Ricklan ’17 Learned to Expand her Definition of “Success”

Sarah J. Ricklan ’17 is a third-year medical student at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. She recently co-edited and contributed to the book Monologues from the Makom: Intertwined Narratives of Sexuality, Gender, Body Image, and Jewish Identity, an anthology of first-person narratives relating to Jewish feminism, sexuality and ritual. Her academic research involves the evolution of human childbirth, women’s health and access to healthcare.


What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I arrived as an eager first-year. I felt like I was on my way to achieving success in college — I liked writing, I loved learning and I enjoyed studying. I remember walking through Low Plaza on the sunny August afternoon after my parents moved me in. I was overjoyed and almost skipping with the thrill of being there.

That first fall, I was in a small seminar with students from all over with largely different experiences and interests than my own. My peers raised concerns and shared insights that I had never even considered. Their arguments were sensitive and thoughtful and wise. As a result of those discussions, I learned to expand my definition of “success” at the College. I would indeed do plenty of writing, learning and studying — but those first few months taught me that the kind of growth I hoped to achieve would come through conversations like those inside and outside the classroom.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I was in a single on John Jay 8 that overlooked the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I loved my room that first year, and the morning light over the Cathedral brought me great joy. To this day, it’s the best view I’ve ever had. Even though John Jay was mostly singles, my floormates were close; some stayed roommates beyond that first year. During graduation week, a bunch of us made a pilgrimage back to the floor. I still keep in touch with some of the people I met back on JJ8.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I had many brilliant Core teachers and classes, but my most formative experience was CC. My professor, Andrew Nathan, had such a calm and reassuring way of taking us through the texts. With his guidance, I felt I was able to truly incorporate what we were learning into my understanding of the world. Not infrequently, I wish I could go back and do it all again.

I also adored Art Hum. I had never taken any art history classes before, and I hadn’t quite realized the depth of meaning contained in a single image. I relished describing what I saw and analyzing the elements. Art museums carry so much more excitement for me now — the thrill of seeing a piece I learned about in class has not yet worn off!

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Schermerhorn was home to two of my favorite spots: Professor Ralph Holloway’s biological anthropology lab and the Geology Library. I spent many hours in Professor Holloway’s lab working toward my major in Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species. It was truly a privilege to work and learn in that space that came to feel like a home. The Geology Library is a real gem (pun intended). It’s quiet but not eerie, has a nice mix of seating, and the selection of geology books is absolutely remarkable.

Of course, I also love Butler, especially those elevated alcoves. The Butler stacks will always be dear to me, too — that’s where I got engaged!

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

Because I was taking premed requirements and completing a different major, there wasn’t a lot of time for extra classes, but I wish I could have taken more courses in more fields. That’s part of why I enjoyed the Core; it allowed me to take classes outside of my major and premed requirements. I also wish I had gone to more extracurricular talks, concerts and plays, both on and off campus — I would have liked to have taken advantage of New York City more. I’m lucky to have had a second chance to explore the city during medical school!