Aug 15, 2013
9 things I wish I had known before freshman year
Let's face it: none of us are getting younger. In fact, I'm getting older at the astonishing rate of one (1) year per annum, which means that in a few centuries I might even be dead. Dead.
I was reminded of this sobering fact the other day when I looked at my MIT blogger profile and noticed several inaccuracies: (1) I'm no longer 18 (I'm actually 56 now, with a long flowing white beard), (2) mechanical engineering has replaced biology as the love of my life, and (3) soon I won't be one of the "new kids on the block." In fact, I'll be a full-fledged crusty sophomore as soon as the first 2017s step on campus.
(Thankfully, I'm still an Oxford comma advocate. Gotta stick to some principles in life.)
And so I decided it was time to write another blog post. What would present-day-56-year-old Michael tell 18-year-old Michael?
- Do your psets, and stop telling yourself that "this pset's only worth 1.5% of my grade anyway…" Those percents add up - not just in the homework component of your grade, but also in the knowledge tested on exams. You can't expect to skate by on exams simply by studying and putting in the minimum amount of work on homework anymore - psets are essential for learning concepts and ways of thinking.
- Your desire to skip classes increases exponentially the more you skip class. You're paying for your education anyway - why would you skip? It'd be like sleeping on the street when you've already booked a hotel room. A $55K per year hotel room. Of course, sometimes you can't help missing class because you're sleeping off that massive sugar rush you got from downing gallons of root beer the previous night. Just limit these instances.
- (Try to) wake up at the same time every day, regardless of when your first class is. It's just easier than seesawing between waking up at 9am and 11am depending on whether it's Monday or Thursday, etc.
- The MIT environment is far from cutthroat, but that doesn't change the fact that you will be competing with your peers for the same jobs. Think carefully about how you will distinguish yourself from everyone else. UROPs, MISTI, career fairs - MIT offers a lot of resources, but you have to take the initiative.
- Don't be afraid to change your mind. It's great to have a sense of what direction you want to go in, but don't let that wall you off from trying other paths. I came into MIT planning on being Course 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology). After doing a cancer research UROP at the Koch Institute and taking 2.00B (Toy Product Design), I decided mechanical engineering was more my thing.
- Work out! You're already paying for a gym membership with your tuition, so you might as well take advantage of the well-equipped Z Center. Benefit of going to a nerd school: the gym's rarely too crowded.
- Sleep. blah blah blah sleep is for the well-rested student paying attention in class. That being said, pulling an all-nighter every now and then can be good for the soul. Just not before a midterm.
- Don't buy textbooks until you start actually attending class. In some classes you won't need the book at all (like 7.012); in others, PDFs are easily obtainable online, not that I'd condone illegal things. Useful bit of Google-fu: searching for "title of book filetype:pdf" (without the quotes) limits results to PDF files. For example: hyperloop filetype:pdf.
And, of course, as with all things:
9. Your mileage will vary. None of the above are universal rules. Pass/No Record is a time to find out what works for you.
Bonus tip: I don't usually listen to music when I study, because I find most music distracting. But research shows that moderate levels of ambient noise enhance creative performance. Coffitivity is a favorite website of mine that re-creates the sensation of being in a coffee shop. For menial tasks, I've found heavily-electronic tracks like the Tron soundtrack to be very good background music.