The first friend I made in grad school doesn’t go to MIT. We didn’t even meet in Cambridge. Josh and I met at a chemistry grad school visit weekend at Princeton. We instantly clicked not only over our obvious shared interest in chemistry, but also a strong passion for teaching. I spent a good chunk of time that weekend talking to Josh about all kinds of topics: chemistry, teaching, why I should visit California (Josh went to UCSD), and how awesome New Jersey is (I’m a proud Jersey girl). We became friends on Facebook, and honestly, like with most of the people I met at prospective visit weekends, I figured that was it, and I didn’t expect to see him again.
As fate would have it though, Josh accepted an offer at Harvard, and I chose to attend MIT, so we’d only be working down the street from each other.
“Congrats! :) Welcome to the East Coast! We'll probably run into each other in Cambridge at some point!” I commented to Josh on Facebook.
“I don’t know. Do I want to? I don’t know if I can handle the New Jersey sass ;)” he joked.
Well, I guess my sass wasn’t that bad because shortly after moving up to Cambridge, Josh reached out and we met up at Cosi (sadly no longer in Kendall square) for lunch. We talked about typical first year stuff: how excited we were for grad school, classes, finding a research group. We had a good time and resolved that we would meet up again soon.
A few months into the semester, we met for dinner at Boston Burger Company (BBC). At a tiny table floating in the midst of a sea of people, we gushed over how much we enjoyed being teaching assistants and sharing our love of chemistry with undergraduates. (Actually, Josh was a teaching “fellow”, because Harvard has to be fancy.) We talked about our future careers—particularly the debate over pursuing a research-intensive career (a more traditional path) versus a teaching-intensive career. And of course, the meeting wasn’t complete without some awesome burgers. I got the 420 burger, which has a little bit of everything: onion ring, mozzarella stick, mac and cheese, even a French fry. Josh got the same.
We randomly received this amazing free milkshake at one of our first meetups at BBC in May 2017!
After two meetings at BBC, we decided to make it a tradition. Every 2-3 months, we would meet up at BBC to catch up. Over the 420 burgers and fries, we would talk about our lives. We had little adventures along the way: a server giving us a free milkshake, determining that we did not like the ranch dressing at BBC because it contains dill, and the audacity of me ordering a chicken sandwich instead of the 420 burger. I noticed that as the years in grad school have gone by, the subject of our conversations have also changed: early meetups focused on anxiety over choosing the right research group, which shifted to nerves over quals in our second year, troubleshooting research experiments in our third, and finishing projects and publishing papers this past year. Of course, we didn’t always talk about lab—Josh would tell stories of his Spartan races and I babbled on about how much I love helping the graduate community at Sidney Pacific. We’ve probably met at least a dozen times. And even coronavirus hasn’t stopped us; we recently had a virtual Boston Burger Company lunch thanks to Grubhub and Zoom!
As Josh and I enter our fifth year of grad school, I wonder how many more of these meetups we have left. Will we continue them virtually wherever our career paths take us? Or will they gradually fade away, as most things do? I certainly know the topics of our discussions—wrapping up our PhDs and our next career steps. No matter what happens to our tradition, I’ve come to realize how much of a support Josh has been. Though Josh and I aren’t in the same program, or even in the same school, we’ve faced similar challenges at the same time in our graduate careers. Having a friend who could understand what I was going through yet wasn’t directly in my program gave me much needed clarity and support during the highs and lows of the past four years. I’m grateful for our quirky tradition. I know one thing is for certain, no matter what the future holds: I will never think of a burger topped with mac and cheese and mozzarella sticks in the same way again.
Coronavirus doesn’t stop the tradition! In June 2020, we had a “virtual BBC” meetup by ordering from Grubhub and eating over Zoom!