Hey readers :).
Guess who has zero updates. Great things are happening—chatting with the sisters every Saturday, going to fun machine learning lectures, cooking, working out, practicing presentations, going out to dimsum, keeping in Facebook / email contact with friends, doing cool science work, developing interest in questionable bands… but it is an incredible feature of this summer that I can say that is “the usual”.
This morning, I packed up my backpack and walked ten minutes over to Central Square. Trotted down the steps and into the subway, heading Inbound on the Red Line. It was one of those times when my mind was just how I like it, when I’m out walking alone—calm, and outward-oriented. There was a father with a toddler in his arms a ways down the subway platform. Her eyes were wide open, and she was staring fixedly down the dark tunnel that the Outbound train would emerge from. She shouted when it emerged on the other side of the tracks, waving at the train while her father shifted her up again on his chest. “Yes, that’s a train,” he was saying to her when I walked closer. Our Inbound train arrived, and I followed the family into the car—her mother had the stroller—and wedged myself between them and two other families with kids in strollers. These kids were older—maybe three. The father of one of the kids, Henry, was talking with the mother of the other, Vivian. Henry was offered a bunch of toy trucks, and was asked to share with Vivian. Vivian didn’t say a word, but Henry and Vivian’s mother picked out a cement truck for her anyway. “Thank you,” Vivian’s mother said to Henry. Henry asked to be picked up, so his father did, asking Henry what he saw out the window. “Well, we can see a lot from this side, lots of water,” Henry announced. “We can’t see anything out the other side, because it’s blocked.” Henry’s father agreed. I got off at the Downtown Crossing stop.
“Lots of cute kids on the train today,” I said to David and Andrew, when we’d met up at the dimsum restaurant a few minutes later. Lots of kids who were learning about the world, learning how to talk, learning how to share, learning how to talk to others, all in their parents’ attentive arms, their quotidian love. I never really understood the appeal of kids, and have been toying with whether or not I want to work in a development lab in the future. But they’re fascinating, aren’t they? I hear so many scientists and parents—often one and the same—discuss what they’ve observed in their children, from familiarization with mirrors, sign language oriented toward objects or people, or exploratory behavior… all with a sense of fascination, almost wonder. It may seem too clinical to admire children for how they learn. But one of my favorite modes for my mind is distant and watching, seeing lives happening around me and marveling how we’ve bent the world to human will. There is beauty in loving interactions, in children growing up, in how anyone can just walk closer to other people, allowed to listen in as long as their eyes remain fixed on a just-distant point in a crowded subway.
What else have I done this week? Quite a lot of mentoring, really. We have a total of two high school students and three rising sophomores working in the lab this summer, three of which are at MIT every day: Erica, Annie, and Patricia. On Monday, our lab will present a 30-minute talk to Wellesley students about what we’ve been doing this summer, and on Thursday, the Wellesley students will present at a poster session marking the end of the Wellesley Summer Science Research program. Since no one has done this sort of presentation before, or presented a poster before, the more senior members of the lab have been helping out. As someone who’s worked in the lab for three years, is not a lab technician (read: not insanely busy), and has shown an inclination for doing this sort of thing at Wellesley, I’ve become their first resource.
Oh, but it’s interesting. I’ve been learning all sorts of things, like that I know more than I think I do. That the things I know are often not in a format in which I can clearly pass them along to others. That I have some embarrassing learning gaps. How to control tone, and how to control content. How to structure specific ideas. The balance between giving too much help or not enough. When to be impressed or annoyed, and the relationship between my expectations and others. I recently gave an entire lecture in which I used the word “noise” several times, and only realized after a question from my audience that she thought I meant “noise” as in the first definition of noise, not “noise” as in the second, technical definition (“irregular fluctuations that accompany a transmitted electrical signal but are not part of it and tend to obscure it”). Also, I learned that I really can’t do this full-time—if I’m just regurgitating knowledge, I get antsy, and that’s why this summer has been so fun, because I get to work on generating new knowledge with some of my projects, learning about existing knowledge for others, and then explaining other knowledge in the last. It is a wonder to me that there are jobs out there that encompass all three.
And with that, I’ll sign off :). I’m off to many great eating opportunities tomorrow—the restaurant A4 for brunch with old lab people, and then all-you-can-eat-sushi with new lab people and Wellesley and MIT friends. After that, all of this work that I didn’t do today but will be attempted tomorrow :).
Thanks for reading as always, and happy last week of July!