More Notes From The UK by Cambridge
[by Mirat Shah '08] Currently in Cambridge, it is 50 degrees F and not only is the sun shining, the flowers are also blooming.
[by Mirat Shah ’08]
Currently in Cambridge, it is 50 degrees F and not only is the sun shining, the flowers are also blooming. Daffodils have sprung with a vengeance, and yesterday, what I thought was flurries turned out to be apple blossom petals.
Last week was Bumps week, which is a huge rowing tournament. Each college has several men’s and women’s boats participating and there are about 30 colleges, so many, many boats. Boats are staggered along the river and are disqualified if/when the boat behind them catches up to them (bumps them). The first boat across the finish line wins as usual. More on that in my next entry.
I promised last entry to comment on academics at Cambridge versus MIT. Note that my account is only applicable to my own department (materials science and metallurgy). I am finding that Cambridge is much more concerned with theory and MIT is more concerned with applications. For example, at Cambridge, you would study crystallization temperature and glass transition point by learning exactly how their graphs are derived, and probably plenty of formulas. At MIT, you would get a more condensed summary of this theory, but then learn that it is the difference between crystallization and glass transition temperatures that allow you to burn information onto a CD. In general, I prefer MIT’s style because I prefer seeing the bigger picture. However, I am glad to be getting a taste of both because I do now have a more solid theoretical background. In many supervisions, a professor questions you for an hour about what steps you are taking to solve a problem and what equations those steps require or to rationalize a relationship in an equation, and you have to be on your toes.
Something I like about the Cambridge system is the lecture course format. Our lecture course is split into modules of 6-12 lectures each, so if you really don’t like a subject or professor, at least you don’t have to put up with it for very long. Also, it really helps to organize the subject matter. Something I miss about MIT is the lab work. Last year my labs included learning to use many machines and microscopes including a scanning electron microscope and an x-ray diffractometer, characterizing quantum dots, making battery cells, and even testing the results of a Nature article. This year, the lab experience is much lamer. This week, I am learning atomic force microscopy (AFM), which is really cool, but it’s the only really cool thing I’ll get to do all year. As a side note, AFM is incredible because it lets you see individual atoms. My lab partner and I were getting bored waiting for a scan to complete when our supervisor commented that although sometimes its boring, she then thinks “Oh wait, I’m looking at atoms. That’s amazing!”
And now, because I couldn’t really organize my thoughts, this is a mini photo essay of what’s been going on over the past couple of weeks.
Emmanuel College with snow.
A couple weeks ago, it finally snowed! This is the front court of Emmanuel College in snow, with a snowman on our Fellows lawn. Lowly undergrads are not supposed to walk on this lawn. For some reason, this rule gets broken whenever enough snow falls to make a snowman, and no one seems to mind.
Punting with the Bridge of Sighs in the background.
I finally went punting on the River Cam. Punting involves using a gigantic pole to push off of the bottom of the river to propel your boat forward. It is much harder than it looks. According to Great Britain guidebooks, punting along the “backs” (backs of colleges) at Cambridge is a top England experience. It was pretty fun until I asked to try and a. was terrible (we went in zigzags and then circles), and b. was learning right underneath the Bridge of Sighs (named after the one in Venice). This bridge was full of tourist families, and they were all watching our punt. Some young children were actually pointing, laughing, and commenting that we looked “silly.” Oh well. And random side note: my friend Rachel is the only person I know in Cambridge with her hair died a crazy color. Things like that definitely happen more often at MIT.
In the CUR1350 studio
I have a show on the Cambridge University radio station, CUR1350. It’s called “The Eclectics” because my co-hosts and I did not know each other until we decided to host a radio show together last term. We get along great now (or know how to fake it with lively on-air banter). No, we really are all friends now. At first, I was disappointed because the record library is much smaller than WMBR’s (MIT-Cambridge radio station). However, CUR1350 teaches you a lot more about production, so your show sounds very professional on air.
An elderly couple taking a picture of Ely Cathedral.
Ely is a village town close to Cambridge known for its massive medieval cathedral. We visited it one Saturday, and it was fun wandering around. We ended up at an antique store run by a really gregarious (and probably lonely) elderly lady who was showing us things of interest that we obviously couldn’t afford. Most of the things had to do with British history or authors, but then she pointed to an enormous stein with the United States seal of a bald eagle on it and asked us if we recognized the seal. Without thinking, my friend Cassi answered no. It was embarrassing.
Transporting the dishes home.
Also in Ely, I discovered Oxfam, which is officially my favorite store in the UK. I was sad because no one seems to shop at thrift stores in Cambridge, and I miss the Garment District in Cambridge, MA. (The Garment District is an immense thrift/vintage store which is good for finding Halloween costumes and other clothes. Also, they have a Dollar a Pound clothing section which is exactly what it sounds like.) Cassi bought an entire set of dishes (30 pieces or more) for 2.99 and I found an amazing sweater and adorable teacups with pagodas on them.
Atop the tower
St. John’s tower is the highest vantage point in Cambridge. The spiral staircase is pretty long and claustrophobia inducing. But the view from the top is definitely worth it.
View from top