I am currently on Day 10 of my 14-day quarantine in Shanghai. The last ten days have gone by very slowly, there really isn't much to do when I can't leave the hotel room. I am very excited to be getting out soon and moving onto the next hotel. My current plan is to leave the hotel after the fourteen days and then stay at another hotel in Shanghai, that a bunch of other Schwarzman Scholars have recommended, for another 7 days to complete my medical observation period. After I finish that, then I will be able to take the train from Shanghai to Beijing, where I will spend another 7 days in a hotel in Beijing under medical observation before I can finally enter the college and move into my dorm. This whole process is quite complicated and at any particular moment there are dozens of things that could throw a wrench in the plans, so each day brings its own adventures.
During my ten days in the quarantine hotel I have had quite some interesting experiences. From attempting to eat the hotel meals, which are, how should I say, not my favorite, to trying to order a permanent SIM card for my phone, to attempting to use my credit card to order delivery, to my daily temperature check-up phone calls, I have been challenged to use my very very limited Chinese vocabulary, and it rarely goes well.
The food has been the most interesting part of my time in the hotel. They bring us food at 8:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 5:00 PM everyday and it is pretty much consistently the same kind of thing: rice, vegetables, a meat (though usually it is fish), a soup, and an additional meat/vegetable. On the first day or two, I had some good meals but after a while it got pretty bland and the meat is usually not the best quality. I was extremely fortunate to have packed tons of snacks, like protein/granola bars, instant ramen noodles and various crackers to help me get through these two weeks. I was advised that there was no way to know if delivery would be available, so don't count on it, which is why I packed so much. However, my hotel does have delivery. It took me a while to figure out how to use the delivery app. I got my first delivery last night as a special Saturday night treat; however, the one downside is that it takes so long to get the food. The delivery took about 30 minutes, which is pretty normal for food delivery, but then it sat in the lobby of the hotel for about 50 minutes before it was delivered to me, which meant that the food was not exactly hot when it got to me. Regardless, I was glad to have ordered food because it was a fresh change of pace from the food I have been getting at the hotel.
I am really looking forward to when I leave the quarantine hotel and head into medical observation. Even though there are restrictions about the kinds of things we can do and see, it will still be cool to be able to walk about and enjoy the city. Also, day 15 in Shanghai is the day before my birthday, so I will get to spend my birthday out of quarantine and I've been talking with some other scholars here and I am sure we will come up with something fun to do.
I have arrived in China!!! After 16+ hours of air time, my flight from DFW to Shanghai finally made it, but I wasn't prepared for the long journey to get out of the airport. Airports are not anyone's favorite system to navigate, whether it be the process of getting there to board or the process of departure, especially in an international terminal. But during COVID and in a place as strict as Shanghai, the process was not fun to say the least. When our plane arrived at the Shanghai airport gate, we were told we needed to wait on the plane until an airport team in PPE gear could come through and take everyone's temperature, no big deal right? Well turns out the airport didn't have enough staff so we had to wait about 30 minutes for enough staff members to do a temperature sweep of the plane, then we finally were able to exit the airplane, but only in small groups.
From then on it was impossible to get lost, no really. Big plastic walls blocked us off into narrow passage ways and we only had one direction, straight forward. After walking for quite a while and making it through about half-a-dozen checkpoints where our health QR codes were checked, I finally arrived at the testing site. Despite being tested 48 hours before the flight at a Chinese government approved lab in Dallas, we had to be tested with nasal and oral swab tests at the airport, which was not fun at all. Next I entered the section for people not intending to stay in Shanghai. My program is in Beijing; however, no international flights are allowed to the capital because of fear of COVID outbreaks, so instead I must remain in Shanghai for a short time before heading onto Beijing. It was here that I filled out all my documents and was assigned to a quarantine hotel in Shanghai.
After four hours at the airport, I finally boarded the bus the quarantine hotel, which was another hour-and-a-half away from the airport. After the long trip I finally made it to the quarantine hotel and am now beginning my 14 day quarantine in the hotel. During this time, I am not allowed to leave my room, aside from opening the door to pick up my food, deposit trash, or report for testing and temperature checking my staff in PPE. It will be interesting to see what I can do to keep myself busy during these 14 days. Luckily, orientation is set to begin on Monday so I will have an opportunity to virtually meet people in my program and share stories about our quarantine experiences. There are already dozens of Schwarzman Scholars scattered all over Shanghai and the rest of China in various stages of quarantine and medical observation.
Graduating college feels pretty surreal. Perhaps it's because the last four years have gone by so fast, or perhaps it's because we spent the last year-and-a-half in the midst of a pandemic that seems to never be letting up and has shaped so much of my college experience. Regardless, I was so happy to be surrounded by so many friends and family celebrating our accomplishments together.
The graduation festivities spanned three days of constant ceremonies and parties that celebrated the graduating students, and it was so awesome to see so many people, many of which I hadn't seen since the pandemic began. From a picnic with math professors, to reminiscing with President's Scholars about all the memories we made together, to a reception with the physics department and finally to the commencement and graduation ceremonies, the three days were packed with festivities and celebrations. I am really glad that it was all able to come together, because it didn't always feel like it would. Several months earlier we had been warned that there was a good chance that very little or even none of the "traditional" graduation festivities would be allowed due to the pandemic. But as vaccines became more available and cases and transmission began to lower in Dallas, SMU gave us a chance at having as normal a graduation experience as possible.
Graduation weekend was, though perhaps obviously, the perfect end to my experience at SMU. It contained so much of what I had loved about college: friends, organizations, physics and an opportunity to speak to people about the amazing memories made while at SMU. Even though everyone is going off to our places all over the world, I still feel very connected to so many of these people, and I hope to see them in the future. I look forward to seeing what so many of these "world changers" do to make the world a better place and to be the change that we speak so much about making.
Today I presented and defended my senior thesis on my physics research to the SMU physics department. Anyone who has spoken to me the last few weeks knows that my thesis has basically taken every waking moment of the last few months to complete, and I can finally rest knowing that I have passed and it is complete.
My senior thesis has an incredibly long and somewhat tedious name: "Heavy-Flavor Jet Substructure Analysis of H^0 to gg using the ATLAS Experiment and Charm Jet Tagging at the Electron-Ion Collider." Quite the mouthful to try and repeat to people. I am proud of not only completing the paper, which is a lengthy 48 pages, but also defending my thesis on the results of the last two years of my physics research at SMU.
I began this project back in the spring of 2019 when I joined Professor Stephen Sekula's research group at SMU. At the time, then-graduating-senior Rebecca Moore had been exploring simulation rates of Higgs to gluon decays, in particular ones that resulted in four bottom quarks in the final state. She was graduating and Professor Sekula was looking for another undergraduate student to jump in and continue the work. I was eager to join a high energy physics research project, especially one that involved computation and experimental work. Ever since then I have been working with Professor Sekula on his research with the Higgs at the ATLAS Experiment and with new research ambitions with the Electron-Ion Collider.
The past two years of research have empowered me to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and continue conducting research in high energy physics with an emphasis in collider physics analysis projects, similar to the work that I present in my senior thesis. High energy physics is pushing the frontier of what is possible in the areas of data analysis, machine learning and computation advancements due to the enormous amount of information gathered by particle colliders. I look forward to continuing my research in these areas as high energy physics continues with the next generation of experiments such as the High Luminosity LHC and the EIC.
I attended my final honors convocation at SMU. One of the first in-person and socially-distanced indoor university-wide event since the pandemic began, the honors convocation was a celebration and ceremony recognizing the many acheivements of students throughout this last year. I was recognized for several accomplishments and awards, but two awards in particular were really important to me.
Firstly, I was recognized for the international fellowship that I received, the Schwarzman Scholarship. SMU's office of national fellowships uses the honors convocation to recognize students who receive international fellowships, such as Fulbright and others, and it was so wonderful seeing so many friends and peers who have received these awesome fellowships.
Secondly, I was recognized as the Dedman College Outstanding Senior, the top award given to a single graduating senior from the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The chairs of all the departments in Dedman College come together each year and select one student that they believe represents the idea behind a liberal arts education that values both humanities and sciences. Of course, my friends and I would joke that it doesn't hurt that both the chairs of the physics and political science department are my two closest professors and mentors, but receiving this award was clearly a recognition of my outlook on my time in college and the role of a liberal arts education. College is not just about studying for the sake of getting a job, it is so much more than that. So many students spend their time in college focused on learning what they need to in order to contribute to society, but don't step back to think about how a broad education betters society. An appreciation for history, art, music and culture is extremely important, even for technocrats, and SMU has numerous resources to encourage students to explore more than their degree.
I also got a hilarious and serious shout-out from one of my favorite professors at SMU, Professor Jospeh Kobylka, chair of the political science department, in his speech at the honors convocation. I've known Professor Kobylka since I came to SMU, since he has served as the faculty sponsor for the President's Scholars program, but I also came to know him when I took his course on "Law, Politics, and the Supreme Court" in the spring of 2019. The class was quite the workload, but it was an incredible exprencience and explored a passion I had for constituonal law and debating the role that the law and a judiciary plays in society. He always finds it silly that a physics student, and one-day hopefully a future physicist, would have an interest in the supreme court and constitutional law. I love telling people that it is exactly the kind of education that liberal arts colleges should be encouraging. Scholars can, and realistically do have, more than one academic interest and they should be encouraged to explore it while in college.