This title is irrelevant by Yan Z. '12
In which I discuss two important aspects of undergraduate life: scientific research and climbing stairs.
For a gaspingly radiant millisecond after I received my acceptance letter to MIT, I glimpsed a beautiful future in which all of life’s hardships and stupidities were swept away from my little corner of the universe. It was a blurry moment of vague, smudgy happiness that I couldn’t quite shape into words, but I’m pretty sure that I was imagining a world without avocados that cost $1.59 each, or FOX television, or staircases, or other similarly great pains of the human experience. Anyway, here comes the sentence you’ve all been waiting for: life is full of disillusionment, even after you pack your suitcases to the acceptable airline limit and ship yourself to the college of your dreams. Writing this would make me about as redundant as the last 293-give-or-take-280 Redwall books (which all had the same plot, in case you didn’t notice by the time you finished 8th grade), if not for the unhappy fact that I climbed 253 flights of stairs in two hours on Friday night.
That’s 12 times up the tallest building in Cambridge. Continuously.
“Gee, that sounds like a bad idea,” you say. In actuality, it’s a tolerable idea up to the fourth floor, at which point it starts to become a pain-in-the-knee idea, progressing to a I-hate-the-world-and-think-I’m-going-to-die idea around floor 11, and finally settling to a maybe-this-isn’t-so-bad idea by the time you get to floor 18, just in time for you to reach the top, stumble onto the elevator, convince yourself that it’s a good idea, and start all over again.
Innocuously titled The Green Building Challenge, this annual tradition is part of MIT’s Bad Ideas Competition, which features the special kind of ideas that are not good ones. On the day of the Green Building Challenge, you convince your most expendable friends* to join your team in racing up the tallest building in Cambridge as many times as possible in four hours. The winning team gets the honor of bragging that they had nothing better to do on a Friday night, along with increased risk of heart failure and stroke.
Random Hall’s team won with 411 trips total (8631 flights of stairs!) and an average of around 24 climbs per person. I revealed my inner wuss by leaving halfway into the competition in order to get more than 4 hours of sleep, but the rest of my vertically-challenged team trudged on in surmounting their vertical challenges. Maria ’11 became my personal hero after scoring a leg-shattering personal record of 42 runs in 4 hours, which is probably like 10 miles of stair-climbing by my infallible guestimation. If Maria and gravity got into a fist fight, my bets would be on Maria.
The moral of the story is that I had a delicious Thai seafood curry the next night, and everyone (namely, me) lived happily ever after.
On the downside, the sight of stairs makes me foam at the mouth nowadays.
Anyway, besides riding elevators with newfound gusto, I’ve been UROPing away my youth this January. Like “Europe” but without the soccer obsessions and ancient monarchies and weird dance music, UROP is a research program at MIT that actually has nothing to do with Europe (psych!) unless you UROP in Europe, in which case you’ll have to write an informative blog entry titled “yoUR OPpurtunity to UROP in eUROPe.” Ever since I thought of that title, I’ve been trying to find a research project in Europe for the sole purpose of blogging about it.
Research is the heart and soul of MIT, the cr√®me filling in our Oreo of academic excellence and progressive leadership. It’s common for students to work on research projects for pay or for credit as early as their first semester, although most of my friends started during IAP or Spring term. If there’s something that particularly interests you (of course there is), chances are that one of MIT’s lab groups is researching the same subject, be it water on Mars, nanotech applications to cancer, cell phones and social dynamics, nuclear reactor testing, really hard math problems, or video game design*. Scoring a research position is by far one of the best ways to explore majors while getting hands-on experience in science and engineering (outside of watching Bill Nye reruns, of course).
*In all seriousness, one of my friends sits around and plays video games as part of her “research.”
I will now reveal to you the coveted secrets of landing a research project:
1.Stop reading my blog, open a new tab, go over to the UROP site and scroll through the project openings. Admittedly, most people seem to find UROPs not through the online list but either through friends who’ve worked in the same lab or by bugging professors who also do research (which is basically all professors here, plus janitors who are named Matt Damon). For instance, I enjoyed Introduction to Solid State Chemistry last term; therefore, I pseudo-stalked Professor Sadoway for a week. One day, when he was finally free after class, I jumped out from one of the columns by the Building 10 balcony and was all like, “Yo, Professor Sadoway, can I have a UROP?” and Professor Sadoway was like, “Email me your research interests,” and so I went home and wrote a long, heartfelt manifesto about my life’s goal of designing solid-state polymer batteries. I emailed it to Sadoway along with a brief resume (“Blogger Since August 2008”) and promptly received a reply which I almost deleted because I initially thought it was from Donald Guy ’12 instead of Donald Sadoway.
2.. . . and Sadoway was like, “I’ll check around for UROP openings in my group,” and I was all, “That’s chill. Lecture was cool on Friday!” And then I waited for a month before I got a response from another researcher in his group who was willing to take on a UROP student during IAP/Spring term, and I was all like “Cool! UROP!”
3.. . . after which I casually interviewed with my lab supervisor, filled out a non-trivial amount of paperwork online (pardon the mixed terminology), typed up a research proposal based on the details provided, submitted my UROP application, got it approved by the Materials Science Department and UROP office, and took a four-hour lab safety training course about the 293849 ways that hydrogen fluoride can kill you.
Basically, this entire blog section about UROP was an excuse to post the following screenshots from my online safety training session:
(Lesson: If your clothes don’t stick to you, you shouldn’t wear them to lab.)
Clearly, this guy’s pants didn’t stick to him.
And then his sleeves fell off.
4.After completing my profoundly difficult and non-hilarious lab training, I was ready to begin working for pay. From 2 PM until sometime between 5 PM and 8 PM on weekdays, I’ve been building batteries, making graphs, analyzing data, sorting chemicals, harvesting polymer, and wearing gloves that are too big.
There you have it, the story of how I went from being a poor undergraduate student to being a poor undergraduate student with a UROP. Now please excuse me while I go make sure my sleeves are glued on correctly.
Bonus Chinese New Year Special: A five-dollar feast of Dim Sum in Chinatown on Sunday, photographed for your culinary edification and whatnot.
We commenced with tender nubs of spiced pork, straight on the bone.
Followed by translucent dumplings, filled with cubes of potatoes and other unidentified vegetables in cubic form, inflected with the merest hint of nuttiness.
Next was a quartet of shaomai, bubbling with greasy pork.
Personal favorite: Sweet, saucy morsels of roast pork nestled in a thick, fluffy bun.
Tofu skins, wrapped around something that I can’t quite remember.
Noodle dough snuggled around fried crullers, all topped with cilantro and a sweet soy-like sauce.
Unabashedly non-Chinese sponge cake: a light, buttery nod to the Americanization of Asia.
A delicate finale of egg custard tarts, the customary chaser to a copious brunch in Chinatown.
Beats cereal any day.