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Minions, DNA, and Ryan Gosling: Coursework in College

If you’ve read any of the Harvard Admissions blog posts before, you’ve likely gotten the sense that there are lots of fun things to do outside of class. This is true! However, a lot of your time in college will also be spent in class and doing work for class – so it’s kind of important to enjoy that, too.

Coming into Harvard, I really had no idea what to expect work-wise. I think I probably imagined tons of grueling tests and long essays. While I won’t deny the fact that I’ve taken plenty of tough exams and written many papers over the last few years, I’ve also had the opportunity to do some really cool projects for my courses.

Take freshman fall for example. I enrolled in multivariable calculus – the most creative thing I expected to be doing was… honestly, I have no idea. I expected to do problem sets and take exams, that’s it. However, our final project was use Mathematica (a math program) to design our own 3D-printable object using math equations. Super cool, right?! I ended up making a minion (who a friend told me had a slightly condescending expression, though I can’t figure out how he can be condescending without a mouth…).

Isn't it cute??


Even in lab classes, the goal was to make the material relevant to our own lives. Also in freshman year, I took an intro Life Sciences course on “Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution.” Rather than just listen to lectures about PCR and Western blots, we actually got to use these techniques in lab – with our own DNA. Granted, all I really learned about myself was that I wasn’t lactose intolerant (yay) and probably wouldn’t become an elite runner (bummer), but it was still a really fun way to apply what I was learning and make it more relevant.

Our genes might not predispose us to elite running, but my friend Kaelyn and I did complete a half marathon last semester!


Professors also sometimes come up with really fun and creative paper assignments. Last year, I took an English class called “Jane Austen’s Fiction and Fans.” Since one focus of the class was on Jane Austen fandom, our final paper assignment was to write about some current example of Austen fan culture. I happened upon a Tumblr page called “Jane Austen Ryan Gosling” so… yeah, I wrote a final paper analyzing Ryan Gosling memes.

Source: (and yes, this appeared in my final paper)


On a more serious note (not that there is anything more serious than Ryan Gosling), many paper assignments have been directly relevant to my own long-term research interests and goals. A few of my science classes have assigned grant proposal-style final papers – basically, you come up with your own research proposal based on material you have learned in class, and present it as if you were asking for money to fund your project. Not only do I find it super interesting and fun to think up my own dream projects, but it’s also an important skill, especially if you are going into academia. At the extreme end of this, I’ve also had the opportunity to work on writing a Neurobiology thesis for the past few semesters in a developmental cognitive neuroscience lab. It’s been a long process, but I’m really excited about the research I’ve done – I’ve learned a LOT along the way.

These are just a couple examples of the interesting, creative assignments I’ve had the chance to explore through my courses at Harvard. While I expected to do a lot of work in college, I didn’t realize how engaging – and fun! – this work would be.

About the author

Hi everyone! My name is Halie, and I’m a senior from Framingham, MA (which isn’t too far from here) now living in Currier House. I’m concentrating in Neurobiology on the Mind/Brain/Behavior... View full profile

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