Julia Litzky '12 Headed to Dartmouth's M.D./Ph.D. Program

Julia Litzky ’12 doesn’t sleep much, and that annoys her. “I used to be able to run off three hours a night freshman year,” she said, “but now I have to get  five or six.” In between finalizing her acceptance to Dartmouth’s M.D./Ph.D. program, volunteering at the Writing Center and crafting her own metal jewelry, it’s surprising she had time to sleep at all as her time at Hamilton wound down. In fact, there are very few areas in which Litzky doesn’t have some sort of interest. “I’m not good at sports,” she said, then reconsidered. “Except Bikram yoga. I’m hoping to compete in that soon.”

Many colleges talk about the ideal liberal arts student: a motivated young person who takes classes across the disciplines for the pure and simple joy of learning. True examples of this type of student can sometimes be difficult to find, but Litzky, a neuroscience major and a philosophy minor, comes pretty close.

During her college search, Litzky looked for an institution that had a wide breadth of strong departments from which she could sample. There was one discipline, however, that Litzky didn’t anticipate focusing on. “I’ve always loved science,” she said, “but convinced myself I wasn’t smart enough for sciences. Being at Hamilton was the first time I felt good at science…it clicked for me.”

In 2008-09, Litzky was initially intrigued by visiting psychology professor Lynn Evans’ Developmental Psychobiology class, which bridged the gaps between psychology, neuroscience and biology in a complex but appealing way. Developmental biology took on the air of an “orchestra or symphony,” and Litzky fell in love with it immediately.

Now, Litzky will attend Dartmouth’s intensive M.D./Ph.D. program, where she will emerge in five years with both a medical doctorate and a research degree, which will give her an unparalleled understanding of both sides of the medical field. Although Litzky is currently unsure what her particular focus will be, she hopes to build on upon her experiences doing neuroscience research at Johns Hopkins University.

For the past two summers, Litzky has analyzed the relationship between stem cells and brain tumors with a particular focus on how stem cells can help cancer migrate to different parts of the brain. Litzky got the internship at Johns Hopkins through a surprising connection: she babysat the children of one of the University’s leading doctors for years, and he eventually offered her a chance to shadow him at work. “They all came to graduation. That’s how close we are,” Litzky said.

Litzky has also been able to indulge in her passion for art jewelry during her time away from school. Before entering Hamilton, Litzky took a gap year to more fully explore her interest in jewelry making by pursuing a certificate program with a local college. Although she tries to make all her jewelry wearable, she admits that she’s attracted to the process of creating it as much as wearing it.

“It’s really nice to make things with your hands,” she said. “It’s problem solving in the way that making a puzzle is—translating a two dimensional concept into a three dimensional finished piece.”

The same problem solving skills she uses in her jewelry design came in handy during the academic year, where Litzky balanced her academic commitments with significant responsibilities on campus as a Resident Advisor, the Science and Technology editor for The Spectator, and as a tutor in the Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center. Litzky highlights her time at the Writing Center as a particularly memorable element of her Hamilton experience.

“I’ve taken classes that I wouldn’t be able to take [otherwise] just from reading so many papers,” she said. “Plus, helping freshmen who feel like they don’t really belong here realize that they can work at a college level is rewarding.”

Perhaps Litzky sees a bit of herself in the students she interacts with in the Writing Center. “Four years ago,” she said, “I had no idea what was out there. I didn’t know where I was going at all.” At Hamilton, Litzky said, “I was able to pick a direction—I’ve gotten perspective on what really matters.”

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