Half Harvard, Half MIT by Jess K. '10
My schedule this term is split down the middle. Like the movie Grindhouse. Or Korea.
I have an interesting relationship with Harvard. Coming from MIT I have a propensity to spit upon all popped collars and finals clubs, but I have an older sister who is a pretty cool human bean while simultaneously being Harv ’08, and I’ve gotten to know some of her similarly cool friends – like Sam, who does a beautiful Flight of the Conchords impression, or Nick, who was recently sued by Apple for defending free speech on the internets. I’m also cross-registering there and taking two Harvard classes this term with my friend Nina ’10, so while my collar isn’t physically popped, it’s been feeling pretty starchy as of late.
Going to Harvard as a MIT student can sometimes make you feel like the only boy at Wellesley. You can easily pick me out of a crowd, rocking ratty untied Chuck Taylors and an MIT Orientation Leader 2006 shirt, wondering where the heck the building numbers are and why my recitation (‘scuse me, “section”) is in a place called “Malinckrodt”. (I wasn’t an Orientation Leader in 2006, obviously, because I was getting oriented. The t-shirts were free in a box outside 7-103.) Amongst a sea of generally well-dressed, well-groomed and well-mannered Ivy Leaguers, my knotted, unwashed mane that serves as home to many a transgenic fruit fly and is slightly remniscent of Amy Winehouse sticks out like I’m wearing a Tim the Beaver suit.
Nina, on the other hand, fits right in with her peacoat and colorful scarves. The people sitting in her suite kitchen with me right now have recently come to the consensus that Nina is one of the best-dressed people on our floor, and effortlessly so. And yet she still manages to be an excellent pset buddy and lab partner, so you can see why I’m taking Harvard classes – basically, I’m hoping that in time her intrinsic fashion sense may somehow rub off on me. Like in those chick flicks where the girl becomes hot, but still learns that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Or not, like in Grease. Or she becomes an ogre, like in Shrek.
Nina also was the one to convince me of how easy it was to cross-register, since she had a pretty good experience taking Chemistry 17 last term. In fact, it’s pretty much just like registering for normal MIT classes – you have a separate form that needs to be signed by the Harvard professor, your advisor, and the director of the HASS (Humanities, Arts and Social Science) office, which then gets turned in to both the MIT HASS office and the Harvard registrar. No more than half of your classes can be Harvard classes, and you must be a full-time MIT student to cross-register (paying full MIT tuition, which you kind of have to do anyway if you’re taking MIT classes).
So about four times a week now, I take the T or the 1 Bus to Harv, which means I have to factor at least 10-15 minutes’ travel time into my morning routine of sprinting out the door with a Go-Gurt (portable breakfast food FTW). As easy as it was to register and as easy as it is to get there, though, at times it can feel like I’m studying abroad. There are cross-cultural differences aplenty and a definite language barrier – 5.13 becomes Chem 27 and Course 5 itself is now Chemistry and Chemical Biology; teaching aides are no longer TAs but TFs (teaching fellows); and of course there’s the whole dressing up for class thing. (I guess over there they just call it “getting dressed”.)
Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely glad to be taking advantage of this opportunity, and I enjoy the mixed experience. But I can honestly say, and I think Nina will agree with me on this one, that there is no greater feeling than getting off the bus at the end of the day and stepping back onto MIT ground. There’s nothing better than knowing that you’ve returned somewhere where you can punt your 7.03 p-set all day to code a wiki for Burton 1, and you can tell someone that, and they will know exactly what you mean. Basically there’s no place like home, like in The Wizard of Oz. (Or not, like in Poltergeist.)
My schedule, if you’re wondering, consists of:
Stat 100, a Harvard class that fulfills a Course 9 requirement (in place of 9.07, Statistics for Brain and Cognitive Science). It’s probably one of the easier classes on the Harvard spectrum, seeing as every exam is open notes/open book. When I heard that my jaw just about unhinged and crawled away. Nina was like, “Welcome to Harv.”
Chem 27, my other Harvard class, is sort of a weird amalgamation of 5.13, 7.05, and 5.310 (or I guess 5.36, since the lab is a little more geared towards organic reactions). That’s Organic Chemistry II, Biochemestry, and a chem lab; so there isn’t really any class like this offered at MIT (of couse, Harvard doesn’t really offer 5.13 or 5.310 either, and so because MIT splits them into two classes they’re taught really differently). Twice a week we have an hour and a half of lecture; once a week we have one section (recitation), and one five-hour lab (most MIT lab classes meet twice a week for five hours, and once for a one-hour lecture). This also means I am blessed with the glory of Tuesdays, in which I get up at 7 to bus over to Harvard for a five hour lab, hightail it back to MIT for my attendance-mandatory Japanese class, sit through another hour and a half lecture of 9.00, then bus BACK over to Harvard for Chem 27 section. By Tuesday night I can usually be found limping, battered and bruised, back to Burton-Conner, sometimes with bits of an unknown organic acid in my hair.
Chem 27, if you’re wondering, is definitely one of the harder classes on the Harvard spectrum. Exams are pretty close to what I’m used to at MIT, and lectures contain all sorts of gems like the glucosidase inhibitor “deoxynojirimycin”. (I remain unconvinced that “deoxynojirimycin” is an actual word. I’m still waiting for the professor to announce, “By the way, you remember that glucosidase inhibitor I told you about the other day? Deoxynojirimycin? I actually just fell asleep on my keyboard when I was writing the lecture slides, so uh, that’s not real. Hahaha.”)
21F.502, or Japanese 2. A lot harder than Japanese 1. One similarity between MIT and Harvard – languages in college are definitely not like languages in high school. Yeah, they start you off with “domo arigatou” and all the basics, but it’s a lot faster paced, and from day one they speak rapid Japanese at you (same as when I took French for one week, and Chinese for one week). We’ve all sort of gotten used to it now, but on the first day everyone was like, “er, this is Japanese 1, right?”
9.00, or Introduction to Psychology. Professor Gabrieli is not only one of the more interesting lecturers I’ve had, but I also just started working in his lab this IAP. Rather than your average introduction psych course that sticks mostly to Freud and thinking really hard about your feelings, 9.00 has more of neuroanatomical applications – i.e. in yesterday’s lecture, where we discussed the limitations of the lateral geniculate nucleus in visual processing. He also starts every class with a song from his iTunes playlist; today’s gem was “You’ve Got My Attention” by Copeland.
And, there’s also my UROP, which I’m doing for credit (as opposed to for pay, or volunteer). I get to write programs for people to look at while they’re in the MRI, and sometimes in lecture Professor Gabrieli talks about what I’m working on and I get all excited and My Friend Matt Cohen is all like, “nobody thinks that’s cool but you.”
Here is something cool, though – the girl who works next to me is Nupur Lala, the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion and star of the documentary Spellbound.
The thing is, they probably should have never told me that she was the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion. Because now anytime she does anything, like ask for programming help, I think to myself, “The 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion just asked for programming help.” Or, “The 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion just got up to refill the toner in the printer.” Or, “The 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion is TAKING A NAP AT HER COMPUTER.” Not only is it a pretty big line to get in your head, a lot of the times I also forget to add in that she was the star of the documentary Spellbound. “I mean, the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion and star of the documentary Spellbound is TAKING A NAP AT HER COMPUTER!!”
Nupur is my hero.