What were your major(s)/minor(s)? How did you choose those specific areas of study? Did you know what you wanted to major/minor in when you arrived at UM, or was it a process to make those decisions?
My majors were French and Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity. I knew I wanted to study both French and biology in some capacity when I arrived at Michigan, but deciding the specifics was a process. I was originally a French minor but decided to switch to a major after having the opportunity to study abroad the summer after my sophomore year. In terms of which subset of Biology I studied, it was a matter of figuring out which subjects interested me most beyond those discussed in my introductory biology courses.
What connections did you find/do you see between your major(s)/minor(s)?
People are usually somewhat surprised when I explain my two majors because they are two very different disciplines, but I think they complement each other well. The creativity and diligence necessary for learning a foreign language makes me a better biologist, and the analytical thinking required for biological science makes me a better language student. The practices important for learning one help with the other, and I always found that both interesting and motivating. To my mind, both studying French (or any foreign language) and biology are ways to understand and engage with the world more thoroughly.
When did you begin studying French? What led to your interest in pursuing French coursework (or a French major/minor) at U-M?
I began studying French in 6th grade. We had to pick a language before starting middle school that year, and honestly, I chose French largely because one of my aunts had lived in Paris for years and I thought she was incredibly cool. It wasn’t the most informed choice (mostly because I was eleven) but I ended up loving it. I discovered I loved the act of practicing a language as well as the language itself, and I knew throughout high school that I wanted to continue studying French in college. I was interested in both gaining a deeper understanding of the language as well as using my language skills to better understand French culture through studying things like politics and literature.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring or minoring in French and Francophone Studies?
French is ancient, politically complicated, influential, and beautiful, all of which make it a fascinating language to study. More generally speaking, I would say that studying a foreign language is always a good idea, and college is a fantastic opportunity to do so. My main piece of advice would be that, if you have the opportunity, absolutely study abroad with a language program. Immersion is the best way to learn a language, and Michigan has a lot of incredible programs.
What have been some of your favorite courses in our program and why?
I enjoyed many of my French courses at U-M, but three stand out as favorites. Two of these classes were with Assistant Professor Annette Joseph-Gabriel. In one of these classes, France Noire, we learned about race in France. Race is often still a taboo topic in France, so a course focusing on racial issues in French society was incredibly interesting and important. Another favorite was Prof. Joseph-Gabriel’s Mapping the French Atlantic course. Yet another favorite class of mine was French Phonetics with Lecturer IV Ryan Hendrickson, which was a fantastic opportunity to better understand the language itself and to practice pronunciation and speaking skills. It was also a great chance to learn about regional differences in French language throughout the country.
Did you study abroad during your time at U-M? What did you learn/gain from that experience?
I was lucky in that I got to study abroad twice while I was at U-M. The summer after my sophomore year, I participated in the intermediate French language studies program in Grenoble, where we spent six weeks studying various subjects in French and living with host families. It was the first time I’d done an immersion program, and I gained a much better understanding of French language and schooling because of it. I then spent the second semester of my junior year in Paris with the Advanced French Language program. I was directly enrolled in a French university (in my case, La Sorbonne Nouvelle) as well as taking classes at the Middlebury Center. It was an amazing opportunity to get to know a wonderful city as well as to grow my confidence with and knowledge of French language and culture.
You completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship at the Food and Drug Administration? How did you get involved with this opportunity? What were your responsibilities? What did you learn/gain from this experience? Were you able to use the French language skills in this position?
During my time at U-M, I was an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Matthew Chapman’s lab, and my experience in this lab cemented my interest in bench work and biological research generally. Upon graduating, I chose a job that would give me further experience with hands-on research and allow me to develop my skills as a scientist. I was tasked with planning and conducting experiments to help address my mentor’s hypotheses using a variety of microbiological techniques. I gained a lot of scientific knowledge in both the subjects I was studying as well as more generally about the process of research itself, and I now feel a lot more comfortable addressing my own mistakes and troubleshooting experiments on my own. Honestly my use of French was minimal during my fellowship, but I did have the opportunity to listen to a case-study presentation by a Swiss company (in French) and to translate and report the findings back to my lab. Though it wasn’t extensive, it was very rewarding to combine my two skill sets.
You are currently in a Master’s of French program at Middlebury College? What led to this opportunity? How would you describe it? What are you hoping to gain/learn through this experience?
As much as I love and want to remain in the field of biology, I found during my fellowship that I missed studying French, so I began looking for ways to further my education and experience with the language. I was aware of Middlebury College’s language programs thanks to my experience studying abroad with them during my time at U-M and learned about the master’s program online. There are multiple options for completion of the master’s program, but the one I’m doing consists of six weeks at Middlebury over the summer followed by an academic year in Paris. The summer program is an intensive language immersion experience during which we sign a pledge to communicate only in French. It’s intense and difficult, but very rewarding. I can already see an improvement in my language skills, and I feel more prepared for school and life in Paris going forward. I really want to continue increasing my understanding of the language and culture of France and to fully take advantage of life in Paris for the coming year.
Are there any additional ways you found to pursue your interest in studying French either as a U-M student or post-graduation?
I was a French tutor for the Comprehensive Studies Program while at Michigan, which was helpful for me as well as (I hope) for the students I tutored. It was useful practice for me to explain concepts within French language studies to someone else.
What are your future plans/goals? What is next for you?
After this master’s program, I hope to return to graduate school for a PhD in biological sciences, specifically genetics. I would love to eventually use genetic techniques to participate in conservation research of ecologically important species such as reef-building corals (I.e., investigating genetic characteristics of coral populations that display increased resistance to climate stress, studying how expression of certain genes changes in response to climate stressors). I would be interested in conducting conservation-focused research in French-speaking areas, and my language skills in this context would be integral to creating genuine connections with local communities as well as to understanding their specific ecological needs. Implementation and creation of evidence-based environmental policy focused on topics such as climate change and environmental justice is another area of interest, and augmented skills in French would grant me a more international, comprehensive perspective. I would also love to be involved in translation: interpreting French-language scientific research to reach an international audience and making English-language research more accessible to French-speaking audiences. In addition to translation of written work, helping Francophone and English-speaking colleagues share their research through presentations and conversations would be another way to facilitate intercultural communication in the scientific field.