Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My first all-nighter

Unlike most MIT students I made it all the way to my sophomore year of college before pulling my first all-nighter. I think it was in a large part due to how much I value sleep. My brain generally stops functioning after about 1AM on most nights and even the most simple tasks become incredibly difficult for me to a point where I really don’t care enough about my work to keep doing it into the early hours of the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I cared enormously about my classes and my grades, but there was a point of exhaustion at which I no longer saw value in doing more work at least until I had slept a little.

I had hopes that I could make it all the way through MIT without pulling an all-nighter, but I now know that is an impossible task. It only took a few months of 20.109, my first biological engineering lab class, to break down my need for sleep. The night before our mod1 report was due I had written what I thought was approximately ¾ of the paper, but what I didn’t realize was how much time it would take to make the figures.

At around 5PM I settled into a comfy couch in Barker Library and started to crank out my conclusion. Five hours later, I realized there was no way I was going to finish before 1AM. I still had five figures and an abstract to finish and there was only three hours left if I wanted to finish before my bed-time. Still, I pushed my way through and finished the abstract and one of my figures by the time the clock hit one. Then, I had to make a decision. Do I go to bed and turn in an incomplete report, or do I break my rule and finish this report up overnight. At the time, I didn’t know if it was stress, caffeine, or some crazy combination of the two but as I worked through the morning I noticed that it wasn’t as hard as I had remembered. I could still think coherently and I was still making good progress on my report. Around, 7AM I put the finishing touches on my report and decided to try and get a quick nap before my 9:30 class so I set out to walk across the bridge where I had a warm bed waiting for me.

For some reason, I tend to think a lot when I am walking on the bridge. I was watching the sun rise and I started to wonder why this particular night I had been able to pull the all nighter I never thought I could do. Upon reflection, I realized that I had never truly cared about any of my classes. Sure biochemistry was useful, and thermodynamics was interesting, but I had never taken a class that I valued so much that I was willing to sacrifice a full night of sleep for it. As I was climbing the stairs to my room, I figured it out. 20.109 was the first true biological engineering class I had ever taken. Sure thermodynamics was categorized as biological engineering, but in reality, it was really more of a math class. 20.109 was the first class that taught me things I could see myself doing for the rest of my life: engineering cells, designing new experiments, crunching data into the early hours of the morning. This class was my first formal instruction in the field I loved and wanted to pursue. As I collapsed on my bed I realized happily that if this class was the first class I was so committed to, then biological engineering was definitely the career for me.

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