By: Molly Schreier
Bear Press: So what’s the name of your program in Texas?
Aileen Zhang: So I currently attend the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Sciences. Eleventh and twelfth graders get to take courses at the University of North Texas. You either follow a biology, health-sciences track, or a computer sciences track. Based on whatever professional career or pathway you’d like, you can concentrate your classes. So for the life sciences track, you’re taking biology, chemistry, and humanities courses. For the computer science track, you’re taking computer science and other required courses. Once you progress through 2 semesters you begin taking other electives you like, and you can either stay at the University of North Texas or within the Texas University System and transfer your college credits, so once you’re done with 12th grade you will enroll as a junior in another school, or if you go out of state it would depend on that school’s transfer-credit policy. So they might only take fifteen credits, which is basically a semester, or they might not.
BP: And you’re taking the biology track?
BP: Are you taking any fun electives this year?
AZ: I think so. I feel like with this program I really got the chance to pursue my interest in the sciences, but also challenge myself within a broader range or subjects. Right now I think one of my favorite electives has to be organic chemistry, because it really challenges you to think in a different way; it’s not just plugging in numbers and solving things, you’re actually looking at the structure of molecules and trying to figure out, okay, what reaction model something goes under based on how its structured and what reagent its reacting with, and you actually get to perform these reactions in the laboratory and basically apply what you learn in the classroom and from the textbook and you actually get to see it come to fruition, or manifest itself within the laboratory, which is something that’s been very educational and very challenging but also very rewarding.
BP: That’s certainly not my idea of a fun elective [laugh]. That sounds really cool.
AZ: I think that’s the great thing about doing college courses because you get to really concentrate on what you want to learn, but you have the freedom to take a lot of other courses. I took…I don’t have any crazy, underwater basket weaving electives, but I took a bunch of World Literature classes, which has been very interesting. I think college courses really teach you to become more independent and rely more on yourself, because your professors just don’t have the time to stay after class or talk through things like that, they have a lot of other priorities. And sometimes they’re not interested in teaching, which is another reality you have to confront when you’re alone and you’re in an undergraduate environment.
BP: What’s in been like living at a college?
AZ: Yeah I think I really lucked out on that because I don’t have to deal with the typical college problems because we have a very strict curfew, it’s at eleven pm, and they cut off the Wifi at one am…
AZ: Which has been very inconvenient.
BP: What do you do?
AZ: I use my data–I use my phone as a hotspot, but then I run out of data two weeks in the month, so, yeah, it’s been a struggle.
AZ: But, I mean, living within a college dorm has its pros and has its caveats. You have a lot more freedom to do what you want, because you’re not under parental supervision, and you can stay out late in the library.
BP: Party in the library?
AZ: Actually, we have something called travel weekends, so you can take a travel weekend and go back home. Someone took a travel weekend and they lived in the library, they slept there, and they took showers in the gym [laugh].
BP: Why would you do that?
AZ: Because it’s awesome.
BP: Where do you sleep in the library?
AZ: You just, you know, sleep.
BP: Oh, okay [laugh].
AZ: It’s very interesting. Someone went to Las Vegas and nobody knew he was in Las Vegas.
BP: Wow. That’s far away.
AZ: Just ran away from his parents…
BP: What are the other students like?
AZ: A lot of them have the same interests just because this program is really concentrated in the STEM field, but its also been really fascinating to meet people from a bunch of different backgrounds and different talents. When we have a fundraiser, and lots of people perform, we have a bunch of different dance groups, people singing, somebody flipping on stage, playing piano, playing a bunch of different instruments. It’s really amazing to live with a bunch of people that have a lot of different interests that you can learn from.
BP: Nice. Have you missed us at Hammond?
AZ: So much! Yes. I feel like there’s a feeling of family and a closer community because the people you know, you really care for them and they really care for you, and everybody wants to see each other succeed. And there’s a lot of people I’ve known since a very young age, and I guess when you’re away it gets really stressful sometimes. When you go towards a college environment professors aren’t as interested or invested in their students, which is understandable, because they have research and academia to pursue, but it’s something you really take for granted in high school and something I really valued at Hammond.
BP: What are your future plans?
AZ: I really like molecular biology, biochemistry, I think it’d be nice to pursue that. And maybe look towards a career in both research and medicine, as an MD-PhD–but that’s ten years, so [laugh, moan, laugh]. Ah jeez.
BP: That’s okay, best ten years of your life.
AZ: Yeah, I mean, wooh. Grad life! Yeah, because when I got to follow physicians around within a clinic, it was very interesting because one of the attending physicians told me that the professional fields are really changing, and everything’s changing at a very fast pace. Just because of the nature of the sciences, it doesn’t make sense to only specialize yourself on a very specific niche. If you’re not trying to always learn and broaden your horizon, you’re not providing the best care for your patients. So he was researching [something really sciencey] and interacting with patients everyday with the condition, and he was also working in the laboratory to figure out what was going on behind the condition, which I thought was really really cool and amazing. Because you have these two aspects in the hospital/clinic, face to face with the person that’s actually experiencing this, and then in the laboratory you’re kind of distanced, but you get to figure out the etymology of the condition and you get to work towards providing a this patient with better care, and really improving this patient’s quality of life. And that’s a very special vantage point, or perspective, and role that a physician-scientist can play. It kind of combines your interest in the sciences, and your interest in the humanities. And I think it would be a huge privilege to work as a physician-scientist.
BP: Cool! That sounds really interesting, that’s really cool. Thank you, that was really good!