This former Deputy is reaching for the stars—literally.

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Mary Clare, Barnard, Astrophysics, Brookfield, IL

Claim to fame: 
Having a double name (no hyphen); being weekend Deputy Editor for Bwog for 2 years (and before that Saturday Daily for a year); being somewhat present in the astronomy department (check out BlueShift’s Arts & Astro!!); being one of the many Aquarius’s in the Barnard Physics and Astronomy department; you have also probably seen me in the Design Center.

Where are you going? Right now, I’m going home to take a long nap. Next? Coming back to New York for a year-long post-bacc fellowship!

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2026?

  1. You need to make the personal realization early on of when is the point where staying up to do work is just not worth it. One of my biggest flex’s at this school is that I have never pulled an all-nighter for an assignment, sure I’ve stayed up late—but I care too much about my sleep and I think more people at this school need to too. Understand your limits and be humble enough to know when, for your wellbeing, you need to go to bed. Also, bonus: please ask for extensions, I have only once had an extension denied out of the countless ones I have asked for in the past four years (thank you to all the professors who have granted me extensions!). This again falls in line with realizing when you are at your limit and you need to go to bed. 
  2. Embrace being alone and wandering by yourself! It gives yourself time to reflect on what you want to be doing and you can follow whatever whim you want. Some of the coolest places I’ve been to, I’ve visited to the first time on accident while wandering around New York. Also, it is okay to be alone sometimes. 
  3. If you want to go to therapy for the first time (which I highly recommend!) and you are a Barnard student—call Furman as early in the semester as you can to set up an appointment. As it gets closer to midterms, sometimes it’s a little harder to schedule a last-minute appointment. If your insurance is weird like mine and kinda works in New York, but kinda doesn’t—they will let you stay between 8-10 sessions which brings you essentially through most of the semester, but you can also stay longer if you talk to them about it. 
  4. Extra Thing I Learned for STEM students in particular: recognize when you need to ask for help when you are struggling. Whether you don’t understand a problem set or have been having problems understanding the material—jump on that immediately. One of my biggest regrets was being too scared to admit I was struggling in my physics classes. Physics in particular unfortunately is unforgiving in that it really does build on itself, and if you get lost it’s harder to get back on track (but definitely doable don’t let me scare you!). If you don’t want to approach your professor, you can always talk to the TAs, go to office hours, find study groups, practice problems on the chalkboards of Altschul 5 (for Barnard students: go to the physics helproom! also a great way to meet upperclassmen) or in an empty classroom in Pupin. However, it will be okay if you don’t get the perfect grade you want, it’s not the end of the world, and please don’t sacrifice your wellbeing or mental health for this major. 

“Back in my day…” Barnard students had to pay for laundry.

Favorite Columbia controversy? All the truly selfish people who tried to write a “counter-petition” in Spring 2020 saying that the mandatory P/F should be optional because they wanted to apply to med school/grad school/whatever other selfish reason. 

What was your favorite class at Columbia? Sorry, I’m giving several. Any class taught by Caleb Scharf (The Science of Space Exploration or Exoplanets and Astrobiology)—he’s an amazing lecturer and they are both super insightful classes into what goes on in our Solar System and delves into questions about potential life in the Universe. A non-STEM favorite of mine is Intaglio 1: Printmaking with Jennifer Nuss—I took this class as a senior and ended up loving the combined creativity, problem solving, and methodology of intaglio printmaking (note: be ready to mess up many prints and be ready to challenge yourself creatively!). Also, Critical Approaches with Marisa Solomon is an amazing class in the WGSS department! 

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Having been an editor for 2 years at Bwog, I know the sheer amount of emails editors are sent because alumni want their senior wisdom taken down because of this question every year, so I’m not going to even try for a coy non-answer since I’m applying to grad school next year. 

Whom would you like to thank? My family (Dad and Mom (for supporting me no matter what), Maggie (for being more socially adept than me and for visiting NY to go on adventures), Bob (for joining me in NY this fall! (he’s going to Pratt!!)) + extended family, my Waves lab group (Lindsay and Jada) for being the greatest friends I’ve ever met, all the senior Physics + Astronomy majors, anyone who has ever worked at the Design Center, the Twilight viewing party (courtesy of Avery auditorium), my research mentors (Cristina, Rachel, and Statia) for getting me to where I am today, my professors, and if we are going farther back: Teen Programs at the Adler Planetarium for encouraging my love for space and Ms. Cunningham for being an amazing teacher. 

One thing to do before graduating: Rent a Zipcar and go somewhere for the day! Membership is fairly cheap for students and it helps to get away from campus. Also, the gas is free! Zipcar gives you a special credit card to pay for it (note: if you go to/drive through New Jersey, you cannot legally pump your own gas, a gas station attendant has to do that for you). My recommendation is to go apple picking—you too can stuff your fridge full of apples, and it’s a good midpoint time before midterms/finals get gross. Also the changing of the leaves is so beautiful, so it’s a great time of year to go on an adventure. 

Any regrets? Many! The biggest is more or less a paradox—realizing that I had regrets when it was too late. Also, not starting a minor sooner, I have around 3 half-finished/almost finished minors at this point. 

Portrait via Mary Clare