Shivansh Chawla: 'I learned to be a more independent thinker.'

April 18, 2017

Shivansh Chawla


Andover, MA


What, if any, research projects did you participate in at Cornell?

I worked in a couple of research labs at Cornell and had four main research projects. The first lab I joined researched in synthetic organic chemistry. My project centered on helping create a catalyst that can make certain chemical reactions that are difficult faster. In my current lab, I sought to synthesize a chemical probe that can help study cellular signalling pathways. This semester, to learn more biochemical techniques, I changed my project to evaluating probes that my lab has developed on a model organism, C. elegans (worm). I also joined a Cornell group that was collaborating with Ithaca Beer Company to improve the process of brewing beer.


How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

I learned to be a more independent thinker. At first, I thought that papers and textbooks were the finality of knowledge but science is evolving. Working in a lab, I found out how details of some published chemical reactions would not be reproducible, which made me more critical of papers. This led me to question more about the methodology and conclusions in science. While I found out I need to be more critical when evaluating papers, I actually found this liberating — you are more engaged with the material when you evaluate the data yourself.


What do you value about your liberal arts education?

Exposure to different aspects of knowledge: foreign languages, physics, chemistry, history, English, philosophy, etc. And the understanding not just that there is a diversity of subjects we study, there are patterns of thinking that are universal to any field. Each study of a field is a mix of intuition and hard rules. For example, after a while, the grammatical rules of foreign language ingrain to be automatic and then we learn the idioms of a dialect. Similarly in organic chemistry, there are hard rules about which molecules react with each other but when carrying out a reaction, you use your intuition to predict which route would yield your compound. Learning for the sake of learning was what I enjoyed the most.

Shivansh Chawla