MHC Senior Masters French and Biochemistry

Posted: May 15, 2006

By Lindsey Whitmore '07

As an incoming first-year, Kathryn Rose '06 was confident that she would become a chemistry major. Her first semester was heavy on the sciences--chemistry, biology, a first-year seminar on green chemistry, and calculus--plus one French class. Because she was passionate about research, biochemistry seemed like the ideal academic and career path.

Fast-forward four years, and like most Mount Holyoke students, Rose is in a very different place than she thought she would be as a graduating senior. A biochemistry and French double major, she has navigated back and forth between the sciences and humanities since her first semester at Mount Holyoke, which has allowed her to explore and indulge in all of her academic interests and passions, even if they are as disparate as organic molecular synthesis and Les Miserables.

Her passion for French, though, is what Rose will carry with her into the next phase of her life. In the fall she plans to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to pursue a Ph.D. in French literature at Harvard University as a Harvard Presidential Scholar, one of the most competitive fellowships the school awards to incoming graduate students.

"French was always a passion for me, but I never thought it would become so important in my life at Mount Holyoke," she says. "My first French class was an incredible experience, and my professor, Elissa Gelfand, really taught me how to analyze and engage in the literature. I decided then that I wanted to explore French as a central part of my academics at Mount Holyoke."

Through a Center for Global Initiatives grant, Rose traveled to Avignon, France, in the summer of 2005 to conduct research on women and aging in the works of Colette. With the support of Gelfand, her French adviser, she has continued that research at Mount Holyoke.

"Because of the biochemistry requirements it would have been really hard for me to go abroad during my junior year," she said. "My trip during the summer was ideal because I was able to stay with a family and get that experience, while also benefiting from rigorous academic research that I was so interested in. It was really a life-changing experience."

In addition to graduate school in French literature, Rose will also publish a groundbreaking paper in biochemistry based on her senior thesis, which she has worked on for the last seven semesters and each summer. The project focuses on the organic synthesis of a molecule that has drawn great interest from the scientific community, but could only previously be produced through a very limited process. Through extensive lab work, Rose has devised a new and unusual way to produce the molecule, and she will be the first author of a paper describing this work.

"My biochemistry research has been very rewarding," Rose said. "I started out with an original problem that was handed down to me by my first-semester chemistry TA. For the past three years I've worked on it and followed it through to the end. Finally finding a solution has been amazing, and all of the work I put in seems worth it."

Rose credits her supportive network of professors and advisers for her ability to move fluidly between disciplines.

"I never felt pressure from my French professors or my biochemistry professors to choose one passion over the other, or to do one at the expense of the other. They are all so supportive of the research I am doing, which has made it easy to pursue and develop all of my interests. I'd really encourage incoming first-years to explore even their most vague interests, because you never really know where they will lead you. And most of all--enjoy the ride because it goes by so fast!"

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