Hi, my name is Yazmin and after returning to the UK, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what an amazing time I’ve had during my year abroad!

The last 9 months I have spent studying abroad in Boston as the final year (4th year) of the Mphys Astrophysics with a Year Abroad programme where I undertook an astrophysics research project at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA). A group of 4 other students and I had the unique opportunity to work alongside world-class experts to produce brand-new, cutting-edge research.

Credit: CfA, This is where I studied at, during my year abroad

Even though I was fortunate enough to be able to do this year abroad, it wasn’t always smooth sailing when moving to another country for a long period of time, and homesickness was real to begin with. But the area was always so nice, and the people really helped. The group I went there with was so supportive and the other students at CfA were so nice and inclusive!

Just a normal road in the local area!
Porter Square on the prettiest evening

This was our local area! Everything was super green, and colorful, and the weather treated us a lot better than the UK.

There was a lot to do on arriving in the US and it was a little overwhelming at first, meeting my supervisor, getting used to a new area and trying to start my first independent research project! All of this alongside keeping a long-distance relationship. My number one advice is that you have time – do the things you want to do early on but don’t neglect your university work. And long-distance relationships get easier as long as you commit to communication (and playing video games of course – we are physics nerds after all).

The first big event we encountered in our area was Halloween, you’ve got to join in! The street we lived on was one of the most festive in Boston. There were so many people dressed up and all of the houses were decorated to the heavens. Of course, we had to carve pumpkins and dress up cowboy style! (Also Salem is less than an hour away which was an amazing trip for Friday the 13th and a must-see on your year abroad!)

Little attempt at carving pumpkins

Then we had more work to do as soon after Christmas we had an assignment due and a conference to attend and present our work at. By this time we were well and truly stuck into our projects and I was quickly gaining confidence in my knowledge and research skills and way better at independent problem solving. These skills are so imperative for any line of work and academia you’d like to do in the future. While work was well underway the group did decide….

Nothing could stop us from having a weekend in New York to see the lights (as a little treat and break from studying)!

Rockefeller Christmas tree all lit up!!
New York Skyline

This was a 4hr trip away from Boston but well worth the trek! All of us loved it and was a well-deserved break after getting to grips with our projects. It may seem like I’ve been doing a lot but in reality, there was still a lot of stress and a lot of work going on behind the scenes, research always feels like (and generally is) one problem after another. But weekends out and time away from the work is very important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. When you are in a new country studying it is so important to make sure you don’t get too occupied with your work or travelling but still get to do everything you want to do. A big help I found was calling and talking to my family every couple of weeks about my work and my adventures!

Then I decided to go home for Christmas, a break before we had to properly knuckle down and the time with my family really helped rejuvenate me for coming back to Boston. I would 100% recommend doing this if it’s possible! Remember even if you’re feeling a little lonely at points this year, everyone else will also feel the same at some point. Talk to people and don’t let it overwhelm you.

The next big adventure was travelling across the US to New Orleans, Louisiana to attend a huge astronomy conference, the AAS! Every student on this programme gets to do this and it’s held in a different state and city every year. Although, sometimes at this time of year, the snow decides to cancel our flights and makes us a little late… (make sure you pack enough scarves to make it through the winter)

Just me stuck in the snow above my ankles!

Once we finally managed to make it, I got to test out my knowledge and presenting skills with a poster detailing the work I’d done on my project up until this point. Generally, this included explaining what we are doing, why, how and possibly some preliminary results. This is a nice point to gauge your project and discuss where you see it heading and your current knowledge with your supervisor.

This was where the fun kind of trailed off and we realised just how much work we had to do as our final reports were due at the start of May (it does come around quickly). During this time I really knuckled down in order to get meaningful results and feel more fulfilled through my research. I did really enjoy my project and choosing the right project and supervisor makes this year. If you enjoy your work and have good communication with your supervisor, it helps you have more spare time, better working hours and overall a better quality project and final grade (remember we are here to do well in our degree as well as having fun). Of course, not all the fun stopped, instead of big trips the group took to local pub quizzes for fun, having evenings in and cooking for one another alongside exploring the city. There is so much to do!

Throughout Boston, there are many libraries, museums and art galleries as well as in the local area we live near – Harvard Yard! A lot of these are free to you (definitely check out the Museum of Fine Arts and Natural History Museum) as we are part of the Harvard community (which is as cool as it sounds – we have access to the buildings!). This also means if you wish, you are able to join societies and clubs. Looking back I do wish I had taken the opportunity and participated in these. But I really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to study in other places to the office at CfA.

Harvard Chemistry Building
Harvard’s main library, the center of Harvard Yard – the inside is just as cool!!
Harvard Yard’s Church (ft. a big American police car)

This is when time went the quickest and I realised I was going to miss Boston. We had a matter of weeks and our degree was done. The final report, presentations and viva approached and left quickly and now I’m here remembering it all. The final goodbyes to the US and the CfA were bittersweet, I had such a fantastic time with my supervisor and colleagues and a final view from the roof of the offices. Since coming back from Christmas this time absolutely flew and we really did end up a little too sucked into work (which you should avoid if possible).

View from the roof of the CfA building

Finally to sum this year up and leave you with some final words. This year I have grown so much and had a lot of fun along the way. I never thought I would be a very confident person however this year has allowed me to come out of my shell and be confident in myself, my abilities and my knowledge. It has most definitely left me with a ton of skills which I’ll use throughout my next steps, including communication skills, problem-solving with proper application and true research skills which are highly transferable. No matter the basis of your project this year and what you see yourself doing in the future this year will give you many opportunities and build you up in a new and different way. It has been a bunch of fun and was made that much better by all the students who came with me! Make sure you immerse yourself in this but keep in contact with people back home and have fun (but maybe not too much, it still is a degree after all!). Make sure to get involved, and do all the little things you want to. The landlords give good tips and keep you involved and they really help it feel more homely, try and go to all the little town festivals and such that goes on, there’s a lot. Just have a little fun in every moment and take lots of pictures!!

I am so grateful to have done this, and hope all of you future students make the most of it and will enjoy it (and want to go back) like I have!

Final Research Year in Boston

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discover more from Study Abroad and Exchange Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading