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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

The root of all evil by Mollie B. '06

Money, money, money, money... money!

I get the feeling that everybody is very jittery about the multiple thousands of dollars that are flowing back and forth on paper between you and MIT, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the money situation and how I’ve handled it over the past four years.

Four years ago tomorrow, my family sat down around the kitchen table for a discussion. My dad had a lot of papers out, and was frantically scribbling numbers on pieces of scrap paper. Finally, he looked up and said, “Well, we can pay for it… if this is what you really want.” My mom was glaring at me in a not-terribly-subtle fashion, because if I decided to go to Ohio State on my full scholarship, she was planning to get a pool in the backyard.

So clearly I picked MIT, and I wore an MIT t-shirt to school on May 1, and my entire AP Government class cheered. And we do not at this time have a pool in our backyard. My parents haven’t totally gone into the hole as a result of our EFC, but my entire family has had to make some sacrifices for my education. It’s totally been worth it — not only have I learned a lot about science, but I’ve gained a great deal of self-confidence, a killer research position, and a brilliant boyfriend. My life would not have been the same if I had let my mom have the pool.

I am by nature very independent, and I didn’t want to have to ask my parents for spending money on top of the money they were already paying for school. So when I got here, I began looking for a job. One of the cheerleaders, Maritza ’03, mentioned at practice one day that her boss was looking for new employees, so I went with her to the LLARC (Language Learning and Resource Center) in building 16 for an interview. I worked at the LLARC 8 hours a week during freshman year, making $8.75 an hour to check out language books and tapes, keep order in the library, and do homework at the desk. It was a great job, and I’m very glad I had it — having a job made me shape up my time-managment skills, and I had enough money to pay for any incidental expenses I incurred.

The summer after freshman year, I worked at the National Institutes of Health doing PCR and analyzing paternities in a colony of rhesus macaques. Looking back, I really did not make all that much money (yeah government employment), but I was getting my first full-time paychecks and I was giddy. My parents paid for my housing that summer at George Washington University, and I shared expenses with my roommate Rose ’05 for groceries and other miscellaneous entertainment. Other than the expense of groceries, I managed to live in DC the entire summer on less than $20 a week. That is a true story.

When I got back to school after being in DC all summer, I went about finding a UROP for the term. After interviewing me, Morgan asked me to join his lab, and I’ve been there ever since. First term sophomore year, I worked 12 hours a week in the lab at $10 an hour. I worked in the lab 20 hours a week during IAP, and 10 hours a week during spring term. (For those of you playing along at home, this is about $4000 for the entire school year.) I worked in the lab over the summer full-time, which is approximately another $4000. I made enough that year to buy my own groceries, clothes, plane tickets home, and shiny new desktop computer.

Junior year I continued working in the lab, but I realized I needed more units to double-major, so I worked both terms for credit. You can’t get both money and credit for a UROP during the same amount of time, so I didn’t make as much money over the course of the year. I worked full-time over IAP and summer, so I still pulled in about $6500. I still paid for my own groceries, clothes, and entertainment, and I opened a savings account for my extra money.

This year, being the workaholic that I am, I started pulling in the big bucks. I started blogging in July, which earns me $10 an hour for four hours a week. I worked about 15 hours a week at my UROP during the fall, worked for credit during IAP, and am currently working between 15 and 20 hours a week this term. So far this year I’ve made a little more than $5000, and I plan to earn about another $5000 over the summer before I go to graduate school. I had more expenses this year, though; it cost a lot of money to apply to graduate school (GRE general test, GRE subject test, individual program application fees, and the like), and my dad decided that, since I was making more money, I could help a little more to pay for tuition. Adam and I now buy groceries together, and we take turns taking each other out to dinner.

I’ve taken about half of my self-help each year in loans, so I have about $10,000 in federal Perkins loans in my name at the moment. Next Thursday, I’ll be going to my loan exit interview, at which I assume the financial aid people will tell me how to consolidate those loans and when to start paying them back. I know that I’ll get an extension on my grace period, since I’ll still be a full-time student next year, but I plan to start paying them off as soon as possible — I have enough in my bank account right now to almost cover the loans, and my stipend next year will be about $28,000. Might as well get those loans paid off sooner rather than later.

So clearly I’ve survived and managed to buy my own food, a shiny new computer, and shop for inordinate amounts of clothing on my salary as a part-time student worker. I even have an amount in the high four digits in my savings account. And the best part is that when I finish graduate school, I’ll be debt-free!


1. Steve asked,

Hi Mollie, how do you conquer those open-book or open-notes exams? how do you make A or B in those classes? Those questions seem impossible even to the authors of your textbooks!

Well, as Mikey commented, you’re not going into these exams cold — you have a strong base of knowledge to start reasoning from. Another important thing to remember is that the exam is almost certainly graded on a curve, so if you have as much understanding as the average member of the class, you’ll get a B. (I should also note, with some degree of amusement, that in the case of the example I gave, the answer was almost certainly known by the author of the textbook, considering that the author of the textbook, Harvey Lodish, is also the professor of the class and the writer of the test. :D) I like those reasoning sorts of tests way better than multiple-choice — you certainly have much more opportunity for partial credit, and sometimes you even learn things in the course of taking the tests!

Mikey’s full comment, for anybody who missed it:

Steven – I think that question just sounds really hard because there are a lot of specific terms (CED-3, CED-4, ced-9, egl-1, C. elegans…), but remember – it’s open-note/open-book, and so usually those specific terms (or terms similar to it) and/or related systems/processes have already been talked about. So you’d flip to lecture 5 of your notes, quickly remember topics covered about egl-1 and its function in programmed cell death, and then apply your problem solving skills to come up with a viable experiment. or perhaps lecture 8 where the professor talked about experiments done to overcome obstacles mentioned in part b. and then you’d flip to lecture 6 where the professor covered the different CED-3 mutants and their characteristics for part c. (I don’t know this for sure, but having taken this class, I’m guessing I’m somewhat close?) Anywho, no need to fret – for someone who’s never taken a college bio course before, it will definitely seem like a daunting exam question. Heck, I took the class a year ago and I’m still a little scared! It’s really not as hard as it looks once you’re taking the class though, trust me. :)

2. Jessie, who knows that I am not good at chemistry, said,

You considered a minor in chemistry? *another grin*

(Note that Jessie’s not being mean — when we had lunch the other day, I said “I am not good at chemistry.”) Alas, chemistry is one of those things that I think is cool, I am just not very good at it.

3. Manisha asked,

Hey Mollie, thanks for the visuals…Macgregor is by far my first choice next year and I was wondering what you think my chances are of getting a room there?

Well, that varies from year to year — it depends on how many people put MacGregor first in the lottery. Last year about three-quarters of freshmen got their first choice in the initial lottery, though, so your odds are probably pretty good.

4. Melodie asked,

are you really getting married???? (in reference to Ben’s dating post)

Haha, that Ben is a giant gossip. Adam and I haven’t done the whole knee-ring thing yet, but we’re planning to pick a location and a date in the next few months for a summer 2007 wedding. Maybe, if Ben is lucky, I’ll invite him and he can blog about it. :-P Once upon a time, Adam and I were just dating, though, so if you have any questions about dating at MIT, I can mentally transport myself back to sophomore year and answer them.

5. Anonymous asked,

do you have any advice on how to get to know professors? it feels like they sit on some high pedestal and we can only stare in awe.

To which Mom08 replied,

Dan, my son works (UROP) in the lab of one of those “awe inspiring” people. He’s even famous and probably the best in the world at what he does. He is very very friendly and comes into son’s office to chat and see how his life is going. My son got the job by walking into the lab and asking if they needed any help.

He has also gotten to know a couple of his professors fairly well by going to talk to them during office hours or after class. So it is possible to get to know your professors.

To add to what Mom08 said, it’s often easier to get to know professors during your upperclassman years — you start taking small classes with them, for example, and often they’ll make you call them by their first names. (This horrified me when it first started to happen, because I had always been taught to refer to authority figures by their titles. But then everybody in my lab started laughing at me when I called Morgan “Professor Sheng”, so I tentatively started calling him “Morgan”.) Going to office hours and starting a relationship from there is probably the best way to get to know professors who teach your classes.

6. Jon said,

haha, ok, totally random, but i have to give your props (wow….i never say “props) for reading His Dark Materials last year. Im reading the trilogy for the second time (im on Amber Spyglass), and its definitely by far one of the best fiction trilogies ever written!

Yes, and you should all read the trilogy too! :) It’s some of the only fiction I actually like.

7. Lena asked,

How come all your notes are typed and do most students take notes on a laptop or by hand in class? and how much homework on average do you spend on a given day? are the 5-0-7 (hrs per week) spent on the classes accurate?

Well, my notes are typed because I’m slightly OCD. Those notes are note sheets for tests, and often professors will give a page limit — say, one page front and back — for the number of note sheets you’re allowed to have. You can fit more material on a typed note sheet than you can on a handwritten one!

Most people at MIT take notes by hand, although a sizable minority take notes on their laptops. Basically the whole campus has wireless internet anyway, so an escalating number of people bring computers to class every day.

The “5-0-7” that Lena refers to is the unit distribution for courses, which can be found in the course catalogue. The first number (5) represents the number of hours that students are expected to spend in class each week; the second number (0) is the number of hours of lab each week, and the third number (7) is the number of hours students are estimated to spend on homework each week. The numbers are accurate for some courses but not for others, and it’s really not possible to say generally whether the distributions reflect reality or not. I guess on average, they reflect reality, but a given course may take you a lot more or a lot less time than the unit distribution would suggest.

8. Sarab asked,

I’m from India and I’ve been told by everyone that in India the courses I’m doing right now are very advanced as compared to the rest of the world. Is this true?
For example, in the 11th grade I’ve done translation, transcription and replication and in the 12th grade I will be doing Human Physiology.
Is this the same in an Americna High School?

Christina commented,

It depends what courses you take. My Biology class has covered everything you mentioned above.

And Shannon noted,

Sarab- Biology is typically a 10th grade course here in America (most people here probably took honors as a freshman and then AP as an upperclassman). In a year, most students will cover the protein synthesis and DNA replication that you mentioned as well as basic human physiology (and of course other typical biology basics). In some schools, physiology/anatomy can be taken as a seperate class as well.

I’m sure you will be right on track with other students entering MIT. To what depth did you study those subjects?

7 responses to “The root of all evil”

  1. chaine says:

    Thanks for the inspirational post! I’m planning to take no loans (planning ahead for grad school) and work as much as I can.

    How do you schedule your UROP hours?

    I’ve noticed in the course catalog that some departments (like 10 and 22) offer a joint BS and MS. Your thoughts? Like how feasible?

  2. Anonymous says:

    As my EC told me, International students are a level up from domestic students( I am considered domestic myslef but I attended high school abroad :D)

    how do you feel that?? did you realize it??

  3. Shammi says:

    You get paid to blog!! I would pay the Admissions Office to let me blog for them!

  4. Hema says:

    mollie ,

    I can’t find Ann ’09 blog any more , could u tell me where I can find it , At least the entries archive , I know that Ann stopped bloggin, but her blog contain alot Of Information for International students, I’ve tried to send her messages before but there’s no reply.


  5. Hema says:

    I’ll Try to Ask Ben About it

    thanks Mollie

  6. Dear Mollie,

    I really like your blogs!

    I have some small questions and you seem to be the most appropriate person to ask. My first dorm choice would be McGregor and I too love to be organized.

    I would love to have a file cabinet in my dorm. Is that allowed? Will I be able to find one in campus? (possibly for free?)

    I would hate living in a dirty room. Will we have cleaning supplies at our disposition? Are the floors made from carpet? Does that carpet gets dirty/dusty fast?

    Thanks a lot Mollie!


  7. XYZ says:

    International students go back to their home country in summer. Still you feel that they will be able to manage loan component of their self help? Please guide me.