You never know when a pandemic will hit, so let instant gratification roam free.

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Emily Zhang, Columbia College, Astrophysics, Lexington, MA

Claim to fame: Running the undergrad astronomy club, BlueShift. Literally living in Pupin Hall like a building rat. Acting in some shows with CU Players. Making my UWriting professor show this life changing video to our class. 

Where are you going? I’m pursuing science media, but I’m not quite sure what that’ll look like yet… I have a fellowship writing for a science radio show this summer, and after that, we’ll see!

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2025?

  1. From my first year: go at your own pace. People want to look like they figured things out right away, that they’re thriving, whatever. They probably don’t, and in any case it doesn’t matter – focus on your own personal path! If you’re moving in the right direction, that’s, well, the right direction – what more can you ask for.
  2. From my second year: mentorship is everything. Find some trusted professors, upperclassmen, whoever it is – people who genuinely care about your happiness and success – and hold on to them tight. They will support you when you fail and cheer you on when you succeed, and you will gain so much wisdom and comfort from them in a way you can’t get from fellow peers.
  3. From my third year: don’t worry too much about knowing if you’re on the right life path; the truth is, if you really want to pursue something, it will bother you until you give it a shot. If you’re really not cut out for something, you’ll learn that from giving it a shot too. Just remain open-minded, search for/try out new things, and be honest with yourself every now and then.

“Back in my day…” I had never ever heard of a videoconferencing app called Zoom. There was no H-Mart, but there WAS morning2midnight, rest in peace. Nussbaum & Wu was just a bagel place, not this funky Asian-bagel fusion they have going on now. Oh wait, is it Wu & Nussbaum now? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

Favorite Columbia controversy? When Columbia released an hour-by-hour schedule of how they think a student should spend their week (and then took it down during our freshman year). I think about it so frequently. It gave you 9 hrs/week for free time and then said surprise, that free time includes emails, clubs & activities, and the job search ?!?!?! 

What was your favorite class at Columbia? Asian Music Humanities with Rachel Chung this past semester literally had me sobbing in class multiple times and coping with some deep Asian identity shit. Truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? This is a hot take but I’m just not a huge fan of cheese…?

Whom would you like to thank? My parents – it’s always been just us three (I’m an only child & basically the rest of my family lives in China), and everything I have ever done is entirely thanks to them. Also my friends from my hometown and from Columbia – I’m so lucky that I got to be friends with people that I’ve always looked up to… y’all, please know that I’m your #1 stan and would happily initiate a fistfight in your honor. Also my professors, Pupin theory center, Cafe East, and the food trucks – thank you for raising me.

One thing to do before graduating: Can I give three? Explore Pupin – I know it smells like a new chlorine superhero is being created in its basement but it won’t hurt you, I promise – every floor has some special gift (I’d especially recommend 8, 9, 13, and the secret floor 14). Actually call out someone’s BS in class discussion for once (if you’re a nervous and pacifistic kid like me, use phrases such as “Hm, I hear what you’re saying, but-” or “Ah, I think I disagree because-” to get started). Make sure you don’t lose contact with the important people in your life after leaving Columbia (make a list if you have to, set a reminder if you have to, value them above all else!).

Any regrets? I try to have none, though overworking myself my first 3 years with the hopes of finally going off senior year was… misguided. Never forget :) a global crisis can hit at any time :) so let that instant gratification thrive :)

Image via Emily Zhang