Michelle: How has senior year been going, and how does it feel to come close to the end?
Nicole: I guess especially this year, I’ve just been really trying to make an effort to appreciate literally every aspect of my life here and trying to make time for all the people in my life, not just my best friends but also the people I know on a lighter level, too. I feel like especially during my freshman and sophomore year I was very much the kind of person who thought school was more important and that I had to put my studies first. When people would invite me to something, I would often say “I can’t go, sorry, I have to do this homework, or study for this test.” Not that school isn’t important now, too, it obviously still is; but I’ve definitely been taking more time to just stop by for an hour when people are doing something and they invite me, and do my homework later or push it to tomorrow morning to take the time to spend with friends. It’s been very bittersweet but it’s also been nice being able to have those moments with people and spending more time with the people I care about while I’m still here.
M: What are your favorite things to take time for now?
N: It’s fun to plan things with people and get out to try new things. But, I also like the more spontaneous things, like just going bowling instead and just doing that, or having a friend call me and turning it into a game night. My favorite moments are when you’re just expecting to have a typical day and it ends up being a more spontaneous hang out with friends that you didn’t expect and just roll with it. It always ends up being a really amazing time.
M: Do you have a really memorable experience?
N: Earlier this year, I was with some of my friends and we originally planned on lunch and going to this brewery. It was right after we came back from winter break, and we decided to just spend the whole day together and keep it going. We ended up going out to dinner, too, and we were talking when our waiter came over and asked us about being students. We told him we were seniors and we were really sad about it. That’s kind of the general attitude about the last semester and being all sentimental. He kind of looked at us like “What are you sad about? You’re about graduate, you’re going to go change the world. There’s nothing to be upset about.” That really stuck in my head because that wasn’t everyone’s attitude; yeah, it’s sad that everything’s coming to an end, but there’s also so many new opportunities that are coming our way and so many new memories that we’re going to make. We’re ending our time here, but even when you don’t have anything figured out, things are going to really start to get interesting. There are a lot of things to look forward to in the same sense. That really stuck out to me because it was a nice sentimental time with friends, but this guy came in and helped us look at it from this way, too.
M: So what are you most excited about after graduation?
N: I’m excited about figuring my life out. I haven’t really gotten there yet. In a lot of ways, I thought that I would have my life figured out at this point. At the same time, I know this next year is going to be kind of a roller coaster because the programs that I’ve been applying to are just for a few months, and then I’ll be going to grad school after that. I’m excited to see the places I’ll end up in, because I’m not sure how that will look like yet, or the people I’ll meet in those places. I’m also excited about the relationships I’ll keep in touch with from William & Mary and from home, and being able to see those people again after periods of time and pick up where we left off.
M: So what are you looking to do?
N: Eventually, I want to go to grad school, probably in a year or two. But in between that time, I’m trying to get research experience in marine mammal cognition. I’ve been applying to different research labs and volunteer programs to both get experience working with animals–I’ve worked with fruit flies here, but my work with fruit flies isn’t the most applicable to dolphins and sea lions, so I’m trying to dip my toes in the water with that, literally and figuratively–and also to build on my research experience. Fingers crossed, that one of them will take a chance on me!
M: What drew you to studying marine mammals?
N: I study neuroscience now, which I had planned on going in as a Biology major as well as Psychology. I wanted to do the biology of psychology and my advisor pointed out to me that that literally was neuroscience, so I would consider that. During my time studying that here, I always found that the research articles or the topics I genuinely got excited about were the ones about animals. So I thought, why have this be something I occasionally read and get excited about? I want my whole life to be something I can be excited about everything that I’m doing, so I’ll do animal cognition instead of people. People are great too, but I find to be animals more interesting and cool to work with.
M: Have you worked with animals before?
N: I haven’t, I’ve always loved learning about them, though. When I was younger, I felt that I wanted to study marine biology and I thought that that was what I would end up going to college for. I’m not really sure what happened in high school, where I kind of got away from that and wanted to go into more lab research. But I’m glad that I’m deciding that I want to reclaim my childhood dream. I also wanted to be a whale trainer for a while as a kid, but then I saw blackfish and I don’t know anymore! I think it will be cool to combine my initial interest of working with animals with the later one of lab research though.
M: I know you studied abroad, how did that influence your experience here?
N: I previously was very much someone to always put school first and was very focused on my grades–school is important, and this is a very hard school–but, having the chance to go abroad meant having the chance to take classes where my grade only counted as transfer credit. It didn’t matter if I got an “A” because it would only show up as a “T” on my transcript, I only had to pass. Also, the school I was studying at, it was a good school, but I felt like it wasn’t as hard as William & Mary. So I had the chance to spend time with friends and know that I’ll be fine and still get a good grade by simply paying attention in class. I really just had no stress about school whatsoever because the pressure to do well wasn’t there. At the same time, I ended up doing really well in all my classes. I was still taking things like neuroanatomy and global health, so they weren’t complete jokes of classes. Just having all the pressure off allowed me to excel in them and let me realize how much stress actually affects your grades–me being really stressed out about things at school wasn’t the best motivator. Before I went abroad, I would be getting so stressed about some of my classes that I would be nauseous just from nerves, and that isn’t normal at all. I don’t need to live my life like that. So coming back into senior year, I still have hard classes left for my major but I’ve really calmed down and taken the time to enjoy myself with friends. Making sure I’m feeling emotionally healthy, too, helps my grades way more than studying all the time- and is also just a better use of my time. It definitely changed my outlook on my studies. Getting a break and being away from here for a few months and returning for senior year made me appreciate everything here. It made senior year more special in that sense.
M: What else changed your outlook here at William & Mary?
N: When I was looking for different dealing with stress tactics, my dentist recommended me to make short term checklist of different things you could check off. It gave me a more tunnel-vision to get through the short term things, and I wasn’t stressed about the other things that were happening or coming up later. I started doing that, and realized the way I was measuring my days was by how much I was checking off that I was stressed about. I heard of people doing a one-line journal entry a day, and I have a friend who does a notecard thing where she adds onto it each year. To try to make things a little more positive, I started writing down everyday before I go to bed one thing that made me smile that day, or made me happy. Sometimes it’ll be something really fun like spending the day going to wineries with friends or going on a cool hike, but sometimes it’s just something really simple like- I was in Swem all day but then I ran into this person and they told me a story that really made me laugh and brightened my day. Then, when I am really stressed out, it’s nice to both reflect on the day and find that one thing that still really made me happy, and it’s nice to have the whole collection to look through when I need some cheering up too.
M: If you were to give underclassmen advice, what would it be?
N: I think it would be to take the time to appreciate everyone in your life. Something I’ve been thinking about recently when people talk about what they’re going to miss the most about William & Mary, is that I’ll miss my friends, obviously, and being in such close proximity to them. But I know that the people I’ve become really close friends with, I’ll stay in touch with them and see them again. The thing that makes me more sad about are the people who I’m more lightly friends with and the ones that I’ll have a 20 minute conversation with when I run into them, but never explicitly make plans to hangout with, and the thought of falling out of touch with those relationships that I still really value in a different way. I just wish I would’ve had more time to develop those relationships. I love how easy it is to connect with people here and how genuinely interested everyone is in meeting new people. I guess my advice would be to just really just take advantage of the community we have here and put yourself out there as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out to get to know someone. Sometimes I’ll be kind of nervous doing that, which is ironic as someone who goes around and interviews strangers, but I still get nervous when I go up to someone I don’t know and talk to them, but I never regret striking up a conversation and getting to know someone a little more. Even if it doesn’t turn into “Wow, you’re now one of my best friends!” you really won’t regret making an effort to converse with the people around you. I would really say, try to get to know as many people as you can and hear as many stories as you can.