Research Says: Follow Your Heart

Whether you’re interested or not in research, there’s no doubt that Rice University offers innumerable opportunities to advance the sciences, arts, and humanities in innovative ways. Early on in my undergraduate career (and even now, if I’m being honest), I was an incredibly undecided student. I was undecided about my major, my long-term goals, and about my career options. I knew that I was fundamentally really fascinated by the human mind and helping others, but my knowledge about what I wanted to do with that pretty much ended there. To resolve this conflict, I did something a bit strange, considering I was a teenager at the time: I followed my parent’s advice.

Another busy day in LA

My mom and dad have always told me to follow my heart and to push hard for what I wanted. That philosophy is a large part of the reason that I ended up at Rice, so I thought it would be a pretty good place to start my journey as an undergraduate student. I began by purely taking classes that interested me – neuroscience, linguistics, and psychology – and I figured out early on that these topics were what got my heart beating (or brain racing, more appropriately). As these classes progressed and got harder, I was exposed to more and more research behind the theory, and started to think: why can’t I be the one conducting that research? This spurred a whole new series of events that led me into the world of social, clinical, and affective research, especially as it pertains to psychology. Although there was definitely a learning curve in the beginning, I’ve learned a lot and been exposed to a number of topics, opportunities, and brilliant people that I never would have interacted with had I not come to Rice. Not many universities allow their undergraduate student body to have an active, independent, and highly engaged experience with the research their faculty or collaborators are doing, but Rice believes that its student body is composed of some of the most intelligent and driven students around, so they encourage rather than dissuade. They lift up rather than put down.

Very scientific doggo in an fMRI machine

It’s this supportive attitude that I’ve readily felt all through my three years here at Rice and that I continue to feel as I engage in research around campus and the medical center. Even now, I sit writing this blog from a beautiful venue overlooking the University of California at Los Angeles, just having finished a conference in social and affective neuroscience with some of the best and brightest minds attending. I think that it is a huge testament to Rice’s belief in its students that a fellow lab member and I were only two of a handful of undergraduates in attendance. Rice funded our trip (and likely many others for similar students in widely different ventures) because they believe that their students are competitive and deserve the same opportunities as graduate students, post-doctoral students, and seasoned faculty and researchers. The only requirement is your passion, dedication, and love for what you do.

A Rice Owl meets a UCLA bear

While I’m saying this, I want to emphasize that I still identify as an undecided student. I may not even continue with research beyond my undergraduate years, even though it’s surely been a wild ride. The point is, I don’t have everything figured out (not by half!) and you don’t need to have everything figured out either – you don’t even need to have most of it figured out. You just have to follow your heart. I sincerely hope that your heart leads you to Rice.

Humans of Rice

You’ve likely heard about the amazing atmosphere and student-centered life that Rice promotes, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight Rice students themselves. As one of the most diverse campuses in the entire United States (racially, financially, religiously, on almost every spectrum you could think of), the intermingling of different cultures, traditions, and lifestyles is a truly wonderful and humbling thing to see. I love that I can sit at a table at Rice and see people different from myself. I love that I don’t just hear my beliefs echoed back at me like a record stuck on a scratch.

I’m challenged. I’m pushed to think harder and more critically about things I used to think were so simple and straightforward. Going to Rice has opened up the world to me in a lot of ways. People always say that college changes you, but I think it’s really the people. The students here are so incredibly intelligent, talented, and unique. There’s always something new to learn, and you feel like you are part of a large supportive community.

I had the opportunity to delve more fully into this community for an assignment in my social psychology class. The idea was to go up to a person that you thought was different from yourself and ask them some very personal questions like, “What’s the saddest thing that’s happened to you?” or “What is the meaning of life?” I’m an introvert at my core, so the idea of walking up to a complete stranger and asking these deep, personal questions scared me. As I was looking around, I spotted a couple that both had their hands resting in their chins, staring directly at each other. It seemed like a pretty intimate moment, so I’m not sure what compelled me to interrupt, but I think I sensed that they would have a good story to tell.

The lovely Rice athletes that let me interview them

It was a little harder with two people, but it was also interesting to see how they fed off of each other and encouraged responses. Even though I was really scared, I thought the experience was so cool, and I was really moved by what the people I interviewed said. It’s amazing to me that there are so many people around you – people that you pass on the way to class every day – who have these intense, heart-wrenching, powerful stories to tell, and you wouldn’t even know it! I think the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” was definitely reinforced by the things I discovered during this assignment.

Particularly, I am so amazed by the depth of character and experience that Rice students have. I feel so lucky to live on a campus with these inspiring, thoughtful, and diverse people. Here’s a quote from one of the students I interviewed that I thought was so awesome and relevant to us all: “You can be in a really really hard place and you can have faith that there’s purpose behind it and there’s meaning…It completely changes your mindset and gives you hope for the future. You are strong and you are made for something and [you’re] going to use the pain in that moment for something powerful.”

FALL in Love with Rice

Fall is in in full swing (and has been for some time – technically the fall equinox began on September 22nd), but it’s only just beginning to really feel like autumn. There’s a common saying in Texas: our seasons are summer and not summer. This saying is especially true in my hometown of Dallas, but applies to Houston to some extent as well. The extra humidity can make the cold a little colder and the hot a little more stifling, but generally, it stays in a pretty comfortable range with some days being absolutely breathtaking (I’m talking clear skies, cool breeze breathtaking). Even so, there is a slight transition into fall that is signaled more by the students than anything else. I know that fall is coming when I see winter boots coming out, long sleeves, and flannel tied around waists. I’ll see warm cups of coffee or tea clasped in the hands of students as they hustle to class or settle down to study in Coffeehouse. Suddenly, pumpkin carving study breaks, fall treats, and decorations for Halloween pop up around campus. Our library is set alight with lights the color of orange and yellow and a spooky skeleton greets you as you walk in.

Pumpkin carving study break at Hanszen College.

Pumpkin carving study break at Hanszen College.

I can even tell what region from the United States people are from by what they’re wearing when they leave their dorm on a chilly afternoon (that’s chilly in Texas-speak so anything under fifty). In general, it seems like a student from the south will be bundled up to the chin, complete with scarf, thick sweater, jacket, pants, wool socks and boots, while my friend from Wisconsin (and other students from the north) feel fine walking out in athletic shorts and a thin T-shirt. Whatever your preference, we all make it through the weather together (with plenty of pumpkin spice to spare).

Among the many events that happen during this celebration of fall, one that is especially exciting is Rice Program Council’s “Night Owl Antics: Trick or Treat on the Rink.” Rice Program Council is an organization at Rice that provides “opportunities for campus-wide bonding and entertainment.” They’re truly an amazing part of campus life, encouraging social events and interaction between students. As just one example of the cool events they sponsor, Trick or Treat on the Rink is an event where they rent out the entire ice skating rink at the Houston Galleria for just Rice students! You’re encouraged to wear costumes to do some cool tricks on the ice and there are plenty of treats to consume off the ice. I was a little nervous to wear a full outfit (I was Pikachu!) in case others didn’t dress up, but true to Rice culture and community, everyone was super encouraging.

Rare photo of Pikachu preparing Ash for battle

Rare photo of Pikachu preparing Ash for battle

I didn’t know how to skate at all, but it was so fun to scooch around on the ice and have all my fellow Rice students right there with me. There are events like this that cater to students and are designed to increase student connection and interaction all throughout the year. Just as the seasons change (or stay the same), so too do the activities and study breaks at Rice. One thing you can count on? Rice University being an amazing place to be.

Painting a Picture: Spirit at Rice

“Okay, don’t move!” I urged the Rice student who stood stock-still before me. I drew the blue tipped brush in precise strokes along her face, trying to keep my hand from shaking. After a few more dips in paint and gentle, well-placed lines (I hope!), my canvas stepped away and examined her face in the reflection of her phone. “It’s beautiful! How did you do that?”

I smiled sheepishly and moved on to the next willing student, ready to paint another one of our iconic Old English ‘R’s’. The reason I was painting it all over the faces of students (along with owls and blue and gray stripes) was because we were having the first home football game of the season!

My best friend and I supporting our Rice Owls

My best friend and I supporting our Rice Owls

Only hours before, some of my fellow Hanszenites and I decided that we would bring paint and brushes outside and message our college about the opportunity to be painted up for the game. Vice President Joe Biden spoke that afternoon about the White House Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and while it was an amazing event, I wondered if students would be too tired afterwards to go to the game as well. Even so, my Spirit committee members and I set up outside and waited. For a while no one showed.

And then suddenly we had more people wanting to be painted than we had hands for!

As I moved from person to person applying paint, I was struck by how much spirit and a common goal brought people together. In those moments, we weren’t Hanszenites throwing an event; we were Rice students coming out to support the school we love. Even other colleges came to participate in the fun (shout out to McMurtry!). The students were so excited to display school pride, and I was glad to be a part of it. After everyone had the designs they wanted, we made our way to the stadium and the sense of community that I felt grew even more. I passed by people that I’d never spoken to or even seen before, but I’d notice that familiar Rice ‘R’ on their clothes or face and feel a connection that goes past just being students at the same school. That feeling is something I think is so integral and unique to Rice and part of the reason we’re such a happy student body.

Incidentally, this game had more fans than the largest turnout in the last ten years, and I’m not saying our paint-up event was wholly responsible, but…it couldn’t have hurt.

At Rice You Can

Chances are, you’ve heard the phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to.” For many of us, it’s something we’ve heard since we were young, and even though we believe it on some level, we sometimes forget how true it can be. We get so caught up with the things that we can’t accomplish that we don’t appreciate the many things we can do. More than anything, Rice University has reminded me of the inherent power in setting your mind to something and seeing it through. At Rice, the entire adult team (deans, advisors, masters, associates, professors, etc.) are there for your benefit, and they have incredible resources at their disposal. Taking advantage of opportunities at Rice can seem daunting at first, but once you do, so many doors open up, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do with just a little initiative and forethought.

Hungry Hanszenites enjoying food at a student run event

Hungry Hanszenites enjoying food at a student run event

Rice students enjoy quite a bit of autonomy, and I have a feeling that this contributes to our ranking as some of the happiest students in the nation. We are free to think and learn in our own unique ways, and we are celebrated for our differences. This kind of freedom is what makes Rice an amazing and empowering place to be. In high school, I never considered coordinating my own events because that was something adults did. I assumed they were in charge of creating clubs, planning events, and leading meetings because they knew best, and I was not qualified to do any of those things. When I think about it now, one thought comes to mind: why not? The answer is more than just because I was young and inexperienced; it also involves the fact that there weren’t resources in place to support student initiatives and the drive to do something different. There were organizations I was truly passionate about in high school, but I never felt there was a system in place to encourage me or make me feel as if I could ever follow through with an idea. This is most definitely not the case at Rice. Here, there are so many opportunities to get yourself involved, create new traditions, and make your mark. Best of all, you can do all these things simply because you want to and not because you hold any position of power or some sort of sway.

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My friends and I (far right) after our cascarones event

In my home college, I’ve coordinated several events throughout the year with the help of my fellow Hanszenites. Some events include renting out the skating rink for our college, gathering in the quad to have a cascarones fight, carving pumpkins together, and throwing a major declaration party to celebrate what we’ve accomplished in the past year. The success of these events wasn’t based on the number of people who came or the amount of people that talked about it afterwards. Rather, the true success of the events came from the fact that all of them were the result of the students’ desire to try something new and take ownership of their own college culture. I am so grateful to attend a university that supports the ideas of its students and gives them the resources to turn those ideas into a reality.

Life Before Acceptance

It would be a little bit of an understatement to say that I am in love with Rice. Ever since middle school, I’ve dreamed of wearing the blue and gray colors of our school. My adoration and respect for everything Rice began with a small project in eighth grade that required us to pick one college in the United States and learn all we could about it. While most people presented on the Ivies or state schools, I somehow stumbled upon Rice. If I look back on it now, it was probably because I thought it was a strange name for a school. Whatever the case, I can’t think of how my life would be different now without that first spark of interest that was ignited when I discovered Rice. It was important to me that my future home not only have stellar academics, but also have an environment that was diverse, accepting, and supportive. The more I read about it, the more I realized that Rice was as unconventional as its motto, and I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. Every day after my presentation on Rice, I resolved to go to the university of my dreams and not let anything get in my way.

A tile that I painted in high school that is still being displayed in my English teacher's classroom

A tile that I painted in high school that is still being displayed in my English teacher’s classroom

When people asked where I wanted to go to college in high school, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation before I would say, “Rice University” with a kind of unabashed pride and certainty. The usual response ranged from polite nods when they didn’t recognize the name (very few people at my school did) to excited exclamations and questions about the future. It didn’t bother me when people didn’t know about Rice – I was more than happy to enlighten them, much to their annoyance, I’m sure – because it had never been about the title or prestige to me. The only comments that did bother me were those that tried to discourage me, even though I’m sure they were made in good faith. Such comments included things like, “oh, well, you know not many people get in, and they’re looking for a specific sort of person.” Yes, I would think, nothing worth having comes easy, and what do you mean specific sort of person? Why can’t that person be me? For every handful of positive comments I would receive, there was sure to be a single negative one that would plant itself in my head and eat away at my resolve. What I hope to convey to any prospective Rice Owl is to not be discouraged by what others say and to realize that you can achieve the things you want, regardless of your race, gender, or economic status. One of the great things about Rice is that it supports the achievers and dreamers. There is not one all-encompassing mold that represents what it means to be a Rice student – the incredibly unique and diverse student body here is proof of that.
With those ideals in mind, I applied to Rice, knowing that it would be difficult and that I would have to rely on the generosity of the university or others to be able to attend. Receiving that acceptance letter was one of the best feelings in the world. I think of it sometimes when I’m walking on campus, passing by the beautiful trees so quickly that I forget to admire my surroundings. I think of it when I’m staying up to do work, and it’s so early I can start to see the glow of dawn. I think of it when I see other students and wonder at the nature of fate and how we all ended up in one place at one time. Most of all, I try to think of it as a reminder to stay grateful and to remember that I am here for a reason.