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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

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.

35 responses to “Half Harvard, Half MIT”

  1. Anonymous says:

    OMG I haven’t read this but FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!
    I’ll put actual comment later

  2. Keri says:

    The comment above makes me sad.

    Professor Gabrieli, however, makes my life.

  3. Raina says:

    It’s so nice to see an entry from you again! Hehe, reading it was hilarious; I couldn’t stop giggling after the “jaw unhinged and crawled away” comment. Is it extremely rare for MIT classes to have open note/book tests? As for deoxynojirimycin, I’m convinced that anything that induces a red line when typed in Microsoft Word can’t be a real word raspberry Good luck with your Tuesdays! They sound nightmarish…

  4. Erin says:

    I think writing programs for people to look at while they’re in the MRI is cool.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great post! Very informative and detailed.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Keri, for expressing sadness about the “first” post. I agree. Poor child.

  7. Anonymous says:

    “Human bean”… lol.

  8. Davorama says:

    I hadn’t been sure what I would do if I got into both MIT and Harvard, but now I think – well, I could always just take classes at Harvard anyway if I get the urge – because MIT just seems so much cooler.

  9. job'12 says:

    haha, is EVERYONE at harvard so well dressed?? I’m definitely looking forward to jeans 90% of the time. Oh, and gogurt, WIN. ^-^ yum.

  10. Rachel says:

    Loved your post! Coming from someone who loves math and science but also loves reading fashion-y magazines and things like that, I’m glad there are some people at MIT who are into (silly) stuff like clothes. (What can I say?! I am, after all, a girl. ^_^) OH! And if “those chick flicks where the girl becomes hot, but still learns that it’s what’s on the inside that counts” was in reference to Mean Girls, I luff that movie! raspberry

  11. Steph says:

    Dressing nice to go to class? That’s impossible. Not because I can’t dress but because I don’t care. lol

    If you take classes at Harvard, do you get some sort of certification from Harvard when you graduate?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have a totally unrelated question: I noticed in one of the dorm videos that some people living in the dorms had pets. So, are we allowed to keep our pets on campus? See, there’s this cat that kind of owns me…

  13. Omar says:

    Interesting JKim… that’s why I never see you anymore except for those days that you manage to make it to the 9am jap 2 class. hum… 

    are you considering to do misti-japan?

    wink 日本語のクラスはとってもおもしろいですねえ。

  14. Claire says:

    Nupur is way cool. (I went to the National Spelling Bee in 2004 and 2005, and she was one of the college-student helper people).

    Yay for spelling bees! Yay Nupur!

  15. OmarA says:

    Ahaha, I wear argyle all the time. Would I fit in at MIT? haha jk.

  16. jinziling says:


    Chuck Taylor shoes rule! I’m still wearing my Converse high-tops back from junior high and they’ve got dirtted up(?) pretty good. Nice to know that they are like *THE* MIT shoes….(j/k, maybe not.)
    I love your style, both in fashion and in writing ^-^

  17. Sam R. '12 says:

    Hilarious blog. LOL.
    -sam r.

  18. Lauren '12 says:

    Hehe, I’m taking a class at Harvard too! Though not really officially. Math 55… the tests are take-home (given 4 days to take them) and open notes/book, but they’re still not really easy!! Alas, not all that is open book/notes is easy.

    Anyway, nice post! Really funny, about the differences between MIT and Harvard…

  19. Nupur says:

    One of my friends just sent me the link to this blog-I just had to add that Jess is quite the draw herself. I’ve had many UROPs mention how much these blogs helped them while applying and I can see why! Keep up the good work. smile

  20. Anonymous says:

    You sit next to Nupur Lala?!?! That is AWESOME!!! I’m jealous.

  21. Christina says:

    You clearly are in the pre-med classes. Lots of departments have MIT-looking students =)

  22. Isshak says:

    I’d like to see it as switching between 2 dimensions, it makes it more exciting ^^’

    Once again, great posts ! By the way, what major are you, course 5 ? (because your picture, well, you know your picture is pretty precise about your major!).

  23. omar '10 says:

    i wanna be your friend jkim. can i?
    yes? thanks.
    now whenever you have what i like to call, a life, let me know how things are. i guess i’ll just see if I see you tomorrow in the japanese quiz, should be fun. wink

    haha, hope you’re doing well.

  24. Kevin '12 says:

    Harry Altman, another one of the people featured in Spellbound, went to my school. He was a really interesting guy.

    So what made you decide to cross register with Harvard? Were there specific classes that MIT didn’t offer or did you just want to try out a different style of learning?

  25. Mo says:

    “paying full MIT tuition, which you kind of have to do anyway if you’re taking MIT classes)”

    err…. A bit of clarification here: so this is not open to people who’re on financial aid?

  26. Krypton says:

    “punt your 7.03 p-set all day”

    AUGH, DON’T REMIND ME! Shame, bringing up a topic that thankfully died with the end of 1st semester. smile

  27. Jess says:

    @ Steph: No, you don’t get any kind of certificate. That’s a good idea, though. I should make my own..

    @ Philolymath: You can take whatever classes you want, really, but getting credit for these classes is determined by the HASS office. You’d have to check with them.

    @ Mo: No, I believe it is. You should be paying however much financial aid has adjusted your tuition to.
    [ETA] Daniel emailed me to confirm: “Even financial aid candidates can take classes at Harvard. There is no additional cost for anyone to do this, as long as you are paying (or aid is paying) the MIT tuition.” Thanks, Daniel!

  28. Philolymath says:

    If I’m an MIT student, can I take Math 55 at Harvard?

  29. Judy H. says:

    lol, what a dilemma raspberry

    I’m pretty sure not all Harvard people are that “preppy.” I mean, it’s half stereotypical and half true.

    Anyways, would you say Harvard classes are less demanding than those at MIT? Is it easier to get a good grade because of grade inflation??

  30. Mo says:

    @ Jess (and Daniel)

    thanks for clarifying.

  31. ekim says:

    Japanese is attendence-mandatory? How does that work? What happens if you miss a class?

  32. Nina says:

    JESS KIM I JESS KIM I <3 YOU! and I totally didn’t realize you wrote this entry a while ago.

    p.s.- me dressing well…? I feel so inadequate at Harvard among all those fashionable people :(

  33. Nina says:

    haha that was supposed to say JESS KIM I HEART YOU

    …don’t really know what happened

  34. anton says:

    Harvard and MIT have different academic calendars. Has that posted any challenge for you in taking classes at Harvard