"Coaching isn’t something you get graded on, so you don’t have to be perfect. Don’t worry about what others think, just be yourself and enjoy the experience."
— Zeynep Aydin, Brown University
Zeynep Aydin - Brown University
When Zeynep Aydin told all her fifth-grade friends at her high school in Istanbul that she would go to an Ivy League University in the States, they all laughed and said: “Yeah, right, that only happens in the movies.” Their responses hardened Zeynep’s resolve to get there. Her standard reply became: “No, I’m going to prove it happens in real life as well.”
Today Zeynep’s in the second year of a four-year computer sciences and psychology study programme at the world-renowned Brown University in Rhode Island.
Zeynep admits that by the time it came to applying for a university place, she was thinking about more than just proving a point to her friends. The drive to study in the States was also a practical one.
“I wanted to do something interdisciplinary, and Turkey doesn’t really offer that. It’s quite difficult to have a good education in two different concentrations if you study in Turkey and it’s also extremely difficult to change faculties. But in America you can arrive on campus without even declaring what you want to study, then decide when you get here. I just really like the flexibility I have here.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. The pandemic forced Zeynep to return to Turkey last semester. “It was pretty difficult to attend my virtual lessons and do my hours as a teaching assistant with the eight-hour time difference,” explains Zeynep. The arrangement meant that even though she was at home, her day was out of sync with the rest of her family. “I’d go to bed at 6am and wake in the early afternoon to start my day.”
This semester things are better with Zeynep back on campus at Brown. “It’s been really good for me to be back here. We have routine testing twice a week, so I also feel safe.”
Despite all the covid craziness and topsy-turvy time zones, between last semester and this, Zeynep also participated in the Make Your Mark with Susan Room® student school.
“An alumnus from my High School, who is now a successful business leader with Microsoft, Didem Un Ates, recommended I join the programme.” The fact it was taking place in yet another time zone, London’s, wasn’t enough to deter Zeynep from taking part.
“I wanted to better and more confidently express myself - especially when speaking English,” says Zeynep. “I just thought that doing a programme where most people are from the UK and are native English speakers would probably help me a lot.” Zeynep’s theory proved right, but the programme also had some surprising results.
“I honestly think what Susan instructed has helped me most with my Turkish. The way I learned English was very academic and structured. But my Turkish, I realised, was full of repetition, unhelpful fillers – a lot of what I said was kind of nonsense.”
Zeynep admits helping improve her Turkish speech habits was an unexpected benefit of the programme, but there’s also been plenty that’s helped her beyond speaking in Turkish.
Before joining the first class Zeynep shares she was concerned about being a non-native speaker among native English speakers. “Sometimes my accent makes it a bit more difficult for people to understand me, so I was a little nervous that might be a problem - but it never was.” Indeed, one of the things Zeynep very much enjoyed was the programme’s break out rooms, which enabled her to interact with other students from different parts of the world.
But what Zeynep loved most about the programme was how she could draw connections between the tips and techniques Susan was offering and her courses in Psychology.
“It was reassuring to know that everything Susan was saying was backed up by the science. Susan just has this incredible accumulation of knowledge and everything she shares has this credible evidence base threaded through it. I already knew lots of the concepts Susan shared existed from my psychology courses, but it was the practical, fine refinements for me that helped a lot.”
By way of example Zeynep explains, “I’ve been told many times ‘oh you must sit straight during an interview’. But Susan’s practical advice, to plant both your feet on the ground to give you a stable position, I found that most helpful. It’s a tiny thing but it’s the accumulation of all the tiny things she shares that build to be extremely useful.”
And Zeynep’s been quick to put some of this learning to good use. She recently gave six interviews in a single week. “I really put some of the techniques Susan shared into practice and they’ve been working out because I’m hired!”
Her new role sees her heading up an ethics programme across Brown’s computer science department. “Tech is fraught with ethical issues, so at Brown ethics is a core component of the curriculum. The trouble is, if you take multiple computer classes, as I do,” says Zeynep, “you find a lot of content repetition between them. My role, as the newly appointed student lead, is to work with faculty to come up with a common ethics curriculum across all the department’s classes to avoid that overlap.”
Ethics is something close to Zeynep’s heart and, after graduating from Brown, she’s keen to go onto study law. “I want to be in the regulation and legislation side of Artificial Intelligence and technologies,” says Zeynep. “I have a strong technical background, so my dream is to be a part of the United Nations or the European Union, working on international laws and having some kind of authority over that domain.”
But to work in and have influence on such an arena, with those in positions of authority, about emotive ethical issues, will require more than technical ability. It will, as Zeynep knows, also require mastery of the softer skills that are part and parcel of the Make Your Mark student programme.
“I’ve seen a lot of friends struggling with speaking confidently during interviews and I feel Susan’s student programme would help them a lot.” Zeynep admits that her own self-confidence is strong, and she finds it relatively easy to speak up, but Susan’s guidance on how to actively listen and give others the opportunity to speak has, along with so much else, proven useful advice.
“These student schools are great. Without feeling bombarded, you come away with a lot of helpful knowledge. Susan’s very welcoming and calm. The way she instructs is extremely clear. She uses different types of media and different types of examples. I just really appreciate having been given the experience,” concludes Zeynep who has recently become a Make Your Mark Ambassador. In this role Zeynep will continue working with Susan and will help ensure more young people get to leave university with the soft skills they need to confidently transition into their dream careers.
Zeynep Aydin is studying computer sciences and psychology at Brown University. She’s also Creative Director for the law review and part of the marketing team for TEDx conferences. She commences her role as ‘Head Socially Responsible Coding Teaching Assistant’ to implement a common ethical curriculum, in May 2021. She is also now a Make Your Mark Ambassador.