How the Squirtle Spawn


Graduate student life is very busy, especially at MIT. No two days in the lab are the same. In my opinion, this is what makes science and being a student at MIT so exciting. There’s never a shortage of people making strides in their research.

Some days I might be in the lab for 16 hours doing various things, such as culturing cells in Petri dishes, separating complex mixtures of proteins on polyacrylamide gels, and extracting RNA from cells.

And drawing Squirtle.

Figure 1: One Squirtle

It started with just one. Now they have spawned to numbers so great that I can no longer keep track of them. When I have a little time during the day—between experiments, maybe during lunch, or late when I’m at the lab at midnight—I doodle a Squirtle here… and there… and here again. My lab is decorated with these aquatic Pokémon from my childhood.

Figure 2: Three Squirtle (left) Figure 3: Twelve and … ¾ Squirtle? (right)

It's not just chalk talk anymore

The first Squirtle I drew in the lab was spontaneously done on a chalkboard. More recently, I have taken this little obsession to other media, such as pipe cleaners and fume hoods. Whatever I can get my hands on, really.

One day, I found myself in front of a box of assorted pipe cleaners. You can only guess what happened next.

Figure 4: Here is a Squirtle that I crafted out of red, white, blue, and yellow chenille pipe cleaners.

On a separate day, I was doing some stuff in a fume hood when I remembered that I had some dry-erase markers lying around.

Figure 5: Fume hood Squirtle

Getting my Hands Dirty
Working with chalk or pipe cleaners keeps my hands busy. When I’m at a chalkboard, I like to use my hands as the eraser. It gives me better manual dexterity than those erasers that you see on TV when kids are forced to clap erasers for punishment. Working with pipe cleaners also reminds me of wood whittling or knitting. There’s just something about these arts and crafts that I find really cathartic.

What Else is There at MIT?
Surely not everyone likes Squirtle—or drawing—so what else is there to do? There’s the MIT Sailing Pavilion, the MIT Climbing Wall, just to name a few things available to those at MIT. Whether you join or start a group, there are a lot activities in which you can engage.

I have some classmates who do ultimate Frisbee, and those who are involved with group exercises at MIT Recreation. Whatever your calling is, you can probably find it at MIT. If you do love chalkboards, we have classrooms full of them, and huge boards over in the MIT Stata Center.

Finding the Balance at MIT
Doing these mindless activities are how I relax. MIT is intense and competitive, but that’s just one of the reasons why I love MIT. Research is serious business, but I just make sure to balance that with cathartic activities to help unwind throughout the day. So, what’s next? Perhaps I’ll take up knitting.