An MIT Professor's Advice While Crossing a Bridge

We are all being formed into our best selves by the professors at MIT
MARCH 2018
Julie
L.
Nuclear Science and Engineering

It is fall and the Charles River is a deep black beneath the shining man-made light of the Boston skyline. I am walking home across the Harvard bridge from MIT to my home in Boston after a day of classes and a lab.

As I marvel at the beauty of the evening and my luck at being able to study my passion at MIT (yes, I am serious, I actually think about this a lot, ask my mom if you don’t believe me), I notice a fellow traveler, an older gentleman, going at about the same pace as myself.

I comment on the beauty of the evening and we strike up a conversation. I soon learn that not only has he been a professor in physics for 40 years, but he also has an office in my department. We chat for a bit about physics-y things that might not interest the general populace tremendously, but we soon transition to more general conversation with about 50 Smoots to go until we are over the bridge.

He asks if I would like one piece of advice, the one that he thinks will have the most lasting positive impact on my future life. His recommendation was this: Make conscious choices so that you are in a position where you have to walk every day.

He was certainly living that example, as he purposefully only had 1 car (which he left at home for his wife), forcing him to walk to the T station every day to return home. I personally love to walk and consider it a great privilege to not have to drive every day to get to my place of employment (or should I say entertainment? Life as a grad student is so much more fun than a real job, in my opinion.). Furthermore, I find it to be an excellent quiet time to think, consider the next steps in the code that I am writing, or mentally review material that was covered in one of my classes earlier in the day.

Interestingly, a plethora of the most notable scientists have also valued their daily constitutionals. Charles Darwin went for three 45 minute walks every day, and Nikola Tesla was known to walk 8-10 miles each day. Tesla said, "I believe in plenty of exercise. I walk eight or ten miles every day, and never take a cab or other conveyances when I have the time to use leg power.”  Indeed, if Darwin and Tesla are insufficiently renowned examples, Einstein himself also went on daily walks. Leg power!

Thus, 9 out of 10 prominent scientists would seem to agree that walking is good for one’s general health and mental state (okay, I made that up), but is it better for the planet more generally? Luckily, a quick Google search took me to an MIT report on the very topic (thus bolstering a point made in my previous post related to the shocking preeminence of MIT in, like, everything).

It turns out that taking a car is better for the planet if the person in question consumes exclusively a very greenhouse-gas intensive food like beef. If the average American diet is considered (which is quite energy-intensive compared to other countries), the planet ends up being better served by walking. Thus, I am free to walk away, following the sage advice of a wise fellow bridge-goer and the example of some of the world’s most famous scientists.

This experience has really gotten me thinking about the importance of forming good habits in graduate school. Whether is be something small like a daily walking commute or something major like a strong work ethic, the experience and choices made here at MIT will form the foundation for all choices that we make in the future, career-wise and beyond.

I feel so lucky that my development is being overseen by some of the best engineers and scientists in the world: the professors at MIT. Rather than peer-pressure, I am thinking of it as a positive form of professor-pressure, through which we are all being formed into our best selves: hard-working, resilient, and true.

Yet another thing that my daily bridge commute has taught me. I’ll be on the lookout for more.