Meet Nicole Collins – 2022-2023 HDS Admissions Graduate Assistant

by Nicole Collins, MTS ’24

Editor’s Note: Nicole is one of the 2022-2023 Graduate Assistants in HDS Admissions. She is a first-year MTS student at HDS studying the intersection between transness and religious conversion.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you want the HDS community & prospective students to know about you?

I graduated from Carleton College (Northfield, Minn.) this spring, where I majored in philosophy. Much of my research as an undergraduate focused on queer/trans studies, philosophy of music, Marxism, and nineteenth century German idealism. All of these fields instilled in me a yearning to engage further with questions of religion, faith, embodiment, and gender. Somehow, Bob Dylan brought me to Chicago Blues, which brought me to Talmud studies, which brought me to trans philosophy (à la Hil Malatino). I wrote my senior thesis on the music genre of hyperpop, exploring digital embodiment and what sociopolitical parallels exist (and can exist!) between musical and gender identity–focused self-interpretation.  

This work is deeply intertwined with what I hope to study at HDS. Interfaith dialogue has long been an interest of mine, and I’m ecstatic to have the unique and powerful opportunity to study it further at HDS and to explore how other trans and gender nonconforming folks like myself navigate faith/spirituality/etc. The intersection between transness and religious conversion is of particular interest to me, as well as the question of the compatibility of Jewish cosmology with modern science. 

In a previous life—the growing-up-in-Brookline one—I wrote and edited for a variety of Boston LGBTQ+ and music publications (I actually got something in the New Yorker at one point!). I scrapped that idea approximately when I decided I’d like to have health insurance.

How did you know HDS was the right school for you? What led you to apply here? 

My first encounter with HDS was when I was searching for philosophy Ph.D. programs in the Boston area, and a friend told me something along the lines of: “In Boston, every LGBTQ+ person knows an LGBTQ+ person at HDS.” Naturally, I did some research and spoke to Admissions, and quickly learned about the welcoming and inclusive environment here—in and outside the classroom.  

After I was admitted to HDS, I went through a two-week panic period, in which I struggled to decide between a few graduate programs I had been admitted to. During that stretch of time, I attended one of HDS’s admitted student open houses, and I found that my initial, somewhat “isolated” view of the school—that is, the view from a prospective student—was confirmed by spending substantial time here in person. I felt then (as I do now) immediately welcomed in and supported. The people around me are interested in, and excited by, what I’m studying and vice versa. I’ve never seen so many amazing people nerding out in one (welcoming!) place. 

What advice would you like to share with prospective students?

Take time with your application. No, don’t spend three months A.) tweaking the grammar of your statement of purpose every day, or B.) worrying whether you packed every single little detail of what you wanted to mention into the statement of purpose (I did too much of both, unfortunately.) 

My strategy, which I strongly recommend to any prospective student, is to put in about a week or so of intense work into your application materials, and then take at least one week off to let yourself become removed from the application process. A good thing to remember is that this isn’t law school: There’s no difference whether you submit your application on September 30 or December 30; as long as you get everything in before the deadline, the Admissions Committee will read your application. And this is great news for you, given it provides you more time to digest and refine your application materials! 

(Flip side to this: It’s certainly calming to know that the application is off and sent. Definitely try to stay cognizant of how much good continuing to work on your application will do. If it’ll just lead to contentless stress—or to an endless cycle of A.) and B.) above—then just submit it and enjoy the rest of your winter break!) 

Ask us questions! We’re always happy to answer your questions at the address, so please feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to get some more in-depth student perspectives on aspects of the application process, HDS student life, and more! 

If you’re able, also ask those around you for help. I had five or six different people look over my application materials to make sure everything at least read clearly. It’s easy to become so enmeshed in your application that you don’t realize other people might have no idea what you’re talking about in the first place. I think it’s important to remember that the Admissions team here is human, and so make sure your application (especially your statement of purpose) is human, too. 

What are you most looking forward to this year at HDS?

The classes! There is an exciting range of classes here at HDS, and it was difficult to narrow them down. I’m currently enrolled in a seminar on the thought of Sylvia Wynter, which has been a blast, incredibly insightful. It’s one of those classes I leave every week with a headache — a very good, well earned headache. 

I find myself waking up every morning excited to go to class—something I really haven’t felt in a while. As I described to my family the other day: “Every day here feels like Friday.”   

Please share with us one thing that is bringing you joy right now, as you start your fall semester. 

I love this question! A few things. 

It’s around the middle of the Jewish High Holy Days as I write this. I attended a wonderful series of Rosh Hashanah services through Harvard Hillel earlier this week and have been immersing myself in Torah study.  

Also, the weather. I’ve been trying to consciously dedicate time to walking and biking so I can make the most of this beautiful New England autumn.  

Lastly, the library. I cut my teeth on Boston libraries growing up, so to have access to the largest university library system in the world is somewhat surreal.  


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