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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Hot town by Mollie B. '06

In which I complain about the heat and expound wisdom about the bio department.

Mmm, it’s a hot one today (93oF, or 38.9oC for those of you who use a logical degree system)! Days like this make me glad for two things: 1) my beautiful polka-dotted sundress which keeps me cool walking to work on hot days, and 2) my beautiful air conditioner which keeps me cool at home:
air conditioner
(Macgregor windows have screens that can’t be removed — rather sensibly, since my window is 15 stories up and falling out is not up there on my list of things to try this summer — so Adam rigged up a foam ducting system so our air conditioner thinks it’s outside. I love engineers.)

Katharine asked a great set of questions in my last entry about the bio department:
“I might be interested in doing Biology at MIT… so I have to ask… how are the professors? I know you always have your good ones and your bad ones, but is there a general teaching “style” that most professors have? Do you have to do p-sets for Biology classes and if not, what is the homework like? Is it hard to get an internship during the summer? Is the work collaborative and how are the labs? And are there tips you would like to give me to make it much easier on me? Okay, I’m out of dorky questions :).”

On the whole, my biology professors have been very amusing people. I actually started writing down things they said in class, because some of the stuff they say is just too funny. Most faculty members teach the same class(es) every year, and they develop a familiarity with the material, as well as an understanding of topics students find difficult. You also don’t realize it until you’re an upperclassman, but most of the professors who teach the core biology classes are Very Important People in the world of biology research — I read quotes by Tyler Jacks (7.013) in major biology journals all the time; Eric Lander teaches 7.012 and is one of three people basically in charge of the Human Genome Project. David Bartel, who teaches 7.05, is a major spokesperson for the “RNA world” theory and just won a prize from the National Academy of Sciences.

I could go on. But that would take a really long time. Basically, the professors who teach the core classes are amazing scientists who also enjoy educating the next generation. (David Page, who taught 7.03 my year, showed us a gorgeous crystal award he had just won and told us that his freshman year biology teacher had written him a congratulatory note about it. He told us that he expected to be doing the same for us in a few years. Um, no pressure?)

For some biology classes (mostly the first few cores, 7.01x and 7.03), problem sets are required and calculated into the grade. For most upper-level classes, problem sets are given, but are “optional”, and are not included in the final grade. (I say “optional” because doing the problem sets is hands down the best way to prepare for the exams — usually 3 or 4 — that are worth your whole grade. So everybody does the problem sets.)

It’s definitely not hard to get an internship for the summer. First, there are always more biology UROPs available than there are students who want to stay on campus for the summer, so it’s extremely easy to get a research job on campus. Moreover, there are a lot of biotech and pharmaceutical companies in Cambridge (Novartis and Biogen are visible from campus), and many of them ask for interns over the summer. I mean, MIT has one of the best biology departments in the country, so pharmaceutical and biotech companies all over the country are very happy to snap up well-trained and intelligent undergrads for summer internships.

The labs in the biology department are a lot of work, but they’re made a lot easier by the outstanding faculty and staff who administer the labs. (Two of the people who run 7.02, the introductory lab, have their own fan club on thefacebook.com.) 7.02 is about teaching as many molecular biology techniques as it’s possible to learn in one semester (believe me, it’s more than you think); Project Lab is the advanced lab, which is all about having you pick your own project and basically be a grad student on training wheels.

My Super-Stealth Advice for Biology Success:
1. Get a UROP as early as possible. I started my UROP before I had taken any labs, and therefore was taught all the techniques in a comfortable, grade-free environment. And looked like a freakin’ genius when I finally did take the labs and knew everything already.
2. Go to lecture. Self-explanatory. Far too many people whine about their grades in course 7 classes, but don’t go to class. Hello?
3. Read the book. No, really. I just started really reading textbooks this past term, and was amazed at how helpful this tactic was for raising my GPA. Learn from my idiocy.
4. Use the resources available. Biology professors fall all over themselves to be accessible to their students — office hours, tutoring sessions, emails, phone numbers… take advantage of their generosity.

One last thing — Degree requirements for the SB in biology, and General Institute Requirements — because, unfortunately, we course 7 majors are not so lucky as to escape the physics reqirement.

Any more questions… send them my way!

4 responses to “Hot town”

  1. Thanks Mollie! You’re the best of the best! I was looking at the degree requirements for biology and noticed that physics wasn’t listed… does it mean that I don’t have to take physics or is it just so well known that everyone needs physics it doesn’t need to be listed?

    I really don’t like physics… so, if that is the case, I might just throw a massive fiesta!

  2. Mollie says:

    Well, I’m probably biased by how easy it was for me to get my UROP (which is in a joint 9/7 lab) — I emailed something like 10 professors in 9 and 7, got two interviews, and picked the UROP I’m still in almost two years later.

    But I had two very important things going for me:

    1. I was applying for the fall, rather than the summer, so I avoided the summer UROP application rush.

    2. I had just spent that summer working in a lab at the NIH, so I had lab experience.

    For summer UROPs, I think you definitely have to email early enough. I actually think starting a UROP any time other than summer, then continuing into summer, is a better idea.

  3. Mitra says:

    So I’m Course 7 * 2, but Eric Lander is my hero!

  4. Jessie says:

    It is easy to get a research job? My searches this spring had left me under the impression that it was damn near impossible. Every UROP I applied for seemed to have at least 30 applicants; every lab I contacted said they had no spots for UROPs (Between applications and contacting labs, I probably made 20 “attempts” to get a UROP in 9/7/BE/related fields). Of course, I’m Course 9, so a large number of my failed attempts were Course 9, and for my failed 7/BE attempts I was probably passed over in favor of 7/BE majors.

    To Katharine: Two physiics classes, 8.01 and 8.02, are GIRs – that means every undergrad at MIT has to take them or their equivalent, no matter what their major.