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MIT student blogger Afeefah K. '21

SUMMER ROSES by Afeefah K. '21

stop and smell 'em

In the past five weeks or so, the pace of my life has dramatically slowed down. After running at 75 mph for the past year, I barely walk at 3 now. And while it still feels insanely weird to be moving so slowly, I’ve found myself with a lot of time to “stop and smell the roses.”

There’s this tendency at MIT to start making summer plans all the way back in January. Some were finishing of UPOP seminars. Some had internship interviews lined up. Some signed summer contracts with their UROPs. Others were getting ready to send off their MISTI applications. And it made sense too. We only have three real summers as MIT students and the opportunities that are available in that time appear endless. It really makes you feel like the world is your oyster. If you’re willing to put yourself out there, that is.

My January looked a little differently. In fact, I’d say that my January was more representative of the average student’s here. I had no idea what my summer was going to look like. And while I publicly brushed it off, I was intrinsically freaking out. Was I going to waste one of the “three precious summers?”

I knew early on, however, that I wanted to head back home. After a long, demanding yet equally rewarding year, I wanted to spend my three months back in Texas. I looked forward to sleeping in my own bed again, waking up to the voice of my mother, teasing and being teased by my younger brother and having deep conversations with my father. I knew they had missed having me around and perhaps I had missed them more. A summer at home was just what we needed.

I guess the worry came in not finding anything to do back home. I didn’t exactly want to spend my entire summer sitting on my sofa. And so I spent hours and hours browsing through job listings and googling opportunities in the metroplex. But my freshman-skills were few and replies just never seemed to make their way to me. Until my phone finally buzzed with an email one day. I had applied to a Summer Research Fellowship at the University of Texas-Southwestern, and I had gotten in! I remember letting out a sigh of relief along with the happiness I felt. I was heading home! And I was going to spend 10 weeks working with one of the top research institutes in the state. I wasn’t going to “waste a summer” after all! Deep breaths.

Fast forward a few months. And here I am now. On my fourth week at UTSW, sitting in an office in the Simmons Cancer Center, spending 9 hours a day scrolling through medical reports and writing medical review papers. Coming from a background of pure benchtop research, clinical research has been pleasantly surprising. It’s been incredibly low-stress. More often than not, working in a wet-lab means you work on your experiments’ schedules, not your own. And even more often, experiments don’t work until the hundredth iteration (not really, but kind of). Conducting research simply by collecting medical data was a concept that had never crossed my mind. And in many ways, clinical research is quicker to application. It involves looking at how patients are actually handled and involves a discussion of what works well and what needs to be changed.

Currently, I’m acquiring diagnostic and treatment data of patients with head and neck cancer patients to study the effects of a change in AJCC cancer staging standards. By the end of this summer, the goal is to have a strong data set to back up statements of how effectively patients have been managed. While my day-to-day becomes quite tedious as I scroll through report after report, the implications of what I’m doing are super exciting.

I have one other big goal this summer. For the past two or so years, I’ve held myself in a tug-of-war between doing engineering or medicine. And while I thought my first year at MIT would pull me towards one side, it didn’t really. And that’s on me. I spent so much time this past year hustling through classes, that I let go of many big-picture conversations. I stopped thinking about what mattered to me and what made me feel content. I forget that I was out to optimize my purpose in life. As I spend 50 hours a week at UTSW, I’m hoping I find answers for myself soon.

Oh yes, I did. I bought a ukelele! I have absolutely no musical experience whatsoever. I never learned to play an instrument and the last time I publicly sang was in 5th grade. That said, I made the purchase in hopes of expanding my horizons and becoming at least somewhat skilled in the realm of C-chords and G-chords. With about a week of experience, I’ve learned how to play parts of “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “Kal Ho Na Ho” (where my Bollywood fans at?) and “Something to La-Va.” So far it’s all been good. I haven’t snapped a string yet. And my digital tuner says I know how to tune my ukulele well. So there’s that. If there’s are any other ukuleleists out there, feel free to share some tips and tricks. Also any songs you recommend for a beginner. K thanks.

I’ve also recently joined a book club with a bunch of friends from MIT. I figured that if I read more non-fiction/intellectual books, some of it would rub off on me? We’re currently reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It’s week one and I am already incredibly behind, so can’t really tell you much about how it’s going. To be continued. But yeah, book recommendations also welcome.

Afeefah-Rambling Alert: Amidst all of this, I’ve realized that there’s no right way to do summer. Not as a high school student. Not as a college student. Not as a MIT student. And I know, I KNOW, how counterintuitive that sounds coming from me. Yes, I was freaking out about my summer. Yes, I was worried that I was going to “waste” it. Yes, it fortunately ended up working out well for me. But I like to think that if things hadn’t worked out, and I was sitting on my sofa, I would still be fine. I would’ve still found something to do (perhaps I would’ve just annoyed people with my mediocre ukulele playing skills at all hours of the day). But I think I would have been ok. Because summer time is a time for growth. Growth in whatever way you choose to define it. And whether your interning at a top tech company or simply spending some time resting up at home, growth is growth nonetheless. And it can happen in the most unconventional ways possible.

So now that I’ve given you a glimpse of what my summer looks like, here’s what my blogging is going to look like. With the help of some of my fellow bloggers and other friends, I’ve come up with some new blog content. I like to call it “8,726,400 Seconds of Summer.” Yes, it’s a great, super witty play on 5 Seconds of Summer. And yes, I did the actual math. But here’s the gist: MIT summers span an incredibly wide range of things. We’re in all kinds of places doing all kinds of things. Super cool things. Super mundane things. And there’s a story to them all. So while I’ll continue to put up my own thoughts and updates every now and then, get ready to hear from other MIT students! As I work behind the scenes to collect guest posts, I’m super excited to share these stories!

And in the meantime, I hope you find some time to stop and smell your own roses this summer.