Sep 16, 2012
A love letter to psets
Posted in: Academics & Research
[context for the non-MIT folks out there: a pset, or problem set, is MIT's version of homework. And by "MIT's version", I mean that while a typical pset might only contain 5 problems, every one of those problems is incredibly difficult. And by "incredibly difficult", I mean "incredibly difficult" - by MIT standards]
In the past week, you've tried your best to crush my soul. You've made eight hours of sleep an alien concept. You've twisted my mind in ways I didn't know it could twist before. At times, you've driven me up the wall, literally.
And I couldn't be more grateful.
Because in high school, homework was boring. It was something I started at 11pm the night before it was due, and finished at midnight. It was rote memorization, repetitive busywork. I learned Equation A, plugged in values, and spat out an answer.
But not you. With you, a 15-word-long question might turn out to be an hour-long mindbender. An innocent negative sign might take 10 minutes to figure out. I might be using the same equations and formulas that I learned in high school, but by making me apply them in so many different ways - to actually think about problems - you force me to have a much deeper understanding of the material.
Yes, you can be soul-crushing. But you can also be intensely rewarding. There's nothing quite like that intellectual high I get when I've been working 5 hours on a pset and finally understand how a certain equation can be manipulated and combined with another equation in such a way that the entire problem suddenly makes sense. And in those moments, I think I'm finally starting to get a little idea of what being a scientist feels like. You can be rewarding in other ways, too; I've met some of my closest friends here so far through pset parties.
So when my friends at other colleges tell me how easy their homework is - how it really isn't that much different from high school - I don't get jealous. (okay, maybe I get a little jealous when it's 2 in the morning and my pset is due the next day, but whatever). Because I don't want college to be just a natural extension of high school. I want to find my limits, test them, and smash through them. Call me a masochist, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
p.s. I think even my iPhone is getting used to our new relationship. At first, it corrected "psets" to "pests". Then it corrected "psetting" to "partying". I suppose you are a full-time relationship, which is why MIT gives us a ring.
p.p.s. to all the upperclassmen out there: don't worry, I've got plenty of time to get jaded about this place. Let me frolic in the joys of psetting while I can, eh?
p^3.s. don't worry, despite the psetting I'm still taking full advantage of pass/no record. YOPNRO