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Fighting Unfair Rules

Fighting Unfair Rules

November 5, 2018

When I got an offer to be a Graduate Resident Tutor (GRT),  a graduate student mentor who lives in an undergraduate dorm, I leapt across the hallway to exclaim to my friends that I didn’t just get a GRT position:  I got assigned to Random Hall – the quirkiest, nerdiest dorm filled with murals in […]

A Good Place to Nap

A Good Place to Nap

November 5, 2018

I was in the middle of a formal dinner with the Under Secretary of the US Department of Energy, when my cell phone signaled the Outlook notification: [70 AMHERST] FACILITIES EMERGENCY – BUILDING CLOSING

Culture Goes Beyond Your Lab

Culture Goes Beyond Your Lab

October 27, 2018

When I started grad school, I met the other graduate students in the lab – most of whom, unlike me, had not gone to MIT for undergrad. We had conversations about hobbies, research, families, etc. Nothing about meeting them seemed any different to me than meeting students during undergrad, but I slowly started noticing one […]

Working from 0 to 1 instead of from n to n+1

Working from 0 to 1 instead of from n to n+1

October 27, 2018

After pondering for a long time whether I should choose an academic career, I started to rediscover the motivation that originally led me to become a scientist: asking new questions and helping design fundamental innovations. What makes me hesitant about academia Although coming to MIT as a graduate student is helping me realize my dream […]

Are You Smart Enough to Be at MIT?

Are You Smart Enough to Be at MIT?

October 26, 2018

The Letter: It is mid-April. You receive an email from the MIT graduate office congratulating you on your admission to MIT. You are overjoyed. You tell your family and friends about it. A few days pass by. The news sinks in, and a cloud of doubts appears as you browse through the MIT webpages, the […]

Staying Sane

Staying Sane

October 26, 2018

Brainstorming the challenges of an upcoming graduate school? Let me help. Soon after grad school kicked off I started hearing complaints from my classmates about how insanely intense the workload and expectations are. I, too,  started to feel a lot of pressure. Here I will share a few honest facts that, in my view, are […]

When It’s Hard to Talk

When It’s Hard to Talk

October 26, 2018

I walk into a meeting with my advisor. I’ve met him before, but this is our first meeting since I joined his lab. He is a leader in the field, like most professors at MIT. I feel as though I need to make a good impression: come up with a brilliant idea or at least […]

Fiddling through Grad School

Fiddling through Grad School

October 26, 2018

“Do you want to get lunch this weekend?” “Can we get dinner instead? I have a violin class in the afternoon.” You can do that as a grad student? Wow. As a first-year graduate student, I had not yet realized the degree of independence I now had in the choices I made in my life. […]

The Risks of Speaking Up

The Risks of Speaking Up

October 22, 2018

Ping – a new email in my inbox. It was a reminder that I had signed up for the “MIT Can Talk” Oratory Competition, taking place tomorrow. The email window stayed open for a while, waiting patiently while I was deciding whether I still wanted to participate. I had just submitted a paper for a […]

Starting Over Summer

Starting Over Summer

October 22, 2018

Out of school for a year, I was not sure if I could fit in classes, choosing a lab, doing research, and settling down in a new country all at once when I started graduate school in the fall. So, when the option on the acceptance letter said that I could join over the summer […]

Not a Contradiction

Not a Contradiction

October 22, 2018

“You know,” my wife said, “For our kids, MIT won’t be this abstract place they hear about sometimes in the news. It’ll be home: where they learned to ride their bikes and to read. They’ll think of it as the place where they grew up.” My wife – who deserves more credit than I could […]

The Wonderful World of Procrasti-Baking

The Wonderful World of Procrasti-Baking

October 22, 2018

You have spent days – maybe even weeks – planning the perfect experiment. You have gathered all the materials you need, written down the protocol in your lab notebook, and made sure all the necessary equipment is available. Line by line, you perform the protocol with precision and manage to get through it without any […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]