I always planned to be a professional musician, but ended up becoming a scientist almost at random! I didn’t really pay much attention to math or science classes until the very end of high school, but I was still able to catch up well enough to do an undergraduate degree in molecular biology and math. It turns out that once you discover something that is fascinating to you about math and science, it’s not that hard to learn, especially if you are learning and studying with a group of cool and motivated people, so you can all help each other to understand the material and what is amazing about it. Even though it was not a career path I was even aware of as an undergraduate, it turns out that being a scientist is a perfect job for me, because doing science has a lot of the same elements that I always liked about doing music: it requires creativity, hard work, problem solving, working in teams, being flexible, open-minded and adaptable, and presenting your work to people on a regular basis. Even if you have not usually thought of yourself as a “science/math person,” if you like puzzles and have a lot of curiosity about how the natural world works and how it got to be the way it is, I encourage you to take this course!
I grew up in rural Upstate New York. Most kids from my high school didn’t go to college, and no one had ever gone to Harvard. But my little high school in the Catskills nevertheless had the most remarkable and dedicated teachers. And Main Street had a wonderful bookstore and public library. My parents made sure I knew about the world outside the town, and my math teachers, who picked up on my liking math, were particularly encouraging. My teachers would drive me to local math competitions, and found ways to stimulate my interest in solving puzzles beyond the standard New York State curriculum. I learned about Harvard when I randomly got an application to Harvard Summer School in the mail. I applied, got in, and took Physics 1ab because I had already taken high school biology (which I liked) and chemistry (which I didn’t). I liked Harvard and so I came here for college. I thought I would eventually go to medical school like my brother and dad. I didn’t really know about other careers. I also didn’t think much about my own ability. My high school didn’t have Advanced Placement courses, and so I was a bit behind many of my friends who skipped ahead of introductory courses. But when I started working in a lab on the biophysics of bacterial behavior, I got hooked. I realized that one could make a living thinking about science full time. I stayed at Harvard to get my PhD and start my own lab. I am still thinking about organism behavior using physics and math, but now I think about worms and flies.