Needless to say my second semester of grad school did not go down the way I thought at all. I think the transition to online school and work has been a difficult adjustment for the entire world but I do feel pretty confident that I have the hang of it now. While not being on campus did take away some of the experience I am so happy to say I am officially done year one of my program!!! And to celebrate being done one year of grad school I decided to sign up for one more by switching to a double degree program…lol. I am now pursuing both an MST in Transportation and also an MCP, or Masters of City Planning. As I talked about a bit in my first semester recap the STEM nature of my MST degree was a little outside my comfort zone and while I am so happy I pursued and would change absolutely nothing, ultimately I decided doing another year of school to get more policy/industry knowledge would play to my strengths the best. This means that while I did finish all the coursework for my MST requirements, I will spend next year fulfilling the courses for MCP and then my third year will be spent writing a joint thesis.
While this semester definitely had its up and downs I feel way more academically confident and am super excited for what is ahead!
January at MIT is something called IAP- or Independent Activities Period. This means we don’t have regular classes, most grad students take this time to catch up on research, do fieldwork and maybe take more personal interest courses. For me this meant time to work on my research full time which was amazing. I also took some workshops to brush up my R skills and took an amazing course on Low Carbon Mobility Solutions. This was a pretty quiet month as a lot of my friends were out of town doing research with their partner organizations but it provided some nice downtown for my boyfriend and I to explore more of the area
We had a nice weekend getaway to New Hampshire, went to some new neighborhoods in Boston. I signed up for tennis lessons at school which has been a long term goal of mine to get better at tennis. I had also gotten a position on the Graduate Women at MIT council at the end of last semester and we had our first meeting and social at a bowling alley! One of my biggest goals from last semester was to interact with more women at school as both my program and lab are very male dominated. It was amazing being able to chat with so many incredible women from all different disciplines at MIT.
ALSO the most exciting happened this month! A professor from last semester reached out to me saying he was working with a large urban think tank and had the opportunity to nominate some students to attend a urban planning conference in Lisbon on scholarship! Me and four other students from the same class ended up getting into the program. It was so incredible to feel that my efforts in that class were recognized and I was given this opportunity to explore my interests in a more practice based setting.
All in all, when it was time for the “real” semester to start at the end of the month I felt rejuvenated and excited
I was taking three full length classes this semester: a required civil engineering course on system performance and optimization, a transportation behavior course from city planning and another civil course on demand modelling, which is basically an advanced econometrics course. Was worried a bit about the optimization course as all the material is completely new to me but we have an incredible female professor so seems so engaging so I am actually pretty excited now! Demand Modelling is typically a quite difficult class and the normal professor is away on research this semester so there are literally eight of us in the class. Lastly, my behavior course is taught my the professor who really runs most of the transportation programming at MIT so I am so excited! Behavioral economics is also one of my favorite topics, Thinking Fast and Slow blew my mind in high school, plus it will be a nice break from my more math heavy courses.
Socially this was also a good month, got to see one of my favorite bands in concert, met some friends from Montreal for a weekend of skiing in Stowe Vermont, met some girls through a local organization for drinks. Had lots more GW@MIT meetings and registered as a listener in one of the big transit research labs at school so I could get more involved in general public transit research.
One of the biggest struggles I had last semester was feeling cut off from most of the typical urban transportation research at MIT as I was the only MST student my year not in that lab and was instead in an Aero-Astro lab so this really helped me find a better community at MIT.
Found out I got into the double degree program I applied too! More grad school here I come! Also had a friend from home come visit us for a weekend early in the month. We went to the Sam Adams brewery(incredible experience), I toured him around campus and then we hung out in Beacon Hill/walked to North End.
Just as midterms were coming up and everyone was getting stressed about studying, fears around COVID-19 were also mounting as outbreaks in California and Washington were being recorded. MIT soon followed up stating that classes would move temporarily online, and then as Massachusetts went into state of emergency that soon moved into full time online classes and research. This week was pretty insane, Harvard sent an email out Tuesday morning so we all spent all Tuesday waiting for our response which came in the afternoon. I pretty easily moved all my research office stuff home, and spent most the week helping friends who lived in dorms move their stuff out. We were one of the first schools/regions to act so people were very unsure of the whole situation and new information was coming out every day. Thankfully midterms were postponed but there was a lot of uncertainty and this week was just hectic af as everyone tried to figure things out. Will say I am very grateful to my advisor who was incredibly supportive at this time and recognize that while this week was hectic, my position of having no health issues and a secure, spacious place to live and work( as all my research can be done remotely) put me in a more fortunate situation than many.
This month did still mostly suck though if I am being honest. I had a big trip to Paris and London planned with my mom where I was planning on seeing a bunch of friends who lived there so cancelling that hurt a lot. The conference I was so excited about also got cancelled. The border between Canada and the US closed and it was really unclear when I would see my family in person.
Did a bit of online shopping to cheer myself up ( had been saving up to shop in Paris 😦 ) and scheduled a ton of Skype calls with friends. Started doing weekly Catan with the grad school friends so we could stay in contact and tried to get excited about having more time to cook with my boyfriend. I will say school and research definitely lagged a little bit as everyone tried to adjust to this new weird normal.
Am starting to lean into this work from home thing, start doing barre a lot at home and going for walks about the neighborhood. Making a lot more progress on research and courses moved to P/F which removes some excess pressure ( though I a little crazy and bummed about this because I thought I would do well this semester…oh well).
I celebrated my first full Passover with my boyfriend( he is Jewish), let me tell you being home all day with nothing to snack on but fruit and matza is hard. We did attend a really fun big Seder on Zoom. I also cooked a lot of fun things and turned our apartment into a multi room restaurant to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday.
Classes are definitely getting harder. I had actually been doing great in my system optimization course ( way way better than I thought) but we are really pushing the limits of my knowledge and skills now. I keep telling myself that the material we are currently covering just isn’t that relevant to my field of study and I shouldn’t stress too much but we will see how that actually goes. On the other hand demand modelling is still hard but I love it and am really excelling at it. It is much more my wheelhouse of economic/econometrics so even though this course is an absurd amount of work I do really like putting in all the effort because it is helping me so much with my research skills as well.
My life in April is pretty similar to most students lives I would imagine, I am trying to stay on top of schoolwork, keep ahead with research goals, cooking a lot and taking up some new quarantine hobbies.
Exams/ final projects are around the corner so I am spending a lot more time on school. The lack of marks ( we moved to P/F for all classes due to COVID) does take some pressure off but all my courses are small and we work closely with the professors so I still want to do my best work. TBH in grad school anyways the professors perception of your work/skill matters more so the lack of marks doesn’t change much.
The research project I did for one of my transportation behavior course gets really interesting results ( we ran a big survey) and we think it is publishable so I do spend a lot of time working on that. As much as I love my main focus research it is nice to think about different problems for a while
My only actual final scheduled during the exam period was demand modelling which I wrote and felt quite good about! We had incredible TAs who helped us so much this semester so we nominated them for a school award and they won!! So today was a double celebration day. After I handed in my exam I popped some Cava on a back deck to celebrate one year of grad school!
So that is a wrap on Year One of my Masters! Excited for a bit of down time and then it’s back to writing to try to get some of my current work published (fingers crossed!!)