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Quora: What are some of the best answers you read in January, 2016?
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How do you get the most out of your education?
When was the last time you changed your mind about an issue or a belief? What was it that changed your mind? For me changing my mind comes about by listening to the voices of others who can teach me. I would be willing to bet if you read the words that follow your views will change about a diverse range of things--certain majors (engineering) about learning (cartoons can help, so can mentors and teamwork), and about stress (in secondary school and at university), By the time you finish reading you may well change your views about the purpose of learning and meaning of living a full life--really. If this introduction doesn‘t intrigue you, then I am not sure what will.***********************************************************************QuestionsYou spent the first 10 years of your life growing up in China. Can you fill us in a bit about where you lived and what it was like?I grew up in Harbin, China, a major city in the Northeast, famous for the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival each winter. Our extended family was tightknit because my parents, grandparents, and uncle's family all lived in the city, and we would often spend weekends together and share meals during the week. At school, I was part of a class of 50-some students. There were seven such classes in my grade, each led by a homeroom teacher that taught math and Chinese (the equivalent of our English classes in the U.S.), and other special subject teachers for history, music, English, and the like. At my school, the class and the same homeroom teacher stay together for all five years of elementary school, so in a way, we all kind of grew up together.Harbin Ice FestivalYou then came to the US. Where did you move to and what was the transition like? How long did it take for you to ‘fit in’ or did you ever feel like you truly fit in in middle school and high school?When I moved to the U.S., I quickly realized that my childhood English lessons were not adequate--when the cafeteria lady asked me "what's your name?" and it took me numerous seconds to process what she said, translate it to Chinese, and finally answer. For the little girl who unabashedly sang loudly in public places, not being able to speak was the hardest thing for me. Since I had a lot more free time than I was used to, I learned to take my own initiative to get better. I remember watching cartoons after school with the captions on and a notebook in hand, writing down and looking up unfamiliar words after the show. My parents were very supportive and encouraging, as well.I found a support system in my classmates, other international students, ESL teachers, and my homeroom teacher Mrs. Boyd. I will never forget her kind gesture of letting me give a speech on behalf of my class at our elementary school graduation ceremony. She really didn't have to do that--I had set foot in the country just six months ago, and my English was still poor enough that I understood maybe 10% of what anybody else said in that ceremony. But she let me go up to the podium, nervously mispronounce half the words in my short, nostalgic speech about my short time at the school. It was such an important and heartening confidence boost in a difficult time. It was Mrs. Boyd showing me that she believed in me. It was her way of saying, "hey, I know you're not perfect, but you've worked hard this semester, and I know you'll keep improving."I think the biggest lesson I learned from the culture shock of a transition from China to the U.S. was that change is inevitable in life, but when you have the right attitude and learn to adapt, it can be pretty exciting and rewarding. Things definitely turned around as I adjusted to my new home, and when my English improved. I was lucky to have found a diverse group of friends at school.You went to a wonderful high school in a college town. Throughout high school you pursued many activities in addition to challenging yourself academically. Did you find it easy to balance doing exceptionally well academically and in your extracurricular pursuits?I attended Blacksburg High School, where I found amazing teachers who pushed me both in the classroom, and in extracurricular activities like debate & forensics, national honor societies, and service organizations like National Beta Club. I've always liked a challenge, so I did have a lot on my plate. Of course it got stressful at times, and I don't think finding the "right balance" is easy for anyone! But it's a constant process, a constant opportunity for learning.I do believe that overstressed students in high school, and universities, is an alarming epidemic. Society and college applications make it seem like everyone has to be the perfect "well-rounded" student, but I honestly don't think that's really possible. It's better to be good at a few things you're passionate about, than to dabble in everything and stress yourself out just to fit society's standard of a "perfect" student.Yiqi and high school friends levitatingHave you always pushed yourself to do your best? Where does your motivation come from?I believe there's a very natural and human desire to matter. To know that your life was meaningful, that your life made other people's lives better. I wasn't always sure how to do this, but this desire motivated me to learn as much as I can so that one day I would be ready. And my view on how I can best serve others has, and continues to evolve. I know that my education involved a tremendous amount of investment from my family, my parents, my teachers, and society as a whole. It only makes sense to use what I learn to give back.How would you describe the stress level at your high school? What about the social scene? How about self-segregation in terms of cliques or even by race?Wow, high school seems like forever ago! Although my memory tends to be distorted to be the good and the happy, I do think high school tends to be a stressful time. My teachers get stressed out too. I remember my AP Calculus teacher would often say that she is "streyeeessed" in her loving southern drawl, adding several more syllables to the word, when she's behind on her lessons. There are a lot of high expectations, but I think a lot of the pressure for students is self-imposed.As for the social scene… I was lucky to find great friends who were fun, interesting, and engaging. As in any environment, people tend to cluster off in certain social groups, but I didn't consider my school to be particularly cliquey. Maybe it's a small town thing-- people were generally friendly.You were nominated by your school to compete for one of the most prestigious merit scholarships available. The scholarship emphasizes scholarship, leadership and citizenship. Could you talk a bit about what things you did that earned you the nomination.I remember hearing an after school announcement one day soliciting applications for a school nomination for the Jefferson Scholarship, for a deadline that seemed alarmingly soon. Our guidance counselor had us put together a brief application, and she notified me of the nomination a few days later so that I can start putting together the official application.Yiqi and friends from Blacksburg HSYou competed for this scholarship and were selected. Can you describe what the process was like and for those students who will be competing for merit scholarships that require interviews do you have any advice about how to approach the process?The best, most honest, most sincere advice I can give is one that everyone has heard a million times, and no one wants to hear: Be yourself. After being through both sides of selection weekend, as a finalist, and a current student, it is very clear whether you are genuine or not. The selection committee wants to get to know you as a person: to know your personalities, your quirks, your passions. So just do your best to let that show!The way to be your best self, is to know yourself. Think about what goals you worked toward in high school, what activities you were involved in, and why they were important to you. Be honest, and be yourself. Also important: be nice to people.You pursued a degree in engineering. When did you first decide that engineering was an interest? Can you talk about your academic experience as an engineering student? You were part of an honors program for top engineering students. How did this affect your education?As many engineering students might tell you, I really didn't know what engineering meant in high school. I wish that engineering education were more universally available in primary and secondary schools. At the time, I just knew that I liked math and science. It was during my first year, introduction to engineering course that I learned how engineering is about problem solving, working in teams, learning on your feet, etc. I am so thankful to have had an engineering education. Not only did I learn a lot of technical knowledge and skills, it strongly shaped my worldview. I learned to be flexible, lead a team, tackle an unfamiliar problem, identify root causes of a problem, effectively pitch ideas to others, and even write--yes, engineers write a ton. It has prepared me for not only a career, but for real life.I was fortunate to be part of the Rodman Scholars program, which was a huge part of my undergraduate experience. I found a mentor and friend in the director, Professor Dana Elzey, numerous life-long friends in my classmates, role models in older scholars, and so much more. For anyone interested in UVA Engineering, I would highly recommend looking into this program.Yiqi and university friends at a football gameWhat was your major? What was your capstone project and can you name anyone who might have served as a mentor or any classes that changes the way you looked at engineering or education overall? Is there anything you wish you had done that you did not?I majored in biomedical engineering. My capstone project was to design a bioreactor for regenerating muscle tissue. Having mentors throughout my college were paramount to my education. I can particularly speak for UVA BME when I say that our professors genuinely care about the success of each student, and generously offer their time to guide us, and support us. It was crucial to me to have these amazing professors give me advice about future careers, which classes to take, how to tackle a difficult project or homework assignment, and more. Without these amazing mentors to offer advice and to write recommendation letters on my behalf, I would not be where I am today.Did you ever feel that you were held back by stereotypes ascribed to Asians or to women in engineering?The gender gap in STEM fields is for sure a serious problem. Research shows again and again that women engineers get paid less than male peers, and there is a high attrition rate of females in these fields. Through Engineering Students without Borders, we aimed to provide opportunities for engineering students to work on projects that have a social mission, both in the Charlottesville community and abroad. Having these opportunities works against the stereotype that engineers just build "cool gadgets." In reality, engineers also need to have empathy, and be able to understand the social context in which their technology will be implemented.In my experience, I have found my work environments to be very welcoming, and my colleagues and advisors to be very friendly, interesting, and collaborative. But I think there are a lot of stereotypes that can serve to hold people back. That said, our own attitudes are also crucial. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.' While none of us have control over how others may judge us, we should at least never discount our own abilities based on those stereotypes.I have known many students over the years but I have to say the list of activities you were involved with is long enough and deep enough to intimidate virtually anyone on earth:Activities:Engineering Students Without Borders, vice president, events chair academic chair; Rodman Council, co-president,academic chair, First Year Representative; Engineering Dean’s Ambassador Program; Rodman Seminars, Student-Led Seminars Initiative, initiator; University Salsa Club; The Spectra Engineering and Science Research Journal, primary editor, publicity chair; Global Ingenuity 21: Page on u.va. Engineering in Braunschweig, Summer Study Abroad; Days on the Lawn, panelist; SEAS Open House, volunteer; Biomedical Engineering Spring Open House, panelist; Society of Women Engineers, public service committee, High School Visitation, panelist; UVA-Coulter Translational Research Partnership, FMT Design Retreat; Hoos Recycle, Game Day Challenge, volunteer; Habitat for Humanity, collegiate challenge, Lexington, Kentucky; Pancakes for Parkinson’s, volunteer; Lorna Sundberg International Center, cultural cooking class leader; Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development, aquaponics consultant; Madison House, ESL tutor; Flash Seminars, co-organizer; Hartfield-Jefferson Teaching Prize Selection Committee; ImpactUVA Conference, co-founder, case competition head writer; ACC Meeting of the Minds Undergraduate Research Conference 2014, presenter; National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Conference 2014, presenter; UVA Entrepreneurship Cup, team captain, engineering track winner, second place in the University-Wide competition; BME Vascular Systems and Bioengineering Lab, researcher; School of Nursing, forensics nursing researcher; Global Water Brigades, Honduras 2013; Alternative Spring Break, Nashville, Rodman Education Abroad Scholarship; Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society; Raven Society; Arts Award; Harrison Undergraduate Research Award; Baireuther Service Learning Grant; Rodman Innovation Fund Recipient; Rodman Education Abroad Scholarship; Raven Scholarship; Intermediate Honors; Lawn Resident; Dean’s List; Rodman ScholarYiqi and friends at graduationHow did you manage to do so many things and still keep up with your work and have a social life too?That list documents all of my involvements over four years. At no point did I manage all of those things at once! During first and second year, I experimented with a lot of different activities in order to explore my interests. Even with an engineering education, there are so many different potential career paths: traditional engineering, teaching, entrepreneurship, policy, etc. It was important to me to explore all of these options, so that that whatever I ultimately decided to do, I do with conviction. As my interests matured, I focused and deepened my involvements in fewer organizations and endeavors.I believe the key is to enjoy what you do. I never signed up for an activities as "resume boosters." I don't think that's worth anyone's limited time. I would recommend exploring the many opportunities that are available in college--definitely don't solely keep doing what you were doing in high school. Look for organizations that interest you, communities that bring out the best in you. Don’t be afraid to try new things--but know that after a while, it's important to pare down your involvements so you don't get overstressed.For me, it was also important to manage my time efficiently. For example, when I set out to complete an assignment, I focus just on the matter at hand, instead of half focusing and half watching TV or something. This allows me to spend less time to complete the same amount of work. I prioritized quality time with friends, as well. Instead of sitting in silence watching a movie, my friends and I would go on a hike, explore the downtown mall in Charlottesville, try a cool restaurant, etc. These activities allow us to engage more deeply. However, no one pulls off the balance perfectly. Of course I've missed out on social events because of a project or assignment, and of course I've studied less for an exam than I should have because I wanted to spend time with friends. We all do the best we can, and prioritize things that are most important to us.Can you talk about a couple activities that meant the most to you and why?Through Engineering Students without Borders, I've learned how technical engineering skills can be used to make a tangible difference in people's lives. I learned that students can make a difference right here and right now-- no need to wait until you have a degree, and no need to travel to the other side of the world. Rodman Scholars Council was a community where I found life-long friends, mentors, and awesome teammates. I learned to organize large events, plan seminars, and work with others. My research at Dr. Shayn Peirce-Cottler's lab in the bioengineering department gave me a deeply, hands-on experience in biomedical engineering research, which led me to career path that I chose to pursue. For that, I couldn't be more thankful!Last fall, you were selected to give a TEDx talk. Can you bring us through how you thought of the topic you did, how you prepared for it? Was it fun? What did your grandparents and parents say about it?In the summer after my second year of college, I spent a few weeks with my grandparents in China writing down their recipes and stories as a way to explore my family history. I set out to do this project with no expectations for publicizing it. My motivation was deeply personal: to spend time with my grandparents in years, and to get to know my family in a deeper way. I was excited, but also surprised, to have been contact by the TEDxCharlottesville team, who heard about my project from others. It was a very fun experience! Writing the speech itself helped me learn a lot about myself, and the conference was an exciting opportunity to meet many interesting people. It was an honor to share the stage with such incredible people in our community, and I am very thankful for the support of my family and friends who helped me along the way.Can you tell us a bit about your immediate plans for this year?This fall, I will pursue a Ph.D. in Bioengineering through the UC Berkeley - UCSF joint program. I am incredibly excited to move out to the West Coast.Do you have long-term plans too? If so what do they include?We'll have to see! I don't get too caught up in long-term plans because there are so many factors outside of our control that can easily change the course of our lives. I do have some ideas of where I'd like to be. For one, I want to continue designing medical devices and therapies to advance human health. Maybe in entrepreneurship-- part of the reason I chose the West Coast is the thriving biotech scene. I always have had a passion for education, given that my story is inextricably linked to those of my teachers and professors. So maybe I'll give a shot at that. We'll see!I have talked with you a number of times over the years and I have never seen you incredibly stressed or overwhelmed with work or anything else. What is your secret? I am sure many would love to be able to do many things and do them well and also be happy while doing them. Any advice?I think everyone gets stressed or overwhelmed at some points. There is such a compulsion in our society to be effortlessly perfect, but nobody can truly pull that off. Furthermore, if you're truly passionate about something, it's supposed to be hard, and it's supposed to stress you out. The important thing is to manage the inevitable stressful times, and don't forget to relax and to value the meaningful relationships in your life.It has always been very important to me to be self-aware. To be aware whether I'm happy or whether I am stressed, whether an experience is allowing me to grow, or whether I should move on. Being aware is the first step to fixing a situation that may need fixing. I keep a journal to help me reflect. In addition, I would advise that students not be afraid to ask for help. Sure, it's hard to put yourself out there as vulnerable, but it's always been helpful for me to confide in friends and to seek advice from mentors and other classmates. And pay it forward! Be there for others if there's anything that you can do to help. Having a community of support is very important to happiness.**************************************************There are many recently published books, articles and posts on social media about how students today are more stressed out, more depressed, and more at risk than at any point in the past. Each week there seems to be another book about how kids are falling off or even jumping off the ledge because of what it takes to come out near the top of competitive secondary schools and colleges and universitiesThe writers of these books and articles call the admission process to selective schools “madness”, then call the students who do succeed “excellent sheep” and “entitled little shits”. In addition, they call the parents who shepherd their children through this deadly game unhealthy—downright sick really, because of what they do to keep their children from growing up and what they do to themselves by making their lives one long series of things designed to help their children succeed. For me, it’s reading books like this that is really depressing. By the time I finish reading them I feel as if there must not be a single student left who is doing well in terms of grades, activities, and a commitment to the larger moral and ethical issues while at the same time having time for friends, fun and the development of a healthy self.But I am lucky. I know Yiqi. Her words demonstrate that the apocalyptic narratives about education and students that get all the press does not speak for everyone. It certainly does not speak for the majority of students who are not trying to come out at the very top. Instead, these jeremiads preach to those who are fighting to keep up with people who are truly gifted, people like Yiqi. I know it is not at all politically correct to say this, but some people have the ability to take on a lot more, both academically and in other areas than most of the rest of us. Yiqi is one of those. She is able to balance her life and to focus on family (watch her TEDx talk to see), on helping others, on teamwork in engineering, and on developing products that will help heal others etc.It is not, however, as if her ability to do all this has come easy. She demonstrates she has a laser focus, a desire to do well and some inborn gifts that let her see connections and answers faster than many. Yes, it is true, life is not fair. Now if I hope to undermine the dystopian visions of the books and writers who say we live in dark times for parents and student using just one cherry picked example is not all that different than what these writers do when trying to prove their ‘walking dead’ scripts. While Yiqi is extraordinary, so are a lot of the other students I have interviewed for this blog over the past several years. These students have excelled, become involved in things larger than a major or a career, and also made great friends and have not (in most cases) struggled with the dark side to get through. Yiqi admits the stress is there but also knows how to address it and also knows how to alleviate it. I know the writers of these books and articles who employ an Old Testament tone are trying to help some who are struggling under the pressure but I also know they are trying to sell books too. In the media bubble we live in subtle and nuanced views that looks at both sides are not often rewarded. Neuroscience has made it clear and scientific that we are wired to want the way they view the world re-enforced. It takes effort and education to get us to question our views. TV ratings data shows that arguments, which do not have a simple thesis and an Us vs. Them approach, do not get rewarded with high ratings or book deals or clicks on the web.Yiqi and others I meet on a daily basis, in person or on the web or via emailetc. demonstrate to me that there are many, many students today who are as good and as healthy and as forward looking as at any time in our history. Yiqi gives me hope that there are citizen scholars who will become leaders who can help all of us.I would like to thank Yiqi for sharing her inspiring words and experiences here. I have been able to talk with her periodically over the years and each time I came away knowing something new and knowing that she has a bright future ahead of her. I know she will be doing wonderful things as she does her research for her PhD. I imagine we will be hearing about some of them in the not too distant future.Claire and Yiqi
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