MCS Alumni » Q & A with Emily Kern (MCS '04)

Q & A with Emily Kern (MCS '04)

Emily Kern

Graduation Year:
Class of 2004

High School:
West High School, International School Basel (2008)

BA: History - University of Pennsylvania, 2012

MA: History - Princeton University, 2014

PhD: History - Princeton University, (projected 2017)


I’m working on a PhD in the history of science and modern global history. I’m interested in a lot of topics, but my research right now focuses on how people and governments use science to make sense of national populations during the period between World War I and World War II. I also just started working as a teaching assistant in the fall of 2014, where taught a class on the history of recent science. It’s so cool to talk about totally wild stuff, like string theory, neuroscience, and the ways the Internet is affecting how people do (and learn about!) science. In the long run, I’d love to keep working in academia as a professor—getting to research, teach, and talk to people about the history of how we do science sounds pretty great to me.

Q: What are some awards, honors, or special events that you have received or experienced?

A:             High school: National Merit finalist; valedictorian at the International School Basel

Penn: Benjamin Franklin Scholars program; research fellow, Penn Program in Democracy, Constitutionalism and Citizenship; undergraduate chair for the Penn Humanities Forum.


Study abroad: Seoul National University, South Korea, Summer 2011


Princeton: I got talked into serving as the secretary of the Graduate History Association. That good old MCS spirit of service gets you into trouble every time.

Q: How did The Madeleine Choir influence your future learning and development?

A: The Madeleine Choir School was a huge intellectual influence on my life—there have been tons and tons of moments where I’ve found myself drawing on knowledge that I encountered for the first time at the Choir School. I still use the Latin and Greek roots we started studying in fourth grade; knowing something about Greco-Roman mythology, the Abrahamic religious traditions, and the big picture sweep of Western history gets you pretty far. I still go back to ideas I learned about evolution in seventh grade biology for my work now. The things I studied at the Choir School gave me an incredible interpretive base to build on, plus really critical basic skills in essay writing and learning foreign languages—(historian superpowers!)


Beyond the amazing cultural education, the Choir School taught me some important life lessons that I’ve carried forward: the importance of hard work and taking responsibility for producing your best work, even when you’re tired, or the circumstances seem too demanding; the importance of flexibility, patience, and showing up ready to aim for excellence, every time. The Choir School’s ethos of community service and social responsibility has continued to shape my life and my approach to my career.

Also—I got so much mileage out of knowing how to tie a tie properly in high school Model UN competitions.

Q: What was your favorite class at MCS ?

A: Seventh and eighth grade English with Mrs. May; eighth grade Science with Mr. Ghidotti; Church History and Philosophy with Mr. Glenn.


Q: Do you have any other memorable experiences from MCS?


A: I really liked doing the science and history fairs—it was really cool to work through an interesting question, and then try to figure out how you could communicate it effectively to other people. One of the great things about the Choir School was that it was such a supportive environment—you were given a lot of interesting opportunities to try new things, get a little outside your comfort zone, but also take responsibility for your own growth and development in a way that I didn’t see in a lot of other places.


My favorite musical pieces were either the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vespers or Ralph Vaughn William’s Flos Campi. I also got drafted as a high school student to play the bass drum in the performance of Benjamin Britten’s Noyes Fludde, which was…challenging. (It’s such a neat piece of music.)

Q: The choristers just returned from their tour of Italy in November, what was your most memorable tour experience?

I was really lucky—I got to go on four European tours and one US tour to Los Angeles while I was involved with the choir. The tours can be pretty challenging—you’re moving around a lot, and you have to be responsible for a lot of really complicated music! But it was a great confidence booster, and the experience taught me a lot about being adaptable and bringing your A-game even when you’re in a totally new environment. (I’m trying to channel that attitude now, because I’m planning some really big solo research trips!)


On a more personal level, my favorite tour memories are probably: seeing the art of Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna in 2005; singing in the upper basilica in Assisi in 2007; singing in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2001, although I remember that as not being a really great performance, so maybe that’s not my favorite. I’ve gotten to go back to some of these places as an adult, and it’s been an intensely moving experience. When we would visit these sites with the choir, we got to participate in the history of the place, and be a living instantiation of a sometimes thousand-year-old tradition—that’s a pretty amazing experience to have by the time you’re fourteen.


This isn’t necessarily my favorite tour memory, but it is pretty funny: on the first day of the Italy tour in 2003, we spent the day visiting the Milan Duomo, including climbing around on the roof, and then visiting the Milan opera house, which was really cool! It was February, and pretty cold, and we were all starting to crash by the middle of the afternoon…which, of course, was when we were marched off to see the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, where Mr. Glenn started quizzing all the seventh and eighth grade students about the history of early Christianity. In my memory, we’re trudging for about an hour, in the cold, to go stare at the remains of this really, really dead saint, and then suddenly have to apply all this stuff we’ve been learning in class in order to make sense of what’s going on around us. According to Google Maps, it was about a 20 minute walk, and the Basilico San Ambrosio is barely a mile from the Duomo. But it felt like it was a really long trek!

Q: Do you have any advice for current students?

A: Tackle all the cool opportunities that come your way, and try to push yourself outside your comfort zone. The Choir School is a unique environment—there aren’t that many other places that will teach you these kinds of things at such a young age, and it’s so cool and awesome to have those skills already in your arsenal when you move on in life. Also, definitely pay attention in theology/church history, because you’ll get to college and suddenly find that knowing this is really useful.



Wrtitten and published February 2015 by Gillian Eshleman