Courtesy of Caitlin Brown

Last spring, all Yale students faced unprecedented circumstances: virtual classes, no access to campus and a semester like no other. Most students hoped for a fresh start during the fall, and Caitlin Brown ’24 was no exception.

But after she received the email announcing that most sophomores would not be invited back to campus during the fall, Brown quickly made up her mind: She was not going back.

“[The online semester] was not ideal, but it was totally fine,” Brown said. “But once the email was sent out … that is when I almost decided that I will definitely not be returning to Yale for the fall semester and then eventually I decided to take the whole year off, because I thought that the spring semester would not be much different.”

For Brown, the essence of Yale — its extracurriculars, dining halls and people — would not translate well to an online semester. As a first year, she was heavily involved in club sports, intramurals and community service, and she knew those would either be virtual or not present during the fall and spring semester.

After deciding to take a leave of absence for the fall and spring semesters, Brown began to look for research opportunities. As a prospective molecular, cellular and developmental biology major on the pre-med track and a volunteer with Alzheimer’s Buddies — a volunteer club which pairs college students with patients at a senior care facility in New Haven — Brown knew she wanted to be involved in similar research.

For the summer, she worked in a lab — virtually. There, she came in contact with Yale pharmacology professor Mark Lemmon, who is British. When asking for advice on what research she should do next, he told her, “The U.S. is not looking too good, so why don’t you look abroad?”

So, Brown set her sights on Australia, which had a lower positivity rate compared to the United States in early summer and fewer travel restrictions. But a spike in cases led to severe lockdowns as the summer progressed. With her Australia dreams in the rearview mirror, Brown began looking for research opportunities in Europe. Eventually, she narrowed her search to the United Kingdom, which she said was the only country granting Americans entrance at the time.

Constant searching, email writing and resume drafting occupied the following weeks. Eventually, she got responses back. Her fall and spring semester away from Yale started to take shape.

For her fall semester, Brown is conducting research in an Alzheimer’s lab in Seattle, thousands of miles away from her hometown of Mount Kisco in New York. For the spring and part of the summer, she plans to live in Scotland and research Parkinson’s disease in a lab there.

When asked about her time in Seattle, Brown pointed out that the only relative in the area is her cousin, so she had to adjust to being away from family and friends. She said that since everyone is online these days, it has been easier to keep in touch.

“It was difficult to adjust at first just being away from family and friends and having to live totally on my own,” Brown said. “But it is so easy to FaceTime and Zoom my family and friends. I can stay in touch with everyone somewhat easily because everyone is already virtual.”

Although she spent Thanksgiving in Seattle, Brown plans to return home to New York for Christmas and New Year’s before flying to Scotland, where she will live for the following six months. While she has no relatives in the United Kingdom and has never been there, she said the unfamiliarity of the experience is not deterring her.

After spending six months in Scotland, she hopes to return to New York and continue doing research over the summer, but virtually. And if everything goes to plan, she plans to enroll and begin her sophomore year in fall 2021.

“I love [Yale] so much that I did not want to waste a semester or a whole year in a modified format,” Brown said. “I had such a great experience my first year that I wanted three more full years of it.”

Nicole Rodriguez | nicole.rodriguez.nr444@yale.edu