‘Island Girl’ Takes On SSP

By Helen C.

Over an obscure island in the bottom right corner of the world map (you might have heard of it, it’s called New Zealand?), the sun is setting on the fifth day of SSP. 

For the past five days, I have spent my mornings half-asleep in 6am campus blocks, and ended my days with my mind still reeling from the astronomical amounts of information I learnt through the lectures, Labster simulations, and problem sets. Today was no exception. Although BLAST, Genscan and SnapGene were reasonably understandable, our task of designing our own primers was definitely a challenge. 

Part of a plasmid that caused my research team a lot of pain today :,)

There is so much I want to say about this program, through which this bewildered kiwi girl has made many new friends from all corners of the globe and experienced what it means to do “real science” for the first time. So to keep this relatively short, I’ll break this blog into three short takeaways:

1. SSP is hard. I came into this program expecting to be challenged. I just didn’t anticipate how much. The intense pre-program work and the exponentially increasing difficulty of the workload is designed to be far beyond the usual high school curriculum. For seven hours a day, I have the privilege of interacting with some of the most intelligent students, TA’s and professors in the world, who cultivate an environment where you’re encouraged to discover new things and ask questions. I am far from the smartest participant in SSP, but I’ve been helped by the genuine kindness of the lovely professors, and TA’s Helen (my first and last name twin!!!), Saj, Kevin, Devin and Rachel first-hand, so hopefully I’m getting there.

2. SSP is fun! I have loved the hysterical games of Gartic Phone, where slander of TA Kevin’s weird coffee-tea hybrid and TA Saj’s ‘mistreatment’ of her cat is openly encouraged, and the casual banter in zoom meetings that really make SSP feel like a second family. I’ve met students from around the world, including fellow debaters and MOE-haters, and learned some interesting science along the way.

3. Americans are weird. As the only participant from New Zealand, I found (and still find) American culture utterly incomprehensible. From sitting in campus block breakout rooms nodding along while strange fast-food chain names like Chick Fil-A and Chipotle go in one ear and out the other, to being teased by my research team for my pronunciation of “BLAST” (pronounced “bl-ah-st”, thank you very much), I’ve certainly learned a lot about the other side of the world. I learned that although I might never fully understand the American SSP-ers, they are definitely a cool bunch to hang out with, and have helped me set a higher standard for myself, academically and personally.

To restate what must have been said by hundreds of current participants and alumni, SSP has truly been a life-changing experience. The SSP experience has inspired in me a deeper respect for science, and encouraged me to become as driven and passionate as my fellow participants. I am optimistic that at the end of the next four weeks, I will have not only improved at successfully waking up at 5am, but also become more knowledgeable about the applications of biochemistry.