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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

13 responses to “More Notes From The UK”

  1. the pictures look really good… and that snowfall view is (ahhh) sooo breathtaking…!!!

  2. Utkarsh says:

    Cool.The photographs are really good.
    Are you from India?
    You told us many things about cambridge and the diffrences with MIT.

    But to conclude,do you regret at any point of time or you enjoy being at cambridge?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hahaha, actually it’s also 50 degrees here in MA!

    And I’m glad to hear that there are people at MIT who dye their hair crazy colors. That way, if I actually get accepted, I won’t be the only one!

    Cambridge (England, that is) looks beautiful. I hope I get the chance to visit there someday!

  4. Reg says:

    there are so many differences between MIT and cambridge, but i’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  5. Chandresh says:

    I really like the cathedral. I don’t know why.
    Anyway, very cute.

  6. Josh V says:

    Thanks for updating us on cambridge! It likes so much fun to study abroad there. so i know cambridge is a bit of a ways away from london, but do you ever find time to visit london/have you been there while abroad (you know, to go to the tower and go on the london eye and stuff)?

  7. Saman says:

    Chaharshanbe Suri is one of the biggest Persian ceremonies which Iranian from all around the world celebrate it by making fire and jumping over it when they are singing an old verse. If you translate the verse into English, you get this meaning ” My redness comes from fire and fire’s yellowness comes from me [ which we consider that our skins are yellow ]. “. This ceremony is at the last Tuesday’s night of Persian year and this year is on March 13, 2007 (NIGHT = because you can observe a fire’s flame better ).

    Also Happy PI day. Does anyone celebrate one of these?

    Maybe you can find a group of Iranian near your home and join them in this big event or you can do it yourself. It should be easy to make a fire. Last year we didn’t have anybody and any wood so we had to jump over a candle.

  8. Monica says:

    love the pictures! the campus looks so crisp and mossy. i live in the desert, and we have nothing like that. =)

  9. Saman says:

    check here about this old tradition ” Chaharshanbe Suri “.

  10. Saad Zaheer says:

    hey Mirat,
    I didnt know you were blogging for admissions.. that is so awesome. So how are you guys doing in the other cambridge? Cassi emailed us once last year about how fun the whole journey was! we miss you guys.

  11. Anonymous says:

    somehow cambridge’s always been my real world version of hogwarts:
    is it really so Mirat or is it just me?

  12. gy says:

    Hey Mirat!

    Thanks for your informative post. I have two questions.

    1) The junior year of college is the year where you start your advanced courses and get really focused on your major. So isn’t it a disadvantage to spend your entire junior year abroad if you’re planning to apply to grad school (and thus get letters of recommendation from your professors)? Wouldn’t it be better if the professors knew your performance in junior year?

    2) Can you study abroad for a semester? Or in your sophomore year?

    I’d really appreciate it if you could answer these in your next post.

    Thanks a lot!
    Best wishes,

  13. Somebody says:

    First of all, great posts. I love your blog grin
    How’s the party scene in Cambridge?