Making the Most out of Your Time at Rice Outside of Rice

Rice is your first-choice school because it’s a rare combination of a high-achieving environment perfectly balanced by a dynamic and close-knit social community. The residential colleges make your Hogwarts dreams come true, and you can’t wait to be friends with every squirrel on campus.

I can say this light-heartedly because this was me. These were essentially my exact reasons for wanting to come to Rice as a high-schooler, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you share my reasoning. I’m not here to undermine them at all – I still hope to one day become the resident squirrel whisperer – but the paradoxical truth is that I didn’t fully feel justified in choosing Rice over all other schools and above all other practical reasons (such as finances) until I took advantage of opportunities outside of Rice.

One of these opportunities was research in the Texas Medical Center. As a pre-med student, I felt some pressure to start doing research from freshman year, but the pressure wasn’t overwhelming enough to push me to do it on my own volition. So through all of freshman year, through all of sophomore year, the extent of my pre-med experience was taking the required courses, and during this time, I definitely wondered if there was any difference between me coming to Rice or going to my state school if all I was doing was taking classes like general physics and organic chemistry. It wasn’t until the summer after sophomore year that I decided to start research in Houston, and I opted to continue researching in the same lab through my junior year. UT Health is a mere five minute walk away from my college, but even being less than a mile away from Rice, I suddenly felt like my time at Rice was truly worth my decision to come to Rice in the first place. Balancing a full class schedule with a research schedule, switching my Rice ID for my UT ID as I pushed Rice’s bordering hedges out of the way, made me feel, for the first time, that I was truly redeeming my time as a Rice student.

Learning confocal microscopy with my mentor in lab

A second off-campus opportunity that I do not regret taking advantage of involved my involvement with the Campanile Yearbook. Every semester, the Campanile staff is invited to attend the National College Media Convention, and as copy editor this year, I decided to go to the fall convention held in Dallas. I had no idea what to expect since it was first time going to a convention about college publications, but once I got there, I realized that I was participating in something much bigger than myself. Universities from across the nation were there, pitching ideas for up-and-coming publications, getting their current volumes edited by publishing professionals, learning how to be better reporters and writers and designers. It was amazing to be there and to represent Rice. When we returned, I was more excited than I had ever been to create a stunning 2017-2018 yearbook.

CMA Dallas with Campanile Yearbook staff

When you choose to come to Rice, you’re not just choosing the school. Rice itself indeed has amazing opportunities for internships, volunteering, work, and networking, but so does the city of Houston and so does the state of Texas. It’s never too early to start seizing these opportunities, and never be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, maybe even far away from Rice.

Research as an English Major: Beyond Reading Lists and Academic Essays

When I first got to Rice, I had no idea that I would conduct research in the Department of English. I certainly did not know about the abundant opportunities to pursue independent projects, nor did I know that I could work on an Honors Thesis consisting primarily of my own original, creative work.

As a senior, I have come a long way. I arrived at Rice with aspirations to conduct psychological research (which I still did and continue to do today in Dr. Mikki Hebl’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology Lab) – and psychological research only. I then took a FWIS (Freshman Writing Seminar) revolving around American poetry, and felt fulfilled and at my happiest while reading and writing poems. It didn’t take long for me to take a couple more poetry courses and declare my English major – excited yet unsure about what exactly my future as an English major held. All I knew was that I loved to read and I loved to write, and I still loved to conduct research.

As a Minter Summer Scholar, I spent several hours roaming bookstores in Boston; the Harvard Book Store quickly became my favorite, thanks to its international poetry section.

After completing the majority of the English major’s requirements, I considered taking an independent study where I could create my own coursework and study content that was not otherwise taught in the English department. Seeking mentorship, I reached out to my ENGL 300 professor, whose knowledge of foreign authors, philosophers, and films always sparked long conversations during her office hours. She was and continues to be incredibly supportive of my efforts to incorporate foreign poetry and translation into my academic experience. While taking independent studies with her during my junior year, I found myself exposed to foreign authors and poets. The most exciting part for me was the discovery of writers from my homeland; I was suddenly reading novels by Turkish authors and beginning to produce my own poems in Turkish. As a native Turkish speaker who grew up relatively unexposed to Turkish poetry, this was a huge step in not only my academic but also my personal growth. Poetry – reading it, writing it, and translating it – became my creative outlet as well as my medium for thinking through my homeland’s turbulent sociopolitical climate. With the support of my professor-turned-research-advisor, I experimented with a number of poetic forms, turned scattered ideas into portfolios of poetry, and spent 2 weeks this past summer in Boston researching foreign poetry and reading criticism on translation – all thanks to the Minter Summer Scholarship in the Department of English.

The beautiful Boston Public Library, where I spent most of my days researching translation and poetry.

Some find it easy to get caught up with the idea that being an English major only involves writing essays and reading books. However, there are so many opportunities to take all of that a step further, to conduct research in the English department (and beyond as well – in the Humanities Research Center, for instance), and to pursue research topics more independently with the guidance and support of a mentor. My time in the English department has certainly benefited from all the work I’ve done in my independent studies (even though it never really felt like “work,” as I was reading and writing about material that either I chose or my professor recommended to me). Moreover, I feel fortunate to both pursue research and produce creative works. Now, I am excited to wrap up my time at Rice by applying everything I have learned in my independent studies and my summer research to my Honors Thesis: a book of original poetry.

Being Pre-Law at Rice

I have had a truly enriching experience as a pre-law student, and fully believe that in addition to its many opportunities in STEM fields, Rice devotes an incredible amount of time and resources to every area of academics. Although Rice has great STEM programs that it is rightfully well known for, its other programs don’t fall short of their STEM counterparts.

When I first came to Rice, I asked my O-Week advisors if there was a pre-law group on campus and was quickly directed to Legalese, Rice’s only and official pre-law organization. Led by students with support from an amazing pre-law advisor, it proved to be incredibly helpful as they unite students interested in pursuing the pre-law track, as well as provide information regarding law school admissions, law school itself, and the legal profession. They also organize various events throughout the year, from guest speakers to pre-law fairs to legal career panels. Through Legalese, I was able to meet an attorney who connected me to an internship that sparked my interest in corporate litigation.

In addition to Legalese, there are countless ways to get involved in legal and policy affairs, from research opportunities at the Baker Institute of Public Policy and the Kinder Institute of Urban Policy to individual research projects with professors. In addition, the recently developed Law, Justice, and Society Scholars Program is a truly remarkable addition that I encourage every pre-law student to take. It is one semester long, in which you intern at a nonprofit, court, or other legal organization, as well as enroll in a special law class. I interned at a nonprofit and had the opportunity to learn about criminal justice reform and voting discrimination, both of which opened my eyes and challenged my preconceived notions of the U.S. justice system. The class also offered me a chance to learn about the legal system, court cases, and how to conduct legal research, which greatly benefited me in other areas of my life.

As law does not have a required major or set of courses, there is a lot of flexibility in terms of building an academic plan. This can be quite overwhelming, though, as it’s difficult to figure out exactly what you ought to do that meets your passions but still demonstrates rigor and prestige for law schools. I sought help from the Center for Career Development, which aided me tremendously in picking courses that tailored to my interests and the skills I need for law school.

Those are just some of the abundant resources Rice provides for not only pre-law students, but really for any student pursuing what they love. I write from a pre-law perspective, but this applies to any academic field. I firmly believe that, while Rice is still expanding its Humanities and Social Sciences programs, there are already many rewarding and fulfilling opportunities that you can easily seek out with the help of various on-campus resources. So are you thinking about being pre-law? Attend a pre-law session. Talk to the pre-law advisor. Visit the CCD. Ask your professor if they’re currently doing research and if they’d like to have you on board. Escape your comfort zone, put yourself out there, make the most out of your experience, and you’ll be presented with amazing support and guidance that’ll greatly shape your future.

Narrowing Your Interests in College

I came into Rice with a certain mindset and I know for sure I am leaving with a different mindset, both academically and personally. I came in wanting to major in Biochemistry, make a career out of science and medicine, and conduct biological research. Now as a junior in college, my intended pathway in life is different. I am majoring in Cognitive Sciences with a minor in Neuroscience and Medical Humanities, conducting qualitative bioethics research, and starting a 4+1 MPH program during my senior year into the next year after I graduate from Rice.

How did I change pathways over these past couple of years? I think the key is to be open-minded. I’ve talked about this before in one of my blog posts, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to explore your options. There is no better time than college to do that, and I guarantee you that it will be worthwhile.

I ended up choosing to major in Cognitive Sciences because it better reflected my love for Neuroscience. My transition began when I started taking more social science classes for my major. I became super interested in all of the interdisciplinary subjects. I remember thinking how intriguing the experiments my professors mentioned in class were and how worthwhile it would be if I conducted that kind of research (Rice certainly offered me those kinds of opportunities). Studying the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences all at once led me to apply for a qualitative research program at Rice during my sophomore year.

At the same time, I became super interested in public health and policy studies after participating in an education policy Alternative Spring Break and looking at the new medical humanities classes being offered at Rice. By then I had realized that studying STEM in college was not for me. I didn’t want to take classes with so many numbers and facts, but rather those where I could discuss ideas with my peers and do more direct work with advocacy.

The summer before my junior year I spent 2 months in Cape Town conducting a public health project. That experience led me to apply for and get into the 4+1 Rice-UT Houston Public Health Scholars Program, where you get your Masters in Public Health from Rice by taking graduate classes during your senior year and the year after you graduate.

I should also note that throughout college I had been grappling with whether or not I wanted to pursue medicine. Junior year, I started taking those medical humanities classes, including Medical Professionalism and Intro to Medical Humanities. Those classes covered some of the most interesting and thought-provoking topics in my college career. Now, I can safely say that I want to become a physician after I get my MPH.

I know that my transition isn’t necessarily the most life-changing. But my pathway wasn’t straightforward, and yours shouldn’t be either. I came in thinking that college is just a linear trail you take, pushing requirements out of the way and planning what you have to get done every year. Deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life takes time and effort, and you have to be willing to put in that time and effort to get the most out of college. During my time at Rice and the wonderful opportunities I’ve been offered along the way, I narrowed my interests into what I truly want to do. And who knows— maybe by my senior year of college I’ll discover more passions in my life.

Looking Through A Different Lens

“You know you are more than welcome to come back and shadow anytime. You could even work here over the summer,” Dr. Hopping told me as I walked into the optometry office one Thursday morning.

It was spring break, and I had chosen to spend my time doing an externship in Houston. Through the Owl Edge Externship program pioneered by the Center for Career Development at Rice, I was assigned to a 4-day shadowing externship with optometrist Dr. Desiree Hopping (Rice class of 1976) at her private practice Hopping Eye Associates. I knew nothing about optometry nor had the specialization held any particular interest to me, but I wanted to explore my options.

I arrived at the office on my first day, and Dr. Hopping welcomed me with open arms. She introduced me to the other optometrists in the group practice: her husband, her son, and two other optometrists. As I followed her around for the day, watching eye exams and listening closely to her explanations for her actions, I took great interest in her personality and interaction with her patients. Most of her patients had been visiting Hopping Eye Associates for decades. There was never any need to go to another optometrist. Dr. Hopping was personable, curious about the well-being of each of her patients. She was also a great optometrist, skillful and smart in her diagnoses. I watched many eye exams over the next four days, learning more about eye conditions and how to detect them with eye imaging, the academic course to becoming an optometrist, and the different kinds of cases you could deal with depending on your training. But most of all, I appreciated Dr. Hopping’s hospitality towards me during the week, bringing me to her house to eat lunch, telling me about her grandkids, taking me along to pick up some cupcakes, and inviting me back to shadow and work at Hopping Eye Associates any time.

At Rice, spring break is not the only time that you can go into the field like this. Right across the street in the Texas Medical Center, you can shadow and volunteer all throughout the year. In doing so, you not only gain insight into what goes on behind the scenes, but also get a feel for the clinic environment, learn about the kinds of people you’re caring for, and gain connections amongst many medical professionals – all things that you can’t access by simply going to class and burying your nose in textbooks. Rice fosters both sides of preparing you for the future, offering a top-tier education while making experience and opportunities to get into the field more than accessible.

Dr. Desiree Hopping and her partners in crime

Hopping Eye Associates had a huge office. Besides eight private exam rooms, they had a large vision therapy clinic and their own in-house optical (pictured). I had a lot of fun trying on glasses in my down time.

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.