Alumni share research at poster fair

Last Sunday, the first Williams College BIMO Alumni Research Reunion held a poster fair in Bronfman Science Center. The reunion was organized by Associate Professor of biology and biochemistry Chair Marsha Altschuler and sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Class of 1960 Scholars Program, BIMO Program, Biology Department and Chemistry Department. The session offered the graduates the chance to share their research with the Williams community and allowed current Williams students to see some of the options that would await them if they chose to continue their education in the sciences at the graduate level.

Ten Williams graduates came back for the reunion, which included a tour of the Unified Science Center, a brunch at the Williams Inn and the poster session. Returning alums were Liz Alcamo ’90, Ellie Carson-Walter ’91, Alison Criss ’95, R. John Davenport ’92, Jen Hood ’95, Robert Jeng ’92, Jean Pesola ’95, Brad Smith ’94, Charles Tilford ’91 and Donny Wong ’95.

The poster session had a good turnout of both students and faculty, and the small space in Bronfman 105 was soon pleasantly crowded. Both alumni and students enjoyed the opportunity to discuss graduate level research in such an informal, one-on-one setting. Several alumni expressed a desire to come back and share their experiences because they feel that they would have benefited from the opportunity to hear from more experienced students as an undergraduate.

While most alumni reported a sense of surprise upon reaching graduate school, they also said they felt well prepared by their Williams classes. While they may not have gone in with quite the research background as those students graduating from large universities, they felt that Williams had prepared them in unique ways.

“I felt that I had really come away with the ability to communicate ideas – to write. If you can’t write in the sciences, you’re stuck,” said Carson-Walter. She said that her good memories come from all the different experiences that a liberal arts education allowed her to have.

The diversity of classes and activities was something she wouldn’t have traded for more upper-level research. “You have the rest of your life to specialize,” she said.

Davenport agreed that the writing skills he gained at Williams made a big difference. While he certainly felt as prepared as his colleagues in acquisition of information, he felt “more prepared in terms of being able to communicate, to write. My liberal arts education gave me a wider basis to draw from. People really underestimate how important communication is in the sciences.”

Pesola appreciated the emphasis on thinking over memorization in science classes take at Williams, but said that while she felt very well-prepared from her classroom experiences at Williams, she was less knowledgeable about what awaited her in graduate-level research. “I wish there had been something like this when I was going through,” she said.

Carson agreed that “graduate school is a much more amorphous entity,” compared to medical school, and people aren’t always sure what the different options are.

According to Wong, it’s very important for undergraduates to be exposed to “the diversity of types of research out there, [to gain] a new type of awareness.” He joked that exposure to all the varieties of research would “hopefully convert some pre-meds.”

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