Welcome to the 20.109 Class Blog! Our 20.109 Blog is here for MIT's emerging cadre of biological engineers from Course 20. The blog is for your thoughts and work and discoveries in our lab fundamentals class. By capturing your collective experiences in the subject, we hope to learn even more about the work we do -- what's working well and where we need to get better. Please see the first blog post for some important administrative information.
Friday, May 6, 2016
The cheesiest reflection in 20.109 history
So I just accidentally stumbled upon the absolute best 20.109
Next semester's first-day-of-class "what is BE" picture?
I will admit, going into the semester, I was most skeptical
of this class. I was like, “Fundamentals? What could they possibly be teaching
us? We know how labs work. We know what biological engineering is, we wouldn’t
be majoring in it if we didn’t. We already take CI-H classes for writing. What
can we possibly learn from this class?” Although I still stand by the
biological engineering bit (I don’t know about you but that picture basically
exactly summarizes why I’m a biological engineer and what I tell people
biological engineering is), I’ve never been more wrong in my skepticism…
I have never been one of those kids who yearns for summer
vacation; I’ve always been sad as the end of classes approached, because regardless
of the class, I grow attached to my instructors and to the material, as well as
to the experiences and memories with classmates. Part of me fears the unknown
that the next semester brings. But I’ve never been this sad about a semester ending, and although I can’t say it’s all
due to 20.109, the overwhelming majority of it is.
The amount I learned from 20.109 rivals every other class
not just in magnitude and breadth, but definitely in quality. I learned the most
basic things like how to actually read a research paper (FINALLY) and how to
write like an actual scientist (I didn’t realize just how different it was from
what I’ve been used to), but I also learned completely non-academic things, like
the fact that complete strangers can come into your life out of nowhere and become
so hugely meaningful; it’s not just a myth. I mean, I was aware of this
somewhat, but I don’t think I ever actually saw the capacity of human
generosity and care until the 20.109 instructors showed me what it was like to
have professors who were truly benevolent and cared from the very bottom of
their hearts. The world is sorely lacking in beautiful people like you guys…
Yes, I'm cheesy.
Now before I cry all over my computer, let’s talk tangible stuff.
Like papers and figures. All that fun stuff I learned that I didn’t actually
know anything about. We’ve all talked paper-writing to death, but isn’t a
picture worth a thousand words? Figure-making might be one of the most underappreciated
communication skills out there, and one of my favorite things to have done this
semester. In middle school they told us PowerPoint would end up being a
valuable skill, but no one prepared me for the exhilaration of mastering
PowerPoint shapes, or the raw power rush of blocking out image text with an
opaque rectangle, the god-like control of just adding your own text wherever you want...
Marketable skills: PowerPoint
So, there are a lot of take-aways we’re leaving with, but my
take-away on making figures is one of my favorites: A picture may be worth a
thousand words, but unless it’s captioned well, paneled correctly, and labelled
logically, it may as well be the word “poop” written a thousand times. On the other
hand, if you know how to treat a picture right, turn it into putty in your
hands, you can make it say almost anything. Whether or not it’s correct and
logical is another story, but isn’t the power of figures awesome?
In the end, fine, I will concede, after all the figures and
papers and PowerPoints, I did learn a bit more about what biological
engineering is. It is about making new
things, be they tangible or just ideas, but it isn’t about making new things that should never have existed, like
people tend to joke about BE. I put this sentence in our Mod 3 mini-report
because I liked it too much to cut it, but I just realized it belongs more
here: “To keep up with the pressure of scientific progress, research has
increasingly been turning to biology for out-of-the-box answers to synthetic
problems, finding that nature is often the most environmentally friendly and
creative engineer.” That’s the beauty of biological engineering, and it was and
remains the reason for my desire to be a biological engineer. BE isn’t about
showing nature up, which I feel like a lot of people vainly think humanity is about.
It’s about turning to nature for help, because humanity is like a stubborn
child who thinks they don’t need help and their work alone is better than
anyone else’s. I’ve always been awestruck by nature, both by its serene beauty and
majestic power. To me, being a biological engineer means never outgrowing that
sense of wonder, as well as the desire to play with nature. It’s about respect
for the world around us, what has existed and will continue to exist way beyond
the short blip of our lifespans.
I mean, when it comes down to it, we humans are just a parasite.
So here’s to symbiosis and not being the asshole tapeworms we’ve been being!