One in Two Thousand: Maki Yoshimura ’22.5

Yuchan Kim

(Photo courtesy of Maki Yoshimura.)

Each week, we randomly select a unix from a list of all current students at the College for our One in Two Thousand feature. As long as the owner of a selected unix is willing to be interviewed and is not a member of the Record board, that person becomes the subject of our interview. This week, the computer (using a script in R) chose Maki Yoshimura ’22.5, who discussed her love for classical music, biology research, and “real sushi.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Yuchan Kim (YK): So, the first thing I noticed is that you’re an off-cycle senior. What is being off-cycle like? 

Maki Yoshimura (MY): One thing that I’m glad about is that everybody else is applying to grad school and stuff, but I don’t have to do it! I have another semester —  I get to really focus on my thesis. But I am a bit worried that I’ll be lonely next semester because most of my friends are [in] my class year or upperclassmen. So I’m trying to make some friends, especially in the bio[logy] department.

YK: What is studying biology like? Why did you choose it?

MY: I used to study humanities. I was not a STEM student at all. In Japan, in high school, you have to choose between a natural science track and a humanities track. I did a social science [track], and when I got here I was [taking] a lot of language courses, history, philosophy — something like that. I only started taking biology seriously in my junior year, but I just love constructing experiments [and] finding out something no one has before, which is super exciting. 

YK: I know you’re writing a thesis, too. What is your thesis about? 

MY: It’s basically a cancer study. One property that cancer cells have is that they can survive better than normal cells, particularly in suspension [when detached from an organ]. I’m looking into why cancer cells can do this. We’re focusing on this one particular protein that is overexpressed in cancer tumors, and we’re running experiments to see how it is promoting cell survival. This project is my project. No one knows anything about it except my advisor, and I finally [feel] like I found something [where] I can say, “This is my own thing.” This is something I feel really passionate about and I am good at, and I really care about my thesis. 

YK: My sources have told me you also study Chinese. What made you want to study a language?

MY: Before coming to Williams, I actually went to the University of Tokyo for one semester. There, you’re supposed to study one foreign language in addition to English, and I chose Chinese because it had the best curriculum out of all the options. It’s also the easiest to learn as a Japanese speaker in the span of a semester. When I came to Williams, I just decided to continue.

YK: What are other things that you love doing? 

MY: I take piano lessons. I’m in the piano studio, and I sometimes perform with other people. I started when I was eight, but I went to high school far from my house, so I stopped, and when I came here, I signed up for auditions and resumed. 

YK: What is that like? Do you enjoy playing the piano? 

MY: I love classical music. When I listen to classical music, I feel lots of things. Some people listen to pop music or country or something, and they get emotional; I think for me, it has always been classical music that I enjoy when I’m feeling down or when I’m feeling happy or when I just want to enjoy the music. Mainly piano music. Sometimes, when I’m really really busy in my thesis lab — which is the biggest thing that’s happening in my life right now — I go to the piano studio, and I feel grounded. I feel happier — less stressed. 

YK: Favorite composer?

MY: I love Brahms. The professor would usually recommend pieces that would be good for me so that I can train my fingers in different ways, but I always push for Brahms. Maybe not the best thing — I should probably play something else, but I always loved his music. There was always something about his music that spoke to me differently, so I’ve been playing at least one of his pieces every semester. This semester, I’m playing three, which I’m happy about. I don’t know how my professor feels. [Laughs.]

YK: Favorite Brahms piece?

MY: I like his later pieces. Op. 117, 118, Intermezzo. I’m playing Op. 118 right now, and I love it. 

YK: You also grew up in Japan. Tell me more about that.

MY: Growing up in Japan was definitely fun. I was privileged enough to go to one of the schools [where] I really enjoyed the education. But I always knew that something was missing. If you do well in school in Japan, then you go to the high-ranked universities. [It’s] super competitive … [and] I just knew that that’s not exactly what I wanted to do. I wasn’t particularly excited about it and wanted something different.

YK: So, what did you do after that?

MY: I looked into schools everywhere, worldwide — well, in English-speaking countries — and found [out about] the liberal arts college [system] in the United States, and I really liked it, so I decided to come here. I’m very glad that I’m here; if I stayed in Japan, I wouldn’t have chosen to do biology at all because it is very difficult to change your academic career path there. I think here at Williams, people encourage you to take risks, and that’s why I was able to switch my major and find something I really enjoy. 

YK: Do you miss home?

MY: Yes, I definitely do. Especially food [Laughs.]. I don’t go for Japanese food here because it can be a disappointment. So I cook [for] myself, or I ask my parents to send me some things. Of course, I want to see my family and stuff — I don’t want to sound like I only miss food — but it can be hard being away from home.

YK: What do you normally cook? 

MY: I just make rice and some things I can eat with it. Yesterday, I made teriyaki chicken and vegetables and some soup. Just something easy like that. 

YK: Any food recommendations? Japanese cuisine is quite well-known, but any hidden gems or suggestions you have?

MY: I would say just try real sushi. Because what people call sushi here is not really sushi. There’s a bunch of sauces like mayonnaise and whatever is there. Just a simple nigiri sushi with real wasabi and soy sauce, just that. I miss that so much. My family went without me to a really nice restaurant back in Japan, and I was really jealous.