Maki Yoshimura ‘22.5 – Williams’ record

(Photo courtesy of Maki Yoshimura.)

Each week, we randomly select a Unix from a list of all current College students for our One in Two Thousand feature. As long as the owner of a selected Unix agrees to be interviewed and is not a member of the Disk board of directors, this person becomes the subject of our discussion. This week, the computer (using an R script) picked up Maki Yoshimura ‘22.5, who talked about his love for classical music, biology research, and “real sushi.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Yuchan Kim (YK): So the first thing I noticed is that you are an off-cycle senior. What does the off-cycle look like?

Maki Yoshimura (MY): One thing I’m happy about is that everyone is applying for graduate school and stuff, but I don’t have to! I have another semester — I can really concentrate on my thesis. But I’m kinda scared I’ll be lonely next semester because most of my friends are [in] my class year or higher grades. So I try to make friends, especially in the bio[logy] department.

YK: What is studying biology like? Why did you choose it?

MY: I was studying humanities. I was not a STEM student at all. In Japan, in high school, you have to choose between a natural sciences course and a humanities course. I did a social science [track]and when I got here I was [taking] lots of language, history, philosophy classes—something like that. I only started taking biology seriously in my freshman year, but I love building experiments [and] discovering something that no one has before, which is super exciting.

YK: I know that you are also writing a thesis. What is your thesis about?

MY: It’s basically a cancer study. One of the properties of cancer cells is that they can survive better than normal cells, especially in suspension. [when detached from an organ]. I’m researching why cancer cells can do this. We’re focusing on this particular protein that’s overexpressed in cancerous tumors, and we’re running experiments to see how it promotes cell survival. This project is my project. No one knows except my adviser, and I finally [feel] as if i had found something [where] I can say, “That’s my thing.” It’s something I’m really passionate about and good at, and I really care about my thesis.

YK: My sources tell me that you also study Chinese. What made you want to study a language?

MY: Before coming to Williams, I went to the University of Tokyo for a semester. There you are supposed to study a foreign language in addition to English, and I chose Chinese because it had the best curriculum out of all the options. It’s also the easiest to learn as a Japanese speaker within a semester. When I got to Williams, I just decided to keep going.

YK: What other things do you like to do?

MY: I take piano lessons. I’m in the piano studio and sometimes I play with other people. I started when I was eight, but I went to high school away from home, so I quit, and when I got here, I signed up for the auditions and resumed.

YK: How is it? Do you like to play the piano?

MY: I love classical music. When I listen to classical music, I feel a lot of things. Some people listen to pop or country music or something like that, and they get emotional; I think for me it’s always been classical music that I enjoy when I’m feeling down or when I’m feeling happy or when I just want to enjoy music. Mostly piano music. Sometimes when I’m really busy in my thesis lab – which is the biggest thing going on in my life right now – I go to the piano studio and feel grounded. I feel happier – less stressed.

YK: Favorite composer?

MY: I love Brahms. The teacher would usually recommend pieces that would be good for me so I could train my fingers in different ways, but I always push for Brahms. Maybe not the best thing – I should probably play something else, but I always liked his music. There was always something about his music that spoke to me differently, so I played at least one of his pieces every semester. This semester, I’m playing three, which I’m happy about. I don’t know how my teacher feels. [Laughs.]

YK: Brahms favorite piece?

MY: I like his latest songs. Op. 117, 118, Intermezzo. I’m playing Op. 118 right now, and I love it.

YK: You also grew up in Japan. Tell me more about it.

MY: Growing up in Japan was really fun. I had the privilege of going to one of the schools [where] I really enjoyed the education. But I always knew there was something missing. If you do well in school in Japan, you go to the top-ranked universities. [It’s] super competitive… [and] I just knew that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I wasn’t particularly excited about it and wanted something different.

YK: So what did you do after that?

MY: I looked in schools all over the world — well, in English-speaking countries — and I found [out about] the liberal arts college [system] in the United States, and I really liked it, so I decided to come here. I’m very happy to be here; if I stayed in Japan, I would not have chosen to do biology at all because it is very difficult to change academic careers there. I think here at Williams people encourage you to take risks, and that’s why I was able to change my specialty and find something that I really enjoy.

YK: Do you miss home?

MY: Yes, definitely. Especially the food [Laughs.]. I don’t go for Japanese food here as it can be a disappointment. So I cook [for] myself, or ask my parents to send me things. Of course, I want to see my family and all that — I don’t want to look like only running out of food – but being away from home can be difficult.

YK: What do you usually cook?

MY: I just make rice and things I can eat with it. Yesterday I made chicken and veggie teriyaki and soup. Just something easy like that.

YK: Any dietary recommendations? Japanese cuisine is quite well known, but do you have any hidden gems or suggestions?

MY: I would say just try real Sushi. Because what people call sushi here is not really Sushi. There are a bunch of sauces like mayonnaise and all that. Just a simple nigiri sushi with real wasabi and soy sauce, just that. I miss it so much. My family went to a very good restaurant in Japan without me, and I was really jealous.

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