A Year in Vanderbilt: My thoughts and Experience



Class of 2021, Vanderbilt University

♦ Classes

I maintain that college is the perfect platform for us to gain exposure to different disciplines and explore the different passions that we might have due to its vast number of courses and resources. Upholding this belief, I have only picked classes that I would be interested in. This strategy has led me to take a handful of fun and interesting courses.

I still remember quite clearly my music class last semester. It was called “American Popular Music”, and that was what the whole class was about. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we would sit in a big lecture hall and listen to music from different eras of American culture. We started with the traditional music of colonists and focused on how its music like the country began to assert its independence from British influence. Later, black people were the main pioneer behind America’s music from inventing blues to developing jazz. However, their works were often copied and borrowed by their white counterparts without consent or credit. These phenomena reflected the societal treatment and discrimination toward African Americans before the Civil Rights Movement. Black culture appropriation was a major theme in the class, and sadly it is still a pressing issue today in the hip hop industry. We ended the class with the pop era of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and present-day artists. It was so fun to finally listen to Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and Childish Gambino in class. Everybody was tired of the old music, but we could hear the marks of the past in contemporary music and we almost got into a fight about whether Taylor is a drama queen or not. This class allowed me to appreciate the progress that led the music industry to where it is now and the massive development in musical techniques and technologies.

I am grateful that Vanderbilt even offers these kinds of classes. I thought college would be a more serious place where only rigid academic subjects would be taught. Although “American Popular Music” was unlike the traditional history or music class, it taught me to look at the music I listen to from a different perspective. At the same time, I was able to have fun. I think that is the ideal of teaching, passing down knowledge and making it fun and relevant at the same time.

♦ Work

Unfortunately, I was unable to return to China this summer due to COVID, so I interned at our school’s admissions office. It felt crazy how the year before I was still applying to colleges and the next, I would be sitting behind the admissions desks. I never thought I would come this far. I was mainly responsible for replying to prospective students’ emails and giving school tours with ten of my other colleagues. Every day, we would lead groups of thirty or so people around the campus. It was a considerable challenge to my English and public speaking skills. I had hundreds of doubts on my first day of work. However, it turned out that we would shadow a senior tour guide first, and then we would pair up to lead a tour together. The third time was when we had to give the tour individually. I was extremely nervous on my first individual tour, but the students and parents in my group were all friendly and kind. They seemed to love me irrespective of what I said and would laugh at my story about my floor. Last year, I lived on an all-boys floor, so we did a lot of wacky stuff together. There was one night when someone suggested to have a boxing ring. We were all bored, so we moved the couches into a circle and found two boxing gloves. Before the first round ended, we got busted by the RA and got in trouble. Afterwards, our head of house would spy on us through surveillance cameras in the common room.

Besides giving tours, I became friends with all the admissions officers. From applying to colleges and getting rejected by most of them, I thought admissions officers would be devils who would cross out an application as soon as they saw an error. In fact, they were the opposite of that: they were ordinary people who just have tens of applications to read through daily. However, they would still make the time and come down to talk to us every day. I have gotten to know more about what happens behind the scene in the admissions office from them. It was unlike what I have been told in online articles.

The admissions office became my second home during the summer. My colleagues were my family since I would meet them every day. We would always have lunch together and eat for two hours. We discussed our relationships, classes, food, etc. and even witnessed three breakups. They were there for me when I experienced emotional issues myself.

♦ Research

I plan to become a clinical psychologist in the future, so I was looking for opportunities related to this field for my next semester. I tried to find a psychology laboratory in our school that would accept me and sent emails to every one of them. It was heartbreaking to see forty emails sent out, and only four professors reached back with interview invitations. I lost all my confidence when I was rejected by the first three interviews. I thought I was never going to get into a laboratory. However, the fourth interview was with a Korean professor who adored and accepted me on the spot. I was exhilarated since this was the laboratory that I was the most interested in since it researches schizophrenia.

The laboratory is mostly running two studies. One requires the subjects to wear a VR headset and experience two scenarios. They would see a person or a machine throwing a ball at themselves. Then there would be vibrations in the controllers, and the subjects would be required to press a button when they sense it. The reaction times are recorded. It is known that once the ball enters a particular region near us, our reaction time would get faster. The sizes of that region differ for a normal person in the two scenarios whereas for schizophrenic patients there would not be a noticeable difference. We call that region “interpersonal space”, and it is thought that the ambiguity of that space is a cause of schizophrenia. Our second study focuses on emotion processing and is dubbed “Embody”. Participants would be given different emotions, and then they would have to draw on a body diagram which part of the body is activated when that emotion is felt. People can usually attribute emotions to different parts of the body. For example, when we feel nervous, our stomachs feel sick and our hearts sink. This ability allows us to experience emotions as vividly as we do, but schizophrenic patients lack this ability. Through interpersonal space and emotion processing, the laboratory tries to decipher the causes and mechanisms of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

This is going to be my first semester working in the laboratory, so I am only going to be in charge of data analysis. Later, I hope I receive the chance to carry out these trials on participants.