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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Sometimes a whale is just a whale by Mollie B. '06

Humanities classes make me roll my eyes sometimes.

Well, I’ve reached my first “last” of the year… I just put the finishing touches on my last HASS (read: Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences) paper. This 13-page masterpiece (cough) for 21A.260, on cross-cultural medicine and issues of embodiment in post-traumatic stress disorder, is presumably the last non-science paper I will ever have to write. In my life.

Ohhh, it’s a good feeling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a one-dimensional science geek (most of the time). I read poetry voluntarily, and I quote it in my AIM away messages if I particularly like it. I enjoy literature and music. My major extracurricular activities in high school were theater (straight and musical), band, and show choir. Basically, I like experiencing the humanities and arts — I don’t like arguing about them.

I concentrated in anthropology because I’ve always loved reading about physical anthropology, and also because I took a mostly enjoyable class last semester about biomedical ethics. It wasn’t a bad concentration, but it’s tough for a biology major to read ethnographies in which the author (an American anthropologist) claims to have gotten malaria in Africa because a rival sorcerer sent it to him.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure he got malaria because he was bitten by an infected mosquito, okay. No sorcery necessary.

My friend Jen ’06, a 21L concentrator and biology major, expressed similar sentiments to me when her class was reading Moby Dick and was asked to write an ungodly long paper about the symbolism of the whale or some such thing. “Sometimes a whale is just a whale,” she said.

Yup, science majors and humanistic academia. At a certain level of analysis, we’re a little like oil and water. (Did you know that, thanks to 5.60, I can now model the interaction of oil and water in a fancy two-component diagram? Probably not as rigorously as Sam, though.)

In other news, I realized today that the only form of discrimination I have ever received as a woman in science is that all the chairs in the microscope room are too short for me to see the eyepieces when sitting down. Hee.

So in my last entry on Friday, I was a little concerned that Adam and I would be unable to go out to dinner and Christmas shopping due to the crazy snowstorm-thing. Luckily, we braved the weather and went out to Chili’s for dinner, then shopped a little at The Pru. On our way to dinner, Adam made the brilliant decision to jump over a large puddle of water on the steps of the subway station… and land squarely on his butt in the middle of said puddle because the area on the other side of the steps was also wet. Yes, he is in fact a rocket scientist.

1. thekeri asked if the novelty of snow ever wears off. The novelty of the first big snow (or the first few big snows) of the year never wears off — I still get as giddy about snowstorms as I did when I was little. (And everybody gets giddy at MIT — freshman year, all the professors let us out early from class the day before Thanksgiving so we could go have snowball fights in Killian Court.) Last year, though, by the end of the winter, Boston had received 90+ inches of snow. To be honest, I was completely and totally sick of snow by the end of March last year. But now it’s a new winter and I can be excited again!

2. Another Sam asked if GPA was important for grad school, or if things like research experience and recs were more important. Yes, but in a qualified way. For science and engineering, research experience and professor recs are probably the most important factors. GPA is also important, but you get a lot of wiggle room if you go to a school like MIT. For instance, I have a 3.4/4.0, which is much lower than many bio majors at grade-inflated schools, but grad schools recognize that MIT is hard and many grade-inflated schools are not so much. So the answer is yes, GPA matters, but it matters a lot less if you come from a well-respected undergraduate institution.

3. A different Sam asked if it was easier to get into MIT grad school if you go to MIT as an undergrad (to which Sam also replied, confusing me and probably everyone else). It is significantly easier to get into MIT grad school if you major in most engineering departments — in fact, some departments, like course 6, have special programs in which you can complete your undergrad and masters’ degrees in 5 years. Actually, MIT is the top graduate school destination for students who graduate from MIT (see page 5 of this pdf). Certain departments, like chemE (and formerly biology, but no longer!) have an explicit policy of not accepting MIT undergrads for graduate study. This is mostly done because it’s considered better for the student’s career in certain fields to get bachelors and masters degrees from different schools. (I will note that it’s easier to get into MIT [or equivalent] grad school as an MIT undergrad than it is to get in from Podunk U any day.)

5 responses to “Sometimes a whale is just a whale”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Is Stanford grade-inflated in your opinion

  2. Merudh says:

    wow I never knew about that whole undergrad/grad connection. Anyway, its Tuesday and today is probably the day…

    ahh the agony of waiting. I hope its worth it smile

    whats your sn for AIM by the way?

  3. thekeri says:

    So if the first snow is always that great, then at least I’ll have something to look forward to around this time next year – I got my tube yesterday! ^_^

  4. Oren Hazi says:


  5. Alexandre says:

    Is it possible to study Course 8 at MIT’s grad school if I go for undergrad? If so, jas there been any discussion anywhere, on any level, of this?