Sunday, October 12, 2014

20.109 Mod1 Report: The balancing act

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With anything new comes a learning curve. In 20.109, the curve was definitely steep for me, mostly in the written assignments. Each time I sat down at my laptop I felt as if I were that elephant trying to stand still on a beach ball, or perhaps balancing on the back legs of my chair. Although I still consider myself to be deep in the depths of this learning curve, throughout Module 1 I learned a thing or two about this so-called balancing act.

1.       Balanced Time: A little here and there pays off big in the long run.
a.       Although being short on time is nothing new to me as an MIT student, the difference with 109 is that there are a lot more subtleties to the assignments than with most classes I've taken before. It is very nice that the instructors of 109 help us realize this rather than letting us learn the hard way. Even still, I have spent more hours than I thought I would on 109 assignments; I have had to creatively fit 109 into my busy schedule each day. I have really benefited from the mindset that even 15 minutes is enough to make at least some progress.
2.       Balanced Writing: Can you be concise and thorough at the same time?
a.       Although concise and thorough are somewhat antonyms of each other, the long story short is yes. This is science, not literature and here the art lays not in the details but the ability to be blunt, concise and readable. Or better said, it is an art to be able to produce blunt but very coherent writing.  
3.       Balanced Experiments: It’s not science if you don’t have controls.
a.       In the first module of 20.109, something that has stuck out to me is the importance of controls. I came into this class definitely knowing what a control was and knowing that controls are important to have, but I have never put as much thought into my experiment controls as I have with 20.109. By the end of Module 1, I feel that I have a thorough appreciation of what constitutes a necessary collection of controls, and why they are so valuable. It’s important to have controls at every step for efficiency, legitimacy, peace of mind and/or unforeseen backtracking.

Overall, I love that in 20.109 we learn the theory behind everything and very little is left as a black box. If anything, there are some gray boxes, but the vast majority of techniques we apply in the lab are backed up with sufficient theoretical knowledge. Knowing the theory behind almost everything we do allows for us to produce quality work. Although it might still feel like a balancing act to communicate this work, I feel that major progress in scientific writing has been made throughout Module 1.

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