Blogs: Fear and Failure

The Art of Giving Things Up

MARCH 2018
I’m not sure if I would be a graduate student at MIT if I had kept playing the double bass. I’ve had many identities including son, brother, student, runner, and musician, but one of the challenges of becoming a scientist is that research becomes your sole identity. As a professor of biology once...

According to Plan

How facing and conquering obstacles makes us better scientists

MARCH 2018
Many people I talk to at MIT have high expectations for their first year. They’ll ace their classes, breeze through teaching, and have two publications by the time they are a second-year student. A sixth-year student I met, however, summed up reality: “If there’s one thing I learned in grad school...

Inaccurate Prior Probabilities

Moving to a new city and worrying about the future

MARCH 2018
Computational and Systems Biology
The day after I committed to MIT for my PhD, a wave of panic set over me. I felt like I was about to repeat a disaster. I’d tried moving to a new city before and things hadn’t worked out well, yet here I was doing it all over again. I’ve been a west coaster almost my whole life. I was born and...

Impostor Syndrome vs. the Scientific Method

My strategies for fighting the idea that I don't belong at MIT

MARCH 2018
Technology and Policy Program
I received my acceptance letter to MIT a few days after the 2017 Oscars – shortly after a human error led to the wrong film being announced as Best Picture winner live on national television.   The mix-up loomed large in my mind.   As I slowly read the email informing me that I had been admitted to...

Dressing Down for Success

A fashion conscious female navigating the judgement of her peers

MARCH 2018
Biological Engineering
What you need to know about me: I am a 25 year old white female, 5’5”, with long legs and a burst of tangled brown curly hair. I have more Lululemon leggings than pairs of jeans, and I prefer wine to beer. I listen to NPR and the Chainsmokers, and love any season of the Real Housewives (except...

Every Scientist is a Sherlock Holmes

Why we do experiments, even if they don't work

Materials Science and Engineering
This summer I voluntarily stayed up all night for about nine days to stare at some computer screens and push some buttons. Voluntarily, I became a true night dweller by waking up at 7pm and going to bed at 8am. I wasn’t practicing some weird voodoo sleeping schedule or avoiding the sunlight. I was...

Be Wrong

MIT graduate students, like pigeons, run into glass doors sometimes.

Brain and Cognitive Sciences
When I was in college I smacked my head on the same tree branch three times within a single month. A year later, during a particularly hectic period, two glass doors each acquired a decent print of my face. I am delighted to report that my head has not come into contact with a tree or glass pane...

Wow, You're at MIT! You Must be a Genius!

Undervaluing hard work in grad school

Media Arts and Sciences
"Wow, you're at MIT? You must be a genius!" Um. Not sure how to answer that. Look down at my shoes. Nervous laugh. "Uh, thanks?" The random passerby who saw my MIT shirt and just had to comment on my presumed brilliance seems satisfied with my response. Perhaps the "awkward genius" trope played in...

Don't Panic

How to survive falling into a grad school hole

Materials Science and Engineering
The people that get into MIT and places like it are used to being the best of the best. The people who come here are used to success. In particular, they’re used to success being easy. The easy success you may have experienced in undergrad is not going to continue at MIT. (Okay, it might continue...

From My Future Self

Advice from a fourth-semester graduate student

Nuclear Science and Engineering
Dear Alicia (circa 2015), Hi! It’s me. Or you, from the future. I’m writing you from the fourth semester of our grad school experience (the one you’re about to embark on!). I know you’re simultaneously thrilled  and terrified to start a PhD program at MIT! Let me tell you, it’s going to be one of...