'The musical environment here is beyond imagination'

Junkai Dong

Physics and Math
Fuzhou, Fujian, China

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell because I had faith in its physics program: apart from the bright history of the department, it also had a lot of good faculty in phenomenological high energy theory, which I was interested in at that time. Another crucial factor is that the arXiv website was created by Prof. Paul Ginsparg and is currently supported by the Cornell Library. Researchers share their latest scientific progress in the form of preprints to arXiv. I greatly admire the courage and effort to build and maintain such an open-access academic platform.

What are the most valuable skills you gained from your Arts & Sciences education?

man at chalkboard

Being open minded. It takes effort to be receptive to vastly different ideas from different subjects, not only from different books but also from discussions with people from different backgrounds. To appreciate that there are multiple ways to approach problems and obtain different results has been hard for me because I was stuck in the mindset of having one single correct answer when I arrived here. I'm glad my humanities training here helped me to resonate with others better.

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?

I play three instruments: the piano, the organ and guqin, a traditional Chinese plucked string instrument. I practice the piano and the organ on campus: the musical environment here is beyond imagination. All the faculty I have met are very helpful and enthusiastic about music making. As for guqin, I practice it on my own as some sort of extracurricular research, where I guide myself through the ancient scores written hundreds of years ago and realize the music on my instrument. I'm surprised by the amount of physical copies of traditional Chinese music literature at Cornell. Music has kept me sane during the pandemic more than anything else.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

Great scenery, especially in the autumn. My hometown did not exhibit any dramatic change as it was in the south of China — Ithaca is much more colorful in the autumn. I had many long walks in the arboretum or even further in the trails of Ithaca where I can focus on the lights and shades of the wilderness. They often remind me of imageries in ancient Chinese poetry. Speaking of winter, snow days are my favorite days to take a walk around Houston Pond. The scenery there with bits of powder snow falling down from the sky brings me back to traditional Chinese paintings with ink.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

I think it's the general environment of the Cornell physics department. The faculty and students set good examples as scholars who maintain good work-life balances. They completely changed my attitude toward academics as I learned working too hard I can burn myself out; right now I follow their paths to develop myself in all realms.

Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2021.

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