Amassing collectibles as a graduate student

April 4, 2018 | Catherine W.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every graduate student has an item they become a collector of, squirreling away specimens like it will keep them warm through the Bostonian winters. One of my friends has filled two drawers in his search for the perfect pen; another has acquired enough candles to light a cathedral.

I hoard coffee mugs. Not just one at the office and two at home, but far more than I will ever practically need, unless my entire extended family suddenly descends with demands for hot cocoa (in which case I would tell them to get a hotel, let’s be honest). Each mug has its own character, a product of the circumstances under which it was acquired. Like most collections, an in-depth accounting reveals at least as much about my years at MIT as any papers I’ve published. I did not begin this habit at MIT, but MIT certainly kicked it into overdrive. In no particular order, the mugs from my time here are:

  1. The Mug of Acknowledgement: the plain white mug with the official blue and black MIT Atmospheric Chemistry logo given to me by my advisor after a year or so of research, prompting mental joyful skips and inner exclamations of “oh joy! They want to keep me!” worthy of a just-adopted pound puppy.

  2. The Unexpected Gift: the stylized black mug with an engraved “never underestimate a woman who majored in astrophysics” sent to me out of the blue by a dear friend while I was in the middle of the crunch of studying for my qualifying exams.

  3. The Conference Mug: the shiny blue mug with an earth logo given to me by the graduate student organizers of a conference I attended last fall, there was probably a lot more thought put into this than care I took with it, as mine promptly cracked on the second day of use.

  4. The Surreptitious Acquisition: the giant white bowl of a mug decorated with little gold Christmas trees that even I admit is too obscenely large for coffee and only use for hot cocoa. (Not that I couldn’t drink that much; it merely throws the truth of my caffeine addiction into too sharp relief for comfort.) I liberated this behemoth from the communal stash in my first apartment while muttering “I’ll give you a good home.”

  5. The Mug that Got Away: the adorable tiny mug with a painted kitten and broken handle another flatmate absconded with before I could. The kitten’s eyes haunt me still, inquiring whether my apartment’s pet policy is truly so inflexible.

  6. The Mug I Actually Paid Money For: I am sure I’ll acquire this one at some point.

  1. Whosoever Be Worthy of this Mug: the official EAPS (Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences) mug that has sat in my office for years without a claimant whilst I scheme of ways to justify taking it, prevented not by any departmental rule or policy but by the feeling that I have something yet to prove before it is allowed to be mine.

I hope you, dear blog reader, have enjoyed the romp through my psyche and first few years at MIT. For those of you who are prospective graduate students: no doubt by the time you enter these halls I will have yet more stories to tell via coffee mugs, although I doubt I’ll have acquired #6 yet. Perhaps after a few years you yourself will consider a seemingly mundane collectible, whatever it may be, and realize that it’s actually a better recounting of your time here, cracks and all, than all your polished publications.


Share this post:

« Back to Blog