In a year fraught with multiple restrictions on in-person learning and other important ingredients in the typical Yale College experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grace Zdeblick ’22 is one of over 1,000 Yale undergraduates taking a gap year.

Zdeblick is double majoring in math and physics and is working remotely as a junior software engineer for Protein Metrics, a small software company established 10 years ago. Zdeblick talked with a friend who worked at NASA, who was able to connect her with the vice president of research at Protein Metrics, who then offered her this full-time position. This job is the first opportunity that Zdeblick has had in the field of software engineering — until now, she had only focused on pure academic math and physics research during her undergraduate career.

“A couple reasons prompted me to take a gap year,” Zdeblick said. “I don’t learn very well through online lectures, I think, and I kind of discovered that at the end of last semester. I wasn’t feeling super confident about getting the most out of my senior year of classes on Zoom. I also have been having a lot of trouble recently with figuring out what I want to do after graduation, and honestly felt like I needed more time to figure out what direction I was going to go in, what did I even want to apply to grad school for, did I want to get a job … just general figuring things out.”

Zdeblick has taken very few computer science courses outside of the physics and mathematics courses required for her major, but fell in love with two data science and machine learning classes she took last year. Now she plans on pursuing the data science certificate by taking related courses her senior year.

Zdeblick’s employer is based in Silicon Valley, but she pursued the job remotely from New Haven this semester. The gap year has allowed Zdeblick to explore a 40-hour work week at her company while figuring out the next steps for her career. She works in a team of about 30 software engineers and has a mentorship relationship with the person at the company who offered her the position — a Yale graduate who was also a math major.

“Before the pandemic, I had sort of thought about software engineering, but thought that it probably wasn’t for me,” Zdeblick said. “After taking those data science and machine learning classes, it reminded me that I still really liked computer science and data science. Now I’m more seriously considering it. I’m still figuring out graduate school plans, but I’m probably going to apply to graduate school somewhere in the computational sciences area.”

Zdeblick said she recommends the gap year experience to other students who feel they need more time to prepare for the next stage of their life. However, she acknowledged that the experience may not be the best for everyone, and that the decision to take a gap year depends on a student’s personal situation.

“I wouldn’t have probably taken a gap year if not for the pandemic sort of providing a very clear reason to do so,” Zdeblick said.

Outside of work, Zdeblick enjoys cooking and baking bread with her roommates.

Anjali Mangla |

Anjali Mangla is a Science & Technology Editor for the News. She previously covered the intersection of STEM and social justice. Anjali is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College planning to study Neuroscience, Global Affairs and Global Health Studies.