Winter Is Coming

SPRING 2017
Brandon
S.
Nuclear Science and Engineering

"California native picks MIT for the beautiful Boston weather.”

This is a headline that you will never see in an MIT advertising brochure. Whenever I go back home to visit family in sunny SoCal, the most common reaction I get from people when I tell them I go to school here is, “Ooooh, so you live in Boston...it's cold there isn't it??”

Yes. In case you didn't know, I'd just like to make a public service announcement to everyone living on the West Coast: It does indeed get cold In Boston.

My first winter in New England was the winter of 2010/2011, one of the multiple “snowmageddon” years since I moved to the opposite coast. I remember it vividly because I lived off campus and walked to lab every day.

Imagine this scene—a shivering California Surfer Boy, wearing two pairs of socks, an old pair of (leaky) sneakers, two T-shirts, and both of the sweatshirts he owned, trudging through a few feet of snow to get to lab. Sounds miserable, right? Well, sort of. But I also kind of liked it.

By now, you've probably written me off as a crazy person. But hear me out. There's a growing body of research suggesting that cold might actually good for usThe basic idea is that our metabolism is linked to our environment, and that being in a colder environment speeds our metabolism. This uptick in metabolism burns calories, similar to exercise, and can help prevent obesity. There's an “extreme weather athlete” I started following named Wim Hof, who regularly performs ridiculous feats of cold weather endurance, such as swimming 50 meters under a sheet of ice wearing nothing but a speedo and goggles (you should Google this, by the way—it's nuts).

My own personal experience with cold is that I'm much more productive when the weather is frigid outside. Looking over my lab logbook over my grad school career, it strikes me that there are noticeable spikes in activity between February and April every year. I don't think this is due to simply staying at the lab longer because I don't want to go outside. There's something to do with the cold that sharpens my focus.

Besides making me feel more productive, the snow is just plain fun. Even after calling Boston my home for the past 6 years and seeing more than my share of snow, it's still a magical experience to go walking outside during or just after a heavy snowfall.

The real reason I love the cold, however is that it makes me feel like a badass. Don't get me wrong, I still love going back to California to visit family and frolic in the eternal sunshine. In SoCal, the weather is nice. But it's nice Every. Single. Day. You lose perspective and stop appreciating it. You start getting soft. In undergrad (which was also in SoCal), all it took for people to totally lose their minds was a few raindrops falling from the sky in 50 degree weather.

Walking (or biking) to lab in the winter isn't just a simple act of tranportation, it's an act of defiance against the elements. Maybe I'm just a masochist, but it feels really good to wage my one-man war against the weather. Take that cold, I didn't freeze to death on the way to lab!

The trick to dealing with New England winters is to embrace them. One of my favorite times to run is at night, in the winter, especially after a fresh snowfall. I distinctly remember a run a few years ago on a particularly cold night in mid-January. It was around 8pm, and most normal people were back home in their warm apartments. But not me. I was out along the esplanade of the Charles River basin, soaking up the silent beauty of my surroundings. I had the entire Esplanade to myself, and everything seemed to be frozen in time.

After crossing the Mass Ave. bridge on my way back home, I encountered another solitary runner, waging his own private battle against the frigid conditions. As we both waited at the corner for the stoplight to change, we made eye contact. “Damn, it's pretty cold out here!” my compatriot exclaimed as the light changed. Without another word, we nodded at each other and went our separate ways, into the freezing night.