My second year of college just ended. I’ve been trying to think of a good post to write on the occasion, or some significant reflection on my halfway point at MIT. Usually when I sit down to write a blog post, I like to have things sort of figured out in my mind, so I can say something profound or at least informative on the subject. But the truth is, as a student halfway through college, I still haven’t figured out most things, and in the last few months, I feel like I’ve lost my way more than I’ve found it. So instead I’m going to write about that.
Last semester was pretty tough. I went through a rough breakup. I felt like my circle of friends was shrinking. Even though I was taking 51 units, my semester felt unusually light—probably because the variety in my classes (algorithms, software design, French, and costume design) helped avoid the sensation of burnout. I questioned if I was pushing myself hard enough or if I was doing enough things around campus. But at the same time, I didn’t feel inspired by the extracurriculars I was doing. Basically, I felt like I was stagnating.
I’m writing about this because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m pretty sure everyone goes through something similar at some point. From talking to friends and other people at MIT, I know that “sophomore slump” is a real thing. In general, I think everyone goes through times where things don’t feel like they’re falling into place and you need to make changes to be happy with your situation. I think it helps a lot to know that there are other people in the same boat, and that feeling out of it sometimes isn’t a sign of failure or personal mismanagement. I’ve realized in the past semester that I can be really hard on myself. Sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit for the things I’m doing well, or I blame myself when stuff don’t turn out the way I intended. Obviously, beating up on myself just makes things worse. Sometimes the best thing to do is to cut myself a break and realize that it’s ok to feel uncertain and discouraged. And sometimes, the best thing I can do for myself is have enough faith in myself to move forward. I’ve been trying to keep myself really open to new opportunities and new friendships and I try to take chances to enjoy myself. I hope the main takeaway from reading this is that it’s common to feel stuck in a rut at times, and there are ways to get out of it.
Even though I felt somewhat lost last semester, some new doors were opening. I got closer to some of my old friends and started making new ones. (It turns out, language classes are a great way to meet people.) There was one week where I had three in-depth, multiple-hour-long conversations with people I barely knew. It was awesome. I found a UROP for next year that I’m really excited about. It's in a lab that is a supportive community of collaborative, hardworking people, with a work culture that matches my style of getting things done in a way I haven’t encountered in other research projects. I’m really looking forward to diving deep into academic study in a way that goes beyond just taking classes.
As the end of the semester neared, I couldn't wait to get started at my summer internship. I worked really hard during the fall to get a good job, and I found a position that matched the type of technical work I was looking for, in a company whose workplace culture was a great fit for my personality, with offices in New York City. I was really looking forward to the change of scene and meeting a class of interns from all over the country.
Last week, I had just taken my final exam and packed up all my belongings into storage, and was preparing to get on a plane home (with a suitcase full of clothes suited for a New York summer), when I got a phone call. The company was cancelling its internship program because of financial duress. Two weeks before my projected start date, I suddenly had no job.
The next week and a half was incredibly stressful but also unexpectedly exciting. I am really lucky that I had so many people willing to work with me at the last minute to find new placement for the summer, and I’m really thankful for those in the tech world who tried to find new positions for the displaced interns. I was really touched by the people who reached out to me and offered their support and advice. On the afternoon I received the call, I had no idea what I would do with my summer. Twenty-four hours later, I was in contact with over a dozen companies who were still looking for summer interns, from the enormous to the tiny, working in all sorts of industries with all kinds of technology.
Suddenly, I was in a really interesting position: I had the opportunity to redo my entire internship search, with another semester’s wisdom under my belt to decide what I was looking for. But that’s exactly the question…what was I looking for?
As any college student can tell you, that’s a really scary question. What do you want to do for the rest of your life? What kind of work do you want to dedicate yourself to, and with who? Where do you see your career heading, this summer, next summer, and for the next however many years?
I don’t know. But I have some ideas. And that’s exactly what internships are for—to test out visions of what you might want your career to look like, and to see how off the mark you are. So I took a stab at pegging my future, and tried out a couple of hypotheses. I looked into small, early-stage start-ups, because I’m excited by the fast-paced environment and ability to make an impact, and I could see myself starting a company someday. I focused on companies that are doing interesting things in an active field of research, because I want to get involved in areas that having an exciting intellectual and applied future. And, since I am a student after all, I looked for positions that would give me exposure to technical areas I haven’t seen before to provide a good engineering foundation.
After a long week of interviewing, I accepted a position at a company that fits all these criteria. It’s something of a risk. It’s really different from my job last summer, which means I don’t know if I’ll like it…but I guess that’s the point. I start on Monday. :)
Ultimately, getting dumped from my internship was probably a blessing in disguise. It was stressful and a disappointment at first, but it gave me the chance to think about my experience for this summer in a methodological way, and I ended up finding a job that will probably be better for my development than the one I had originally.
I remember that right before starting sophomore year, I was really eager to go back to MIT because of new experiences I could see waiting there for me. My hope is to feel the same way as an incoming junior. I can already identify new opportunities for next school year and this summer that I’m really excited about. There are also some areas of uncertainty and some things I am going to have to work on. Compared to the beginning of the school year, in some dimensions I’m closer to where I want to be, and in some places I’ve slipped. But that’s life. Hopefully in the long run I’ll come out better for my experiences last semester and in the ones that are coming.