Sanjula Wickramasinghe '15
Major: Biological Sciences and Chemistry Chemical Biology
Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Why did you choose Cornell?
I applied to college while finishing high school in Sri Lanka and only few students from my school had ever gone to college in the States. So I did not really have good resources to find a school that seem matched my interests. With my limited knowledge, I felt that the Biology program and vast research opportunities that Cornell offers to students would make it possible for me to pursue my interest. Even though I was not able to visit the campus before coming here in the fall I got the feeling that I would be part of a great community and meet a lot of amazing people, and I was right.
What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?
Spending almost all of my time in my research lab, I didn’t participate in too many extracurricular activities. However, I did TA Phys 2207 and 2208 and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I had while at Cornell. It was my first time in a formal teaching position and it helped me discover a love for teaching. It challenged me as I had to think of many different ways to explain things in a way that would keep the material fun and interesting, and so it also allowed me to learn more about myself as a student and also to truly appreciate those who dedicate their lives to teaching.
What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
During the fall semester of my junior year I found myself further out of my depth with the classes I was taking than I had anticipated. I was extremely stressed and I was completely overwhelmed. It was then that I realized that stressing myself out about the grades I would get in that class was not helping me in any way. This was also my first semester as a TA, so I drew from that experience and decided to see the interesting sides to the extremely difficult material. Just by appreciating how interesting it could be and not worrying about my final grade I was in a much happier place and started to embrace all the challenging courses I took at Cornell with a much more satisfying result.
What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?
I was able to present my research at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in Baltimore. It was surreal as my one-hour poster session lasted for over 2.5 hours with a stream of interested people, ranging from undergraduate and graduate students to well established Professors in my field, listening to what I had to say. I felt as if the long hours I had put into my research had paid off and it increased my excitement about continuing in research.
What, if any, research projects did you participate in at Cornell?
I have worked in Professor Feigenson's lab since the end of my freshman year. My project focussed on investigating the effects of line tension and bending energy on the formation of rafts in lipid membranes by studying four component lipid mixtures. I recently submitted my honors thesis based on this this research, which was a wonderful conclusion to three years of hard yet satisfying work.
What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
One of the memories I’ll treasure the most is making my first snowman. My friends and I decided it would be a great idea to start making a snowman at 2am so we had to keep running back inside to warm our hands up on the heaters. We were quite proud of our little ‘Fred’. Unfortunately, by the time we saw him the next morning someone had decapitated him. It turned into a joke that we bring up whenever we see snowmen around and we cherish the memory of having fun in the cold Ithaca night.
Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?
My PI, Professor Feigenson was a big influence on choosing what I wanted to concentrate on as a Biology major. I had always thought that I would want to have a career in research but at the start of college I had little to no research experience. Professor Feigenson allowed me to start working on my own project soon after joining and that gave me a lot more confidence in what I would be able to accomplish in the scientific world. As I spent more time in lab, I was able to realize that this was the direction that I wanted to my education and career to turn towards.
How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
Academically my interests have stayed pretty much the same but with all the opportunities that were available to us at Cornell I was able to expand on them. The hands-on manner we are taught with at Cornell helped cement my deep-rooted interests in research and highlighted the importance of basic research and how sometimes you can work to find answers simply because you are curious about something.
What do you value about your liberal arts education?
I loved the fact that within a single week I could take classes in Greek Mythology and Protein structure and spend hours doing my own research. Liberal arts education makes it all possible. Being able to study vastly different subjects at once helped emphasize how interesting each different class could be.
What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’ll be starting my work towards a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, and I hope that I will be able to continue doing research and teaching in the future.