By Ioana Murgoci
We are finding ourselves in difficult times. We, the Herring team, continue to believe that there are many stories, people and events that we should bring into the spotlight and remember that better times are ahead of us. Here are four stories of AUC graduates of Class of 2019 who share their journeys after leaving the bubble. Their theses are published in the InPrint Capstone Issue, Volume 12.
Capstone: “Implementing Quantum-Cryptographic Protocols using SimulaQron: A Quantum-Internet Stimulation of 1-2 of Oblivious Transfer in the Noisy-Storage Model”
Lynn remembers her graduation ceremony from 2019 as a special event when she celebrated the end of AUC with everyone close to her and part of the AUC community. Majoring in Sciences and mainly following the tracks of Maths and Information but also taking courses in Economics as well as learning how to speak Arabic and French, Lynn thinks “it is great that AUC allows for such a broad curriculum”.
Likewise, Lynn was part of a various number of committees such as Right2Education, the Audit Committee, Students4You, and Curiosity. In her final year, she participated in an exchange programme with the University of Melbourne where she also did a research internship which she believes was a great practical experience that enhanced her knowledge.
Looking back at her time at AUC, Lynn says that in the beginning she was certain econometrics will be the field she will focus on after AUC but in her second year, she changed and started focusing on pure/discrete maths, logic and theoretical computer science. She notes “A little bit later in my second year, I also learned more about quantum information and computation and its consequences for cryptography, which is when I got very interested in this field as well.”
At the moment, Lynn is following a master in pure maths / theoretical computer science at the University of Oxford which she says “is very tough but really cool – I am learning a lot of new things.” After her masters, Lynn hopes to continue her studies with a PhD in cryptography although she is considering taking some time off in between her degrees.
All of her objectives are the results of careful consideration. Lynn describes the decision-making process in her case as a difficult one – “For me, it really helped to talk about it with others, ask for their opinions, and to write down my own thoughts. However, it also really helped to give it some time, to be honest.” She thinks it is very important to take the time to develop life-goals, and especially to allow these goals to change. Her advice for the fellow AUC students is “Just try new things and be open for change.”
Lastly, Lynn believes that her exchange experience in Melbourne, a much bigger city, contributed to her smooth transition from the “bubble” to the “real” world. She says “Now, I live in Oxford, which is quite small. Pretty much everything is centred around the university, so it feels sort of like AUC and I honestly really like it.”
Now, Lynn is working on her master thesis. She is happy about the project she chose and says that her supervisor is very keen on working with her. She ends with “I would advise current AUC students to reflect every now and then on what their goals are and where they want to be at the end of their third year, but also just to take every opportunity AUC and Amsterdam is giving you, as you now still can.”
Capstone: “Restricted Boltzmann Machines and the Renormalization Group: Learning Relevant Information in Statistical Physics”
Jesse began his studies at AUC initially following the Information track within the Sciences major. In his second year, he decided to change focus and follow the Physics and Maths tracks. When asked when did he decide on what to do after AUC, he replied: “Somewhere in preparing for my capstone, I had been struggling to decide between a masters in AI (artificial intelligence) and in theoretical physics, and I think I was ultimately pushed towards the latter by a great teacher I had in the physics track.”
Jesse is now following a master in theoretical physics, working on a personal website to educate technical-minded people on the problems of climate change, and helping the start-up “green” venture firm that mobilizes early-stage funding towards companies with positive environmental impact.
He says that all the decisions he made in the past year are grounded in his own motivation but adds “I won’t pretend that my dad and his dad’s legacy, both physicists by training, didn’t account for a subtle pressure. Ultimately, I am not going to stay an academic. The risks we incur with climate change are too serious and require everyone’s involvement, so this is where I will ultimately go. I do see that a physics education provides a strong technical foundation on which to build further.”
Jesse considers the most relevant trends and developments of the future when he makes any decision concerning his professional career. He believes that climate change, artificial intelligence, and biology and genetic engineering are the three most important trends at the moment and will be in the future as well, “Climate change will be by far the most important determining factor, with impacts ranging across all these different categories (yes, interdisciplinary really does mean something). The IPCC 5th assessment basically says that we are currently at the worst-end of the predictions we made thirty years ago, changes are happening faster than we expected, and change is accelerating.”
On artificial intelligence Jesse says “At its most naive, AI is about automation and optimization, and this is going to cause a lot of currently-existing jobs to disappear. However, the transition to a clean economy is going to generate millions and millions of jobs (e.g. 1 in 50 new jobs in the US is in Solar, 2017). The problem lies in the need of people to transfer skills fast enough.”
Lastly, it is his opinion that biology and genetic engineering contribute to our understanding of life. Jesse says “There are few obvious examples like personalized medicine and the threat of biological warfare (Covid-19 is a warning of how bad this could be). With a mastery of genetic engineering, we will be able to turn the harmful carbon in our air into an incredibly diverse range of useful products.”
Jesse believes that it is important to position his own skills along the lines of these trends: “I’ve chosen physics which is right at the intersection of all these trends. Physics offers a unique perspective. If we’re to hope for a unified theory of biology, we can learn a lot from physics.” Although Jesse acknowledges that there are a lot of variables which need our consideration in the decision-making process regarding our future he encourages us – “It might actually be helpful to begin with the 20-year perspective and work your way down to a 2-year perspective than the other way around.”
On a final note, Jesse reminds us that we should not take for granted how motivated students are at AUC, “I’m pretty disappointed with the level of engagement of students in my masters, especially regarding engagement outside the classroom. So don’t take it for granted, and there really are perks to bubble-life.”
Afke van Egmond
Capstone: “Do You Want to Know More? Curiosity for Positive and Negative Life Stories of Ingroup and Outgroup Members”
Afke majored in Cognition and did a minor in Informatics which she says “got a little out of hand”. At the moment, she is doing a masters programme in Cognitive Neuroscience at Leiden University. She is also working as a research assistant for one of her psychology professors being responsible with programming his experiments; “That’s quite a nice way to combine my interests in psychology and programming, and it pays really well.”
Afke is also part of a vocal group at CREA, in which she holds one of the board positions. Even more, Afke is involved in the play named “Crossroads” contributing from the beginning to its creation and currently directing it. The team is formed from AUC students, UvA/VU students, and people who are not studying.
Throughout her decision-making process her family, friends and girlfriends helped Afke the most. When she chose her masters programme the most important factors was the location. “I really liked the idea of staying in Amsterdam, because I’d still have my friends there, and I felt like I was starting to really get to know the city. There were not many masters in or near Amsterdam in the field I wanted to go into, and the masters in Leiden was mostly interesting for me because it had a lot of cool electives.”
On transitioning from the bubble to the real world, Afke remembers what she felt – “It was so weird! On a university level it was mostly difficult. I had been complaining a lot about AUC’s education in the last year, but I realized quite quickly that AUC’s form of education was much more my thing than a ‘regular’ Dutch university, and also that the quality was much better.”
Afke explains her frustrations with the world outside of the “bubble”; “It really annoys me that people in my faculty right now are so unaware of anything that happens outside of their field. They’re just all doing exactly the same thing, and they don’t even really know what else is out there. So the interdisciplinarity at AUC is really something I miss, and the fact that everyone constantly thinks critically about what they’re studying.”
Afke reminds us of the privilege we have to live close to our friends and says that she sometimes misses the dorms. Still, she remarks “But I feel more like an actual citizen of Amsterdam now. I live in a neighbourhood with all these young people and families, and I move through the city a lot on a daily basis, instead of staying in Science Park and seeing only AUC students. In that way, I am happy I moved on from the bubble”.
Afke’s final message for the current AUC students is: “Appreciate AUC (believe me they actually do a lot of things better than most of the other universities), but don’t forget that there’s more out there beyond the bubble.”
Capstone: “Pieces of Resistance: Protest Signs as Objects of Dissent”
Nina focused mainly on the Culture and Media tracks while she was at AUC, “with a bit of film thrown in” as well. She is currently doing a Master of Design in Photography at Glasgow School of Art. In her third year, she started to think about what she wanted to do, and even if she started to apply for jobs and masters before April, she explains that it took her months to be able to figure out what she truly wanted.
The decision-making process was not an easy one but Nina explains what helped her the most – “Talking! That was the only thing that helped. I spent months talking to everyone I could: my classmates; graduates from AUC and from other universities; people who were still studying; people on the course I was looking at; people at all different stages in their careers in any sphere.”
Nina describes the trick she used as simply asking everyone she could how they figured it all out. She adds: “Mostly, their advice was to follow my gut and not be afraid of trying things out, picking up the phone, and knocking on doors. Of course, my parents were a huge support. You can imagine their surprise when I told them I wanted to go from the academic rigour of AUC to pursue a more creative and perhaps precarious career, but they told me in no uncertain terms that they would support me in anything I wanted to do.”
At the same time, the road to finding the answers to her questions was not a smooth one: “There were a lot of phone calls and, if I’m being honest, a lot of anxiety. It wasn’t until I was sitting in a garden in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on the Culture Lab trip, literally days before graduating, that a third year friend suggested I apply to Glasgow School of Art. I had my interview the day after graduation, and got my acceptance letter the following morning.”
Even so, this did not imply the decision was already made; “I still spent the next two months going back and forth deciding whether to start working or to hone my skills in further study. Another friend sat me down and told me that he knew I was going to be a photographer, and that I needed to go to Glasgow, and two weeks later I had found a flat and had started my Masters. Having people around me who knew me and my goals, and who believed in me more than I believed in myself helped immensely.”
One of the most relevant factors in making her decisions was the financial factor. Already accumulating student debt from her bachelor studies, this seemed an impediment for her plans: “A friend told me to just think it as an investment in my future, and that really helped. I was also very reluctant to return home to England because of Brexit, and Scotland felt near enough that at least I’d be on the same chunk of land as my friends and family, so I could walk in case of an apocalypse, but in a place that felt, on the whole, more in line with my politics.”
Although she describes the two months of deciding as awful, she believes that she’s still not part of the real world, considering that she is a student. She describes life at AUC as “habitual”: “You got used to the comfort of being in the same place, doing the same things, and being with the same people. Suddenly you’re plucked out of this arguably quite secure environment, away from the friends who became like family, and into this murky area in which your future feels like a big question mark. No one really tells you how hard it can be to find work or to decide what to do next. Once I had made a decision, though, I did find my feet and the dust settled.”
Nina feels confident that she will be ready to get into the real world after she will finish her masters and points towards some advice which would have helped her throughout the process: “I would have wanted to know how hard it actually is to get your foot in the door!” Yet, she sees the full half of the glass and says: “I do feel now that all of that happened for a reason, so I wish I’d known that at the time and taken the pressure off myself. Some people figure it out much quicker, some much slower. It’s important not to compare yourself to anyone else and trust that you’re on track for whatever path is meant for you. It’s genuinely just about making sure you’re doing exactly what’s right for you personally, not getting disheartened if things don’t work out the first time round, and trusting that it will all fall into place eventually.”