Nick Simon '09

Nick Simon

Nick Simon '09

Hometown: Falls Church, Virginia
Major: Neuroscience

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
It was a pretty easy choice. My sister went here and the couple times I went to visit her I had a blast. We went to sporting events, performances on campus, and even got the chance to see Dave Chapelle perform stand-up in Portland. Everyone struck me as fun, easygoing, and extremely smart. I had the choice of applying early to Bowdoin where I knew I'd have a great experience, or spending weekends driving around to go on college tours during my winter vacation. So for me it was kind of a no brainer, and also one of the best decisions I've made.

Why did you choose your major?
I totally fell into it. I came to Bowdoin thinking I would major in government or history, but ended up not getting any of the classes I really wanted freshman year. I wound up taking Organic Chemistry and Social Psychology and really enjoyed both of them. I liked reading about how humans operated in social environments and what forces had the biggest effect on people's actions. At the same time, I really enjoyed the analytic approach of organic chemistry to looking at how compounds are formed. I wanted to combine my interest in humans with the reductionistic approach of organic chemistry to try and learn about what factors are involved in determining how humans act. Looking at the available majors, neuroscience perfectly fit my interests. Also, I enjoy spending countless hours in lab.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
My favorite courses at Bowdoin have been my neuroscience seminars. The two seminars I have taken here have had fewer than ten people in them and basically consisted of us talking to each other about papers people thought were cool. Each class one student led the discussion while the professors took a back seat, only chiming in after the major issues and concepts had been covered. Both of the seminars culminated in literature reviews about whatever subject interested you the most. For example, I find sleep to be very interesting. In my Comparative Neuroanatomy course I was able look at sleep not only in humans, but mammals, insects, and invertebrates. While the irony of staying up late researching the importance of sleep was not lost on me, I worked the hardest I ever have on that paper because I found the topic so compelling. I feel I learned the most in those classes because I was pushed to define and pursue the aspects of neuroscience that draw me the most.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Seth Ramus, my honors advisor, has had a huge impact on my experience here at Bowdoin. The classes I've had with him, Lab in Behavior Neuroscience and Memory and the Brain, have taught me how to read critically and ask questions. I am now doing an honors project with him, looking at how memory information flows through the brain, and throughout the course of the project he has taught me how to go about answering my own questions. When something's not working, it's up to me to find the answer. I think the most valuable thing I've learned from him is how to be self-sufficient.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
While I've enjoyed the classes I've taken, it has really been my extracurriculars that have defined my time here at Bowdoin. I worked in Thorne and as an academic mentor for the Baldwin Program for Academic Development, played on the rugby team, served on a Bowdoin Student Government committee, participated in leadership training through the Outing Club, and went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Guatemala. I am now in the process of planning another Alternative Spring Break trip to go to New Mexico to look at public health issues on Native American reservations. It has been these activities that I will look back upon as having made up my college experience.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
While I did not study abroad, I was able to take advantage of other opportunities on campus for travel. My junior year I went to Israel with a class, Israeli Palestinian Conflict, for two weeks during winter break—it was incredible. After spending a semester learning about the conflict it was amazing to actually go and talk to the different parties involved and hear their accounts first hand. We talked to Palestinians living in the West Bank, conservative Jews living in Jerusalem, Israeli army officials, and many other groups all with differing views and opinions. I also was able to visit a new country with a different culture through an ASB trip where we traveled to Guatemala during spring break. The purpose of the trip was to work with children who lived in the Guatemalan City Dump. While it was heartbreaking to see the conditions they lived in, it was awesome to interact and play with the children.

What have you done during your summers?
The summer after my first year, I worked as a waiter, which was a lot of fun, but also fairly exhausting. For the last two summers I've worked in labs, first in a lab at the University of Idaho studying ACL rehabilitation techniques, and then in a lab here at Bowdoin studying memory. In Idaho I worked one-on-one with a professor to design a study looking at how losing an ACL affects balance and reaction time, and the best ways to restore these abilities. We had women who had had an ACL reconstruction come in use different rehabilitation methods, measuring their performance on a series of tests looking at muscle activation and knee motion, before and after. At Bowdoin I've been studying the way in which memory flows through the brain. These lab jobs have been awesome and really introduced me to how scientific research actually works.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
That's a very hard question so I'm not going to answer it. Instead I'll talk about what I'm going to miss the most. My favorite thing about Bowdoin is dinner, and not just because the food is amazing. Usually I'll just walk into the dining hall not having prearranged to meet up with anyone, and every time I do this I'll always find friends to sit with. This allows me to hang out with new people almost every night and often times meet people I didn't know before. Oftentimes I'll stay at dinner for an hour or two, sitting with a couple different groups of people, hanging out and chewing the fat. So next year, when I'm outside the Bowdoin bubble, I'll miss the feeling of knowing that every night, when I take a break to get some food, I can just walk into a place and know I'll have friends to sit with.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I haven't really figured that out yet. As a neuro major I'm looking into working in either a neuroscience or biomedical lab. Eventually I hope to end up in medical school, but as for now I have no set plans.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Do as much as you can. Sign up for anything that looks interesting and get involved. If it's not what you were expecting you can always stop participating. School is important but it's only a part of going to college, and just as with everything else, your experience is what you make of it, so make it an interesting and diverse one.

Story posted on December 08, 2008

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