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MIT student blogger Ahmed H. '12

Summertime by Ahmed H. '12

When the Thrills are Cheap and the living is easy.

Hey folks. I’ve been busy, which still isn’t a good excuse for not having posted anything substantial in something like seven months. I kept procrastinating about blogging throughout the majority of the second semester, coming up with some ideas but telling myself there would more time during the summer to sit down and write them out.

Two semesters in, and the information on the banner above is already outdated. I declared Course 9, Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Having lost interest in economics, I figured I’d like to major in a life science. Biology is boring in my humblest of opinions, but the mind has always been fascinating to me. This is one of the greatest draws of MIT–I came here kind-of-but-not-really-sure I wanted one major, but with so many fantastic departments it’s hard to go wrong. Still, I feel fairly confident in my declaration of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The departmental requirements are full of classes I would like to take as electives no matter what my major turns out to be. I figured this was a fair benchmark for which course to declare, so Brain and Cog it is.

A month or so before the end of the semester I sent an employment application to Cataldo EMS, a private ambulance service for which many MIT-EMS EMTs work. They tend to hire us, they pay, and most of all, they are an urban 9-1-1 contractor. Translated, this means lots of good experience. Possessing all of three months and 60 hours of experience, I was doubtful that they’d hire me. They asked me to come in for pre-employment testing, consisting of a multiple choice exam, mapbook reading assessment, and a practical skills portion. Excited to have gotten that far in the process, I was quite disheartened to receive their decision. Basically, they said that though I passed all the requirements, they didn’t have enough open shifts available to justify hiring new EMTs. All other MIT EMTs got the same message–victims of the economic downturn?

Before summer began, I realized I should probably have a backup plan if this EMS business didn’t work out. So that I wouldn’t have a completely useless summer, I sent emails to see about UROP openings. I had two interviews, one for a UROP in course 14 (Economics) and another in course 9. I didn’t get the economics position, but I was offered a spot with the Brain and Cog project. I’m glad I was, too. Otherwise I’d have nothing to do this summer.

The research deals with developmental psychology. Through a couple of different experiments, we’re trying to shed some light on how infants become social. In one test, we show babies (age 1-2 years) videos of Mr. Rogers and Alton Brown on an eyetracking monitor. The videos are exploratory, in which someone is talking about and describing an object. We want to see at what age babies learn to look at social interactions the way we do: when they start looking at faces when people address them, and objects when people are describing them.

Another test also involves the eyetracking monitor, this time in a language acquisition study. In this experiment, we show the children a series slides, each with two images. As these images are shown, two made-up words are stated. The video cycles through different combinations of images and words such that you can figure out which word corresponds to which image. At the end, two images are displayed again, but this time only one word (corresponding to one of the images on the screen) is repeated. We want to see if infants this young can determine which words mean which picture. The hope is that in the testing portion at the end they will look preferentially at the correct image.

The last study I’m working on is a bit different. For this experiment, I’ve built two boxes. Each has two big buttons, and when both are pressed, the box lights up and makes noise. With the child (3-5 years old this time) on the other end of the table, I’ll say something like “Check out my cool toy! Look what happens when I do this!” [press buttons]. Then I’ll ask the kid what he thinks will happen if I only press one button. Then with the other box, I’ll “accidentally” drop a pencil and “accidentally” trigger the effect on my way down to pick it up. Then I’ll ask the same question again. The aim here is to see if there is a difference in the children’s responses in the goal-oriented and accidental conditions. Our hypothesis is that the kids will pick up on social cues and be more likely to say that both buttons are required in the goal condition, and that only one is required for the second. This is the project that I have the most ownership over–I’ve built the boxes myself, demonstrated the experiment for the leaders at the Museum of Science where we will be testing, and in the next week or so, I will start collecting data.

So far, to be honest, the job has been a bit tedious. I’m glad to get my feet wet with research, though. And in a way, it was a mixed blessing to not be hired by the EMS. My summer is productive, but not too taxing. I can still relax and recharge after the first year at MIT. I’m doing the research for academic credit, so pocket change is a bit hard to come by. But otherwise my Cataldo pre-employment testing results stand for a year, so I don’t have to take the exam again if I want to apply for work next summer. To keep my options open for next summer, I’ve gained certification with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians by passing a written exam. This doesn’t mean too much in and of itself, but it makes getting EMT certification in Texas only a matter of paperwork (no more tests!). Also, I get a cool patch for my uniform. Perhaps next summer I’ll work for an ambulance company back home in Houston to get experience, get paid, and get by without a summer housing bill.

So what are you guys up to this summer? I haven’t been keeping up with the discussions in the Class of 2013 Facebook group, but if you have any questions about the move to college, feel free to ask below and I’ll give you my two cents.

18 responses to “Summertime”

  1. Emilio '13 says:

    Sounds pretty cool to me. I’m pretty sure I want to major in course 9 as well.

    Also: first. Haha

  2. Kristina '13 says:

    I’m considering doing EMT certification over IAP this year. What’s your opinion of the courses as far as time commitment and rigor?

  3. Ahmed says:

    Kristina, it’s a larger time commitment than regular classes at MIT. The EMT course runs from 9am to about 6pm five days a week, and you’re requested to do about 50 pages of reading a night. If you stay awake and pay attention in class it’s not a problem. The instructor is so awesome, it won’t even seem like work most of the time. And for me at least, the material was very interesting, which didn’t hurt either. That being said outside of the 9-6 there are hardly any other commitments (no homework other than reading, and no projects or papers) so that’s a lot of free time to hang out, go to concerts, or take an evening PE or weekend/evening art class, or hop down to New York for a weekend, all of which I was able to do without sacrificing EMT class time.

    [creepy]And correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t we meet at CPW?[/creepy]

  4. '13 says:

    what dorm do you live in?
    do you like it?

  5. Ahmed says:

    Next House and I like it fine. Nice and quiet place to sleep and study. Solid group of people too.

  6. Kat says:

    Should I bring a fridge, dorm decorations, etc. with me to my temped dorm or buy them in Boston? I’m arriving early for a FPOP.

  7. Liz '13 says:

    I’m tempted at Next House! I like the dorm a lot, but how is the trek to class in the winter?

  8. Snively says:

    @Liz ’13
    I don’t live there, but I spent a lot of time there for NextACT during CPW, and I’ll be the first to say that Next really is nice. The dining is very tasty, the people are nice, but the walk IS long. Really. It’s long. You’ll see during Orientation, but with a bike or skates or something, it’s not bad. During winter, erm, brace yourself.

  9. Ahmed says:

    What Snively said. The Tech Shuttle stops right outside Next year-round, and I locked up my bike and used it pretty much exclusively for the many months there was snow on the ground.

  10. Su ('14) says:

    That sounds so awesome!! I want to major in brain and cog at MIT. I’m working at a neuroscience behavioral lab this summer that mainly concentrates on addiction. I’ve been mainly dealing with alcoholism and stress. I totally agree with you when you say “I’m glad to get my feet wet with research.”

  11. Is it possible to get both credit and money from one UROP?

  12. Oasis '11 says:

    ^ So greedy!

    As a rule, no. But I mean, you can work out something with your prof. I knew a MIT senior who worked a lot in the labs her senior year (something on the order of like 30+ hours per week) and she worked out a deal with her prof where she got 12 units for her UROP and also the standard pay for any hour she worked over the agreed-to limit of 20 or 25 hours per week.

    But this is very rare. Usually, you’ll find it a challenge to spend over 15 hours in the lab every week (excluding weekends), and if you’re only doing that, it’s unreasonable to ask for pay AND credit.

  13. Ahmed says:

    Kat, I just brought a couple of cloth posters, which take up practically no space at all, with me from home. I too did an FPOP, but I bought my fridge after moving into my semester room from the Best Buy on Newbury. They let you use a dolly for free so you can even get it without a car. It takes does take some work though.

    Su, I think addiction is fascinating too. Hope the research is going well.

  14. hamed-jamali says:

    hi myname is H.JAMALI . I have a BS in chemical engineering but now i want to study in mechanical engineering in BS again. Now i need some information about my chance and some things else to study in your university . please favor to me and send for me some e.mail address or tel.number that i can get advise with some one.(if you can help me;please send your e.mail to me)

  15. Su ('14) says:

    Ahmed, our blood plasma assays just revealed that our Cort injections didn’t work so all the brain samples we have might be useless. This is slightly disheartening (to put it lightly)- I’ll have to talk to my mentor tomorrow to see whether we should do the RNA extractions or not. Wish me luck. How are your experiments going? Better than mine I hope.

  16. Su ('14) says:

    Oh, Ahmed, I read “The Brain that Changes Itself” a while back and a few days ago I found out that Dr. Carlos Lois from MIT’s bcs dept. is coming to San Diego to talk to UCSD neuroscience grad. students and I was invited to listen. I’M SO EXCITED. I think Dr. Earl Miller and Dr. Robert Desimone are coming in November as well. I really was hoping Dr. Ann Graybiel would come too (I’ve read a few of her papers) but I don’t think she is. Whose lab are you working at right now?

  17. Ahmed says:

    Heh, so it goes. My trials are going fairly well. Hope it gets better for you. Have fun at the talk. I’m working with Mike Frank in the MIT TedLab.