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Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

Sep 8, 2011

print “Hello, World!\n”;

Posted in: Miscellaneous

Hello! I don’t think we’ve met. I’m the girl who rollerblades everywhere. You might have seen me if you walk down the Infinite at the right time of day. My name is Lydia. We have a lot to catch up on.

I was born in Moscow on March 12, 1992, into a demographic hole created by World War II and deepened by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia’s financial shakiness was magnified in my family by my parents’ youth and profession (blossoming scientists—specifically, underpaid grad students). My dad’s night job as a taxi driver, combined with my parents’ negligible salaries and some help from the government, was just enough to buy half a gallon of milk every morning.

I am well known among family for ripping off and eating half the wallpaper in my room as a four-month-old. At five months I poured kefir (fermented milk) into my potty and rofled for the first time. Here’s me with a bucket:

    

We finally moved to Chicago in 1996, when I was almost four. Most of the stories from that time revolve around me trying to learn English. Before I started preschool, my well-intentioned dad taught me how to say “stop it” to arm me against bullies. Unfortunately I picked up my dad’s Russian accent and warped “stop it” into something that sounded more like “stupid.” My teachers soon called my parents in for a conference, horrified that the new girl who said no other English words was calling everyone stupid.

I got in trouble a second time for telling my teacher to go to hell when she told me not to stand on the slide. Apparently I was trying to tell her she wasn’t invited to my house, but the jumble of Russian-English that came out just happened to sound like “go to hell.” It was an accident. Pinky swear.

At that point my parents stopped trying to teach me English. We discovered a VHS (remember those?) store down the street and I started learning in phrases from Disney movies. One of my favorite stories from back then is a conversation with a nice man on the elevator—

“How do you like America?” “How’s school?” “Do you have friends?” “Do you like playing tag?”

I picked indiscriminately from my limited toolbox to sustain conversation: “Yes,” “No,” “Yes,” “No,” “No,” “Yes,” and so on, with appropriately varied intonation.

Finally, as he left the elevator, I muttered an entire phrase at his back: “Suspicious snake.” (Brownie points if you can identify the Disney movie I got that from.)

The rest of childhood is probably less interesting. I went to Andrew Jackson Language Academy for elementary school. I got better at English and learned how to read and write in Russian. After school I went to an archetypal after-school day camp.

I strongly disliked day camp. Everyone yelled all the time and I wanted to sit quietly and read. A turning point came when I was accused of eating an unaccounted-for slice of pizza. The counselors set me aside so other kids wouldn’t yell at me, but I misunderstood it as a time out. It was particularly upsetting because I was hungry.

That evening I said I’d never go back. My absolutely amazing mom found other places for me to be for the three or four hours when school was over and work wasn’t. Every day after school she drove me to ballet or art class or karate or figure skating or gymnastics or piano or swimming or tennis. I ate lunch in the car and did homework and read while I waited for her to finish work for the evening. In fourth grade she signed me up for a free class at El Valor, a nonprofit community outreach and head start program, and I learned some HTML and web design. In seventh grade I got into Whitney M. Young Magnet High School’s Academic Center program and started programming in Java and C++.

The summer before eighth grade we moved to State College, Pennsylvania, a small city surrounding Penn State and surrounded by farms and forest. My extracurriculars shifted to Science Olympiad and canoeing and kayaking. The learning enrichment department bussed me to the high school for biology, and then continued accommodating my strange academic interests when I actually got to high school. I consistently took more classes than I could actually handle, culminating in a self-study AP stint in eleventh grade.

I ended up without enough interesting classes to fill my senior year. I considered dual enrollment at Penn State, but since both my parents are professors it turned out to be a better idea financially to leave high school and go to college full time as an early enrollment student. Because Penn State accepted most of my AP credits I was able to explore biology, computer science, and writing classes beyond the freshman level. Most importantly I started studying sex chromosome evolution through a lab internship at Dr. Makova’s lab, where I discovered that computational biology nicely melded my interests. In the fall I applied to MIT as a freshman.

—which brings us closer to the now. I decided I wanted to go to MIT partway through seventh grade, when I noticed that disproportionally many of my favorite things in Popular Science happen here. Somewhere along the line I abandoned Popular Science for Technology Review. The admissions blogs were my Firefox homepage for most of the five years before I finally applied. Needless to say it’s exciting to be here.

I live in Random Hall, MIT’s smallest dorm. I am majoring in 6-7 (computer science and molecular biology) and 21W (science writing). I spend as much time as I can studying sex chromosomes at my awesome UROP at the Page lab, and some of the rest volunteering as a brother in APO, MIT’s coed service fraternity.

I’m excited to experience the journey of applying from another (your) side. Please comment, email (lidusha[at]mit[dot]edu), talk to me. It’s not so long since I was in your shoes. I would love to vicariously wear them again.

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

ROBIN HOOD. duhh.

Posted by: Anna H. '14 on September 8, 2011

A pleasure to read!! I am curios, what "demographic hole" are you from? And let me guess, the snake phrase is from Jungle Book?

Posted by: Yoni, on September 8, 2011

@Anna--You win! Where and when do you want your brownie points redeemed?

@Yoni--Nope! Anna guessed it; the snake phrase is from Robin Hood. But thank you tons for the compliment. =)

Regarding demographic holes--
The number of births in Russia decreased dramatically during World War II, creating a "demographic hole." My grandparents were among the small number of people born during the war. Since people in Russia at that time consistently had children around the age of 20-25, people of my parents' age were just as scarce, and the demographic hole persisted. The third generation (my generation) of the series coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when people were hungry and unhappy and less inclined to make babies, and so the demographic hole deepened and there were even fewer people born in Russia when I was born in Russia.

Posted by: Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 on September 8, 2011

hello
It was a pleasure reading your story....I am from india. I am persuing graduation in computer science and it is my dream to do m.s. from your institute.I have 4 years ahead of me before i graduate. Can you tell me what all i can do during these years to get me a fair chance getting into m i t?

Posted by: robin on September 8, 2011

Deprecated Perl!

use 5.10; # or above
say "Hello, world";

grin

Posted by: Perl instructor on September 9, 2011

You mean--

use v5.10; # or above
say "Hello, world";

--with the v. =)

I've never used the say function. I like that it appends a newline. I also like that it's two characters shorter than print. My Perl toolbox has just expanded. Thanks for sharing. =)

Posted by: Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 on September 9, 2011

Robin, I unfortunately don't know much at all about grad school admission at MIT. I assume it's helpful to get good grades and do well on the GREs, and that it's also important to explore your interests outside of classwork through research or internships. I've heard that recommendations and publications or patents are the most important parts of your application when applying to grad schools in science.

Here is an old thread on College Confidential that you may or may not find helpful; at the very least it has admissions statistics: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/engineering-majors/464718-how-get-mit-ms-computer-enigneering.html

Here also is the official site; I would look through the application when it is released on September 15th: http://www.eecs.mit.edu/grad/

Posted by: Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 on September 9, 2011

Just saying, I looove your blogger profile description! For a moment I actually thought of running downstairs and looking for you and telling you so in person, but I didn't want to (1) be weird (2) climb down and up a flight of stairs.

But yeah, I love it.

Is rollerblading practical? (I assume so, if you do it.) What do you do with your shoes and such?

Posted by: Anthony '15 on September 9, 2011

Awwwh thanks. =) It wouldn't be weird at all, but I definitely understand your aversion to stairs. (According to the Internets, there's even a name for it in the extreme: bathmophobia, "fear of stairs or steep slopes"; alternatively climacophobia, "fear of stairs, climbing, or falling downstairs.")

Rollerblading is very practical. It dramatically shortens transportation time as long as you're safe. I keep sneakers at my bench in the lab. I also try to keep a pair of flip flops in my bag with my laptop, since I have gotten in trouble in some places. Otherwise I don't usually wear shoes except in the winter or around the dorm.

Posted by: Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 on September 9, 2011

Great post, seemed like you were talking about me in a few sentences.
"The admissions blogs were my Firefox homepage for most of the five years before I finally applied.", and some others, hope one day to write on MIT admissions blog.

Posted by: José on September 9, 2011

What exactly are Brownie points?
btw - Lydia, I have sent you an email smile

Posted by: Srijan on September 9, 2011

@srijan This link will illuminate you www.urbandictionary.com/iphone/#define?term=brownie points

Posted by: phoenix on September 9, 2011

Thanks, José!

Srijan, I did not get your email. Are you sure you sent it to lidusha[at]mit[dot]edu?

Posted by: Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 on September 9, 2011

Yup, I sent it at [email protected]
Check your spam folder...my ID is [email protected]

Posted by: Srijan on September 9, 2011

My email wasn't working. All fixed now. Phew. Try again?

Posted by: Lydia K. '14, MEng '16 on September 10, 2011

Done smile

Posted by: Srijan on September 10, 2011

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