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Practical virology by Mollie B. '06

A little too practical, if you ask me.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve been hit with what’s hopefully some sort of 24-hour flu or something… I didn’t get to go out and watch the marathon today because I’ve been lying around in bed feeling pathetic and nauseous. I guess a long weekend is a somewhat good time to get hit with something like this — I mean, better now than later this week when I have two tests, right? — but it’s kind of a disappointment. I’m hoping to bounce back by tomorrow, when a bunch of my friends are going to Fire and Ice for the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

On the upside, we’ve been learning about viruses and other types of infectious disease in 7.27 (Principles of Human Disease), so if I have to feel like crap, at least I can be well-informed.

Among the top practical things I’ve learned as an MIT biology major, and the classes I’ve learned them in:
1. When you have a virus, you should stay hydrated by drinking Gatorade or some other water/sugar/salt solution (7.06). You won’t absorb water without salt due to the structure of your kidneys (7.20), and you won’t absorb salt without sugar due to the structure of the transporters in your intestine (7.06).
2. The reason you feel like hell when you have a virus is actually due to your immune system — molecules like interferons and cytokines are released by immune cells to alert other cells to the viral threat (7.23).
3. Illnesses caused by viruses are usually readily distinguishable from those caused by bacteria — bacterial illnesses tend to be localized (infected wound, UTI) while viral illnesses, though sometimes localized (flu, mono), make you feel awful all over (7.23).
4. And I’ve learned the molecular mechanisms of more drugs and toxins than you can shake a stick at (7.20, 7.23, 7.27, 7.28, 7.29).

On an even more practical note, if you get really sick at MIT (that is to say, not just run-of-the-mill icky like I do right now), you can head yourself on over to MIT Medical‘s Urgent Care. If you’re too sick to get there yourself, you can even call the ambulance, which is staffed by EMT-trained students. I’ve been to Urgent Care way too many times in my undergraduate career — I had bronchitis and an abscessed tooth freshman year, I had a run of three or four nasty bacterial infections sophomore year, my entire suite had mono sophomore year and I wanted to get tested just in case, I slammed my finger in a door junior year… I actually don’t think I’ve been there so far this year. Hooray! But all that urgent care is covered by the MIT student health plan, and is included with tuition.

If you get really, really sick at MIT — like when my friend Swapna ’05 got a nasty virus and was dehydrated and slightly delirious, MIT Med has beds and a staff to take care of you day and night until you’re better. If you hurt yourself badly enough, like when Rita ’08, one of the cheerleaders, broke her arm last year, we’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Massachusetts General Hospital and some of the best doctors in the world. (MGH is just across the Longfellow Bridge from the east end of campus.)

Questions (mostly about double-majors)

1. Nur asked,

Should the course you consider double majoring in be closely related with your first major?

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. If two majors have quite a bit of overlap, it’s easier to double with them, since many of the classes you take can be applied toward the degree requirements for both majors. On the other hand, if you don’t have very much AP credit to begin with, you’ll have to take quite a few classes to get the 270 units outside the GIRs anyway. I suppose I should emphasize that doubling at MIT is never easy, but in most cases it’s possible to do. Certainly a lot of people do it.

2. Charlotte asked,

Haha…so who’s most stressed out? Poor undergrads, graduate students, postdocs or the professors? Just a curious question. =)

I personally think postdocs are the most stressed out — they’re worried about getting faculty positions at the same time they’re worrying about picking their kids up from school and how to buy a house on a postdoc salary. Grad students and undergrads have fewer outside things to worry about, and it’s way easier to be poor when you’re in your twenties than when you’re in your thirties. And professors have no right to complain, except around grant-writing time. :)

3. Dan wrote,

So with a course required for two majors, I would: take it just once, it would count in two places, and count once towards my graduation total which would be 270 beyond the GIRs with a double major. Sweet, it still sounds really hard still when you take a realistic look at it.

Yup, sounds like you’ve got it! I suppose I should emphasize that doubling at MIT is never easy, but in most cases it’s possible to do. Certainly a lot of people do it.

4. Leo asked,

Did you use some Course 9 requirements to substitute HASS? What was in the 27 units of AP credit? Though this be madness, can you tell us any methods in planning classes for a double major? (such as pitfalls to avoid, ways to ease stress).

Yes, I used 24.900 (Intro to Linguistics) as both a HASS and as my required cognitive science class. My 27 units of AP credit was from the three AP courses I took (English Literature, Government, US History); for each 5 on a humanities AP test, MIT awards 9 units of general elective credit. Finally, I’d advise people interested in a double-major to make a rough class plan after first semester (when you have a better idea of what classes are offered when) — you don’t have to follow it to the letter, but it helps to guide your course selection for second semester and for sophomore year.

5. Michelle asked,

I was wondering which dorms you have stayed in during MIT and what your experience has been.

I’ve lived in Macgregor all four years in a single. I’ve absolutely loved it — Macgregor is the right dorm for me, since I go a little crazy if other people are in my space too long. Macgregor is divided into nine entries; I’ve lived in A-Entry and D-Entry, both of which are considered “social” entries and always have people sitting out in the common room talking and eating and being friendly.

6. Nehalita asked,

Could you do a separate entry on class plans? I know a lot of us reading are prefrosh but it would be nice to hear your perspective and whatnot. Do we actually meet up with someone to make a class plan or do we do this on our own? Thanks!

Yeah, I’ll write more on that next time. There’s something of an art to it — it’s a little like doing a puzzle. :) I’ve always done mine on my own, although I imagine it would be hugely helpful to be in the presence of an upperclassman who’s taken many of the classes you plan to take.

7. And finally, for the one I’m most curious about, William wrote (in response to my high school stats),

So in otherwords the most popular kids get in? Because that’s what it looks like. Shouldn’t it be wholly based on your Academic Potential? Because that’s why you’re going to study at MIT?

Well… first, I don’t really know what gave the impression that I was the most popular kid in my high school. I don’t know where you all went to school, but in my high school you weren’t really cool unless you were on the football team… the arts kids were in our own little world and were mostly ignored by the rest of the school. Granted, I didn’t care (I’ve never been one to let other people tell me how I ought to be), and I had plenty of friends, but I certainly don’t think I’d describe myself as “the most popular kid.”

Second, if you have a good way of inerrantly measuring “Academic Potential”, I’d love to see it. I may not have gotten a perfect score on the SAT, but I don’t think that reflects whatsoever on my intelligence, nor do I think it reflects on my ability to be a good scientist. At the very least, I’ve clearly succeeded at MIT despite my apparent lack of Academic Potential.

There are a lot of ways to show that you’re smart and that you’re a hard worker. High SAT scores are one way, but they’re not the only way or the best way.

7 responses to “Practical virology”

  1. Christina says:

    I guess another upside to your 24 hour virus is that those interferons will keep you protected from getting a different viral infection. Yay! On that note, now might be a good time to reask my virology related question — why doesn’t a cold protect you from HIV?

    And mono is absolutely disgusting. Stupid EBV causes Hodgkin’s Disease. :-(

  2. Christina says:

    Oh and get well soon, of course! Stomach flu is by far my least favorite illness.

  3. Dan says:

    Hey Mollie thanks again! Sorry about your virus. That’s cool that you can always know what’s going on biologically and anatomically with everything though. Peace, G

  4. Anonymous says:

    “You won’t absorb water without salt due to the structure of your kidneys (7.20), and you won’t absorb salt without sugar due to the structure of the transporters in your intestine”

    a bit of an overstatement, no? Maybe you’ll absorb it faster with the salt & sugar, but this sure sounds like it won’t be absorbed at ALL. Not true. And here’s an easy experiment to prove it. Drink 1 quart of the pure distilled water. Wait a few hours. Did you urinate? If so, that seems proof that not only was the water absorbed (in your intestines, BTW, not your kidneys; kidneys REMOVE water from bloodstream) but that your kidneys were active too.

  5. Mollie says:

    What I should have said was that water won’t be REabsorbed by your kidneys when it’s filtered if it doesn’t have some salt in it (see this site for an explanation: http://ex-anatomy.org/renal.html ).

    And of course some water will be retained by your body, even if it has no salt in it — there’s very little in biology that’s all-or-none. My point was more that drinking straight water isn’t going to rehydrate you enough to cause you to, for example, not die from diarrhea.

    There’s really no cause to be pedantic — the purpose of this blog is not to disseminate scientific or quasi-scientific knowledge.

  6. Erin says:

    The other day you posted the schedule for assigning dorms- I was wondering if you could talk about when we register for classes and plan our schedule. Thanks!

  7. Christina says:

    (Nevermind about my question: when I just reread it I was able to answer it myself.) :-X Hope you got to go to Fire & Ice!