Nidhi Subbaraman (Class of 2009)

  • enlarged photo of Nidhi Subbaramansenior Biochemistry major
  • minor in Mathematics
  • from Dubai, UAE
  • Benjamin Harrison Scholar
  • Beckman Scholar
  • co-author on the cover article of the May 2009 issue of Journal of Magnetic Resonance
  • exponent of classical Indian music

Our original conversation with Nidhi was conducted in October 2008.

Update: January 26, 2010

Where are you now?

"I am now in the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT. This master's program leads into a career working for print publications (like New Scientist and National Geographic), radio, or television, writing about science news.

"Through most of my time at Miami, I thought I would be a research scientist. Then, a class in the Honors Program in my senior year prodded me to really think about how my interests had morphed during my time in college. So, that December I applied to science journalism programs.

"I spent a lot of time at Miami working in the Lorigan research lab in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Even though I haven't gone on to do more research in chemistry, the opportunity to be a part of the community I will now be writing about has been really valuable.

"MIT is a very busy place. There's tons of incredible work in science going on here and in other universities in the city, and speakers and presentations occur daily. The graduate student body is large and very active, so there are tons of student organizations and events to participate in, to take a break from schoolwork. It's been a packed few months here in graduate school, but it's been rewarding all through!"

Original Conversation: October 2008

How did you choose MU?

"I considered a lot of liberal art colleges in the US, since that's the kind of education I was looking for, and I did apply to several other excellent schools, but in the end I settled on Miami as it offered a generous Harrison Scholarship towards my room and board. It also offered me a number of other exciting real-world opportunities."

Such as?

"Miami allowed me to work and experience a laboratory and do serious research at the undergraduate level. Miami had the right student-faculty ratio I was looking for in my college classes and a reasonably large graduate program as well. It had the right mix."

How did you choose your major?

"Basically, I had a variety of different classes in school and I found that I was always better at math, and I wanted to do something with it. I looked for something in the sciences but I knew I didn't want to be an engineer or work in the pure sciences."

The hospitality on campus is also very nice, people talk to you on the street … it's comforting to know that there are people looking out for you.

How would you describe the community at Miami?

"The Miami community is very open and welcoming to international students.

"When I joined Miami a couple of years ago, we had an international graduate body of about 28 people and there was a welcoming orientation meeting to insure we were well taken care of. I appreciated this very much. The hospitality on campus is also very nice, people talk to you on the street … it's comforting to know that there are people looking out for you.

"I know that since I've been at Miami there has been a rapid expansion of the number of undergraduate Asian students that have enrolled. When I got here I wanted to integrate myself into American society and fortunately I felt accepted in the Honors program.

"I never really had to adapt to Miami … sure it was a bit lonely at first, but then I got involved in my classes and it has been easy."

How is life in a freshman dorm?

"I am glad that I stayed at Tappan Hall during my freshman year. All my friends that I have till now have been from then. They are all very nice people, very motivated and ambitious. There is so much energy and cohesiveness that comes from living in a freshman dorm … it's a very idealistic and filled with enthusiasm."

What about learning experiences outside the classroom?

"I have been trained in Indian classical music and before coming to Miami I did not have much exposure to Western music: the concepts of beats and musical structure used as a tool of communication.

"I did an independent study that covered as an Honors' Experience. I got to study the next semester's pieces and incorporated some concepts from a philosophy class I was taking at the same time … I studied how humanity looks at the 'unknown' and other philosophical questions about things like heaven, and death, that certain Western composers were asking through their musical pieces."

The [biochemistry major] teaches you to be focused and ambitious and gives you real-world experience … having rigorous course work with intensive laboratory and independent research experience.

Is the program what you thought it was going to be like?

"Most of my involvement with MU has been through two departments, Chemistry & Biochemistry and the Honors programs and a number of independent studies that I created for myself. I haven't taken very many Miami Plan … actually I tried to stay away from it.

"The biochemistry major at Miami has been rigorous … the courses are very challenging and you have to take special advanced classes if you intend to major. The department takes its bachelors' degrees in chemistry very seriously; their majors are expected to do a significant amount of work if they are to graduate. They have an intense amount of varied chemistry classes and it was made very clear what they expected out of me. I had room for undergraduate research and it supported me during my research.

"The program teaches you to be focused and ambitious and gives you real-world experience … having rigorous course work with intensive laboratory and independent research experience.

"The Honors program has certainly enriched my academic life, because the classes are small and the faculty are very motivated faculty … the dialogue and discussions fostered in class have been very important … I get to see what the other people are saying make my own opinions and the professors encourage that.

"The Honors program has been crucial in all the things that I have been involved in … in terms of funding and having programs for creative projects. Academically and non-academically they have been supportive and pointed me in the right direction …they have been very encouraging and intellectually provoking and I have done a number of independent study projects through them."

What have you done during your summers?

"I have spent most of my summers doing undergraduate research in the biochemistry department working on membrane protein structures. I am investigating the acetylcholine receptor molecular structure using magnetic resonance and coming up with model systems. My work identifying the characteristics of such structures has implications on drug treatment and drug targets.

"Through the Honor's program, in my freshman year, I visited Ireland and New York … I never expected to ever get to do such things. On these pre-planned excursions with a bunch of other students from other departments, we had organized tours to explore the castles and countryside of Ireland and the sights and sounds of New York."

Miami offers a large number of diverse options, academics-wise and otherwise. Do a lot of things … take many classes … don't stick to a 'plan' …

What advice would you give to incoming students?

"Take your time deciding what you want to do with your life. Miami offers a large number of diverse options, academics-wise and otherwise. Do a lot of things … take many classes … don't stick to a 'plan' … change things around to what suits you."

Are you saying be a rebel?

"That may be a bit strong … be yourself … If you are a rebel, that's good too."

What is your favorite Miami tradition?

"I'm not sure if it's a tradition really, but I'd have to say that it would be the RedHawk Hunt, which is a 24-hour-long treasure hunt across the campus. I learned such a lot about the history of Miami and Oxford. There was great interaction amongst other Miami students trying to figure out the clues. The game enriched me on so many levels: personal, social, and intellectual."

So how do you balance it all?

"I don't really need to balance … I love the different stimulations … it keeps me alive! I have learned to prioritize and spend some part of my weekends having fun uptown. I work hard and arrange things so that they work quickly and efficiently. Time management is a very significant out-of-class learning experience … so much of growing up is done when you learn to manage your own time."

What are your plans after school?

"I haven't yet decided which area of biochemistry research I will be pursuing, but I have been applying to a number of doctoral programs across the country and MU has given me a very competitive edge as I have been doing undergraduate research work already."

Which three people in history would you most like to have dinner with? What would be the main course? All at the same time?

"Well, I'd dine with … Adrienne Rich … She is a poet, activist and a feminist … She is phenomenal.

"Neils Bohr … because he was there when all the quantum mechanics revolution took place …

"… and finally one of my great grandparents who happened to be an astrologer.

"The main course would be spinach."

[October 2008]