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Being a Teaching Assistant

Posted by caaponte on October 26, 2017 in Fall Semester, Future of the United States, Senior Year, University Life

During my freshman year, if you asked me if I would ever be a TA – my response would be:

Absolutely not

Why? Well because, why would I add additional responsibilities to my own responsibilities that I am working to balance.

Fast forward to my senior year – choosing to be a TA is single-handedly one of – if not the best – decision I have made to date. Why? Because it is not an added responsibility. It is a humble reminder of how far we have all come in our undergraduate careers and how much more room we have to grow. I am supposed to be teaching them, but I never realized that they would also be teaching me. They each arrived to UB with a history of trauma, disappointment, some form of loss, and often with the idea that AP Biology would make the transition easy. Their stories have inspired me to continue moving forward even when I feel as though I have too much on my plate. In fact, hearing them confident enough to share my story makes me feel as though a support group during your fall semester of freshmen year is absolutely crucial.

I lead my own lab but I assist in another with one of my best friends. We try to create a judge-free environment because we remember how intimidating it was sitting amongst 28 others in Evolutionary Biology. Students don’t yet realize that they don’t need to ask permission to use the restroom and refrain from participating in lab because they aren’t yet confident in their answers.

As their TA, I hope to assist them in the transition to university life. I’ve lived it. I understand it. Every semester has had its ups and downs and I’m not afraid to share that with my students. I share with them how I tackled more difficult topics. I hope that my stories have inspired them to reach their potentials and to want more from their education.

The undergraduate degree is more than just academic growth. Toward the end of the semester, I will ask them to reflect on their undergraduate experience and hope to find that the highs and lows have only promoted personal growth.

In the meantime, I continue to revamp the way I run my lab. There is no perfect way to monitor or teach a group of 28 students from all different backgrounds, but I will continue trying my best. I hope others can follow my lead and choose to TA a class. I hope that they get as much out of the experience as I have and see the value in instructing the next generation of STEM students. It helps you visualize that this field is much larger than just you. When you plan to meet with a student, the exam you have the next day can wait until after you help the freshman sitting before you transition to university life.


The Teammate That Throws You Under the Bus

Posted by caaponte on March 26, 2017 in University Life

Let me set the stage for you the best I can without giving out too much information.

I worked on a research project this past summer with a student from another university and this past weekend we presented our work. We had some fallouts over the summer but our relationship was very “brother-sister” like. Sometimes he made me feel like I was inadequate…sometimes he made me cry from laughing…and other times he saved us from when I got us lost. When you’re abroad with someone, you learn a lot about each other. You have to be there to fill in the gaps where they need you. And that’s exactly what we did.

Fast forward to last week – he texted me a few days beforehand to make sure I had printed out our manuscript so that I could go over it with the judges. “Wear something nice to impress the judges. See you soon!” All from a good place. We are both competitive (the route of our earlier disputes) and we both wanted to win the poster competition. I spent the next couple days nervously going through our manuscript, past literature, and things I felt the judges might ask us.

Fast forward to the day before our presentation – I was the last of our cohort to arrive to Boston where the conference was held. He had arrived earlier that morning and had taken a nap while waiting for me to arrive. I go to his hotel room, so excited to see him after all this time, and we catch up quickly before I notice he started to brush off what I was saying to instead read over our manuscript. Okay, work time. I can pick up social cues. So I pull out mine and start going over what I wanted to make sure we highlighted in our presentation.

Beep. Ring. Zzzzzz. His phone keeps going off.

First of all – who leaves their phone on like that when they’re not by themselves. I looked at him (in efforts to get moving on what we would be presenting in less than 12 hours) and said, “What sections did you want to present? I’m comfortable with any section.” He looked up at me (and at this point I see he is looking over the Introduction) and said, “I don’t know. I have to go over this first. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve looked at this.” And to that – I’m left annoyed that someone would make sure I have it together when they are napping and taking their time to go over it.

Fast forward to 10 minutes before our presentation – I’m freaking out. Nerves have a weird way of creeping up on me and I went blank on everything I had reviewed.

Fast forward to Judge #1 – Breathe Christina, just breathe. I remembered what my mentors from CSTEP had told me before. You are the expert of your research project. No one knows it better than you do.

Fast forward to when I regained my confidence – Got a question? I have an answer. I was able to answer the judges thrown at me from the judges with ease all thanks to the preparation I had put in. Now, we didn’t win the poster competition (although how cool would that have been?) but I did feel as though I accomplished something great. After what was a rough last semester, I finally regained my confidence and felt a lot less of “Am I cut out for this?” and more of “I am ready for whatever you can throw at me.”

Fast forward to right now – I am on a plane back to my hometown of Rochester, NY and I am enjoying my window seat. I complimented my research partner on his delivery of the biological mechanisms after the awkward silence following our first presentation. I think my nervousness made him more nervous. But we’re a team, right? And I pulled it together for what I thought was a successful presentation. I just wish he said something…anything…so I could hear SOME feedback. As a team, neither of us is better than the other. Because if I fall, so does he and vise versa. So if he could do a little less talking about how stressful it is at an Ivy League school and how tired he is and how much work he has to do – I would feel more respected as his teammate.

Fast forward to the future – the student and I remained in touch post-abroad but as for where we go in the future…I’m not so sure. I hope to always remain in contact but now I feel as though we have lost that “I’ll be there to build you up when you’re down”-type relationship. He’s not better than me and I’m not better than him. We were teammates as far as I am concerned. Just because I do not go to an Ivy League school, does not mean that I was not accepted into the same summer program as he was. Anyways, onto the next project….my time at UB isn’t over just yet.


The Definition of Free

Posted by caaponte on February 13, 2017 in Futuristic Thinking, University Life

It makes no difference what I am being offered. If it is free, I will take it.


The end piece of a loaf of bread?

With a price tag of FREE, it looks like it also has my name on it.

We hate standing in lines, yet we have no problem doing so when it will get us something for FREE. Imagine that. You don’t have to take a $5 bill out of your pocket in exchange for a sandwich. Instead, you can donate time out of your life in order to get that sandwich. Isn’t it the same?

Maybe it’s just the sense of satisfaction you get when you didn’t technically have to pay for the sandwich. Duke professor Dan Ariely writes, “People appear to act as if zero pricing of a good not only decreases its cost but also adds to its benefits.” He states that getting something for free “gives us such an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is.”

Sound familiar? Or are you still wearing the t-shirt that says “Johnny Rockets” or “Kenmore High School” to all your most prestigious events? If you’re like me, you have t-shirts, pamphlets, bobbleheads, highlighters, pens, and pins from events you don’t even remember. “First 100 people get a free workbook!” Without even knowing what’s in the workbook, I’m running to be the first 100. I mean, I still have lanyards from college visits that remain untouched (Let me know if you need a lanyard).

I believe college students are extremely financially conscious. We have to be. When your full-time job is school, the money earned on the side must be spent sparingly and wisely. For some reason, a sandwich can taste so much better knowing that it was “free.” But, then I get to thinking about the big picture. Sure I’d prefer to spend less on lunch, but that tendency overlooks the value of the final product. Whether it’s a t-shirt from a blood drive, a dress from a discounted clothing store, or a haircut, we often disregard the resources used, the time taken to make the product, and the education to provide the service provided.

In a nation that is one of the top contenders in countries that donate to those in need, I question how often we stop to think how “free” or “discounted” a product really is. Personally, I know the times I have stopped to consider this are too few. And who pays the price for my lack of consideration? I can’t give you a specific name but I can tell you that it is not free.


In the Midst of the Best Four Years of my Life (maybe)

Posted by caaponte on February 9, 2017 in Futuristic Thinking, Junior Year, University Life

Today I saw my friend post pictures from her Accepted Students Day. But this wasn’t your ordinary Accepted Students Day. She was accepted into UB’s School of Dental Medicine this past December and today, her and many others celebrated their achievement.

And then I got to thinking about upcoming deadlines. This will be my year to apply to dental school and it feels like just yesterday I was asking where the Student Union was.

Time is FLYING here at UB and it is crazy to me to think that next year at this time I will (hopefully) be sitting with my acceptance to my top choice dental school. But that story is not limited to me…where will YOU be a year from now? Putting into consideration how much can happen over the course of a year, I think it’s refreshing to imagine the possibilities a year can bring.

Whether you are looking forward to who you’ll meet, what new food you’ll try (foodie alert), or how far you learn you can go without your car running out of gas (proceed with caution on that one)… I sincerely hope you are enjoying how you are creating your experience at UB.

University Life is a love-hate relationship. There are some things I get very frustrated over but then there are others that I find myself missing over semester breaks. They say college will be the best four years of your life. Despite the fact I find myself reaching for a coffee more often than I know I should, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially considering these past three years have given me much more than I have expected.

I have met incredible people that have made me laugh, cry, and do some weird combination of the two. I was accepted into a fellowship that paid for me to work in a hospital during the week and had me flying over the Andes mountains on the weekends. I have increased my Spanish fluency to communicate with my relatives and I even bought a GoPro to give me an excuse to continue being a little more adventurous. I would not be doing the past three years at UB justice if I didn’t include all the negatives. We would be here all day if I told you how many dishes I’ve burnt, how many times I’ve lost my UB ID Card, or how I managed to get summer program applications in on the last day and paid for shipping in quarters. If you see me in the hall, I’d be happy to tell you about the time I went on and on about these “Cascaras de Niagara” as I explained to my Chilean friends the beauty of the Niagara Falls. At this point, I should probably mention that “waterfall” translates to cascaDAs…not cascaRas…..While I thought I was telling them about the 7th World Wonder, the Niagara Falls, they thought I was an overly proud American talking about some sort of Niagara Peel.


As we begin spring semester, I guess I am just curious to see what more university life will bring. Whatever it is, I am ready for the best years of my life to continue.


We Are More Than What is on the Syllabus

Posted by Marketing & Communications on November 2, 2016 in University Life

After spending a summer in Santiago, Chile, I learned of the value of what can be found 5,000 km above sea level. I cannot pinpoint exactly what it was about overlooking Santiago that sparked something inside of me, but I did not return to the States with the same outlook on what I wanted from my time at UB and beyond.

I returned from Chile not just surprised with the current standing of the presidential election but also with the realization that education doesn’t (and quite frankly, shouldn’t) have to be as linear as it is often portrayed.

For example, I want to become a dentist. Okay, great. Now that that is decided…how do I get there? I am aware that I must complete my obligatory years in undergrad and then complete my four years of dental school, but what will I do during that time to grow in the way that is best for me… Or rather, is going straight through those 8 years of schooling the best fit for how I may grow to be the best I can be in my profession?

The idea of creating a more custom education for ourselves is not limited to dentistry. I think that at this time in the semester, when we find ourselves reaching for more coffee than usual, looking at the big picture will often alleviate stress. Bringing what we learn inside of the classroom to outside places is what helps us grow and what keeps life interesting. If it takes flying over the Andes mountains while 5,300 miles away from home for you to realize it, so be it. Although, hopefully there is a cheaper alternative available that doesn’t involve a trip to practically the opposite side of the world.


Nevertheless, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn how refreshing it feels to know your education and what you make of university life is entirely up to you. Not just what is on the syllabus.