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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Why I do what I do by Mollie B. '06

A few reasons I'm still on this planet.

I’ve gotten a few questions lately about my activities — why I do what I’m doing and such — so I thought I’d clue you all in on my raison d’etres. (Oh god, don’t know French, don’t know where to add the plural! Raisones d’etre? Maybe?)

I was, as you may be aware, a theatre/band/choir star in high school. I was the only person in my class to make all eight plays and musicals held during my four years in high school, and I had lead roles in five of them. I made all-state choir as a sophomore, and was the only girl in my class to make our school’s show choir my junior year. I was captain of the largest color guard in the state of Ohio, and we went to the Macy’s Parade my senior year.

So I came to MIT and joined the cheerleading squad, of course.

I came here with every intention of continuing my participation in the performing arts. I auditioned for (and made) two of MIT’s excellent a capella groups, and I picked up information about several theatre groups at the Activities Midway. And then I went home and sat in my room, which was conveniently located next to the floor closet. And Carenina ’03, a senior cheerleader, was pulling some of her belongings out of the closet at the time. She asked if I had considered joining the cheerleading squad, and I quite honestly said no (actually, I used to make fun of cheerleaders pretty viciously). So she talked me into coming to cheerleading tryouts the next day, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I’m actually really glad that I totally switched gears in college. I think I would have been sort of insufferable if I had continued the same activities at which I’d excelled in high school; I would have been all “oh, I remember the time when my high school group did X, it was so amazing, blah blah blah”. I think I might try and pick up singing again in graduate school, because now I have more distance from high school and I wouldn’t be trying to recreate my high school experience in a different area code.

I am working this term about 15 hours in the lab each week. I work on the weekends, on school holidays, and on national holidays. In 2004, I didn’t take a federal holiday off work until July 4 — I worked MLK Day, Presidents’ Day, Easter, Patriot’s Day (it’s a New England holiday), and Memorial Day. More than once, I have finished what I was doing at the lab and headed straight to Med. (Extracting DNA from mouse tails with a bladder infection is a poor choice, just in case you’re ever faced with the decision.)

I don’t have to do this. Nobody is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to come into lab (although sometimes my postdoc gives me kind of a sad face when I don’t come in). Ironically, the project that probably “got me into graduate school” because it’s being published in a really good journal and I’m coauthor — it’s the project that didn’t cause me to work overtime and on holidays.

The project on which I work long hours and weekends is a project that’s been mine from start to finish — I’ve done probably 98% of the technical work on it, and am largely free to pick the direction it goes in. It might not even get published if I don’t finish it by the time I graduate, because it’s my baby, nobody else’s.

Grad school
Well, for one, see above. For another, I never wanted to be an MD because I get really queasy when I see human blood and human pain and whatnot. I almost barfed the other night while watching that freestyle aerialist who snapped her tendon. Cells in culture don’t go “Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!” when they’re in pain, thank you.

The double-major
That’s actually another historical contingency story. I came here intending to major in Brain and Cognitive Sciences alone, perhaps adding a minor in Biology if I could handle it. At the beginning of sophomore year, I realized that I liked my biology classes a lot, and made a class plan for a double-major.

And then I stuck with it for the next six semesters, mostly out of sheer stubbornness.

I’m glad I did it, because I think I’ve gotten a very strong education in molecular and cellular biology (which is really my area of primary interest) while getting a very deep education specifically in neurobiology. Given my research interests, it would have been a really bad idea to just do the BCS major, and I think I would have missed out on a lot of information about brains if I had just done the biology major. But I didn’t really do it intentionally, so to speak — just sat down in the Biocafe one day with a copy of the course catalogue and went to town.

I just have a hand-waving explanation for this one, because right now biology is as natural to me as breathing, and I have trouble really explaining why I love it — it’s like trying to explain why you like happiness. Or sunshine. Or naptime.

So I hated biology in middle school and junior high — it was this stupid subject about biomes and predator-prey relationships, and it made me want to claw my eyes out with boredom. Freshman year of high school, I took Biology A with a fabulous teacher, and left the class definitely wanting to be a biologist. (Actually, I’m going to her class over spring break to talk about careers in science. Awww.) During the following summer, I attacked the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s popular science section, reading all the biology and science books I could get my hands on.

Yep, that’s actually the whole story. Sorry.

So I’m off to UC Berkeley and Stanford for interviews next week, but Adam is letting me take his computer, so I should still be in internet contact. Yay!

19 responses to “Why I do what I do”

  1. Phil says:

    Mollie, I took Bio my Freshman year, and only had a kind of average experience with it. I think because of this I’ve been a little turned off by it until recently. The idea of majoring in Bio or BCS has started to wedge itself in my head with more and more force, and I am starting to give in. BUT is it really possible to come with an almost clean mind about a subject (not much prior knowledge) and major in it. I know it’s nice to think that “you can do anything you want at MIT”, but is it really feasible?

    Just wondering

  2. Melis says:

    Mollie, it’s so amazing to know people so passionate about research, you’ve inspired me to go to lab more! What was your published paper about?

  3. Vivek says:

    I always got full(or almost full) marks in biology just because it bores me and i dont read it, I just hear each sentence my teacher says and dont care to even change the sentence structure, perhaps he loves his sentences and so thinks I have really worked hard on his paper :D

  4. Minh says:

    Only French ppl say yes with a but :-D

  5. Alex says:

    Mollie, I have a question, since you seem to have a good amount of UROP experience.

    I am just finishing high school and a 3 year research internship where I did a modest body of original research. I plan on getting into UROP as soon as I get on a college campus and definetely this summer. However, the resume I have is formatted for colleges and scholarhships, and my previous internship was attained through an advisor. What tips can you give me on preparing a resume/CV for sending to professors/researchers? Can you send/post me an example? Thanks

  6. Jon says:

    haha, ok, im pretty sure your the female version of me…well, a few years older…and female..but still. Ever since my amazing 7th grade science teacher, I’ve known I wanted to be a biologist (actually, not gonna lie, I started looking for colleges in 7th grade…honestly, it was really only MIT I was looking at, no joke). Why I feel the need to share this with you I have no idea, but maybe because you understand the almost random fascination with biology that just cannot be explained.

    And yes, there is a question involved in all of this. Perhaps next time you answer questions, could you comment on the overall “scientific” experience at MIT? I know this information is available elsewhere, but I’d like to here it from a student’s point of view (and if you already wrote about it, just hook me up with a link!) Also, I’m very interested in Immunology, Microbiology, and hopefully focusing on Virology. Do you have any advice, tips, anecdotes, whatever pertaining to those fields?

  7. Actually, Minh, it translates more closely to “But of course,” which is a British phrase.

  8. Hi Mollie.

    I spent a considerable amount of time in lab last summer while I was taking a General Chemistry course at Harvard, and found it to be the most exciting part of the course. I haven’t really had much experience with Biology in highschool, and was wondering if you could please post a few details about your research project and what you generally enjoy doing in lab..

    Thanks for the good read smile

    -Fatemah Boukhadour

  9. Minh says:

    @RC: Actually, Minh, it translates more closely to “But of course,” which is a British phrase.

    –> Mais bien s

  10. Timur Sahin says:

    Your lack of skill with the French language is quite okay because you took Latin, which is far superior in every way. smile

  11. Movie Guru says:

    Je suis ravi trouver quelqu’un qui partage un amour pareil de le mien dans le royaume de biologie. J’adore absolument votre bande dessin

  12. vibhas says:

    can i have ur email id? i would like to talk to abt something interesting really interesting………………..send it on my email-id i.e.

  13. Oren Hazi says:

    Ahh!!!! PhD! I love Piled Higher and Deeper!


  14. Ashlee says:

    AH, I’m so relieved… I’ve been toying with the idea of being a bio/BCS major (once I get to college of course!), and its nice to see that it IS feasible!

  15. Nicole says:

    Mollie – thank you so much for posting your class plan! I’m using it as a template to figure out my own (right now I want to double in 9 and 6, though I’m sure I’ll change my mind by the time I graduate) grin

  16. zhulu says:


    actually I was so surprised when I saw “biology is life” ,and it really makes me admiring that you are so energetic and passionate,I am a junior student in Zhejiang University,China,my major is material science and engineering,I know maybe I won’t have the opportunity to come to MIT I’m not capable enough,but I really want to make friends with you,because you are so wonderful,will you write to me?I’m waiting for your answer:)

  17. zhulu says:


    actually I was so surprised when I saw “biology is life” ,and it really makes me admiring that you are so energetic and passionate,I am a junior student in Zhejiang University,China,my major is material science and engineering,I know maybe I won’t have the opportunity to come to MIT I’m not capable enough,but I really want to make friends with you,because you are so wonderful,will you write to me?I’m waiting for your answer:)