Julia Liu ’08
Why did you enroll in the Integrated Science course?
I was intrigued by the description of the course as a quantitative introduction to the interdisciplinary fields that have been inspired by questions raised in the study of biology. At the time I thought I wanted to be a molecular biology major, but I wanted to have a more quantitative background, and Integrated Science seemed perfect.
What has it been like?
I admit I was very intimidated at the beginning of the course, both by the professors and the other students, but I enjoyed the lectures and I was too obstinate to quit, and that really has paid off. I can't imagine what my experience at Princeton would be like without this course. Integrated Science makes you challenge yourself, to look at problems that an average freshman is not expected to be able to solve. We were made to confront open-ended problems the best we knew how, and that really made us grow.
How has the course benefited you academically, and has it made you think about plans for after you graduate?
I think my fellow students and I are more equipped to deal with the fact that we can't possibly know everything, but we know how to ask good questions to get ourselves started. The course puts very little emphasis on memorization, and instead taught us that as long as you understand the principles, you can always look up the details. In that sense I think we have a better idea of how we might be able to do science by thinking of what might be possible and then filling in the blanks as we go along. I'm pretty sure that I will go to graduate school to be able to study more science, not to "study" from a textbook, but to pose and hopefully solve questions about the world.
How do you like working with the various Integrated Science faculty?
I think Integrated Science has the best professors and teaching assistants of any science course on this campus. They've all had a tremendous impact on me as role models and as friends. The faculty-student ratio is great, but on top of that it's really been their individual interest in teaching, helping, advising and interacting that's made a huge difference for me. I don't think I would have considered becoming a physics major if I hadn't been so inspired by two professors in the physics department who taught Integrated Science freshman year.
What is the project lab experience like that you do as a junior?
It was intense, and sometimes I felt like a graduate student working on a research project while being an undergraduate taking classes at the same time. There is no substitute: traditional lab courses will never let you pursue your own independent project to that extent, and you will never get that amount of support and help from doing research in a lab.
What is it like going though the curriculum with a close cohort of students?
This was the best part! Integrated Science offers a tremendous bond that comes from taking so many classes together and sharing the experiences of being stretched beyond what we thought were our limits. Our group was so special—we were always trying to help each other, we e-mailed each other with every tidbit of news and trivia we thought the others would find useful/interesting/funny, we hung out outside of class, and made our own "integrated" apparel (a T-shirt freshman year, a sweatshirt sophomore year, and we're working on a long-sleeved shirt to commemorate Project Lab). We even inspired an anthropology paper written about us! Integrated Science might be the only group on campus who for three years toiled together on problem sets and in lab, celebrated each other's successes, commiserated with each other's failures, and who in short have depended on each other for survival through thick and thin. My fellow Integrated Science people have made my Princeton experience as wonderful as it's been.