It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the last week, campus has been in good spirits, even though many of us are going through a second round of midterms. Why, you might ask? Two words: Willy Week!

Willy Week is the week leading up to Beer Bike, an annual Rice tradition where a day of festivities culminates with a bike race between teams from the residential colleges. There’s a men’s team, a women’s team, and a team for alumni from each college; so if you like biking, you can join your college’s bike team once you get to campus! Throughout Willy Week, the residential colleges host activities for students to enjoy themselves and forget about the stress of classwork and exams. It’s a week full of special events, fun and games, and water balloons (more on the water balloons later).

My residential college, Sid Rich, put on its own share of activities. This year, these included the annual Mr. Sid pageant, where 5 male Sidizens competed for the top prize. We also had a private dinner service one evening where we got to dress up and bond over fancy food. My favorite Sid Willy Week tradition, however, was the annual Orc Raid.

For Orc Raid, me and a bunch of other Sidizens assembled outside. Wearing all black, we covered ourselves in black and red paint, Sid’s college colors. Then, as a mob, we ran all over campus, infiltrating the commons of other colleges. By shouting cheers and jumping on tables, we asserted our dominance as the best residential college (in our eyes at least). Along the way, we got a few weird looks from people doing homework and even joined a group of people in the Will Rice commons singing karaoke (because, let’s be real, Adele never fails to bring everyone together).

Sid infiltrates Duncan commons!

There is a friendly rivalry between all the colleges about which one truly is the best. While there really is no answer to this question, Rice students are pretty partial to the one they call home. This rivalry is especially magnified during Willy Week, and reaches its peak come Beer Bike morning.

Here’s where the water balloons come into play. Throughout Willy Week, students spend time between classes filling up water balloons. Then, as the final activity before the bike races on the morning of Beer Bike, thousands of students take their positions around the perimeter of a big field for (unofficially) the world’s largest water balloon fight. It’s a Hunger-Games-esque battle where everyone gets soaking wet (but it’s so much fun getting to throw balloons at your friends!).

Tens of thousands of balloons are thrown in a matter of minutes!

Throughout the week, I was able to make lasting memories with my friends and fall even more in love with Rice and its unique traditions. Getting to experience Willy Week and Beer Bike for myself made me understand why it’s nicknamed Christmas. There’s definitely a reason why something so special only comes once each year.

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.

A Very Rice Spring Break

The ins-and-outs of Rice life are kind of what you’d expect: on weekdays, we go to class, on weekends, we don’t go to class, and at times when we’re not in class, you can find us hanging out and studying – or hanging-out-and-studying, which is also very popular. But what do us Rice students do outside of school days? In other words, what do we do over spring break? The answer is: a ton of things. Surprise, surprise.

I personally had a grand time on a trip planned entirely on my own. I spent about half the break in Houston getting some work done on my long-term projects, and about half in Austin, not-really attending SXSW and reading a whopper of a book a fellow English major challenged me to read over break: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (if you don’t know, the book is about 1100 pages long and includes almost 400 endnotes scattered throughout the text that require a bunch of flipping back and forth). While visiting independent bookstores, jamming along to custom-made mixtapes, and completely failing to make crepes was all riveting, the past week of my life was totally different from my friends’ breaks.

My friend Jessica went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which is Rice lingo for a spring break trip that accomplishes something beyond just vacation, but builds leadership skills and provides further educational opportunities. She traveled with a group to San Francisco to learn more about stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty. “We bonded over meaningful discussions and home made food,” says Jessica – tired from the week, but filled with stories to tell about visits from different speakers, experiences in San Francisco, and a better understanding of prejudice in health and poverty crises in American cities.

Photos from Jessica’s trip in San Francisco, taken at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Maitri Hospital for those affected with AIDS.

On a completely different note, my friend Matthew traveled with Rice Outdoor Programs and Education (ROPE) on a backpacking trip in Arizona. I remember being somewhat surprised but intrigued hearing about the trip, which sounds to me both a little hellish and a little bit captivating. He describes it as “40 miles of hiking through canyons and over mountains carrying everything we needed on our backs and sleeping under the stars.” That’s time for thought, getting to know the few people on the trip, and challenging yourself.

A photo of Matthew’s trip in Arizona, with his group.

A photo taken on Matthew’s trip in Arizona, backpacking their way across the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A favorite question among prospective students and their parents tends to be, “Well, what does your average Rice student look like?” This little post answers that question pretty well: it completely and totally varies, but you can guarantee that people are doing something. Whether it’s exploring a new city, taking some time for inner reflection, a personal challenge, or looking hard at a problem in the world, I think we can all agree that spring break was definitely an experience that wasn’t school. Meaning, we’re all a bit bummed that today is Monday, and that we’re not still taking part in the world outside (or inside, in a new way) Rice’s hedges.

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.

Having Houston as a Hometown and Rice as a Home Away from Home

Rice and its surrounding neighborhoods were a big part of my childhood. My family frequently dined at the La Madeleine in Rice Village. I went to pool parties at my friends’ houses in the neighborhood of West University. My dad took me along to the annual “Turkish night” on Rice’s campus. You would think that growing up in Houston would make Rice feel all too familiar when I arrived on campus my freshman year. Yet, there is more to Rice than I could have expected at the time.

These reindeer were painted and placed around Rice Village last year, featuring Houston, Rice, and Astros (H-Town’s baseball team) themes!

Going to school in Houston and having “Home” so close by has been a wonderful experience. Still, Rice quickly became my home away from home; it felt like a whole new world to me. I realized I had two addresses in Houston; two very different parts of town that were each really cool in their own way. At Rice, I am within walking distance of Hermann Park, the Zoo, the museums, and Rice Village. At home, my local 24-hour Shipley’s donuts was close by and the lively City Centre was a short drive away. I used to live in West Houston and just recently moved to Katy, a suburb of Houston, which also has its own distinct venues, shops, and restaurants that I am still growing accustomed to. One of my favorite things about Houston is how huge and diverse it truly is. There is always somewhere new to explore – even in the areas I frequent the most around Rice, such as Rice Village (which has expanded quite a bit this past year, building new restaurants, featuring more food truck options, incorporating different murals and art pieces throughout its streets, and displaying Rice banners on streetlights and signs).

Having capital-H Home nearby doesn’t feel strange at all. It has made my college experience all the more enjoyable. I can go home when something comes up, when I want to be off-campus for a bit, or when I want to have some Turkish tea with my dad – but that being said, I don’t get homesick. I am more than comfortable and content in my home away from home, which includes my individual room, my residential college, the campus as a whole, and the neighborhoods surrounding Rice. It also includes my close friends and supportive professors – individuals I don’t get to see and spend time with regularly when I’m away from campus. Going to school in my hometown is familiar but fun, and I feel more fortunate than ever to call both Rice and Houston my home.

I am fortunate enough to witness this beautiful skyline view on my drive from my house to Rice.