Tag Archives: Independent Research

Science and the Liberal Arts

As a chemistry major, I’m often asked about the opportunities at Middlebury for the natural sciences. “Middlebury is known for its language and environmental studies programs,” some will say with the underlying question being “Middlebury isn’t necessarily known for their sciences. So how do they fare?”

This is a fair question…and they fare pretty well if I do say so myself.

Middlebury’s Bicentennial Hall – “the science building” – was constructed with the prospect of highlighting the natural sciences in a stereotypical humanities-driven community. It is the home to seven academic departments and three academic programs, equipped with a science-focused library, the biggest window in Vermont, and top-notch professors. The professors are graduates from top research universities who are passionate about teaching. (Teaching in this case is not limited to the classroom, but includes the labs as well). They encourage independent research, they publish academic work with students as co-authors, they teach how to write for their academic discipline, and they are at the front of 100-level courses getting new students excited about their passion with interesting anecdotes and fun demonstrations. Professors, not teaching-assistants, are the ones invigorating students and consequently motivating their passion.

I transferred to Middlebury in the Fall of my sophomore year from a large university where teaching-assistants were the ones teaching my science courses. I came to Middlebury not sure if I still wanted to pursue the sciences. Despite my ambivalence, I mustered the courage to take organic chemistry my first semester and haven’t looked back since. A slew of opportunities has opened up for me upon declaring my major: I worked in an organic chemistry lab at Middlebury over the summer, 3 years later my professor is publishing that research with 3 students as co-authors. The following year I joined an inorganic chemistry lab and did two independent studies looking into a fundamental mechanism to explain Alzheimer’s Disease (which I’ve adopted as my senior thesis). This past summer I did an internship at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in their nanoengineering facility. We don’t have engineering – or nanotechnology – at Middlebury but I was still extremely prepared due to the endless opportunities of labwork experience I received back here in Vermont. This summer internship provided another opportunity to do research the following summer, but in an international research facility. I applied and was accepted to work at the National Institute for Material Science in Tsukuba, Japan. To prove that this is Middlebury and not “just  me” – two other Middlebury students have done this program. One student did her first summer at Stanford, the other at the University of Minnesota. Each of us applied and went on to do the Japan internship, an incredible opportunity that we can attribute back to the research skills we acquired at Middlebury.

These opportunities and important research skills are not only found in the chemistry department, but in all departments in BiHall (and across all disciplines on campus). For those of you interested in the sciences, but hesitant to pursue them at a liberal arts school like Middlebury, I highly encourage you to give Middlebury a chance. Middlebury has been the perfect place to pursue the sciences and I’m looking forward to applying to chemistry PhD programs this summer.


If you have any further questions about Middlebury and the sciences, please do not hesitate to contact me: stacih@middlebury.edu 


The Research Experience

Middlebury College is an amazing place for undergraduate research. Because there are no graduate students at this institution, any student here with a passionate research interest will likely have the opportunity to explore that interest either through a research assistant-ship, an independent project, or with a thesis. Furthermore, professors at Middlebury are incredibly dedicated to their students’ independent work. In my experience, working one on one with professors throughout independent projects has been invaluable — I have learned writing, research, editing, and analytical skills that have translated to my other classes as well as to experiences outside of academics.

My sophomore year, I was in a cognitive psychology class and really loved it. So I asked the professor if he could use any more research assistants for his work on memory. After a meeting, I began working on his research team, along with several other students, and have since attended two psychology conferences with the team to present posters of our research. One of the best parts of attending these conferences, aside from learning how to present work to professors and graduate students, is that we get to hear amazing research talks and learn from other poster sessions.

These conferences have been a highlight of my academic experience in psychology. Getting exposed to so much research from all over the country and the world has been eye-opening and inspiring for the cognitive psychology research that I am doing now.

From Left: Adam Dede ’11, Cloe Shasha ’11, Middlebury College Professor of Psychology Jason Arndt

Research Poster at Psychonomics Conference in St. Louis, Missouri

November 2010

Class Registration: The Final Countdown

I’m admittedly a bit groggy this morning after waking up at 6:45 a.m. to register for spring term classes.  Class registration at Middlebury starts at 7 a.m., with each year assigned a specific day on which it can register.  Overall, the system works well, although it’s not without its quirks.  On your registration morning, your entire class will be awake, logging into Bannerweb (our class registration platform), and counting down the seconds until the clock strikes 7.  At 7:00:01, the mad rush begins, with everyone trying to enter course registration numbers before their top picks get filled up.  Sounds stressful?  Exciting?  Rushed?  It’s all of those things, but for my friends and I, it’s become something of a musical tradition.  During registration, one of my friends will blast Europe’s “The Final Countdown” throughout our suite.  By the end of the five or so minutes of musical excitement, all of us will have secured our classes and be headed back to bed.  This song has come to represent for me the energy surrounding registration and will always remind me of punching course registration numbers into Bannerweb.

For me, as a senior, today’s class registration gave “The Final Countdown” new meaning.  It’s strange to be choosing the last four courses I will take in college and the decision was by no means easy.  Although a lot of my spring semester will consist of independent research and a senior seminar on Chinese Foreign Policy, I wanted to take advantage of the rest of my time at Midd by choosing a couple of interesting courses outside of my major.  It’s really sunk in that next semester is the last hurrah, the Final Countdown.  Unlike you, who have four years of academic opportunity ahead of you, I only have a short time left in which to take classes like Russian Politics and Literature (my J-term choice).  To get a feel for typical Midd course offerings, check out the course catalog.

Signing off, I’d like to leave you with Sweden’s most notable contribution to 80s pop.  Meet Europe: