.

Signs I’m Getting Old

Hi everyone!  So I won’t do a full-on introduction since I’m a returning blogger, but I’ll give a quick recap because now that we have a full blogging team (which makes me incredibly excited as the person who runs the blog) I’m not sure you can find my old posts (the first sign I’m getting old).  At Rice, I’m a member of Sid Richardson College, the tallest (and therefore, obviously the best) residential college on campus.  I’m originally from Louisville, KY and I’m majoring in physics (concentrating in applied physics).   And I’m a senior, which is the other clear sign of being old (one of the admissions officers laughed when I explained this to her).

While all these young whippersnappers (my recent overuse of this word being my third sign of aging, or perhaps just a sign

Presenting my summer research

Looking my best to talk about carbon nanotubes

that I’m weird) are transitioning to life at Rice, I’m preparing for the transition to life after Rice, or as we sometimes call it in hushed tones:  “the real world”.  Which leads to my fourth age-related observation that while dressing up for me used to mean a polo and slacks, it now means dressing like I do in the photo (well, minus the lanyard).   Why?  Because evidently this is what professionals do, and I find myself inching ever closer to being a member of that category in nearly everything I do.  I don’t just do research now; I look to see if I can present it at a conference.  I’m not just in clubs; I’m leading them and probably talking to important people about how they can help us.  Or telling fine young people (I won’t ever tire of using these phrases, which is why I need to still transition to life after Rice where I will not be older than anyone) such as my co-bloggers to join, and that seems more convincing if the person recruiting you looks… professional.   So follow me for the year and get a view of what life at Rice is like after you’ve transitioned, and to see one way Rice can help prepare you for “the real world”.