Jan 2, 2009
Posted in: Academics & Research
Happy New Year, everyone! As much as I loved the MIT gym, I don’t want my last entry on the MIT Admissions website to be about the Z Center. So I am following Mollie’s lead and posting an update on my life after MIT, or should I say my hiatus from MIT (I will be returning to the joint Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program to get an MD-PhD.) For those of you who are "new" to the blogs, I graduated in June 2008 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering with Biomedical Engineering (Course 2A). After spending a summer traveling with friends and working at the NIH, I packed up my bags and skipped across the pond to Oxford University in England. I am reading for a Masters degree in Integrated Immunology and enjoying my time at a university that is very, very different from our beloved Institute. These differences are too numerous to cover in this blog entry, but I’ll try to touch on some of the surprising/quirky ones.
What does “new” mean to you? The MIT dorm called New House opened in 1975. This makes it older than me but younger than my parents, so I'd consider the designation as “new” to be warranted. Now consider New College in Oxford, which is 620 years old and gets its name from the fact that it came after Oriel College (founded in 1324.) It’s all relative!
At MIT, I lived in Next House for my first two years and Baker House for my last two. I was utterly spoiled with gorgeous river views in both dorms. At Oxford I live in Oriel College and the front quad (pictured below) was built in the 1620s, back when Cambridge, MA was just called “Newe Towne.” Maybe people should stop naming things “New"...
I’m really enjoying my immunology program. For a taste of the subject, check out the book “How the Immune System Works” by Lauren Sompayrac; it’s very clear and simple. The intricacies of the immune system will astound you, I guarantee it. For example, the body has evolved a beautiful system to “deliver” white blood cells to the right part of the body at the right time. It works just like the postal system, where an address ensures the delivery of a letter to the right mailbox. White blood cells carry a unique pattern of receptors and proteins on their surface that enables them to exit the bloodstream and enter infected tissues. This cellular delivery system is at work all day, every day to keep you healthy!
My program has at least three hours of lecture every day and the lectures are taught by experts in the field who come from all over the United Kingdom. There are 18 of us in the program and we’re together all day, every day! This is very different from the typical undergraduate schedule at MIT, where I had at least four different classes, usually in completely different fields. Also as an undergrad I had a UROP every semester, so I constantly juggled classes with lab work. Unfortunately I’m in a taught Masters program now where we’re not supposed to do research until the third term (April-July). I miss the lab and all the excitement that comes with it.
3) Formality and traditions
At MIT, you’re likely to see people taking exams in pajamas after rolling out of bed, or possibly after spending all night in the library. Oxford makes you adhere to a dress code for exams, matriculation, and formal hall (which is just a formal 3-course dinner served in your college's dining hall. Not all colleges have them, but mine offers one every night for three pounds, or about $6!) What is the uniform? For women: a white dress shirt, black skirt or pants, black ribbon that's tied around your neck, black gown (for graduate students the gown does not have sleeves and it has these funny tassels), black shoes, and black tights (a girl was almost not allowed to matriculate because she wore nude tights.) For men, “sub fusc” attire consists of a tuxedo and white bowtie. Here’s a picture from our Matriculation, which is a ceremony after the first week of classes where you officially become a member of Oxford. The MIT equivalent occurs during Freshman Convocation, when President Hockfield gives a speech welcoming you to MIT.
4) Social life
Parties at Oxford are called “bops” and often have a theme, like “Back to School”, “When I Grow Up” or even “Fratparty.” People take the themes pretty seriously and dress accordingly. Each college also has common rooms for undergraduates and graduates, where people regularly hang out and relax. A big difference between the US and the UK is the drinking age, so much of the social life revolves around the many pubs of Oxford. The pubs in Oxford each proudly display portraits and plaques commemorating the famous people that have had a pint there. The Eagle and Child was the meeting place of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s writers’ group called the Inklings, and the Turf Tavern was a favorite hangout spot of Bill Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
5) Location, location, location
Oxford is in the middle of England, which makes it really easy to take weekend trips to London, other cities in the UK, and even Paris and Brussels, which are both less than three hours away from London by train. My course is intense so I haven’t had too much time to venture out of Oxford, but the few occasions where I have traveled were great. In November I went to Cardiff, the capital of Wales, on the same day that the highly anticipated Wales vs. Australia rugby game was being played in the Cardiff stadium. The streets were filled with fans sporting red rugby shirts and painted faces. We watched part of the game and skipped the second half to visit the Cardiff Castle, which was closed earlier in the day due to a bomb threat!
That’s basically my life on the other side of the Atlantic. Many aspects are the same as MIT (going to class, attending seminars by prominent scientists, enjoying the company of friends), but the differences help me to appreciate my experiences at both places even more. I have come to appreciate the fact that MIT is a place of innumerable opportunities. Looking back, I am so thankful for all of the activities that I was involved with, the variety and quality of classes that were available, the labs that welcomed UROPs with open arms, the friends that worked hard and played hard by my side, and the professors who pushed us to our limits. It’s surely not easy to drink from the fire hose, especially right before Thanksgiving and Spring Break when deadlines pile up, sleep takes a backseat, and you spend your entire TechCash balance on coffee and candy at the convenience store in the Student Center. Yes, it’s necessary to make sacrifices (people like to say that you have three options: study, sleep, and socialize…pick two) but ultimately MIT will help you to achieve more than you imagined yourself capable of.
For all of you fretting about submitting your applications, good luck!