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Exploring Scientific Boundaries

Exploring Scientific Boundaries

August 9, 2018

I was recently asked by a colleague of mine here at MIT whether I thought that urban planning and design could be considered true science. His point was that the discipline lacked the precision of the natural and exact sciences. Whatever findings we get from our research couldn’t really be labeled as measurable, replicable, or […]

The Yellow Zone

The Yellow Zone

August 9, 2018

In my very first lecture at MIT Sloan School of Management, a professor started class with a drawing of a huge three-ring target. The bullseye was colored green, the middle ring was yellow, and the outer ring was red. “This is your comfort zone,” she said, pointing to the green circle. “We want you to […]

Don’t Study; Imagine

Don’t Study; Imagine

July 27, 2018

When I was quite young I asked my mother if I could take apart a VCR – a relic of the old times when movies came from video rental stores on cassettes you had to rewind. Like any good mother, she told me that I was under no circumstances allowed to disassemble what she paid […]

Doggos or Manatees?

Doggos or Manatees?

July 10, 2018

This past fall, I challenged myself and hopped on the machine learning bandwagon. It’s been quite the ride. For those not familiar with the field, machine learning is essentially the art of making predictions with computers. Furthermore, it is a HOT field. Researchers are using machine learning for applications ranging from creating self-driving cars to […]

Where Are All the Engineers in Congress

Where Are All the Engineers in Congress

July 2, 2018

The United States has elected one of the most anti-science Congresses in the democratic world. Mainstream leaders unabashedly espouse scientifically untenable positions in areas such as climate change, vaccinations, and evolution. In a world that is becoming increasingly technologically driven, it would be remiss if STEM programs did not encourage more of their students to […]

Linguistics Is Basically Physics

Linguistics Is Basically Physics

July 2, 2018

“Would they hire you to talk to aliens?” “That’s so funny I have a friend who studies French literature!” “So what do you think of Chomsky’s political views?” “Linguistics? At MIT? I didn’t know they had that. I thought they just did science and stuff.” Thanks to the popularity of the movie Arrival, the world […]

Finding Work-Life Balance Through Sport

Finding Work-Life Balance Through Sport

June 26, 2018

After a long day of class or research in lab, there is no better feeling than walking across campus to soccer practice. The stress of the day melts away as I step onto the field. Finally, I am able to clear my head and to connect to the present. We pull on our cleats and […]

Passing on the Fountain of Knowledge

Passing on the Fountain of Knowledge

June 26, 2018

As soon as I officially started as a grad student in the Media Arts & Sciences program, I was paired with a more experienced graduate student in the lab to learn protein engineering and molecular cloning techniques for the first time in my life, though my undergrad studies had covered some of the theory. My […]

My First Desk on Campus

My First Desk on Campus

June 20, 2018

The key to my new student office finally arrived in the mailbox. On my first day as a graduate student of the linguistics program, I found my way to the office, and stood outside the door for a minute before opening it. I had never had an office of my own before. What would the […]

Policy Debate vs. Research

Policy Debate vs. Research

June 20, 2018

Unlike many of my fellow graduate students in computer science who have been doing programming and math competitions since high school (or potentially earlier), I spent six years in middle and high school in policy debate. This usually meant I was traveling around the country almost every weekend to argue about the government and international […]

Getting Your Hands Dirty

Getting Your Hands Dirty

June 11, 2018

How often have you stared at a blackboard wondering whether the formulae you’re seeing will ever be useful in a practical real-life setting? Ever wondered what’s the use of welding and workshop classes if you’re a computer science engineer? Well, to my astonishment, I found out that everything we learn does help us!   I […]

Shaping Another Person’s Decision

Shaping Another Person’s Decision

June 11, 2018

After just 30 days of officially starting grad school in the Synthetic Neurobiology group at the Media Lab, my advisor asked me to help interview a couple of rotation students and prospective post-docs. It made sense—those that I was asked to interview were interested the projects similar to mine, so it would be helpful to […]

Good Ideas

Good Ideas

June 4, 2018

Even at MIT, good ideas don’t grow on trees. Instead, I’ve found that good ideas have two ingredients: preparation and practice.   1. Preparation. The act of acquiring new knowledge and ideas. The foundation on which my good ideas will be built.   2. Practice. Generate lots of ideas. Engage with ideas in new ways. […]

Do What You’re (Not) Good At

Do What You’re (Not) Good At

June 4, 2018

“What do you want to work on?”   This is one of the most expected–and sometimes dreaded–questions that prospective graduate students encounter during the interview process. Because, as they say, “it’s a trap!”   It’s not an innocent way to determine your area of interest. Rather, it’s a means to evaluate your degree of specialization. […]

From Portugal to MIT

From Portugal to MIT

May 23, 2018

I have been a visiting PhD student at MIT since February, coming from a PhD program called MIT Portugal. This is a collaboration between several Portuguese universities and MIT. Some of the courses back home were taught by MIT faculty, so that is how I met my current advisor here. From interacting with other students, […]

Why Would You Want to Do a PhD?

Why Would You Want to Do a PhD?

May 16, 2018

If you are reading this blog post, there is a good chance that you are thinking about a PhD, possibly at MIT. But MIT or not, almost every doctoral program would ask you why you are interested in their program and how it fits into your career goal. A typical answer would be: I am […]

In Pursuit of Riches

In Pursuit of Riches

May 16, 2018

I am a poor grad student. And I don’t mean in the classic, monetary sense. (Although, let’s be real, what grad student isn’t poor?) I am ‘poor’ in the currency of academia- publications. If you’ve never experienced academia for yourself, you might not be aware of how profound and accurate that comparison is. Some people […]

A Tale of Two Responsibilities

A Tale of Two Responsibilities

May 15, 2018

“So all my office plants died from how high the heat’s turned up.” “Wait. You mean your succulents?” “Yeah. The ones I specifically got for their drought and heat resistance.” Such occurrences might seem unexpected in the MIT Green Building, where I and many others study humanity’s impact on our natural world every day, but […]

Learning to Engage in Deep Conversations

Learning to Engage in Deep Conversations

May 15, 2018

In the third year of my PhD, two things happened that dramatically changed the way I see the world: I took MIT’s 40-hour conflict management course in my training to become an MIT REF, and Donald Trump was elected president. In their own ways, both opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing […]

MIT Graduate Housing

MIT Graduate Housing

May 9, 2018

During my interview weekend at MIT, I went on a brief housing tour of three MIT graduate housing residences that current students lived in. One student proclaimed her room was the biggest bedroom in the whole building. I made a mental note—the biggest room in the furnished dorm is not very big. Don’t live there. […]

Beyond the Dorms

Beyond the Dorms

May 9, 2018

When I committed to attending MIT for graduate school, I was ecstatic. I immediately began planning out my courses, researching clubs on campus, and looking up potential advisers. But wait, I’d need a place to live, too. Boston’s a city- but how bad could housing be, really? Ah the naiveté! As anyone who has tried […]

The Mysterious Markings on the Bridge to MIT

The Mysterious Markings on the Bridge to MIT

April 13, 2018

A bridge: “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). As a daily pedestrian across one such bridge (the Harvard bridge, spanning the Charles River to MIT) I agree that it is a structure carrying a pathway. However, I object to the use of the word obstacle, with all […]

What’s the PC Term for Santa?

What’s the PC Term for Santa?

April 13, 2018

The US is often dubbed the land of the free. As someone who was raised in the Middle East, arguably a place not as free, Americans have always seemed to me to be fiercely proud that the First Amendment of their Constitution protects the freedoms of press and of speech. Many of the Americans I […]

Introductions

Introductions

April 13, 2018

As a military brat, growing up was often an exercise in how to exist in the in-between. Moving every two years fostered a patchwork identity that seemed too foreign for anywhere, and so I was content to introduce myself in a brief, adapted way: Hi. I’m Julia, I’ve moved around a lot, but I consider […]

Addir

Addir

April 13, 2018

Every Monday night, I shuffle down Mass Ave, past the towering columns of MIT’s entrance to a small unassuming building almost directly across the street. Inside I meet with a group of about ten students. We continue our discussion of something that can make people uncomfortable, something that isn’t commonly associated with MIT: religion. We […]

Time Travel

Time Travel

April 13, 2018

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once. -Albert Einstein Time passes strangely in graduate school. Many days I enter a flow state where I’m completely absorbed in my task. First I am setting up an experiment or a stack of papers to read. Light, streaming in from the window, […]

Hurricane María’s landfall in Cambridge

Hurricane María’s landfall in Cambridge

April 13, 2018

Moving to a new place after spending a whole life on a small island in the Caribbean was very daunting. My expectations as a first-year graduate student in New England were not out of the ordinary. I would have to adjust to a different culture, prepare for different weather (far colder than anything I had […]

An MIT Professor’s Advice While Crossing a Bridge

An MIT Professor’s Advice While Crossing a Bridge

April 4, 2018

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 […]

My Life as a GRT/Two Time Scootah Hockey World Champion

My Life as a GRT/Two Time Scootah Hockey World Champion

April 4, 2018

The 2017 Scootah Hockey World Championship was certainly a nail-biter. Each year, the tournament is hosted by MIT undergraduate dorm Simmons Hall. For the past two years, B-Towah (i.e. 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of B-Tower in Simmons) has scooted away with the trophy (check out the 2017 exciting final minute here.) Ten teams of […]

The Art of Giving Things Up

The Art of Giving Things Up

April 4, 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 told a […]

Mugshots

Mugshots

April 4, 2018

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 […]

According to Plan

According to Plan

April 4, 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, it’s that things never […]

Eating and Socializing on a Budget in Cambridge

Eating and Socializing on a Budget in Cambridge

April 4, 2018

Ok, so you’re in a restaurant looking at a menu. The walls are unrefined brick or cement with steel beams, the ceiling has an old warehouse look, the lighting is dim, there are subway tiles on the floor and Edison style lightbulbs. The menu has fancy cocktails and dishes like pork belly, brussel sprouts, and […]

Home

Home

April 4, 2018

MIT is my home. There is no other way to say it. Over the years (let’s just say I’ve been here awhile), this place has gradually morphed from a place of discovery to a place of learning to a place of belonging. There is a daily routine that sets in after a while; in my […]

Inaccurate Prior Probabilities

Inaccurate Prior Probabilities

April 4, 2018

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 […]

Teaching as a Graduate Student

Teaching as a Graduate Student

April 4, 2018

When I signed up to be a teaching assistant for MIT’s performance engineering course (6.172) in Fall 2017, multiple people warned me about how much work it would be. Their advice made me nervous about taking on the responsibility, but I had TA’d three times as an undergrad, so I thought I was a veteran. […]