Posts tagged "balance"


At present, I write here infrequently. You can find my current, regular blogging over at The Deliberate Owl.

three two-dollar bills on a table

Boston isn't cheap—so how does a poor student make do?

You're a grad student living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Living can and is often expensive. Not sure what corners to cut? Read on.


  1. Learn to cook. You don't have to cook complicated and fancy dishes. Learn how to make pasta. Learn how to make oatmeal. Maybe stir-fry. Steamed vegetables? Smoothies? Sandwiches? Salads? There are a lot of simple things you can cook at low prices. Check out food blogs like Budget Bytes for ideas. This will, incidentally, allow you to eat out less often, cutting costs there too!

  2. Get your grocery store's discount card, if it offers one. Sure, the grocery store will be able to track your purchases... but your food will be cheaper. Make sure to get the coupons they mail out, too. Coupons, you ask? Aren't those a bit old-fashioned? Don't diss coupons—I got a free gallon of ice cream once! Also, if there's a produce store around, find it—it'll often be way cheaper than produce at a big grocery store. For example, if you live out toward Medford or Somerville, try Roberto's.

  3. When faced with two options at the grocery store.... pick the cheaper one. When looking down the snack food aisle, think to yourself, "Should I spend $5 on a bag of chips... or $5 on two or three pounds of delicious apples?" Did you know that bags of dried beans are at least two-thirds cheaper than canned beans? But then there's this tradeoff between time and money. Do you buy the cheaper option, like dried beans instead of canned, but spend more time cooking them? Or is time spent boiling beans actually equivalent to the time spent wrangling cans with your old busted can opener? (Maybe that's just me. My fiancé has an old Russian can opener from WWII, which we use whenever we remember that the normal can opener doesn't work that well.)

Not Food

  1. Utilities. If you pay for heat, turn down the thermostat by a couple degrees and put on a sweater. If you pay for electricity, remember to turn off the lights. If you pay for water, take a shorter shower. Fairly straightforward.

  2. In the transportation realm: Walk when you can. Did you know there's usually only a mile or less between T-stops? If you don't have a monthly T-pass, walk if you only have one stop to go! If you do have a monthly pass, make sure to take advantage of MIT's partially subsidized train and bus passes. Combine errands and other trips out so you spend less time and money on transportation, even if means you carry a bit more stuff at once.

  3. Get a laundry drying rack. Instead of spending money on a dryer, drape your clothes over the rack. They'll dry themselves! This works better in warm weather or if the drying rack is set up near a heater. Be careful not to set your clothes on fire, though.

  4. Buy used stuff. Shop at thrift stores and dollar stores. You can find great deals on furniture, clothes, silverware that doesn't match, kitchen and cleaning supplies, decent quality dishes, and much more.

  5. Be inventive! Buy less stuff in general. Need an end table? Have a box of random junk, books, computer parts, or summer clothes that you have to store anyway? Take the box. Set it next to your couch. Drape a nice-looking piece of fabric or a blanket over it. Bam! End table and storage, all-in-one! Even Ikea can't beat that. Don't have a good desk chair? Take a pile of textbooks, stack them on your desk, and make it an ergonomic standing desk instead!

This article originally appeared in the MIT Graduate Student Council publication The Graduate, February 2013


wood bridge with rope railing stretched over a green ravine

So, what do new grad students need to know?

I'm a new graduate student.

As such, I just spent the past week being properly oriented for the journey I'm about to undertake. It'll be (in the words of various orientation presenters) amazing, hard, depressing, enlightening, enriching ... basically, a grab bag of adjectives! In between the heartwarming-if-cliche welcome speeches, excited conversations with fellow newbies, and getting lost in the tunnels under MIT, I'd like to think I picked up some useful tidbits of information.

Expectations and communication

The biggest thing is to communicate. Surprise! Who would've thought that the key to successfully working with your colleagues, classmates, labmates, and advisor would be to communicate with them? The top three pieces of advice:

  1. Tell your advisor/classmates/colleagues what to expect of you.
  2. Ask what to expect of your advisor/classmates/colleagues.
  3. Be your own advocate.

For example, if you run marathons and thus go for a long run every day at noon, tell your advisor and labmates this. That way, they don't expect to find you in the lab when you're out running. They might tell you that they have three kids and leave work every day at 6pm sharp -- so don't schedule meetings after 5pm. Or that they're so not a morning person, so never expect to see them working before noon -- but if you need something at 3am, they're the person to contact.

It's not just about when to expect to see people in the lab. Ask about communication styles. Does this person like emails? Phone calls? Meetings? Texts? Some people prefer a quick five-minute conversation in person to a lengthy email exchange. Ask what this person's expectations are about you. Does your advisor expect to see you in the lab eight hours a day? Does your labmate expect you to help out on project XYZ? Ask questions whenever you're unsure of something. After all, every relationship is different. So what works for this relationship?

The key is to share enough relevant information with each other to know what to expect. Be up front about who you are, what you do with your time, and what you want to get out of the situation or the relationship. This way, no one's left wondering. If everyone knows what to expect, you won't get into a situation where someone's upset because they didn't get what they were expecting.

a large pumpkin-shaped, translucent balloon

Communicate both when things are going well and when they're not. If you're working on a project with someone, give regular updates on your progress -- whether you've achieved awesome results, or are stuck in a rut. Sometimes, the person you're working with can help you out of the rut. I worked with someone once who said, if you don't update me, I'll assume you're not working. While that's not true of everyone, make sure the relevant people know what you're up to.

If you remember one thing, remember this: People assume too much. People will build up their own image of you whether or not you tell them anything. So be proactive. Be your own advocate. Make sure they build up an image that correctly reflects reality.

Other advice

  1. Leave your lab. Make a point of getting out of your lab, out of your department, and meeting people. Meet people from everywhere! You can meet people through campus-wide events, lectures, your classes, clubs, outside activities... pretty much anywhere there are people, really.

  2. Leave your comfort zone. Try new things. Try hard things. Learn.

  3. It'll be hard, but that's okay. The orientation events I attended had a common theme—grad school is hard. Grad school is supposed to be hard. You may not be motivated every step of the way. The key is persistence and perseverance. Find ways of keeping yourself on track. And:

  4. Take care of yourself. Don't put the rest of your life on hold. Leave the lab once in a while. Do outside activities—whether that's walking your dog, spending time with your family, or backpacking in Kenya. What do you enjoy besides your research? Make time for it. It'll help keep you sane.