December 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities (Or One Town and One City)

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Most Cornell graduate students who live in the pretty town of Ithaca — where snow embraces the campus as early as October — may not be aware of another campus 220 miles away in New York City. Most of us here in Ithaca have formed a vague picture of life on the Upper East Side of the Big Apple from familiar scenes of well-known movies like Sex and City or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Especially for the international graduate students, Ithaca might be the first and last stop for the coming four or five years. We sometimes imagine graduate student life in the New York City to be a sort of paradise where the city never sleeps. Life there is good and fresh. Fifth Avenue is waving to you just several blocks away, and Central Park is always a nice place to take a stroll after a pleasant dinner.

There is another side to this coin. It’s impossible to escape the annoying and endless noise from traffic all day long. Like the weary bankers on Wall Streets, stress from overwhelming amounts of work and pressure seems to seep into everyone’s attitude. In comparison, Ithaca is a paradise that can serve as an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Perhaps there is an element of truth in both pictures, but few of us have the opportunity to find out.

As a visiting graduate student from the Ithaca campus, I got to spend one semester this fall at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC, which is located on the Upper East Side of the city between Central Park and the East River. My first impression of New York City, like many new arrivals, was of its busy, noisy, crowded streets, and the indifferent attitudes of the inhabitants. In contrast to the amiable citizens of Ithaca who are friendly and easygoing, the people in the city impose a feeling of distance upon arrival. However, the impression changes in time.

Linkage Program

Few students outside the tri-institutional program have heard of the Linkage Program, a program to facilitate the connection of graduate students between the two campuses of Cornell. The university system here at Weill Cornell is actually a joint system of four institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College, the Rockefeller University, the Sloan-Kettering Institute and the Hospital for Special Surgery. There is a formal collaboration between the first three institutions through a Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. program since 1972.

The Linkage Program allows graduate students to take courses offered on the Ithaca campus through tele-conference, while doing research on the Weill Cornell campus in the hospitals with access to clinical data. Unlike Ithaca, there are more post-docs than Ph.D.’s at Weill Cornell, providing a much different experience for undergraduates than research labs in Ithaca. However, the educational facilities at Weill Cornell, including the well-equipped library and lecture rooms, impress with their delicate architecture outside and abundant space inside.


First let’s have a glance of the neighborhood where WCMC is located. The Weill Cornell Medical College neighborhood offers many shops and restaurants. These, together with services and businesses such as banks and food markets, give the neighborhood an aura of a small, well-defined community. And much of the world’s best art, music, theater, ballet, cinema and cuisine are within walking distance or accessible by short trips using public transportation. For architecture and photography lovers, New York couldn’t be a better place for the modern designs that often border on peculiar to the marvelously delicate Gothic towers and arches of renowned churches.

There is everything you could imagine. The soaring music of the Phantom of the Opera, the dazzling art at the Metropolitan Museum, the variety of cuisines in Chinatown, the little breeze at dawn in Central Park, the first glow of sunshine penetrating the gap between skyscrapers into your window, the stylish fashion shops at SOHO, the exquisite campus of Columbia University and cozy bars near NYU. No matter if you are a fan of art, sports, fashion, food, movies, literature, etc. your favorite place can’t be too far away. The one downside may be that you have to put with the monotonous noise from the construction of the new Medical Research Building right at 8 a.m. every morning in front of your building.

Student Life

Life near the East River is similar to life in Ithaca. The former has everything compacted into the neighborhood of one or two blocks, including lecture rooms, research labs, apartments, cafeterias, hospitals, fine restaurants, and shops. You could even go home to cook lunch while your biological experiments are running. The latter is a more sprawling campus, where commuting from one part of campus to the other might mean walking uphill and downhill for about 15 minutes, or require the on-campus bus. When compared with the convenient one-minute walk from lab to dorm in NYC, you quickly learn that distance does matters.

Though there are far fewer of students at WCMC are than Ithaca, the variety of student activities offered at WCMC have not suffered. There are softball, consulting and cooking clubs, just to name a few. With a limited number of students on the Weill Cornell campus, it is possible to literally get to know everyone — which allows you to build a stronger connection than the random chats at the Big Red Barn every Thursday afternoon coffee hour or the Friday TGIF.

Though the bustling metropolis of NYC can often be intimidating, there is a lot that Weill Cornell and NYC can offer to graduate student in Ithaca. I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the Linkage Program and come explore Weill Cornell and NYC.

Ruogu Fang is a second year graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University and Radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. She can be reached at [email protected].

Original Author: Ruogu Fang