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Yuliya K. '18

May 20, 2018

50 Reflections on 50 Things

Posted in: Best of the Blogs, Miscellaneous, Prepare for MIT, Life & Culture

Dear Class of 2022, 
 
12 years ago, Ben Jones, aka The Blogfather, shared 50 pieces of wisdom with the Class of 2010, which became 50 Things, the most-read blog on MIT Admissions. As a member of the Class of 2018, I have often referred to The Blogfather's advice, and some of his words, such as Things #1, #35, and #50, have gotten me through hard times. As I get ready to graduate, I wanted to share how I experienced Ben Jones' 50 Things as a student. I recommend you keep his post open while you read my responses. 
  1. Friends change, it’s true, though I resisted the idea at first. When you come to MIT, you will often find your people right away, and it might feel like nothing could go wrong. But in college, some “friend turnover” is unavoidable. We’re all here for a limited number of years. Still, you will always remember your upperclassmen mentors from your freshman year, and the first class on your hall that you welcomed, and the freshmen you met in your last year and were able to mentor to complete the cycle. It’s the college circle of life. You will also get to build and solidify connections that will last way past graduation. Once you’ve stayed up with someone till 7am, multiple times, just talking, you’ll never quite forget them. And that’s the beautiful thing about college—every connection you make, no matter how brief, will leave a mark that lasts a lifetime.
  2. Your relationships with your family and friends from home will change, but don’t let the excitement of college relationships reduce their value. Call your parents, grandparents, and siblings. Meet your high school friends over break. Oh, and brace yourself for an adult relationship with your parents—it’s an inevitable shift.
  3. I will never forget the music I listened to on my UROP trip to Washington, DC. I played Some Nights by fun. over and over on that first independent work trip, walking past the Department of Transportation and the Smithsonian museums at the time of the night when few tourists were out and the city got beautifully silent. Find music to connect music to good memories, and come back to it in darker times. Words of caution: beware of connecting your favorite music to bad times, and never set your favorite song as your alarm.
  4. Yes, take naps! But make sure you can wake up from them. That becomes more of a struggle as you move up class years. Old age dawns quickly in college.
  5. Try not to become nocturnal, despite The Blogfather’s advice. You’ll miss classes with some of the most respected people in the world, such as, for example, 10am biology lectures with Erik Lander, the Biology God himself (sad true story). Most nocturnal people I know, including myself, actually look forward to a respectable 9-5 job, so they can finally live on a non-vampire schedule. Don’t be like us.
  6. It is only ok to be nocturnal the night before paper, projects, or psets are due (otherwise known as pulling an all-nighter). I have been awful at starting assignments early, but I discovered that my brain works much better in emergency conditions. That’s also why I study for exams the night before, and try to avoid practice exams—the emergency brain kicks in when the exam is right in front of me. It’s a risky technique, so I won’t advise it here, but if it works, what else can you do?
  7. Like The Blogfather said, the “fun and irresponsible” activities in lieu of studying are the best. That 1am burger adventure, or the midnight McDonald’s outing (burgers are really a theme here), or just a random nerdy conversation in the lounge, those are the times you will miss the most because they can only happen here. Plus, you’ll likely learn even more from your friend who loves math or physics than you would reading a textbook.
  8. Make sure you have a respectful, if not friendly, relationship with at least one professor, plus hopefully your faculty advisor. If anything, you’ll need a recommendation letter at some point. But really, do it because it’s the best way to learn about your favorite subject. The first time I went to office hours, my mind was blown. I still tell my friends about that conversation. I can still use it in debates about AI.
  9. Learning to be alone is difficult. It’s tempting to surround yourself with friends and romantic partners, but please learn to entertain and take care of yourself. Relatedly, I recommend enjoying being single for at least a period of time in college. Take yourself out. It’s cheaper and a lot less awkward than you think—and it’s an essential skill.
  10. Yes, go on dates! It’s easier than ever now with Tinder and Bumble. And no, those are not just hook-up apps (Bumble especially is pretty classy). Online dating apps are a great way to expand your social circle beyond the MIT bubble. So make an account, meet people, and learn from them. Don’t get stuck in the bubble, please. I learned the hard way that MIT is a pretty unique place, and people do things differently on the outside. Ask them about that.
  11. True. 
  12. True.
  13. Thank-you notes, especially when mailed, feel wonderful for all parties involved. Also, send snail mail to your family and friends back home, for no specific reason. I promise it’s super fun, and there are mailboxes all over campus to make it easy.
  14. It is so important to learn from your peers rather than compare yourself to your peers. Everyone at MIT has something to offer (you do too!), and it’s a great privilege and an amazing opportunity you mustn’t miss. I can’t stress this point enough.
  15. All-nighters can work (see #6). But, beware of the ageing process—most seniors I know can no longer pull them off. As I said, old age comes early in college.
  16. True.
  17. Learning to communicate appropriately with peers in difficult situations has been the best skill I learned in college. To acquire it, join a student group like Pleasure or Peer Ears, take WGS.228 or WGS.229, or find the right UROP (I got to make a guide to difficult conversations for mine).
  18. Take academic risks. I wish I’d learned more outside my academic comfort zone. Your GPA will probably not matter after five years, but your understanding of the world will.
  19. Co-ed bathrooms are entirely not a big deal. Tell your parents that too, if they’re concerned. Plus, there’s usually a single-occupancy bathroom available nearby as well.
  20. Interesting concept, though I prefer to celebrate on Fridays, not Wednesdays. It’s why MIT is so intense: we stay up all night on Thursday to finish psets, then all night on Friday to celebrate finishing psets. This is, of course, not required, but I love it. Also, if your psets are not due on Friday, take any day you can to celebrate being done, even if it’s a Monday.
  21. As much of a cliche as this statement has become, failure is a great learning experience. And at MIT, where a 59 on an exam can be a B, the feeling of failure at some point is kind of inescapable. And perfectly ok.
  22. MIT actually requires you to take electives beyond your required classes, and there are even special grading arrangements for experimentation (Junior/Senior P/D/F or Sophomore Exploratory or all of freshman year). It’s all to take the pressure off trying, say, Quantum Physics, because why not? Or a theatre class when you’ve never acted because, when else could you?
  23. TRUE.
  24. In the age of streaming and YouTube, this item has aged the most. People watch TV together in lounges, but also in their rooms to unwind. What matters is we can all discuss the shows together. And nowadays, there are so many shows to discuss that you kinda have to watch some on your own. That said, movie nights have not lost their magic. And now we have video game nights too.
  25. As a wise friend once said, you’re only allowed to disappear from your social circle for a week when you start dating someone. So fall in love, and enjoy the initial “cupcake phase,” but don’t neglect your college experience.
  26. You might not feel like you have time to read for pleasure, but make sure to attend the numerous events for book lovers around campus because Boston is a special place. And don’t miss out on MIT Reads, the MIT Libraries program that encourages reading and sometimes author interactions.
  27. From a neuroscience standpoint, your frontal lobe starts maturing between 20-25 years of age, and it mediates reactions to your most embarrassing experiences. That’s why teenagers and young adults are considered more dramatic—they have the perfect neurological excuse. So just wait till senior year or beyond and you’ll be surprised how differently you feel.
  28. TRUE.
  29. “No matter what your political or religious beliefs, be open-minded. You're going to be challenged over the next four years in ways you can't imagine, across all fronts. You can't learn if you're closed off.” → This statement is more salient now than twelve years ago, but I’d like to add a caveat. Over your time here, you will hopefully learn how to communicate with a variety of people, but you will also learn how the world works. Learning social and other sciences, as well as the concepts of causality and confounders, has closed me off to ideas that are popular but objectively disprovable: that climate change is a hoax, that vaccines cause autism, that institutional racism isn’t real, that trickle-down economics works, or a plethora of other popular policies and beliefs that, at this point, do not merit a debate. Because sometimes, there aren’t two valid sides. And not all beliefs are to be equally respected. As you navigate debates on- and off-campus, remember that. And, most importantly, ask a lot of questions—questions are the only way you can truly change someone’s mind. On a different note, MIT will expose you to a variety of experiences through people of different races, economic classes, genders, and sexualities—be prepared to accept them and, please, listen. You may never understand someone’s experience, and in fact empathy may be the worst reaction to someone sharing a painful experience associated with their identity (I can talk about the neuroscience of this for hours, so I’ll stop here).
  30. My job is a blogger, and it is the best job on campus. My other jobs have been my UROPs, and I believe they were also the best UROPs. You can find your favorite UROP too, but it is also ok to defer to a convenient position like desk worker, which will allow you to do school work while you do paid work.
  31. True.
  32. “Take a lot of pictures. One of my major regrets in life is that I didn't take more pictures in college. My excuse was the cost of film and processing. Digital cameras are cheap and you have plenty of hard drive space, so you have no excuse.” → a blast from the past in the age of smartphones and unlimited Dropbox storage space for all MIT undergraduates. Nothing else to add here.
  33. Health, safety, and, I’ll add, self-care are more important than anything. Most mentors and healthcare professionals I’ve talked to have reminded me of the old plane safety rule: put your oxygen mask on before helping others. So remember to take care of yourself before helping others. You simply cannot be a good helper if you don’t. Trust me. It’s science.
  34. Ask for help from your peers because you’ll probably help someone at some point as well. Ask for help from all the MIT resources available—S^3, MIT Mental Health, Ombuds, GRTs and the rest of the House Team, your advisor, Student Disability Services, professors, TAs, UROP mentors, VPR, peer supporters such as Peer Ears, Pleasure educators, or Lean On Me, and so many others. If you’re not sure your problem is “serious enough” to approach these resources, remember: you paid for it in your tuition, so might as well make the most of the deal. And the peer supporters volunteer because they want to help you. Just as you shouldn’t compare yourself to others academically, don’t compare your problems to others'. I can attest as a Peer Ear and Pleasure educator that I am always happy to help and I am here for you.
  35. “Half of you will be in the bottom half of your class at any given moment. Way more than half of you will be in the bottom half of your class at some point in the next four years. Get used to it.” → I had to post the full quote here because this statement has helped me so much during my time here. And I’ve quoted it multiple times to others too. Memorize it now. I promise it’ll help.
  36. True?
  37. While it’s mostly true that where you go to college is ultimately not the most important thing in your life, nowadays MIT helps a lot more on the job market than it did 12 years ago. Even though you can ultimately end up where you want starting at any college, MIT propels you so much farther at the start. Some “prestigious” employers won’t even accept applications from graduates of colleges not in their selected list, and MIT almost always makes the list. It’s a heart-breaking reality. And it’s important to remember just how much privilege being here affords you. Never forget that. It might be the most important lesson from these reflections.
  38. Please don’t try to do everything. You can try a little bit freshman year while on Pass/No Record, but slow down after. Besides, you’ll overwhelm your resume and won’t have a cohesive narrative to share with potential employers. Let your experiences tell a story of curiosity and growth, not randomness.
  39. One of the main advantages of going to a diverse place like MIT is that you will find plenty of people who can give you different perspectives on situations in your life. So start a creatively-titled group chat and ask people what they think.
  40. Burgers and pizza. Eat so many burgers and pizza. Order Domino’s with friends at 2am. Do a burger run at 1am. Drink a milkshake at midnight. But try to do it with friends—food in college is a social experience.
  41. In my main college essay, I wrote that “weird” is the greatest compliment. Although much of that essay has aged poorly, that statement remains mostly true. Do embarrassing things with reckless abandon, and, in the most cliche way possible, “dance like no one is watching.” College is the time to do it (just think of all the popular movies about college).
  42. Wash your sheets and your comforters and blankets. It’s a long process, but do it. Also, do laundry more than 2.5 times a semester. It’s easy to accumulate enough socks and underwear to get away with that, but try to have a routine. I wish I had followed my own advice.
  43. TRUE.
  44. Try some weird foods, true, but don’t feel the pressure to try weird pizza toppings specifically. Don’t feel pressured to be adventurous just because you’re young and in college.
  45. True.
  46. Take it from a person who added a minor her senior year of college, The Blogfather is right: “life is too short to stick with a course of study that you're no longer excited about.” Plenty of people switch majors midway. It is perfectly ok to take an extra year or semester to graduate. It is much better than realizing you hate your major when you have a diploma in hand.
  47. Tattoos and piercings are permanent, but they are also very cool. Hair dye and side shaves are also pretty permanent, but also cool. I worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Harvard Med School with blue hair, a side shave, and multiple ear piercings. And I was fine. In fact, it helped me with the awkwardness of meeting new people: people automatically assumed that I’m kinda cool. So don’t be afraid to customize your look. It can change your life in the best of ways.
  48. “Don't make fun of prefrosh. That was you like 2 hours ago.” → ok, you can make a little fun of the prefrosh. But really, you’re making fun of yourself like 2 hours ago. And that can be a learning experience.
  49. MIT can feel like a long trip through academic hell but also like a quick run through a nerd paradise. As The Blogfather says, “enjoy every second.”
  50. “This is the only time in your lives when your only real responsibility is to learn. Try to remember how lucky you are every day.” → I have remembered this statement many times during my time here. And yes, I have remembered how lucky I am to be here every day. Including today, and tomorrow, and until June 8, when I walk onstage to receive my MIT diploma.

-Yul

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