The Sinai Spiel

Original Art by Farah Dackour
Original Art by Farah Dackour

There’s a running joke in our grade that the Sinai kids do nothing, or even worse: they play with children’s toys. I am here to admit that we do in fact play with children’s toys, but we play with them all for the sake of understanding protein folding (rubix snakes), action potential (dominoes), and more. As a student at HSMSE, you are always looking to choose between either the Math or Engineering Track. Many tend to avoid the Sinai track because they preemptively predict that they won’t get in, or find it too daunting. The truth is that the Sinai track is not as daunting as it is made out to be. In reality, being at Sinai is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day because of the incredible staff behind the program and the warm environment it provides. Not only is the course material engaging, but Dr. Aleyasin (Hossein) teaches it in a way that fosters our curiosity and immerses us in the world of science.

The first time we went to Mt. Sinai, it was magical. It was completely different from the typical classroom environment. We were 12 floors up with a view of Central Park and sat at long tables facing each other. The small class size of 18 people made it all feel more special, like a tight-knit family, which became more pronounced when we were paired up with a fellow student in “dyads.”A major part of junior year is the year-long research project on an urgent world problem that interests you and your dyad partner (some examples from this year include coral bleaching and social media addiction). From this research, you make a series of presentations which you expand on throughout the year. Many of us didn’t know our partners before this year, but being in Sinai gave us the opportunity to meet new people and get a fresh perspective. In choosing Sinai, you may be separated from your friends in other tracks, but if you do find yourself alone at first, know that there are always plenty of chances for you to make new friends.

To be honest, I’m one of those kids that play video games all day, and my habits haven’t had to change after getting into Sinai. The course material is comprehensive, but not impossible, and homework is given relatively sparingly, albeit more in-depth than other classes. Sure, some concepts can be harder to understand because they are more complex, but Hossein presents such content in a way that makes it easier to understand. We learn everything from the Krebs and Calvin Cycles to DNA and RNA, fundamental concepts which come up again when we eventually go to our lab placements in senior year. My biggest tip for learning the content in this class is to have an interest in it: the greater your interest in such topics, the more you will retain the information. And when it comes to assessments, there are quizzes every other Monday, but don’t let that scare you off! Frankly speaking, the quizzes are “easy,” meaning that if you study for it (material is always posted on classroom), you will get a good grade. However, always remember that it is more important to Hossein that you actually learn the information and retain it rather than getting a good score and forgetting it all. Before every quiz, we also play a Kahoot made by one of our classmates to review the material – it often gets very competitive. Afterwards, we do a brief review of the material and Hossein answers any remaining questions.

Now, you might be wondering, what does a typical day as a Sinai junior look like? Class starts at Sinai at 8 o’clock sharp. We go to Sinai every day except Mondays, when we report to school at the usual time. On Wednesdays we have a “library day,” a more relaxing lesson-free time to work on our research presentations. On a normal day, Hossein always starts the class out by leaving it open to us to ask any questions or to bring up anything in recent news that we found interesting, and it doesn’t have to be clearly linked to science. Last month, we had a long conversation about the recent banking crisis, and Hossein still found a way to connect it back to science. These morning discussions are a great way to start the day because you can talk about almost anything, and Hossein will still find a way to teach you something useful, interesting, and engaging. It acts as a transition for the majority of us who are not yet ready to get right into a lesson and provides a free-flowing environment for all our jumbled morning thoughts. After we are done with the day’s lesson or occasional lab, we clock out a little after 10 to get to school before lunch. I always look forward to the short commute to school, when my friends and I participate in all kinds of antics.

           The best part about Sinai is definitely the teachers. Hossein is kind and incredibly knowledgeable, strict but understanding. He seems to know a bit about everything and can draw diagrams of detailed pathways from memory if someone asks a particularly intriguing question during our morning talks. He embraces questions as an important learning tool and emphasizes that no questions are unnecessary, especially more so if they stem from confusion. He brings his passion for his work to class every day, having once been a young, curious student just like us, and he always encourages us to be good scientists and even better humans. When it comes to physics, Dr. Kruckeberg is the man. He teaches in a straightforward, simple manner that makes physics easy for us to understand, sometimes even introducing AP level content, which he still manages to make us understand. Like Hossein, he is also a very intelligent and kind person, and he often brings some humor into class too. And at Sinai, most of us tend to gravitate towards the Sinai staff room, where Mr. Alex, Mr. Tristan – and most recently Ms. Alejandra – usually reside. An iconic trio, to be sure, these three are always ready to talk to you about whatever sparks your interest, and they always make a tough day lighter.

            Finally, senior year: the process actually begins in our junior year, when we start practicing our interviewing skills and developing our resumes in order to be selected for a paid summer lab placement. The summer lab placement is optional, but you gain valuable experience which carries over into your senior year, when you might continue in that same lab. The Sinai team does their best to find the right lab for your interests and personalities. For this reason, the senior year experience varies widely from person to person. Furthermore, there are two main types of labs: wet and dry. Wet labs are traditional laboratories, and they offer the usual bench research experience like experimenting, microscoping, etc. On the other hand, a dry lab has more to do with clinical data research (medical analysis and safety data). Seniors can see themselves in widely different departments, ranging from neuroscience and psychiatry to cardiology and epidemiology. But before all that, they first have to get preliminary experience in the summer placement.

During the summer, soon-to-be-seniors go to their labs for a total of 6 weeks, during which they get a grasp of what the lab is all about. They may read research papers to get background knowledge, get acquainted with lab protocol, or may even get right into the action. After the summer, students might start working on real “sciency” things like growing a “microheart,” examining depression in a mice model using fiber photometry, and more. In addition, most, if not all, seniors have a great relationship with their mentor, who is basically their teacher while they are in their lab. Something important to note is that the collaborative circle is usually small, as the whole lab is full of different people doing their own projects, and it is usually made up of just you, your mentor, and another Sinai student (not necessarily from HSMSE). Additionally, every Thursday, you reunite with the rest of the cohort and present your lab’s findings in a “seminar” class. Another big part of senior year is that you write an actual research paper to submit for the TERRA science fair, giving you a rare opportunity to be published. Again, the senior year experience can widely vary and is shaped on YOUR interests, so this is all just a tiny fraction of all possibilities. One fair warning I can make is that you may get out of school later than usual, depending on what you are doing that day, which can conflict with your other activities. Despite this, I still think that this type of commitment is truly worth it for anything you enjoy doing, especially for such a special opportunity.

At the end of the day, you have to realize that the Sinai program isn’t just a thing that you apply for in order to look good on college applications. It is more than that; it is a bonding experience in which you will have incredible opportunities and interactions with others. It is a place where learning is actually learning, and where you are not just spoon fed information that you memorize only to forget right after the test. And, of course, there are always downsides to everything. All three tracks have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, but it is ultimately up to you to see which one is really worth it for you based on all the good and bad. Don’t be scared to apply, don’t assume that you won’t get in. If you like science, just give it a shot; what’s the worst that could happen? 


And one last word from my sponsor, Dr. Hossein Aleyasin:


“Bring your curiosity. 


Let the games begin.”

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