Janna Lowensohn
Janna Lowensohn, PhD '20 Physics

The warmest memories I have from my time at Brandeis always center on the colleagues I worked with and the lifelong friends I’ve made. There are lots, like going to my first Fenway Park visit with fellow grad students; even more, being asked to officiate at the wedding of my two best friends from the physics department.  Two others in particular stand out.  

I was sure I botched my first year oral exams. My friends found me huddled up in a stairwell, seeking solace, hugging a pillow shaped like a donut. We were all worried about the possibility of failure, but they were handling it better than I was. They sat with me, calmed me and steadied me after what I “knew” was a disaster.  In the end, it turned out to be OK, but their heartfelt assurance in those dark moments stays with me as a warm memory.  

On our floor, there was an adorable “lab baby.” My colleague Marilena gave birth to Sofilia in 2018. New moms who are also physics grad students cannot take their babies everywhere during their day in the lab, in meetings, or in classes. So we all took turns caring for Sofilia. She adapted well to this short-term co-parenting … a happy baby. There were even occasions when the first carer had to go and Sofilia would be passed to the next colleague. Sometimes Marilena would return and humorously have to hunt down her baby, who had been transferred two or three times. That kind of connection with your colleagues makes them more like a family, a wonderful memory.

Janna Lowensohn and two colleagues smile in the stands at a baseball game.Janna Lowensohn holds baby Sofilia outside a lab.

Liz Mahon
Liz Mahon, 5th Year PhD Candidate in Psychology

Every winter, the Psychology department has a fabulous holiday party. There is a prize for best drink (kudos to long-standing winner Prof. Ray Knight!), best dessert, and best appetizer. During my first year as a PhD student, I stayed up late the night before wrapping 100 spring rolls and figuring out how to carry them in a tower of Tupperware boxes. The party was so much fun, with the hallways of Brown decked with paper snowflakes and winter music drifting from the classrooms. But I will never forget the look on my professor’s face when she found out that all three prizes were won by her own PhD students! I felt bad that Ray was dethroned (ha), but he was a good sport, and we all had a great laugh. My spring rolls are still talked about to this day… and that was the first time I made them! It just goes to show that your effort is worth the time, including spending an evening with faculty and grad students to celebrate a lovely annual tradition and close-knit community.

Heather Frederick
Heather (Lyons) Frederick, MA '97 & PhD '99, Psychology

As a southern California native and first-generation college student who had not traveled much, my most memorable moments were around simple events that made me feel like I belonged at Brandeis. Things like a cohort get-together, my mentor (Dr. Margie Lachman) suggesting that I participate on a panel presentation at an APA conference, my statistics professor (Dr. Ted Cross) asking me to be a GA, friendly and encouraging dialogue in the grad lounge…these were experiences that helped me become a caring and inclusive academic leader. I can say without hesitation that the move almost 3,000 miles from my home was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Nicky Fox
Nicky Fox, PhD '14 Sociology

My favorite memory was when the Eastern Sociological Society hosted their annual meeting in Boston and a bunch of us from my cohort and the cohort in the year ahead of mine were in charge of organizing various parts of the conference. We thought it was so amazing that we all got to share one hotel room (paid for by the conference) in downtown Boston for our hard work and had a fabulous time attending the panels we organized.

Susan Band Horwitz
Susan Band Horwitz, PhD '63, Biochemistry

Brandeis was way ahead of its time in welcoming woman, certainly in the newly formed Biochemistry Department. I selected Brandeis for graduate school most importantly because it had brought together an outstanding group of faculty. Among the faculty were two female assistant professors. I had been looking at graduate schools and having women on the faculty who could be role models was rare. (Both women were married and had children- a role I envisioned for myself, although one certainly does need not be a mother or a wife to be a good scientist!) Having a women’s bathroom on each floor was a bonus. In 1958, many science buildings had one women’s bathroom, in the basement!

Lynda Ellis
Lynda Ellis, PhD '71, Biochemistry

Lawrence Grossman was one of our faculty, and he announced an exam that would take place on a certain date. We students looked at a calendar and noticed that the date was a Jewish holiday, Brandeis would be officially closed, and told him we could NOT take an exam on that date.

He glared at us. He grudgingly agreed that he would move the exam date. Then he glared at us again and said "I expect you will want Christmas off as well."

Gene Cordes
Gene Cordes, PhD '62, Biochemistry

When Shirley (PhD, Biochemistry, 1963) and I arrived at Brandeis in 1958 following a long drive from Southern California in a Pontiac packed with all our worldly belongings, we had very little money. To put it a bit more bluntly, we were broke. But we did have two sleeping bags. We had used these a few nights along the way to avoid paying motel bills. That had worked so we scouted out the Brandeis campus for a place to camp. A grassy spot near the three chapels seemed optimal, so we unrolled the sleeping bags and settled in for two nights. No one bothered us; we slept well; the price was right. On day three, we found a room over a garage in a very nice home at a reasonable price: nice people being nice to Brandeis students. We put away the sleeping bags, settled in, and got down to being students. And we had four great years at Brandeis.

John M. Vail
John M. Vail, PhD '60, Physics

I entered Brandeis in 1956, as, as I understand it, a member of the first postgraduate class of students in Physics at Brandeis, about fifteen in number. Three of us had MSc degrees, two from Manitoba and one from Cornell. The first PhDs awarded in Physics were in 1960, to a group of three or four students. The faculty members for the graduate program were S. Schweber, E. Gross, J. Goldstein and L. Falcoff. 

In the first year, we took three courses: Mathematical Physics, Quantum Mechanics, and a course in Thermodynamics from the Department of Chemistry. In the second year, IBM gave one Assistantship to each New England university for a student to work one day a week for two years in the Computer Department at MIT. In 1957, I was awarded the first of these at Brandeis. 

Also in 1957, having passed the qualifying exams, I was taken on by Eugene Gross as my supervisor for the PhD degree. Dr. Gross was a gentleman and a scholar, in the full meaning of the words. I am indebted to him for a strong start in my career as a scientist and an academic. We worked on electron-phonon interactions, just as the BCS theory of superconductivity came out. Much of our work was on charge density waves, first formulated by H. Frohlich. 

During my years at Brandeis, my education advanced not only in physics, but in many other dimensions. Each day after lunch, I spent a couple of hours browsing in the library. There I first encountered the works of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Caldwell and, most importantly, of Faulkner. Beyond that, my wife and I were able to attend evenings in small schoolhouses around Boston where Robert Frost would spend an hour or so "saying" some of his poems. This was truly the thrill of a lifetime. At that time also, I learned to eat lobster and my wife learned to cook lobster; I attended my first live theater performance, in an old converted barn; and I fully understood the beauty of a huge maple tree in the fall, along with many of the other unique features of life in New England. 

Merrill Joan Gerber
Merrill Joan Gerber, MA '80, English

One snowy day in 1960 I was on the way to a class at Raab Hall from my room next to the Castle in Schwartz Hall. As I tried to balance on the icy path going downward to the entrance, I collided with another woman and we both fell down, clutching each other and laughing a bit. As we helped one another up, I realized I was looking at the face of Eleanor Roosevelt.

A moment of great joy, never to be forgotten.

paula jane gale
P. Jane Gale, PhD '76, Chemistry

In the spring of 1969 I was working as a technician at a Cambridge start-up engaged in developing clean-up procedures for the very polluted Charles River. Despite my bachelor’s degree in English literature, I was fascinated by the chemistry I was learning on the job, and with encouragement from my employer, I applied to chemistry graduate programs at all the universities in the Boston area. No surprise: I received a stack of replies by return mail that ranged from “No thank you” to “Are you kidding?”

Discouraged but not defeated, I was flabbergasted when out of the blue I received a telephone call from Professor Robert Stevenson at Brandeis. The Graduate Studies Committee was reviewing my application, he reported. Could I really support myself for the first year? Yes, I responded, I had been able to secure a loan to cover most of my living expenses for the year. “Excellent!” he responded. “We’re going to take a chance on you.”

Soon the letter of acceptance arrived, and I made plans to matriculate. When I met with the Graduate Studies Committee in person that autumn, Professors Bob Stevenson and Jim Hendrickson couldn’t have been more supportive. Nor, indeed, could Professor Michael Henchman, who later became my advisor. I soon realized that I had found an academic home.

I’ve had a wonderfully fulfilling career as a chemist. I can’t think of a profession that would have been more rewarding or given me more pleasure. Thank you, Brandeis Chemistry, for taking a chance on an English major!

paul fennelly
Paul Fennelly, PhD '72, Chemistry

In my first few weeks at Brandeis, just wandering around campus, I stumbled upon the Rose Art Museum. I wandered in and felt transported. Such a beautiful building, such an ambiance; such stunning works of art. I felt both a sense of wonder and a sense of peace. When I needed a break from the ‘brain gridlock’ that sometimes descends upon Chemistry graduate students, The Rose became a place to escape to and regroup.

It was 1967, a couple of months into my first year at Brandeis. I was feeling a bit lost and disconnected. Somehow, I wandered into a pop up lecture at Spingold Theater – Director Mike Nichols would talk about his new movie The Graduate, starring an obscure someone named Dustin Hoffman. It was a fascinating inside look at film making. When it was released shortly thereafter, The Graduate became an iconic blockbuster film (plastics anyone?). For a Chemistry grad student, it was a peek into a whole different world. I thought to myself…maybe, just maybe, I’m going to like being at Brandeis.

taro fujimori
Taro Fujimori, PhD '92, Biophysics

My favorite memories of Brandeis are the 1-1 sessions with Dr. Jencks, my mentor. I learned invaluable lessons about science and life during these sessions. His intellect, scientific rigor, and humility were exemplary, and I strive to honor this legacy.

Alan Dittrich PhD ‘77, English and American Literature
Alan Dittrich, PhD '77, English and American Literature

Art Edelstein, who eventually became my thesis advisor, once had this advice about teaching, "Grading papers is tricky. Be careful. You don't want to go down in history as the person who gave Melville a D in English."

chari smith
Chari Smith, PhD '88, Biochemistry

My favorite memory from Chris Miller's lab is getting a hard-won outcome from an experiment and dancing up and down the hall with him.  I learned a lot of biophysics from Chris, but I also learned to take joy in your data.  So much of science education is failing and trying again.  Having a mentor who teaches you to dance in the hallway when you succeed is truly priceless.

susan singer
Susan Olshansky Singer, MA '78, Jewish Community Service

I think my favorite memories of my time in the Hornstein Program were the trips we took together. We spent a week in NYC visiting all of the national headquarters of various Jewish agencies and organizations (Federations, JCC's etc). And we spent a month in Israel touring and training and meeting community leaders there. These were bonding experiences which created not only deep friendships, but also deep collegial relationships once we all graduated and went out into the field. I'm forever grateful to those who endowed these programs for the students. They were foundational to the work I did in the Jewish community over the years of my professional life.

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