Juan Alvarez ’09
Why did you enroll in the Integrated Science course?
I didn't apply to Integrated Science in the beginning since I thought it was too experimental. However, my adviser thought the contrary, and sent me to have a chat with Professor Botstein. After that I was convinced I was at the start of something big; an effort to bring science teaching up to date with the modern world.
What has it been like?
In the beginning it was hard. It was particularly challenging to live up to the expectations in terms of quick understanding and problem-solving abilities. Overcoming these difficulties taught me a great deal about science itself, and about how science is really made. I learned to focus on the quantitative principles behind physical models rather than on their details, and this allowed me to bridge the gap between mathematical, chemical and biological systems. I also realized that science-making is not a result of individual endeavor, but the product of communal effort.
How has the course benefited you academically, and has it made you think about what to do after you graduate?
Integrated Science drives you to find efficient ways of thinking about scientific problems and systematic approaches to solving them. I've learned that a research-based approach to science is the way to go. Thanks to Integrated Science I became involved with bioinformatics research, and my growing interest in genomics drove me to apply for the quantitative and computational biology certificate. For the future, I am now considering an MD/Ph.D. degree, since it allows for scientific research within the field of human medicine.
How do you like working with the various Integrated Science faculty?
The lectures are engaging because the teachers are so engaged in their fields of interest and in teaching them under a common light. Studying and working where the classrooms, teachers and labs are all under the same roof creates a sense of community. Help is always available from the faculty members, who seem delighted to make time to talk about science and life in their offices—no surprise that they routinely are nominated for teaching awards.
What is it like going though the Integrated Science curriculum with a close cohort of student peers?
By the end of the year you have got to know everyone, and the familiar faces throughout the semesters make lectures a positive environment of learning in a community. The experience often moves out of the classroom too—you end up going to the play where they are acting or the show where they are performing, and even traveling and grouping for room draw with the same people, as I am doing this year.