Jul 31, 2014
Why I wasn’t sad to leave MIT
This isn’t really a “last blog post,” since I’m sure that every now and then I’ll swing by to give an update on life from the other side. It’s more of an “I now live a post-MIT life and therefore my weekly updates do not belong on the MIT admissions website” post. At least, that's what I'm saying to comfort myself.☺
Since graduating, I’ve been thinking a lot about two questions: why I wasn’t sad to leave MIT, and why I was keen to leave the Boston area for graduate school. I think that those two questions have the same answer.
When I arrived as a freshman, I signed up for a zillion clubs (it would be indecent to say just how many) and agonized over choosing a major. I was worried that making decisions would lead to becoming narrow-minded. Wasn’t it good to be interested in everything? And to then pursue everything all at once? MIT’s answer was yeah, kid! go ahead and pursue it all, and see what happens.
Here’s what happened: once Pass/No Record was over, I felt like I was on a boat that was sinking. Actually, that’s how I felt for my first three and a half years at MIT. The boat was always sinking and I was always running around trying to figure out what to throw overboard next. What can go? What can go? That which could go, inevitably went, because there are only so many hours in the day. To my surprise, I felt lighter and more free to pursue my interests, without the burden of commitments I wasn’t totally devoted to. As the semesters went by, I developed priorities alongside breadth, and it became easier and easier to shed.
The shedding process required a lot of trial and error. In order to figure out what could go overboard and what had to stay, I switched research areas a number of times, took classes in many different departments (3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 16, 18, 21L, 21W, 24), and joined and left clubs. Sometimes I tossed something out, realized “wait no! I can’t live without that!” and brought it back. Other times I kept something on board for way too long and then wondered why do I have this thing, anyway?
Throughout the process, I reflected on what I was doing with family, friends and professors out loud, and with myself through writing. That was important.
Here’s the catch: you can only shed so much while you remain in the same place. When you remain on the same campus or even in the same city, there will always be commitments leaking over from a time when you didn’t understand what it is that you need. When you don’t pick up and move, it’s difficult to start from scratch. MIT gave me the resources to learn about myself and articulate my priorities – and for that I will always be grateful! But for exactly that reason, as a second semester senior I found myself eager to shake loose and start all over again. I couldn’t do that while I remained at MIT, and I don’t think I could have done that while I remained in Boston. I love both of those places, but I want to start all over again with this newly-developed understanding of myself. And so I was excited to leave a place I love.
* * *
Although I wasn’t sad to leave MIT, I was very sad to leave the people I came to know there. I didn’t have a “group of friends” in college the same way I had a group of friends in high school. My most precious MIT friendships grew out of many different names, numbers and acronyms: CPW, French House, New House, MIT Admissions, 24.900, MTG, Course 8, and so on. Some of my friends never met each other. This made it more difficult to plan social gatherings, and sometimes I got tired of telling one story several times to several people separately, but at the end of the day it just meant that I cultivated many independent close relationships. I learned that I like knowing many different kinds of people.
I liked watching my friends take very different paths through college. When I met my Sam at CPW over four years ago, for example, he told me that he wanted to be a theoretical physicist and I told him that I wanted to be a doctor. Now, he’s doing very non-theoretical work at Analog Devices and I’m preparing to become an astronomer. That kind of thing happens a lot. My friend Lucas, by contrast, did a UROP in the same solid state physics lab for nearly his entire undergraduate career at MIT. Now he’s doing similar work in grad school down the road at Hahvahd. That kind of thing happens a lot, too.
Now I'm in Paris, visiting a friend and enjoying the sunshine. This weekend, I’m going to pack up my bags at home in London. On Sunday, I’ll move to Germany for a one-year Fulbright at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. I’m excited and terrified! Even though I've graduated and won't be blogging much on here anymore, I'm always available over e-mail if you have questions or want to chat. In the meantime, I probably won't be able to resist creeping on the blogs to see what everybody is up to.
And now, as my favorite high school teacher would say: Onward!