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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

Full Circle by Paul B. '11

Here's to yesterday.

Even though I just finished my first year at MIT, this is actually my second summer in Cambridge. Two years ago, when I was a rising high-school senior, I enrolled in Harvard’s Secondary School Program for four weeks during the summer. Unfortunately, the science options for the summer were sort of lacking…so, instead, I signed up for an art history class. Specifically, a class on medieval prayer books.

Why? Well, for one thing, I’d already spent the previous two summers taking an immunology course at Northwestern and an engineering course at Notre Dame, so I was ready to try something a little more humanities-oriented. And perhaps even more importantly, I’ve always had a fascination with books – especially really old ones.

So if I wasn’t in my dorm room, exploring Harvard Square, or secretly visiting MIT (more on that in a sec), you’d probably find me poring over some musty old tome in the Harvard library. Pretty sweet deal. As it happened, because my dorm room was on the first floor, I had a great view of the tourists and visitors that constantly streamed through Harvard Yard…some of whom, amusingly enough, insisted on peering into my room. I guess they thought I was a real Harvard student or something. :)

The interesting thing about all this is, when I look back, I credit that four-week stint at Harvard as the primary reason I started thinking seriously about going to MIT. It’s sort of contradictory – how many people go to summer school at Harvard and come back in love with MIT? – but I couldn’t help it. The reason I visited MIT is another story in and of itself – but basically, a few weeks before I shipped out to Harvard, I was participating in the National Science and Humanities Symposium. Although the Symposium was a great experience for many reasons, the truly memorable event (for me, anyway) was the keynote speech after the awards ceremony – which was given by none other than MIT Professor Mary Cummings. After her speech, I went up to Prof. Cummings and, after explaining that I was going to be be in Cambridge during the summer, asked if she would be willing to let me visit her lab.

To my eternal gratitude, she said yes. So one weekend, I snuck out of Harvard Yard to take the No. 1 bus up to MIT, where I was given a personal tour of the Humans and Automation Lab (HAL). Even though I wasn’t really interested in majoring in Course 16, I still loved every minute of it. In particular, I really enjoyed being able to talk to the undergraduate students in the lab, whose passion for their research was blatantly obvious, even to me. I will never forget that they were all extremely wiling and eager to share their experiences and excitement with me, even though I wasn’t even an MIT student.

(I also can’t forget getting lost on the way to Stata so I could listen to the official information session – which I think was given by the inestimable Matt McGann, but I’m not really sure because I [gasp!] didn’t know who he was then. So let’s not talk about that. I would like to point out, however, that I was the only one at the information session who didn’t have a parent or other guardian with them, which made me feel very adult.)

But I’ve wandered – oratorically speaking – all the way from the Fourth of July to HAL to “Daisy“…woops, wrong HAL. Anyway, let’s get back to the Fourth.

Two years ago, my Harvard friends and I spent the Fourth of July on the Esplanade, a beautiful park along the Charles River (which forms the southern border of MIT, separating it from Boston). We got there early enough to have a great view of the fireworks, and thanks to the great sound system we had no trouble hearing the Boston Pops’ annual concert (including their extraordinary rendition of the 1812 Overture). I even managed to find an old picture we had someone take of us.

The Hollis North crew: James (Haverford ’11), Gary (Harvard ’11), Me! (MIT ’11), Lindsay (USC ’11), Abbey (UPenn ’11), Emily (New Hampshire ’11), Jon (Columbia ’11) Eric (Brown ’11), Gabriella (Yale ’11), Andy, Liz (USC ’11)

Now, two years later, I’m back in Boston for the Fourth, as an MIT student, and I couldn’t be any happier. I’m working on a great UROP, I have plenty of fun projects to spend my spare time on (learning LaTeX, teaching myself Python, working on the next edition of HowToGAMIT, and more), and a lot of my closest friends are still in town as well. And now that I’m not a freshman anymore, I can live with my fraternity brothers at Skullhouse… and enjoy the fireworks from an entirely new perspective: our roof!

And of course, what would fireworks be without friends and brothers to watch them with?

My former dorm-mate Chris Moses ’09 and I pose with some of Chris’ friends.

Skullhouse summer residents Rebecca ’10 and Mindy ’10 brought some “liquid refreshment.”

Brent ’10 and Kathleen ’10 baked an apple pie, which – needless to say – was soon devoured by my ravenous brothers and our equally ravenous guests.

The triumphant chefs pose.

They saved some for me! (I polished it off quickly.)

Scott ’08 looks longingly into the distance.

Tamma (Wellesley ’08) and Dan ’09 share a smile.

Trip ’09 and Jackie ’09 (of Alpha Chi Omega) are happy to be “famous” on the MITblogs.


Saturn! (Maybe.)

Amusingly, when I texted my parents that I was on my fraternity’s roof, my mom’s immediate response was: “Step away from the railing and call me when you’re inside!” :)

I love fireworks. :)

16 responses to “Full Circle”

  1. Judy '12 says:

    @ Anonymous: Why do I sense a tinge of mocking sarcasm in your comment about being at MIT? -__-;;;

  2. I love fireworks pictures. Took a bunch myself when I went to see fireworks.

    And hah, I have a summer project where I’m teaching myself Python too smile [I won a Python book at a CompSci competition, which was great cause I was going to learn Python anyway].

  3. Piper says:

    Oooh, shiny =P.

    And MIT > Harvard.

  4. Teresa '11 says:

    yay! they finally perfected cubes and planets!
    the green powder and the fireworks that seemed to be suspended were pretty cool too!

  5. Anon says:

    That’s not Saturn!
    It’s Uranus and Neptune. (:
    (Even though they don’t really tilt at that angle…)

  6. Jeremy '12 says:

    Ha! Not a freshman anymore you say? Sorry Paul, but according to the Law of Conservation of Freshmen, you’ve still got another six weeks as a frosh raspberry

  7. Ahana says:

    This is so cool!I wish I was there!!

  8. Katie '12 says:

    When I read what you had to say about the keynote address Prof. Cummings made, I couldn’t believe it because I thought it was amazing, too, and never got to share how much I liked it =) I thought she was by far the most interesting speaker that year AND she actually had a good idea of where I live in Korea, considering she has flown into the air base I live near =)

  9. Mollie says:

    They had a cool firework in Plymouth — it was two bursts from side to side with a ring surrounding the connection between the two bursts.

    It TOTALLY looked like mitosis.

  10. Anonymous says:

    No way! A real, live, Harvard student?!?!

    Oh no, wait, nevermind…you just go to MIT…

  11. Teresa '11 says:

    @Jeremy: although the Law of Conservation of Freshmen may exist, the Class of 2011 is now listed as Year 2 on Websis, which makes us Sophomores….

  12. V says:


    I’ve been thinking about doing that Harvard program next summer. Would you say it was worth it? Was it a lot of hard work? Did it still feel like summer or was it high stress? How much free time did you have to do what you wanted? Any other things you wish you would have known before doing the program?

    I mean honestly I’d much rather do something at MIT, but their residental summer programs aren’t exactly the “pick what intrests you” sort of thing, or they are for kids older than me. Harvard it is?

  13. Paul says:

    Katie: You went to JSHS too? Did you present? Did I meet you? :D

    Mollie, you are such a nerd. smile

    Ivan: Yes, an update on my UROP is coming soon! I love my research and can’t wait to tell you guys about it.

    Anon: I’m not going to grace your comment with a response.

    V: Harvard SSP was a great experience for me. It was a demanding experience academically but, fortunately, still managed to be not that stressful (except for the last week when I had my super-long final paper due, but fortunately I survived :D). I had plenty of free time to explore Harvard Square and the rest of Boston, and there were lots of trips on the weekend (I visited the Museum of Science, took a Duck Tour, and even went to Tanglewood to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra).

    My only real regret about SSP is that I did the four-week program instead of the eight-week program, because another summer program at Notre Dame conflicted with SSP. I had a great experience at Notre Dame as well, but taking the four-week option limited the list of classes I could take pretty severely. So keep that in mind if you go. smile

  14. Ivan says:


    Great post Paul
    Pictures always brings more life to the blogs.

    Off topic question and comment:
    How is the research coming? When will you post some information on it?

    Im also planning on doing either Robotics research or Genetic research next month, so I´m curious about what research is like at MIT.

  15. Michael Poon says:

    …I see that Anna isn’t in that HSSP picture. Shame shame.