[by Kathy ’09]
Hi guys! I’m here to talk about “life as a biochemist, at MIT and Cambridge.” I think the best way to illustrate the difference is to give you a portrayal of what a typical day is like in both places:
TYPICAL DAY AT MIT (SPRING 2007)
9am – 10am
Hit the snooze button 5 times. Hit the snooze button one more time after deciding to skip breakfast for those 10 extra precious minutes of sleep. Get ready for class in record time. Still arrive late (had to grab some coffee).
10am – 11am
First lecture is thermo & kinetics (5.60). This’s actually a really interesting class (the lecturers are especially good Spring semester). Manage to stay awake because of content.
11am – noon
Next is biochem II (5.08). It’s co-taught by the amazing Prof. Stubbe (who, in addition to being a brilliant scientist and an engaging lecturer, sprays dozing students with water from a squirt bottle, and has a dog named McEnzyme) and the amazing Prof. Ting (who is very hardcore, and also my previous UROP advisor).
Noon – 1pm
Decide to skip molecular bio (7.28) recitation. Tempted by the prospect of lunch, but also decide to skip lunch to go to UROP (such dedication). Set up some experiments, let the ones that need to run for awhile incubate while I go off to my next class (multi-tasking and finding things to do during the long waits experiments inevitably require are the keys to having time for a UROP).
1pm – 2:30pm
Off to cellular neurobio (7.29). Hunger and tiredness finally catch up with me. Nap, embarrassingly, because the class is quite small (and my mouth is usually hanging open).
2:30pm – 3pm
Finally some free time–it’s one of those annoying/convenient half-hour blocks. Annoying if you live far from campus, convenient if you’ve got a UROP! Run back to lab to check on that experiment from earlier. Grab some food from the Bio-Cafe before they close or from the food trucks before they drive off.
3pm – 6pm
Take food to next class, a 3 hour graduate seminar about RNA (7.77). Co-taught by Profs. Tom RajBhandary (a living, walking encyclopedia) and Dave Bartel (my current UROP advisor, whose lab I would definitely do my PhD in, if I were to come to MIT for grad school). Happy because I finally get to eat, and because it’s my favorite class. It’s always sad to emerge from class to find that the sun’s already set, though.
6pm – about 10pm
Finish up things for the day at lab. On good days: get out by 8pm, on bad days: stay past midnight.
Whenever lab ends – midnight
Head back to dorm. Eat dinner and shower (personal hygiene is really important! especially for whoever happens to sit behind you in lecture). Hang out/do some work with friends.
Midnight – 2am
Work closing shift at front desk of dorm. People hardly come by during this time, so get to get some work done. Desk is such a great job–basically getting paid to do homework!
2am – about 4am
Stay up to finish p-sets/essays/projects, if due next day. Sometimes stay up to grade p-sets for intro bio and intro physics (grading = another great way to make money). It’s best to work in someone else’s room, then you can keep each other company, keep each other awake, and commiserate (ah, what a common form of MIT bonding).
Whenever work ends
Yes! Can still sleep for X hours (+ extra 10 minutes if I skip breakfast tomorrow morning)!
Now compare this to:
TYPICAL DAY AT CAMBRIDGE (MICHAELMAS 2007)
8am – 9am
Spring awake and out of bed before the alarm goes off. Getting enough sleep makes for a happy morning. Get ready leisurely, eat breakfast while catching up on email/blogs/news.
9am – 10am
First lecture. Topic and lecturer changes every two days. If interesting_topic && good_lecturer, then pay_attention(); else gossip_and_doodle(on_printout); (Okay, so I’m not Course 6, but you get the picture).
10am – 10:30am
Tea break. Enjoy refreshing cuppa with other Biochemists in department tea room. Sometimes indulge in a buttered scone.
10:30am – 11:30am
Second lecture. Also the last lecture for the day! I know, amazing.
11:30am – 12:30pm
Grab lunch with friends. Usually at Pembroke Cafe (closest to the biochem dept, very tasty, and cheap).
12:30pm – about 3pm
Head over to lab. Usually stay anywhere between half hour to 4 hours at the longest. This is much less time than I was spending at UROP at MIT. This’s because research in Cambridge feels a lot more relaxed, and also because I consciously made the decision to take it easy at lab this year.
Complete freedom for the rest of the day! Theoretically, and ideally, this should include studying, but we get assigned absolutely no work, so studying usually doesn’t happen (I know, I’m such a dedicated student). Also, if it happens to be Friday, and my bank balance isn’t zero, and I feel particularly energetic, a weekend trip (e.g. to Stonehenge, London, France, Belgium, Germany, etc.) is probably in the works.
The schedules pretty much speak for themselves. There’s a lot more freedom at Cambridge, and time feels like it passes slower. Nevertheless, I will add:
Despite being much busier at MIT, I personally preferred the hustle and bustle of MIT to the idyllic peace at Cambridge. At MIT, there was more of a sense of personal accomplishment. I challenged my mind, I tried to contribute to scientific findings, I was ambitious, and I enjoyed the precious moments of free time I had. At Cambridge, I relaxed, slowed down, and enjoyed life. I floated down the River Cam in a punt on a sunny day, drinking Pimm’s and eating strawberries. Both lives are really nice, and I know the Cambridge life sounds way better. Honestly, the choice between staying up till 4am with a p-set and eating strawberries on the river seems pretty clear, right? Surprisingly, this year abroad has taught me that I’m one of those annoying people who have to be busy to be happy. I feel happy knowing that I’m working towards my goals through hard work, and I savour my free time. At Cambridge, I have so many swaths of free time that I didn’t propery appreciate them. Outside the happy indulgent moments, I became bored, fell into a comas by ODing on YouTube, and then got unmotivated from the slow pace.
Nevertheless, Cambridge is a wonderfully refreshing break from the hectic MIT. I mostly enjoyed my year here, but I’ll be happy to be back, too.