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A World Outside Problem Sets

Avoid Becoming Absorbed in Work and Remember Healthful Habits

Eric J. Plosky

There is a world outside your MIT coursework. Don’t neglect it.

Entering freshmen often succumb to various kinds of physical and psychological sloth. Immersing themselves in the celebrated geek culture of MIT, students many times become completely apathetic about happenings off campus.

International and world affairs: “Yeah, heard there was an earthquake in Turkey or something -- are we still bombing Iraq?”

National government and politics: “What, is George Bush running for president again?”

Local matters: [Very few students know enough about local matters to even be able to fudge a completely idiotic response.]

Students also sometimes seem to forget to bathe. There are people who don’t bathe, people who choose not to bathe; they’re a separate matter. I’m talking about the people who become so engrossed in their studies that personal hygiene unintentionally falls by the wayside. Even someone who looks as though he or she does remember to shower on a regular basis may be neglecting the smaller aspects of grooming -- unnaturally long fingernails or toenails are a dead giveaway.

Eating is another problem area. Apparently, many just can’t keep track of their meals, can’t be bothered about such a mundane task as eating -- until, of course, it’s too late. There’s the legendary story about the student who ate only plain pasta, no sauce, and came down with scurvy. Scurvy! What next, someone developing goiter? Is it actually possible for someone to be so absorbed in his problem sets that he fails to notice a gigantic bulge swelling up on his neck?

Then we’ve got the matter of clothes. Forget about fashion; I’m talking about flies buzzing around the collars of filthy, encrusted old Polartec pullovers. Most MIT students are well acquainted with large piles of clothes either marked or simply understood to be “laundry”; such piles seem only to grow, never to shrink. Items are removed from the pile even when they haven’t been laundered. And dry cleaning? It’s like fashion. Fuggetaboutit.

Point is, folks, although most of your mind will shortly be invaded by MIT coursework, keep a few brain cells focused on your body and on the outside world. Establish your grooming and hygiene habits early on, because if you don’t have a routine down cold by the time midterms roll around, you’re likely to forget you even have a body. Some people choose otherwise, for various reasons, but the usual advice is to shower daily and to keep hair and nails neatly trimmed. Yes, this advice is necessary -- look around. You’ll see what I mean.

Pay attention to your body. The old joke is that the Medical Center assumes that women are so busy with their coursework, they don’t notice if they’re pregnant (which is why MIT nurses and doctors are always sure to ask). Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but students often fail to take account of colds, sleep deprivation, excessive stress, and even serious physical conditions like mono and the flu. Every now and then, at least, get a good night’s sleep. Take a breather. Make sure you’re healthy. (If you assess your physical condition every morning while showering, you’re killing two birds with one bar of soap.)

Eat as healthfully as possible. Don’t just blithely stuff your face with Burger King and Pizza Hut every day; use a tiny fraction of your thought-power for a second or two, and get a salad or some vegetables. Your colon -- nay, your whole GI tract -- will thank you. Drink generous quantities of fresh water during the day, between bottles of Jolt and 32-ounce Super Frappucinos. Eat two Lobdell chocolate-caramel cookies instead of three (or five instead of six); reacquaint yourself with an apple or banana. We’re talking reasonable, incremental stuff here. Balance, balance, balance.

Do your laundry. Clothes kept clean will help to keep you healthy, so wash them -- and frequently. Nothing is more annoying than someone who cleans her clothes only once every six months and therefore requires the simultaneous use of eighteen laundry machines. Besides, it’s bad practice to allow your soiled undies six months’ festering time in a dark corner of your closet. Detergent is your friend. (Irons, however, appear to be our enemies.) Oh, and sheets and towels? Yes, Virginia, they have to be washed as well.

Don’t wear the same jeans for six weeks in a row. It is not a myth manufactured by Procter and Gamble that clothes do indeed have to be washed in order to preserve their usefulness. If and when you actually buy new clothes, look for easy-care fabrics that won’t wrinkle or demand dry cleaning. Take care of your clothes, and they’ll take care of you in return.

And follow current events, for cripe’s sake. Supposedly, MIT students are, or at least have the capacity to be, well-rounded. Make the Admissions Office proud. Follow international, national and local news, at least on a cursory basis -- think of the sophisticated conversations you’ll be able to have! Nobody’s asking you to become a New York Times regular, but at least read the Yahoo! news feed ( daily; skimming the top headlines of the day takes only seconds. Check out the Boston Globe once in a while, particularly on Thursday and Sunday. The Boston Phoenix and other papers like Bay Windows are often distributed free on campus; they contain more than concert listings.

Finally, of course, read The Tech. This is the stuff that actually matters to you, whether you know it or not. Within these pages you’ll find all the news and other snippets of journalism you really need, and they’re all easy and convenient to read. Besides, you’ve got to have something to do in lecture -- something, that is, besides scratching your goiter and trying not to smell the person next to you.