Summer has Started… (and many lessons learned over the past few months)

…and there’s a great way to start it by passing my qualifying exams.

For quite a while, I’ve been wondering if I really fit in with my class. Others say they’ve suffered from “imposter syndrome” thoughts from time to time, wondering if they really should be at MIT, whether the acceptance letter from the admissions committee was sheer luck or something else. I have too, but for a different reason – I’m the only one in the program who’s got an outright rejection letter from the program. So for the past year, I guess I’ve tried to overcompensate by getting involved in too many things. (Not sure the logical link is clear there – I might be skipping over quite a number of thoughts that ran through my head – but that’s how I think it’s been.) As such, a lot of things got sacrificed that shouldn’t have, including research progress.

The lesson that in grad school, class grades don’t really matter has finally sunk in. The whole class passed quals. It’s been quite an emotional up and down over the past two weeks, having gone from a low before the quals, to the nerve-wracking Sunday (day before the actual exam), to the wait from Monday afternoon thru Friday, to finally knowing that we passed. But once I got the message from Dalia that I passed, and then another message from her that everybody passed, I finally had a bit of a breather.

Additionally, over the past semester, it’s slowly but finally sunk in that grad school allows the environment for an entrepreneurial, go-try-it mode of thinking. I’ve been a little too used to thinking through a problem before trying to implement it, but in biology, there’s a lot that’s unknown that usually, the only way to know whether something works or not is to try it out and back-figure out what went wrong later. (That’s not to say one shouldn’t think through the controls necessary to simultaneously¬†figure out what’s wrong – rather, one needs to figure out when no other controls could plausibly be implemented. That is the time to start doing the experiments needed.) That idea is 100% compatible with the “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap” philosophy that I learned last year, but didn’t really know how to put into action. Now that I’ve re-established my own workflow in the lab over the past week, I can start ramping up my speed.

In any case, now that I’m free from classes, and free from many other extra-curricular commitments, I can finally start putting the necessary continuous time for making progress in research. Continusous time was particularly lacking last semester, which was a bad thing for research progress, because in many ways, I’m still trying to establish an experimental system on which I can try things out. Lesson learned.