An Interview On
Brown University

Background

Interview Date:April 2018

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Asian-American
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2018
High School Experience: Public school in California with a graduating class of about 700 students.
First-Generation College Student: Yes
Concentration: Health and Human Biology
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of Health Leads, First-Gens at Brown, Questbridge, and the Vietnamese Student Association. I also work as a research assistant for the Safety Net Patient-Centered Medical Home Initiative.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Health Leads was really impactful for me because I want to go into a health-related field. Health Leads was helping patients mostly from low-income backgrounds access resources that are critical to their health like food and utilities. I joined the organization during the summer, so I stayed in Providence the summer after my first year to be a part of that and I continued the rest of the semester. That meant a lot to me and I think really defined my career path. I was also part of the Vietnamese Student Association and First-Gens, so my cultural groups and my affinity group, and I really sought out these different organizations to support me as I navigate Brown.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
Because the requirements of Human Biology are STEM-related courses, I finished those quite early in my first year. Initially, it was a lot of exams for some courses. Now as I finish those core courses, I have options to choose more humanities-related courses, so this semester I’m just doing a lot of reading and essays.

Is there anything that you feel your department does especially well or especially poorly?
Human Biology is of a department that’s kind of neglected at Brown because it’s not quite Public Health and it’s not Biology. I don’t think there’s a lot of support because they don’t really give a lot of opportunities. Normally your department has a listserv and they email people about internships or opportunities they think would be useful for students, but I never found our listserv useful. I kind of wish I was on the Public Health listserv to help me find a job.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it’s very supportive. I don’t think it’s competitive but most people at Brown are really focused on what they’re doing. Coming into a university like Brown, when you try to understand where you are [academically] it can sometimes be in comparison to your peers – I think that is inevitable – but each student is very willing to help underclassmen. When I was an underclassman I reached out to other juniors and seniors that are taking courses, and they were more than willing to help me get advice about a particular course that I might be taking. There’s a very non-competitive atmosphere, but at the same time when everyone is focusing on their classes they tend to kind of give this sort of a climate that everyone’s doing well, and if you happen to not be doing well it can be daunting to ask for help.

What has been your favorite class in your concentration?
A Public Health seminar called Emergency Medicine. The two professors were doctors themselves, and we got a lot of speakers and interesting people to come to talk to us about what it’s like to work in the emergency room. We also got to shadow at least four hours in the E.R. so that was really exciting. After the course, I was like, “I want to become an emergency room doctor.”

What has been your least favorite class in your concentration?
My least favorite class overall was an English class that focused on 19th century British novels. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I was taking the course and it ended up being really intense.

My least favorite course in my major was a Biology class, it was a sophomore seminar about infectious disease. I should have dropped it, but essentially it was very difficult because he teaches graduate students so he taught a very high level of scientific article reading and I was only a sophomore so I didn’t really know what I was doing and it was a small seminar so it was really awkward. I hadn’t taken the prerequisites so I don’t think I was really prepared. But then again, I was a little bit too stubborn so I stuck it out when I should have dropped it.

What is a fun class that you took outside of your concentration?
I took a Biology course that let me go to Israel for ten days. It as a three-week winter special course and was totally funded by my financial aid. It was a three-week course that counted as a regular course, which was nice, and we got to spend 10 days in Israel learning about HIV/AIDS and it was my first time abroad so it was really exciting.

One thing that I hear from Brown students is that the open curriculum can sometimes lead to them taking classes they’re not prepared for. Do you think that happened to you?
Yeah, I mean that can happen with these sorts of courses. There is some danger in that we have some much flexibility, you may take a course at a higher level than you expected it to be. But, most students have a lot of support and they have a good sense of what courses they take they take and whether it is too difficult for them or not. I think they would either take it pass/fail or drop it later given they have that kind of support or if they ask people about the course. For me, just because I was a first-gen student, it was very difficult for me to ask for help and realize that it is okay to drop a course because I didn’t really understand what it meant to drop a course. I think, given the support students have,  most are okay once they realize that dropping a course is not going to affect them negatively.

How did being a first-generation student affect your experience? Were there any resources that helped you adapt?
My first year there was some first-gen programming, but it was just starting to start up. At the time, Brown didn’t have any first-gen community programming, they just had these random events. There wasn’t a real community, which was really surprising to me. There was all this talk about getting students in, but once I got in there was a lack of support. We have since gotten a center, which is not entirely perfect because it’s in the sciences library and we share the space with the writing center. They have recently gotten a Dean of Financial Aid who has helped a lot. She has done things like if you need housing for winter break you can stay on campus and if you stay over spring break the dining hall is open. The first-gen community is a lot more robust now than it was even a year ago. There is also a Facebook page called “Class Confessions” where people can post and talk about issues they face anonymously, it’s a really cool page.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus? What was your favorite?
I lived on campus for the first three years and I lived off campus my last year. I think my first dorm and the place I am now have been my favorite. I don’t think there was a place on campus where I was the happiest because living on-campus means you’re like 5 minutes away from everything.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I think the first three years Brown was really diligent about emailing us right away if there were any crimes committed. Walking back to my off-campus house late at night I do get kind of concerned because it’s a bit dark and what not, but there are a lot of emergency light poles and they have security walking around. There are students who volunteer to walk with other students at night and a shuttle you can call for, so I think there are a lot of mechanisms that are in place for you use if you feel like you are unsafe.

How walkable is Brown? Do you feel that you can walk to get your necessities?
Brown has a CVS, that is really the main grocery store within the vicinity there. You have to take a bus that’s maybe 15 minutes or so to go to a real grocery store. The bus is free with your student ID. I feel that many of my friends who have no meal plan do it pretty easily. I wish there was a grocery store closer but the bus ride’s not bad.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
Indian Point Park, there’s a nice river and you get an ocean breeze and it’s just great.

Pros and cons of being in Providence, RI?
Pros:
1) It’s a small enough city so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
2) It’s enough of a city to know what that’s like, especially for me coming from a suburban area. It’s pretty exciting and probably as much as I can handle.
3) The city is very unique in terms of Brown’s relationship with Providence because it’s such a small area and the capital is right there. If you want to get involved in the community it is very easy to do so. For example, I’m doing stuff in public health and it’s very easy to access researchers or physicians in the Brown medical school and to also link to the School of Public Health and the Department of Public Health. A lot of state agencies work closely with Brown so as long as you’re pushing for that you can get involved very quickly.
4) It’s quirky. There are interesting cultural events and you can walk everywhere. Transportation-wise it’s decent.

Cons:
1) Sometimes it is a bit too small. If you are from a place like New York City it can be very underwhelming.
2) It’s cold, it’s really cold. The weather in general is bonkers. It rains a lot, it snows a lot. It just does everything extremely and that was a lot to take in.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities do you like to participate in?
I think there is a Greek life presence but I don’t think it’s as big as some schools I’ve heard of. For me personally, I mostly hang out with friends. There’s a lot of cultural groups that host different events, like this evening I’m going to go to a Latinx Gala. There’s bowling that I’m going to go to that’s sponsored by a group, then I might go hiking next week with another group. There are lots of opportunities if you’re not the type who wants to party as much. I don’t think people ostracized for not wanting to party and there are other options if you don’t want to party.

How happy are you with Brown’s nightlife? Is there anything you would change?
I think overall my experience at Brown is really stressful. It challenged me because it was my first time being independent and away from home. But I think if I had gone to another university I would have been a lot more stressed and I think I would be a lot unhappier. Despite all the challenges, I feel like Brown is doing the right thing. I feel like there were a lot of shows from the underground life partly because I think people try to foster that community and reach out to undergrads. Overall, I do feel that Brown has been happy, at least happier than other schools if I had attended elite institutions.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
All first years have to live in two main locations and your first year you live with a bunch of other first years. I happened to get along with my roommate really well so I have stuck with her all these years. She’s a really good roommate and a good friend as well. I met most of my closest friends through my housing unit. Other friends I have made different groups that I have participated in, like Questbridge and First-Gens, just seeing people year after year and talking about the struggles of navigating Brown and bonding over mutual stress [laughs]. I think I initially thought that as a first year I would make friends through my classes, but that was not always the case.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
I think many first years and sophomores feel like they haven’t made their friend group and won’t make any more friends because everyone does start of branch off, perhaps even at the start of the second semester [of freshman year]. But, I found that doing a lot of different organizations and getting involved in different things I’ve met a lot of different people. I’ve met someone different and someone who I’ve gotten really close to each year because I’ve done something that I haven’t done before.

To what extent people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
From my personal experience, Brown does have a lot of different groups [for people of these identity groups]. From my own experience of being straight, I don’t really take part in LGBT groups, so it’s difficult to speak to that. But in terms of what I know, there are a lot of different groups that do have events for different groups. Like, tomorrow I’m going with my friend to a Pride Prom event. I do think there are a lot of community events of students of different sexual orientations and different ethnic groups.

Do people seem happy with their choice of Brown by the time they graduate?
By their senior year, yes, they do have this appreciation of Brown. I feel like most students are happy at Brown, and if you’re not you’re sort of like, “I’ve made it this far, I just have to stick it out.” There’s this realization that you have to finish or try to graduate and then see what happens after. You can see that it can be really stressful, especially since I’m in Health and Human Biology and a lot of my friends are in humanities, and it’s quite difficult finding jobs because we’re not in a field like finance that has recruiting in the fall. Now most of those students have jobs and we are still looking for jobs, so I think that realization can be very daunting and very stressful as graduation approaches.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
The alumni network is very open to giving a lot of informational interviews so I’ve done that. But leading directly to jobs, I’ve never experienced that. Most of them have recommendations for internships or jobs. Like, my internship was very indirect. I had a supervisor and she just so happened to be a Brown alum, and I think it helped that I was a Brown student. There are also Career-Cons where they bring in alums and you can speak with them, and those are more like informational interviews. I’ve generally gone down the path of applying for things online rather than calling up alums.

Have you learned any computer programs that will be especially helpful professionally?
I actually haven’t taken computer courses at all.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Brown before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew that going through these four years will change me in ways I didn’t know. It changed me in a good way, like in terms of the way I think. I also wish I know that just because I got into Brown doesn’t mean things are all set. There are a lot of things that I need to do afterward. But, I don’t think I would have done anything differently.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I think they should check out inside the buildings. I would encourage them to go to a student group meeting or a cultural event. That would give them a taste of what it would be like to be inside a student meeting and show how much time and how much effort takes place before a certain event happens. It would be cool to understand the type of teamwork and the effort needed in terms of the logistics.

Reasons to attend Brown:
1) The Open Curriculum, for sure. I really benefited from it because I sort of changed what I thought I wanted my career to be at the end of my junior year. There’s a lot of flexibility to change what you’re doing and to take courses outside your concentration.
2) The Brown community can be very tightknit and it can be easier to find certain social groups or whatnot.
3) Students at Brown are very passionate about what they are doing, in sort of a quirky way. There are a lot of students that have a broad range of topics that they are interested in. For example, students are very passionate about social justice topics and bring that into their work even if they aren’t Political Science students.

Reasons to not attend Brown:
1) I think the curriculum can be a negative because it is so broad. Even though there is a very robust advising program, that can be a hit or miss with some people because you may not be paired with the adviser that is right for you. It can be kind of daunting trying to find the professors and find people to write me letters of recommendations for internships.
2) Going into STEM at Brown can be very difficult. I came in wanting to do pre-med and the introductory courses are made to weed people out. The professors that teach the introductory courses always fluctuate so it’s not always one professor that’s devoted to teaching this introductory course. It’s especially hard when you didn’t go to a high school that didn’t prepare you for these classes and didn’t give you the knowledge beforehand to go to office hours and things like that. It’s really easy to get lost in these really big STEM courses.

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