I came to Yale without any experience in a research laboratory of any kind. Perspectives on Science was integral to helping me discover science as it is actually practiced.
“Perspectives” is a series of lectures from Yale’s finest in a wide range of scientific fields. My class heard a lecture on astrophysics, for example, given by a member of the first team to discover a black hole. We heard another on heterochrony, given by an ecologist associated with the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
The class meets on Friday afternoons, but cookies and soda wait for you at the top of Science Hill. Every other week, a discussion section provides the pleasure of watching two freshmen squirm as they instruct their peers in topics that would typically be way over any undergraduate’s head.
In fact, one of the greatest weaknesses of the course is that some of the lectures are so lofty and complicated that no one bothers to figure them out. The professors leading the sections, many of whom do not have experience with seminar-like settings, end up allowing certain sections to slack off.
Some of my classmates felt the lectures were not very well distributed across the sciences. The variety of topics, however, ultimately depends on the course leaders, who change almost every year. It could be, then, that among the faculty that teach it, Perspectives has the same mixed reviews that it has among freshmen.
Nevertheless, the course offers you the chance to rub shoulders with some of the biggest name scientists here early in your Yale career. And if you really get into it, Perspectives can guarantee research positions, attentive mentors, a good sampling of all the sciences, and by the end, a chance to really figure out where your interests lie.
The field of medical research first appealed to me when I attended a lecture given by Richard Lifton, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He spoke on advancements in genetic markers and gene therapy.
By 2 o’clock on that Friday afternoon, I was showing how genetic markers work by having my sectionmates throw chalk at a big chromosome drawn on the board with a disease mutation on it. Complimented afterwards by another Perspectives professor, I realized the valuable experience of individual attention in a nonstandard academic environment.
The paper due at the end of the year will probably be your first taste of real science writing. Like most instructors at Yale, your Perspectives professors will expect you to hit the ground running.
The program asks you to jump into the vast world of science journals, papers and reviews, and surface with a good paper in hand. It takes a lot of time and effort but can serve as the perfect impetus for a summer research position, or just fulfillment of a personal interest.
My paper was on antioxidants and their abilities to counteract certain types of cancer, which had nothing directly to do with any of the lectures. I went on to work with a investigator from Charlotte, N.C. who was completely independent of Yale.
Perspectives gives you the freedom to find your way into the sciences both here and in the larger scientific community. I can safely say that I would not have chosen the same courses or summer research positions had I not taken Perspectives.
Zachary Corbin is a premed junior in Calhoun College who likes to think he has a life outside of the Yale Daily News and Science Hill.