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Nocturnal MIT

A nocturnal sugar glider… almost as cute as the average skepchick.

The past few days I have been working quite late at MIT. Normally, I am one of those annoying, cheerful morning people. I’m the sort of bubbly person you want to throw your coffee at if you’re not a fellow morning person.

Recently, I am becoming somewhat nocturnal. I am currently processing many samples for a shipping deadline, and there’s much to do! I now arrive early in the morning– slightly less cheerful because of lack of sleep– and leave quite late. I’ve been catching the sweeper train back home to the Harvard T stop. On a couple of occasions, I’ve had to make friends with other nocturnal graduate students, who kindly drove me home when I missed the last train.

I am tired, but I’m making much progress on my samples. I think we’ll make our shipping deadline, too! I have also found myself exposed to a whole new side of MIT… the nocturnal side. There are graduate students in my building whom I never met before. They’re the nocturnal graduate students. There seem to be many people, graduate students and undergraduates alike, who keep a more or less nocturnal work schedule.

I am somewhat fascinated by the night life at MIT. At any given time of night in any given building, there are students actively working: building things, mixing chemicals, or just staring intensely at textbooks or computer screens. The students who are not working are creatively procrastinating: dancing DDR with a fury I’ve never seen before, playing ridiculous board games, or just hanging out and talking with friends. MIT seems to be a campus that never sleeps.

Tonight, though, I am home relatively early as the mass spectrometer is behaving, and I had some luck crushing rocks. Tomorrow, I can return to my annoyingly cheerful morning self.

Night, all! Those of you who aren’t nocturnal, that is.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. Weird…right before I got up this morning I was thinking of nocturnal animals and the effects of a very full, bright moon and the kind of things we'd do during a full moon, and here's a picture of a nocturnal animal and a full moon! What timing. (I came here first after BA.) I didn't think about nocturnal MIT students, however.

    Now, I know Phil Plait has his take on "do weird things really happen during a full moon," but mine is simply that during a full moon, as kids who were surrounded by woods, it would be bright enough to read outside, and too we'd see animals that normally we wouldn't see scurrying around doing their nocturnal dinner business. On the island we could see well enough to walk around the rocks – again seeing critters such as crabs, etc. that normally would require flashlights to see. If the tide was already high, it was a bit higher and frenzied, so it seemed, since it would go above its normal mark. Alas, moonshine comes from the illegal activities of alcohol smugglers working under the light of the moon, which is handy to see better.

    Too, the full moon is essential for the sea turtles, and normally the beach in Florida is very dark, so one can see the turtles better in full moon light. I'm not a morning person, so I'm probably not making much of a case for anything, I just thought your post oddly timed.

    I've seen Blake talk about lack of sleep at MIT, and I admire those who can do it with a still-functioning brain. I could never hack those kind of hours. I did it once for Old English, sitting down for 10 hour stints translating poems, but I just don't have the innate drive to do what you're doing continuously. Your future looks bright!

    >>>dancing DDR with a fury I’ve never seen before

    What's DDR?

    Sometimes I have this Real Genius idea of students concocting weird things in labs or such. Too bad, it would be cool if someone could turn a dorm into an ice rink or reassemble a car in someone's room. ;-)

  2. "Thou speaks the right! I am that merry wanderer of the night. . . ."

    Melusine, DDR or "Dance Dance Revolution" is the proof that the Cosmos is not just indifferent, but actively unkind.

  3. Thought I would look like someone….

    HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY! I'm eating all the red and silver Hershey's Kisses I put on my desk.

  4. It would appear the only time MIT ever sleeps is DURING MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY, which just happens to be the day Evelyn invited us :evil:

    I think she was ashamed of hanging around with us nerdy but not quite as intelligent guys. Or she didn't want other female grad students to be all over us. I'm still not sure which it was …

  5. Nerdy MIT nightlife?

    Well, if it involves DDR, maybe it's a good thing we didn't see it.

    On the other hand, I totally dig smart girls, so who knows …

  6. It's strange hearing about MIT from the point of view of a day person, especially a graduate student as opposed to a 9 to 5 staffer. As a computer science undergraduate and graduate student in the 1970s, the place always seemed to come alive at night. Of course, there were a lot fewer people around, but the night people seemed to be doing more interesting things. This might not have been true, but the ratio of non-boring to boring was much higher at night.

    In computer science, the reason was simple. Expensive computers were used for real, grant paying research. The computer games – space war, maze war, dazzle darts, flight deck – only came out at night. At the film school, they shot footage by day, but the night people glommed big time sessions on the cut and splice (literally) editors. Chemical engineers and chemists were only visible at night. Their labs were deserted by day. At night, one could just drop in if something looked interesting and say hello. Coffee was our lingua franca.

    Some people just came in at night for the parking. Grad students can rarely afford both a car and parking. The architecture students, as project deadlines approached, would indulge in the time honored practice of charretting. This was an old Ecoles des Beaux Artes term. To charrette as to pull an all nighter. In the 19th century, the little cart, the charrette, would come by at dawn to pick up your work, ready or not.

    There were other strange night creatures as well. I was peripherally involved in a big grant writing push at my lab. We hired a Kelley Girl temp to help with the typing. It turned out that he was a 40-something laid back guy with a big pot belly that he used on the space bar. This gave him an extra five or ten words a minute on the ten finger method. He not only excelled in technical typing, but he also provided in lab delivery of marijuana. He sort of had the west campus concession. As one might expect of one who deals with tight deadline report and proposal writing and with illegal drugs, he only came out at night.

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