“FoS is death,” says a particular artwork sitting atop one of the shelves in the second floor lounge at the Academic Building. In contrast to the bleak message, the artwork does have an incongruently cheerful imagery and color palette. A rainbow in the corner of the frame, a bright yellow background, childish stickers all over it and overly happy choice of colors spelling out the doomed fate of a supposed FoS major. It’s a clever piece of work, I tell you that. An artsy inside joke that a fellow FoS-destined freshman, like me, would instantly grasp.
Here I am, straining against the workload, having pulled the occasional all-nighter only to have a “mama-huhu” GPA. Yet, despite all this, cheerful and content, because, I am getting to do what I love. Ever since I was a child, my father captivated me with fascinating scientific tales: of how there roamed on Earth mighty creatures called dinosaurs that are now extinct, how the cosmos came into being in a mighty explosion, and how time itself is entwined with space. Thus, it was natural for me to take on the FoS path.
This fascination, borne out of intense exposure, seems to be common to many of the FoS students. Emre Yorgancioglu, a soft-spoken sophomore and Physics major is another case in point. Being kind enough to share his FoS story with me, Yorgancioglu explained that his decision to pursue the STEM path is rooted deeply in his childhood. “My parents fostered my interest in the sciences, as we not only had a variety of books, but popular science toys as well,” Yorgancioglu said. “The thermodynamic drinking bird, radiometers, hand boilers etc. I had my first microscope and telescope before I turned seven.”
Another sophomore, Nico Wipf, knew he would do science in his senior year of high school after having tackled the challenging AP classes. “I took biology junior year of high school and I thought it was okay but I thought neuroscience was more interesting just cause it was about the brain, perception, psychology and all that mixing together, making decisions,” Wipf explained with the enthusiasm of an avid science aficionado. “I thought that was cool.” Upon taking the Biology I course at NYU Shanghai, he decided to major in Biology, as he became fascinated by genetics and cellular biology. Clearly curiosity and urge to satiate it makes the rigorous course load enjoyable. And if we are having a particularly tough day toiling away on our laboratory report and problem set, we resort to FoS humor and crack one of those inside jokes. FoS is death.
However, an inside joke is misunderstood when told and retold to an outside crowd. The FoS folks’ tongue-in-cheek complaints, seems to be used as an argument against the program. The eager freshman is warned off how a FoS prospect is equivalent to solitary sleepless caffeine-driven nights at the AB. This perspective hardly does justice to the amazing FoS program. For a start, some students see the rigor as a positive aspect of the program. “Of course, the content [FoS syllabus] does get progressively more difficult as you advance. This may discourage some people, but it provides a solid foundation for graduate school,” Yorgancioglu said.
In addition, the FoS program is unique because it attempts to incorporate both breadth and depth. The core theme at the FoS program is the integration of the three different natural sciences: physics, biology and chemistry. We do venture deep into our intended major, yet at the same time students are given sufficient exposure to appreciate the knowledge and unique perspective offered by other field of scientific inquiries. This at once emphasizes the interconnectedness of the natural sciences and gives us a boost in the word of research which is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary.
Better yet, the small size of the school facilitates direct interaction and close connections with the professors. Professor William Glover, assistant professor of Chemistry at NYU Shanghai, and Professor Yehuda Band, visiting professor of Physics at NYU Shanghai from Ben-Gurion University, reaffirmed the importance of having an interdisciplinary outlook in the sciences. Glover believes a benefit is that in teaching, he does not have to gloss over certain aspects, say the physical aspects of Chemistry, in his lectures as students will soon encounter these concepts in-depth. In addition, Yehuda recalled coming across a peer-reviewed biology paper on P51 gene’s capacity in cancer treatment. With his charismatic smile, Yehuda explained how he was at first stumped by the biology jargon in spite of his keen interest in biology. The moral of his anecdote was self-evident: FoS students may fare better on our first attempt, due to the interdisciplinary approach of the curriculum.
Furthermore, the remarkable faculty-to-student ratio translates to unique research opportunities. Glover proudly declared that there are students conducting research under him, and there is even a freshman on board. He noted this would not be possible at other universities, due to the large number of students. I know of two other freshmen students already working with the quantum computer research team at NYU Shanghai. There is also the popular iGem program, which offers summer research programs in biology.
Given all the positive aspects of FoS I believe its portrayal as a purely backbreaking path is a tad bit unfair. Yes, FoS mandates more courses than other majors, and at times the FoS students have to sleep a little less and stay longer more at the AB. However, the challenges facilitate rigor. The wonderful opportunities – excellent faculty, chance for direct interactions with the professors, and research scopes – that are present actively rewards our efforts. “We should make one [ artwork that is] that is like, FoS is life,” Wipf said. I am in complete agreement.
This article was written by Raiyan Reza. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Syed Raiyan Nuri Reza