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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Just some potpourri by Mollie B. '06

Zoo! New computer! Cooking! Books! Spine-crushingly tedious work at the lab!

Shiny new computer
Since my grad program gives a $1000 “educational allowance” to incoming students, I decided to apply that money to a new laptop. I got my old laptop when I came to MIT (although, really, “laptop” is a pretty generous designation for that rather sizable piece of equipment), and let’s just say that the past four years were not kind to it. So now the old laptop is living at home with my seventeen-year-old brother, and I am the happy owner of a shiny new Sony Vaio!

My new Vaio is blue, which was really one of my major criteria for my purchase: portable, fast processor, colorful.

I’m totally going to have the most stylish computer in grad school.

I suppose I should mention, in case it wasn’t patently obvious by now, that you don’t have to know much about computers to get into or attend MIT. I like technology, but I am quite happily clueless about the actual workings of my shiny new Vaio; I know enough about it to run it and maintain it, but if there’s anything wrong with it, I take it to the nice people at the Computing Helpdesk.

Summer reading
Like Laura, I also read up a storm in the summer. I (re-)read Robert Sapolsky’s books A Primate’s Memoir, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Monkeyluv last week, and I am currently in the middle of a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. It’s a science book about cooking. I am completely in heaven. (And, as I’m sure Sam will be excited to know, the book mentions the Maillard reaction just about every other page.)

Speaking of cooking, Adam and I have been making some great food the last few weeks: red lentil curry, beef stew (it tasted just like my grandmother’s), mango chicken stir-fry, homemade pizza piled high with veggies, pesto penne… I think that my cooking skills are pretty good, considering that I had never eaten Chinese, Indian, or Thai food before I got to MIT. (Come to MIT! Expand your culinary horizons!)

Work
Next week is my last week in the lab (which is to say, the last week before I start working for the month of August with a new boss), and I’m finishing up my last few experiments. Unfortunately for me, this means that I have a ton of data analysis to do.

Basically, what I have to do is take one of my neuron pictures, select five 30-micron regions on the neuron, then zoom in really close. The program I use allows you to measure areas on the picture, so I measure the length and width of each spine in the regions I’ve defined. The program automatically logs this information to Excel. It takes me about 10 minutes to get through each picture. I’ve analyzed about 45 pictures so far, and I have about 80 to go. And then, I have to manipulate the data in Excel so I can figure out the average length and width of a spine for each condition, and decide if any differences between conditions are statistically significant.

This is bone-crunchingly boring work. This is something I don’t think people mention enough to prospective scientists — a decent percentage of the things you have to do in science are brain-liquefyingly, eye-poppingly boring. That’s just the way things are.

Santiago Ramon y Cajal, one of the first neuroscientists and one of my personal scientific icons, said “You should abandon science… if your soul isn’t flooded with the emotion of anticipated pleasure when approaching the long-awaited and solemn moment of the fiat lux.” And I think that’s why it’s worth it… if you didn’t have to grind through the tedium, you wouldn’t appreciate that moment at the end when the clouds open up and scientific grace descends from on high. (Incidentally, this is also my policy on suffering through Boston winters to get to Boston spring and summer. And, for that matter, it’s my policy on working really hard for an MIT degree. MIT kids are really good at delayed gratification, as you might imagine. Either that, or we’re just masochists.)

Zoo!
Adam and I were going to go with some of our friends to Six Flags today, but the crappy weather forecast convinced us that would be a poor choice. So instead, we headed for the zoo. Zoos are collectively my favorite place on the face of the earth, so I was a pretty happy camper.

There were lots of baby animals, and all of the animals were pretty relaxed, coming to easily-viewable spots in their habitats to stare at the human visitors. It was a good zoo! I think if I weren’t going to be a cell biologist, I would totally be a zookeeper.

Questions

1. Helen asked,

What is the percentage of MIT students living at dorms owning a TV set (estimated by Mollie)? And how many of them watch TV frequently?

It really depends on where you live. In MacGregor, it’s fairly rare for a student to have a personal TV, since each entry has a TV in the lounge, and TV watching is part entertainment and part social interaction. In dorms without widely-used community spaces, it’s much more common to have a TV in your room. Either way, you would be perfectly fine bringing a cheap TV with you to school — if you end up in a dorm which watches TV in community areas, you can just send it home.

And I suspect that whether or not you watch a lot of TV is highly dependent on whether or not you watched a lot of it before you came to MIT. :)

2. thekeri asked,

You took Latin?

That I did. I was actually one of three people in my school to take it all four years — all but three of us dropped out after Latin III (including the friends for whom I did homework), so Latin IV was an independent study. I now remember very little of all that hard work, alas, but it did help tremendously when I was studying for the GRE.

And Christina asked,

Did you take any languages at MIT?

I took 21F.701 (Spanish I) and 21F.702 (Spanish II) sophomore year. I really enjoyed the classes (the Spanish profs at MIT are super), but I couldn’t take the higher levels because they kept conflicting with required classes in my majors.

3. Anonymous asked,

Do you know if an MIT undergrad majoring in physics can apply for the MIT grad program in physics?

My friend Fadam ’07 says that yes, course 8 undergrads are allowed to apply for the PhD programs, although they’re not generally encouraged to do so. It’s not always (or even usually) the best choice for a student to stay in the same program for undergrad and grad school, since a lot of success in science depends on a student’s connections and ability to network.

Incidentally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to choose/not choose MIT as a school for undergrad based on your desire to go here for grad school. I think it’s very foolish when people say “Oh, I’m not going to go to MIT for undergrad; I’ll just save it for grad school.” Um, yeah, good luck with that. It’s not easy to get admitted to any of MIT’s graduate programs, and besides, you shouldn’t be planning where you want to go to grad school before you even start undergrad. (Anyway, the environment of your undergraduate program is a lot more important than the environment of your graduate program — you don’t actually have a “life” in graduate school, so you don’t have to choose a graduate school based on the general school atmosphere.) If you like MIT, you shouldn’t choose not to come here because you think you’ll be able to get in for your masters or PhD.

5 responses to “Just some potpourri”

  1. Incidentally, do you know of any MIT bio undergrads who applied to the grad MIT bio program? I hear this is the first year “inbreeding” was allowed, and was wondering if you knew what that admission percentage was?

  2. Lizzy says:

    Hmm…if you can’t keep blogging regularly for MIT, do you have a personal blog that you can use for we readers to be updated on your graduate school goings-on?

    Because it would be a shame not to be able to read about your superb organizational skills anymore!

  3. Drew says:

    How do we know what foreign language class to register for? I’ve been doing Spanish since middle schools, so presumably Spanish I might not be a good fit, but I don’t know exactly what level to take. I heard that lots of people just take a good guess and the teacher figures out their aptitude and, if necessary moves them to a different class. Is that true?

  4. Minh says:

    That’s one hot computer, Mollie! smile

  5. Omar '10 says:

    Hey, I just got a new laptop too! It’s a Gateway M285-E