I arrived in Moscow on a direct flight from JFK International. Just a few hours before the flight I was notified that Moscow State University had somehow forgotten to reserve our rooms for us American students… something they haven’t done in over fifteen years. I arrived at Sheremetyevo airport a little nervous. I knew nothing about what lay ahead. After a few moments I met up with other American students and we were told to get into a car heading to our apartment in Shablovka. Luckily, I grabbed a car with a student from New York who spoke fluent Russian. As we crept slowly toward Moscow, and I say crept only because traffic is insane and ever-present here, I was shocked by the beauty of Moscow’s architecture.
I had, for some reason, imagined Moscow’s architecture as being austere before coming here. I pictured easy-to-build, mass-produced, government-planned concrete buildings everywhere like I had seen in many Soviet history films. Instead, I found myself in one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Moscow, to me, is the “crossroads of the world” because the buildings here are so eclectic. It sits at the intersection of Europe, Siberia, and Central Asia. Its buildings have hints of Middle Eastern, European and Central/South Asian influences coupled with uniquely Russian elements.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting all of our entering A&S students during the University’s K Week events, wherein we welcomed our largest undergraduate class ever. The official numbers are not in yet, but the University was set to enroll as many as 4700 new first-year students, up from 4100 last year. The total number of A&S majors is also set to achieve an enrollment high. As the College teaches 85% of all UK Core and 60% of all undergraduate students credit hours we will see almost all these new first-year students in our courses this fall. Educating such a large number of students can be exhilarating. On this issue, I am continually impressed, at the innovation and dedication of the A&S faculty. Over the last several months many departments have taken on curricular revisions. For just a few examples I offer the following: the Department of Mathematics offered a calculus boot camp for incoming students two weeks before classes started. Dubbed FastTrack, first-year students came to campus in early August for an intensive, two-week, 8-hour a day calculus study, and by all measures this pilot program was a success with plans for further expansion next year. The Chemistry Department has completely reimaged their General Chemistry courses, which is the most populous course in the entire University.
The start of the new academic year has arrived. I am pleased to welcome our returning students back to UK’s College of Arts & Sciences.
And I am thrilled to have so many new students joining us.
The College of Arts and Sciences is the home of knowledge. It is the home of Aristotle and Plato. It is the home of Einstein and Galileo. It is the home of DuBois and Skinner. It is the home of Darwin and Goodall. It is the foundation of all professions, it is home to the scholarship, written communication, and quantitative reasoning of all major discoveries.
And now it is also your home. For the next four years, you have been granted the time and space to learn to live a life driven by the mind. Spend the time wisely. It is the biggest investment you will ever make. Use it to explore some of the most pressing questions of our time, challenge major assumptions, adopt new opinions, investigate long-standing theories, discover new worlds, dream big dreams, and sharpen your critical thinking skill sets. Use it to be tested and tasked, to define yourself for yourself and to begin your professional and personal life.
After lunch, was something called “Collaboration exercises”, which I thought were silly games designed to encourage teamwork. At lunch a few POST-DOCS shared their past physiology retreat experiences. They were excited to see more Collaborative exercises on the schedule, because they got so much out of it last time—this said with absolutely no sense of sarcasm. That should have been my first clue that I should stop preparing myself to build a bridge with toothpicks and marshmallows.
The basis of the exercise consisted of choosing two partners from different specialties, who you wouldn’t normally meet, and share each other’s research and think of a possible joint research project which combines both specialties. I quickly began to panic. I mean what could I, as an undergraduate, working in their first lab, offer a graduate student who has been working years in their field. I began compiling a list of the most scientific sounding words in my head and practicing my head nodding skills AKA “Poker-FACE”—I would need them if I was going to hear words like “N-arachidonoylphosphatidylethanolamine” without flinching.
I love reading friends’ blogs, especially when they involve some great sounding food. However I never really enjoy when people share the basics of their trip, it’s like devoting an entire post about the regular bread and butter served and not even mentioning the ostrich stew main course. I am talking about that general information about a new landscape that could be more easily expressed by WIKI page. Well I looked all through Wikepedia, and there was no information regarding the UK 2012 Physiology Department Retreat…I know I was shocked too. So I think we just have to bear through this if we ever want to get to the main course.
After a two hour drive, we reached the 4-H Convention Center and hit the ground running. I quickly loaded up on caffeine; I would need to be at my best if I was going to attempt to keep up with this crowd. I found an itinerary and tried to acclimate myself to the events to come. It seemed like most of the time before lunch would be spent in a lecture type of environment, so ran to reload on caffeine. To give you a sense of the itinerary the list included:
Hola Amigos! A couple days ago, I got to be a part of a brilliant trip to Jabez, KY. Which is a sentence I once thought could only be a Catch 22. For those of you that don’t know, Jabez is a small town in the middle of nowhere, with a population of trees larger than its actual human residents (NOTE: This figure is a loose estimation). It is a common site for many team/group retreats, which I think is mainly because of its terrible phone reception; but who knows, it could be its scenic country side or tranquil silence, if you’re into that.
So for the past 10 weeks I have been in Paris working on artificial intelligence research at Universitie Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC). As I wrap up my work for the trip and prepare to come back to the States, I wanted to write about the research part of the trip as opposed to the previous posts I have done that have focused on spending time in the city.
I have worked for the past year with Dr. Judy Goldsmith in UK's computer science department. When I expressed interest in going abroad this summer, she arranged for me to come to Paris and work with one of her friends on research that was very similar to the on going project I had. Her friend, Dr. Patrice Perny, was also very helpful in finding out what kind of visa I would need and arranging some funding. Dr. Jinze Liu in the CS department was also very helpful with getting financial support. So with the exception of almost falling into a housing scam, getting to and settling in Paris went very smoothly.
When I was taking French classes in middle school the go-to video for when we had a substitute teacher was a documentary on the Chateau at Versailles. Seeing the same documentary five times a year did not make me want to go to Versailles anymore then I already did. Fortunately it did not dull my interest so six weeks into my stay in Paris I decided to check it out myself. Versailles (Vear-Sie) is about as close to Paris as Versailles (Ver-Sales) is to Lexington. I was accompanied on my excursion by a group of students from Chicago who were visiting Paris. The other students had museum passes that let them avoid the long line to buy tickets but since I did not I rode along with a friend of the students' teacher who drove ahead early to get her ticket.
As Versailles is very big (and incredibly takes up only a small percentage of the entire estate) it would be impossible to describe everything. The most striking feature is how ornate everything is. And I mean everything. Every wall, ceiling, fireplace, statue, whatever. If it was in the palace it looked as if an artist had spent months on it. It is easy to see why the French people rebelled against this type of extravagance using tax money.