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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Four years, four summers by Mollie B. '06

The stuff I've been up to every summer at MIT.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy… and there are tons of awesome TV shows to watch. Adam and I have been eagerly awaiting the season premieres of The 4400 and Hell’s Kitchen, both of which we watched religiously last summer, and I’m excited about catching up on House and Monk episodes that I didn’t get to see during term. (It’s not that I have no time to watch TV during term. But House is on during cheerleading practice, so I didn’t get to see it all year. And usually during the school year, Adam and I go out on Friday nights, so I don’t get to see Monk. But during the summer, we can go out any night! Yay!)

Summer 2003
After finals ended, my parents drove the big blue van up to Boston, we packed all my stuff in the back, and we drove home. I was home for a week, during which time I reorganized my closet (I’m not even kidding — I used to have an Excel file with all my pieces of clothing numbered, and each hanger and tag was labeled with the same number). At the end of the week, my mom drove me to Washington, DC, where I moved into one of the dorms at George Washington University. I was sharing an efficiency double with Rose ’05, and we were three blocks from the White House.

Rose is a fantastic cook, and she struck a deal with me that we’d share payment for groceries, she would cook, and I would do the dishes. (Note: If somebody who is an amazing cook offers you this deal, take it.) My stomach was very happy that summer.

I did the reverse commute every day from downtown DC to Rockville, MD, home of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health. My lab, the Laboratory of Neurogenetics, was mostly doing population studies of genetic variation, looking for genetic changes linked to different types of addiction.

After a wonderful ten-week internship, my mom came back to DC, and we moved all my stuff back to Ohio. I stayed in Ohio for a week and a half, then my parents drove me back to school so I could help out with dorm rush (my friend Swapna ’05 was the MacGregor rush chair and one of the West Campus rush coordinators that year).

Summer 2004
I finished my finals, then went to Ohio for five days. After I came back, I moved to my summer room in MacGregor. Adam didn’t have summer housing that year, so he and I were sharing one MacGregor single for the summer. (I think this is why the two of us ended up together for the long haul — if you can live in an 8×15 space with another person for a summer without killing him or her, you can get through anything together.)

I had been planning to take a psychology class up at Harvard that summer, but I ended up not doing it, and I’m glad. It would have been nice to have another HASS credit, but I’m a firm believer in preserving sanity over the summer. (Plus, Harvard Extension School classes are a little bit on the EXORBITANTLY EXPENSIVE side.)

I worked at the lab all summer, primarily running my mice through the maze — that summer was the major data collection period for the paper we submitted to Cell. My postdoc taught me a bunch of different techniques that summer during the time I wasn’t running mice through the maze, like Western blotting, mammalian cell culture, and subcloning; I had been considering going back to the NIH, and I had an offer at Genentech, but I really feel like I learned a lot that summer in the lab. One advantage of going to a school with a strong during-the-year research program is that it’s hard to accomplish anything significant in a lab during the summer, and graduate schools look more favorably on people who research both during the summer and during the school year. So I’m glad I stayed at my UROP lab and got a lot done instead of going somewhere else.

That year, the cheerleading squad experimented with having a coach instead of being student-run (which was an experiment that ended disastrously, but that’s another story), so all of the cheerleaders who were in town for the summer got together twice a week to work on tumbling, flexibility, and jumps with our new coach.

I was the MacGregor rush chair that year, so I went to lots of organizational meetings. Mitra ran a lot of them. :) When freshmen arrived on campus, I organized my small army of early returns to staff a barbecue, an ice cream and karaoke party, and a cocktail party (with virgin drinks — rush is dry). It was exhausting, particularly since I was trying to be cheerleading captain the same weekend, and I didn’t sleep or shower for a couple of days.

Summer 2005
I only went home for Memorial Day weekend this summer; right after finals, I got started in the lab. I was carrying on my project from the term, which was to characterize proteins I’d found that interacted with a particular protein in which my postdoc was interested, so there wasn’t really any down time — I just came in on the first day of summer and got right to work. My summer consisted of about five million Western blots, although I had about a three-week period of time when my Westerns (and those of everybody else in the lab) just stopped working for no apparent reason. That made me want to tear my hair out. I also did a lot of DNA sequence analysis and immunoprecipitation, and spent a few weeks running one more cohort of mice through the maze.

Most of my non-work time was taken up planning for graduate school applications. I picked a list of programs I wanted to investigate, and picked individual investigators at each school that I might like to do my thesis under. I did a lot of studying for the GRE — it’s not actually all that important for graduate school admissions as long as your score’s decent, but I felt like it was the one thing in the process I could really control. I took the GRE July 19. I lined up the people I wanted to write my letters of recommendation, and I wrote a rough outline of my statement of purpose. I did a lot of worrying. Worry worry worry.

I started a new job for the Undergraduate Admissions Office… oh wait, you already know that part. :)

Adam and I got off-campus quite a bit on the weekends, going to his hometown of Plymouth several times and going to a water park in New Hampshire with some of our friends.

Summer 2006
I’ll be working in the lab until the end of July, and hopefully I’ll be finishing my project on the proteins and writing the first draft of the paper about the project. So far this summer, I’ve done six Western blots, two HEK cell transfections, twelve midipreps, and about five zillion other things — I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve also, of course, moved into a sweet apartment, graduated from MIT, and hosted my parents out in Boston for the weekend.

I’m going to work for The Boss during the month of August, making the blogs even more sweet than they already are. Adam and I are also going to the Bahamas for a long weekend, courtesy of my parents.

Adam and I have a car on campus this summer, so we’re planning to take a few friends to places like Water Wizz (this weekend!), Water Country, and Six Flags. We’re probably going to go down to the Cape and play mini-golf a lot, too. Summer is my favorite!

Questions

1. Charlotte said,

Sigh…guess what, I wanted to make a glycerol stock of cells the other day, but instead of adding 100% glycerol, I…I..I added 100% ethanol! At an equal volume to the cell mixture somemore!

Oh, that’s so frustrating. I hate it when I do things in the lab, then have that stomach-dropping moment when I realize that’s not the thing I intended to do.

I wonder what your favourite experimental procedure is. Is it playing around with the rats?

I do love playing with the rodents — they’re my little friends. I think my favorite molecular biology procedure is subcloning, because I’ve done it so many times that I’ve gotten really good at it. :)

2. Lena asked,

is that an engagement ring on your left hand?!?!?!

Haha, no. That’s actually a ring Adam got me last summer the day I took the GRE. I got home and he gave it to me, and I said, “Oh, is this because I did really well on the GRE?” (The GRE is done on a computer, and you get your score immediately.) Adam was like, “Well, actually, I bought it just in case you did really badly.”

I promise, the moment there’s an actual engagement ring on my left hand, I’ll let you guys know!

3. Risa asked,

do upperclassmen collaborate as much on homework as freshmen do? isn’t it harder to find people in your dorm who are taking the same classes as you when you start taking more major-specific courses? and where do you do most of your homework, library or dorm room?

Well, by the time you’re an upperclassman, you’re less concerned about convenience of your study group and more concerned about getting your homework done. Personally, I always did homework with people from my group of friends, whether they lived in my dorm or not. I mean, my group of friends lived disproportionately in my dorm, but I didn’t have a problem doing homework with people if they didn’t happen to live in MacGregor. (And, of course, it’s not hard to find people in your classes if you choose to take classes with your friends!)

I always did my homework in my room, and never in a library. That’s the convenience of having a single — you can just shut the door and do homework when you need to do that. Some friends of mine work better outside their rooms, and they did homework in lounges or study rooms in the dorm, in the Student Center reading room, or in campus libraries. Personally, I work much better in my own room, but not everybody’s like me.

4. Laura said,

I turned the webcast on and was so ready to watch you graduate…but I could not for the life of me figure out what order they were continuing in and did not have the patience to sit there for hours.

Believe me, the order is practically incomprehensible even if it’s explained to you.
So for undergrads, you graduate alphabetically by school (Architecture, Engineering, HASS, Management, Science), then numerically by course (in the School of Science, it went 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 18), then alphabetically by person (Brown, Burgoon, Carter).
I *think* it’s the same for graduate students, but add in another layer after course and before name — master’s students graduate before PhDs.
But then, just to confuse everybody royally, they put grad students on one side of the podium and undergrads on the other, and alternate awarding degrees.
So basically there’s no way to tell where anybody is and how long it will be until somebody graduates.
I graduated pretty late, since I was in a late major in the School of Science. On the bright side, I didn’t have to be at the staging area until an hour after those poor School of Architecture kids.

8 responses to “Four years, four summers”

  1. zel says:

    Hmmm… so way back in the day when I was doing my college visits, I was at [reputable state school] where the general admissions people touted the school’s new undergraduate research program. When I asked one of the engineering professors about the program, he said something to the effect (although much more nicely put) that undergrads don’t know jack, so it’s pretty pointless to try to get them working in labs. This made sense to me, and I kind of took it for granted until I heard about MIT’s 80% UROP rate. Now I’m really interested in doing research, and as you’ve mentioned, it’s very important for grad school.

    The problem is, I *don’t* know jack about working in a lab or conducting research. Is there any way to get UROP experience without experience? If I wanted to… say, do some research in physics, are there “entry level” positions for me to start out in? Would the professors and senior researchers actually bother to teach me procedures? (I assume they’re quite busy.)

    If this question is more appropriate for Melis, I can ask her, but I thank you for any insight you might have.

  2. Evan B. says:

    So…do you know if you’re going to get to keep your blog next year? I think it would be great to get the graduate perspective…plus all the bloggers are awesome, and I’d hate to see them go.

    Especially since you post regularly – it’s good reading material.

  3. Hannah says:

    I’m curious, how does one become an admissions blogger?

  4. anna says:

    how do you feel about working with animals in labs. even though you’ve only run them through mazes, which is pretty harmless, but how would you feel if you’re doing cancer research and have to inject harmful substances into them?

  5. Christina says:

    “So…do you know if you’re going to get to keep your blog next year?”

    Hehe, she’s going to HARVARD though. Something tells me that might not work out. :-D

  6. Larisa says:

    hey I’ve been reading your blog sporadically for about a month, and it is amazing. There are only two reasons that I occasionaly stop (1) work work work (2) because it gets me so excited to go to m.i.t. and I don’t want to get too excited and then get let down if i don’t get in you know.

    Anyway. so the problem you talked about doing freshman year with the monkey and the banana? I totally did that problem a few months ago. haha

    Also.

    the site about d.n.a with the 2D and 3D animations is totally awesome, I told my bio teacher about it. Personally I’m still undecided between bio and physics, but it’s sites like those that make me really dig bio, that and good scientific american articles.

    Also, could you give me a link or something to your cell article? My bio teacher loves cell and always clips out articles from it for the class.

    hmm I think there was more but I can’t remember it.

    someone asked if you’ll continue the blog after you graduate. I think it would be awesome if you did. Anyway I still have another year of high school before I can be this cool. sigh.

    kepe on keepin’ on

    -Larisa

  7. Omar says:

    “But then, just to confuse everybody royally, they put grad students on one side of the podium and undergrads on the other, and alternate awarding degrees.”

    Haha, I love your blog for a reason ^^ you are awesome smile

    Good luck with your summer plans, I’ll just be at MIT doing Interphase smile

  8. Helen says:

    Dear Mollie, I am reading through the Guides and there are two things I don’t understand that I would like to ask for your help. Thanks!

    1) Can the courses taken to fulfill Hass-D requirements also fulfill Hass Concentration?

    2) What’s the difference between a minor and double majors? Mollie, suppose you take a minor in course 9, can you dance with two diplomas when graduating? If not, how will it be? And can a take double majors and a minor?