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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Home sweet violet capital of Ohio by Mollie B. '06

We didn't see a stuffed whale, but we did see a bunch of primates. Nonhuman primates.

I haven’t really done much exciting this break — I haven’t taken a trip to Rome or Sweden, and I’m not going anywhere like Chocolate World. (I’m having a hard enough time convincing Adam to go on a post-graduation trip to the Bahamas — he’s been raised in a hard-core ski family, and has trouble understanding what one does on a vacation to the beach.)

No, Adam and I landed ourselves an all-expenses-paid vacation to Pickerington, Ohio, which as you may or may not know is the violet capital of Ohio. True story.

We arrived here yesterday afternoon (it’s always comforting to travel with an MIT airplane-scientist-in-training… I’m kind of scared of flying, and Adam always tells me stories about the tolerances of turbine engines to make me feel better), and since then have eaten Chipotle burritos (I’m pretty sure they must have crack in them… so good. So addictive), Mongolian barbeque (also possibly addictive), and frozen custard (surprisingly delicious). I’m not sure what we’re going to eat tomorrow, but rest assured that you can’t find it in Boston.

We made a trip today to my favorite place in all of Columbus, the Columbus Zoo. I hadn’t been there in almost two years, which is probably some sort of life record for me — I’ve loved going to the zoo since before I can remember, and if I couldn’t be a scientist I’d want to be a zookeeper. We spent about an hour and a half to two hours today looking at the various primate exhibits (gorillas, siamangs, colobus monkeys, drills, and bonobos). This probably would drive most people out of their skulls with boredom, but I’m a neuroscientist, and nonhuman primates are my favorite kinds of animal. (Maybe even more favorite than H. sapiens.)

Tomorrow I’m making a trip to my old high school to visit the AP Biology class and talk to them about my research/careers in science, then visiting my mom’s class (she’s a fifth-grade teacher in the district) for Adam to teach them how to fly model airplanes. In the evening, I’m meeting up with my best friend from high school and we’re going to watch the high school musical (apres nous le deuge, of course!). I haven’t been back to Pickerington while school was in session in three years, so it’s nice to be able to do all the town-y stuff.

I will note here that Adam was supposed to write an entry about his UROP tonight, but he got caught up in a few episodes of MythBusters and begged out. So you can yell at him for me.

Questions answered:
1. Shen asked

I’m pretty interested in UROP and I noticed on their website there are two options of being paid. Could you discuss the differences?

Shen is quite correct, there are two ways to get cold hard cash (well, really direct deposit into your bank account… but you know) from a UROP. First, you could get paid through the UROP office — they provide fellowships for students doing research. To get this funding, you’ll have to write a short proposal describing your research, get some paperwork signed by your UROP advisor and by your department’s UROP administrator, and turn it all in by a deadline. This is how many students at MIT get funding for their research; in my mind, it has two major problems: first, you have to write a proposal, and second, the fellowships are somewhat competitive. I have heard that they favor first-time UROPs, though. If you get funded through the UROP office, you will be paid at UROP minimum wage ($9.00/hr).
The second way to be funded is through your supervisor’s research funds. As I discussed last time, he who has the gold makes the rules, and many of the investigators at MIT are very famous and therefore have a great deal of gold. ;) You don’t have to spend time writing a proposal, and although you’ll be paid at least UROP minimum wage, many students are paid more than that. (I get $10.00/hr because I’m funded through Morgan’s RIKEN grant, as you can see from this random Japanese press release that I found while googling myself. Kind of weird.) Most UROPs at MIT are funded through supervisor funding.

2. Dan Simonson asked if my project is my baby, who is the father. I could at this point make some crack about parthenogenesis, or I could choose to take the sketchy route and name either my postdoc, Albert, or my faculty supervisor, Morgan. I am undecided as to where to go.

3. Jay asked

Great entry. regarding the UROPs, is that the case for only the sciences, or is the same with engineering too? I always had this idea tht all one needed to do was to make a casual remark in the hallway to a professor and he or she would just throw money at you. Imagine… Me,” Hey Professor (insert name here) I was thinking about building a gold-plated hydrogen super car, how about it?” Professor,” That sounds great! I’m short on cash right now, but here is a million dollars to start with. Remember to come back for more!” Me,” Thanks Professor (insert name here)! You are the best!”

Generally, I think UROPs are brought in on established projects in engineering as well, but I get the feeling that engineering UROPs get a lot more latitude with regard to their projects sometimes. Adam, for instance, goes in and gets told “Design something that does x”, and so that’s what he does. And if he says, “I designed this thing that does x better than the last thing you designed”, then everybody’s happy. I also get the distinct impression that my friend Ethan ’05 went up to a professor who had taught a class he’d taken and basically said “Hi, I’d like to work on fuel cells,” and she kind of let him go to town. So in summary, as a scientist, I find engineering UROPs puzzling.

4. Adnan asked

I was wondering whether you could better explain the presentation aspect of your research. You mention a PowerPoint presentation to the lab professor, how often do you present and what format do you present in? Also, you said that you’ll get to write the first draft of the paper if you complete the work in time, how hard is it to write the research paper? How long does it take?

When I meet with Morgan, I go into his office with my postdoc Albert and Albert’s lab tech Cliff. Cliff and I each get a chance to present the data we’ve obtained over the past month or so, and Albert steps in to help us if we get fuzzled. At that point, we also discuss the experiments we’re planning to do, and Morgan asks us questions about the experiments (did you try this control, were you thinking of using this assay). We also have to present any information we’ve learned from reading the biomedical literature. I don’t meet with Morgan as often as Cliff and Albert do, because I’m not in the lab each time they schedule to meet with him. Some UROPs also give lab meeting, which is a powerpoint presentation given to the entire lab group and lasting significantly longer (an hour to an hour and a half); I’ve never given lab meeting.

I’m not sure how long it will take to write the research paper — the depth in which a paper covers a hypothesis/set of experiments/conclusion depends on what sort of journal the paper is intended to be published in, and we haven’t really thought about where we’d like to send the paper when it’s written. In 7.02 we wrote a research paper over the course of an entire semester (in pieces), and mine ended up being 15 pages long. If my paper covering the proteins ends up being that long, I suppose I could write it in a few weeks of serious work. Of course, the really long and hard part is doing the experiments!

11 responses to “Home sweet violet capital of Ohio”

  1. thekeri says:

    So wait, is there no Chipotle near MIT?

    This makes me seriously depressed now – we don’t have one in South Florida either, but two summers of classes at Northwestern got me hooked on it.

    Petition for a Chipotle?

    (Yes, I read the rest of this post, but I was sent into Chipotle shock. Don’t hurt me.)

  2. Andy says:

    No Chipotle?

    Haha, it’s funny how I live close to Cleveland and we still basically have the same trademark staples of Ohio…

    Pop, for instance, unless down there you guys call it Soda (I’m curious about the geographical distribution of the term “pop”.)

    And, actually, we’ve competed against Pickerington for Science Olympiad, I believe. They were going to have an invitational but not enough teams signed up since there were three invitationals that weekend. Ah well.

  3. Rashed says:


    I was just wondering if you were getting a master’s degree by the end of your undergrad studies and then planning to get a PhD. Or is it that your going directly from a bachelors to PhD? If it is possible, drop me an e-mail or just post it on the blog. Thnx.


  4. Emily says:

    I’m with thekeri on the Chipotle concern… I eat there a couple times a month, and am definitely addicted. Does the T go to any towns that do have a Chipotle? (Seriously, I would pay extra to go get those majorly delicious burritos…mmmmm.)

    p.s. In northern Virginia, we call it “soda.”

  5. stasterisk says:

    Hey Mollie,

    glad you’re enjoying your break…

    Just wondering, did you have to take a GRE? And how was it?

  6. Christina says:

    What’s chipotle?

    Mollie – any updates/ranks on grad schools? What are you leaning towards?

    And Andy — I live in Northeast PA and we call it soda or coke. grin

  7. Anonymous says:

    Whoot go Ohio, tho im from Medina (south of cleveland) and we HAVE NO CHIPOTLE :( The closest one is half an hour away. to make matters worse, there was a rumor going a round that we WERE getting one, and that turned out to be completely false. So I have only once experienced a chipotle burrito-im too lazy to drive to the next town over…

    and its definitely pop.

  8. Zach says:

    sorry i dont know why It posted me as anonymous… i wrote ^that^

  9. Omar says:

    Awesome entry,

    “2. Dan Simonson asked if my project is my baby, who is the father. I could at this point make some crack about parthenogenesis, or I could choose to take the sketchy route and name either my postdoc, Albert, or my faculty supervisor, Morgan. I am undecided as to where to go.”

    I love your answers smile

    Hope to see you on CPW! smile

  10. Tommy says:

    Hope you enjoyed Footloose =) Thanks for coming to see the performance; it was wonderful to finally meet such a prominent figure in the MIT student body!

    – Rev. Shaw

  11. There’s a lot of variables in that response.