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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

24 Things I Learned in My First Semester and a Half by Cami M. '23

for the lovely 2024s!

Disclaimer: I actually wrote this on my flight to California back in December, when EA decisions were first released. As a result, some of these are only relevant to my first semester. I’m going through them now (3/16/2020) to see if there’s anything I should remove or add :)

MIT has been incredibly life-changing. I am most definitely not the same person I was when I first walked down the Infinite. I knew college changed you, but I didn’t expect to be this different. Anyway, in my time here, I’ve learned a lot in terms of what to do and what not to do, what works best for me and for the majority of my friends, and how to essentially survive my first year at MIT.

1. Live and breathe PNR.

Don’t stay up until 3 in the morning to finish that one pset. Don’t skip meals to study longer. Don’t miss out on your extracurriculars because you’re hosed by your classes. MIT implements pass/no record for this first semester for a reason and that’s so students can build a strong support group, find extracurriculars that will keep them sane, and have less stress.

By “living and breathing PNR” I mean learn to optimize. Is it worth an all nighter to turn in a pset that’s only .75% of your grade when you only need a 40% to pass the class? Should you really be striving for all 100%’s at the cost of your mental health just for a “P” to show up? It’s learning to look at how the grade is weighted and putting your effort into what matters. Don’t beat yourself up over one bad pset.

But at the same time…

2. Don’t abuse PNR.

PNR is the time to experiment socially, extracurricularly, and academically. Use this time to test out different study habits to figure out which works best for you, so yes, you’ll actually have to study for your midterms. Do your psets so you can get into a habit of knowing how early you need to start psets for classes. Form study groups to see if that helps you best, or make study sheets. Learn how you learn best!

3. Explore campus thoroughly and identify your favorite spaces.

This is very important! Though MIT isn’t as large as some other college campuses, there are lots of hidden gems around here. I won’t spoil anything, but I do recommend exploring the tunnels at some point or going hacking whether during CPW or REX or even just on a casual Friday night. I personally love going around MIT trying to find new places to study. Some of my favorite places are Hayden library, Stud5, and the group study spaces in Barker. Campus is so beautiful and so big and has so much! There is bound to be a place for you.

4. Join extracurriculars that interest you!

Don’t be that person who regrets not joining X or Y and instead just do it. If you have even a little interest, do it! You’ll meet so many great people through it!

Update: I wholeheartedly agree with this. And even not just extracurriculars, but groups on campus. In my freshman fall, I was afraid to do sorority recruitment. But in spring, I said fuck it and decided to rush. It is one of the best decisions I made and I’m very happy I got to meet so many people through spring recruitment.

5. Don’t be afraid to drop things.

While it’s great to do a kajillion extracurriculars because your interests are so diverse and great, if you find yourself realizing you really, really don’t like that one thing even though you thought it was cool, drop it. Do not force yourself to sit through bad, hoping that it will get better, because if you really don’t like it, it will Not Get Better. Also, just don’t overwhelm yourself! Make sure you save time for yourself to just sit and breathe. MIT is already overwhelming enough as it is. You need to find time for yourself.

Update: Still stand by this. I dropped so many classes in my fall and spring semester combined.

6. Find your outlets for stress relief.

Whether that be going to the gym, painting, guitar, basketball, it is always good to have a nonschool-related thing that is your home and source of comfort. It is something that will really ground you in your time here at MIT and it’ll stop you from going crazy.

7. Prepare for the Elements.

If you’re a foolish southern Californian like me who has never really had to deal with rain or snow, Pack Your Bags, you heathen. Bring boots. Bring heavy jackets. Bring an umbrella. The weather here is actual weather. Like, there are distinct seasons and shit.

8. Go and explore Boston.

This is one of the very few times where you’ll actually have enough time to go to Boston. I recommend going out and exploring the city at least once or twice a month, bringing a good group of friends. Roam, eat, shop. Boston is one of the coolest cities with a great entertainment scene. Go see a concert, go get some Georgetown Cupcakes, or just explore the Prudential. The T is so convenient and easy to use that you literally have no excuse to not go out.

Update: Don’t do this if you’re in a pandemic, obviously. But I still stand by this.

9. Go to events on campus.

MIT is pretty incredible. We’ve had some very notable speakers and figures come to speak here at these extra events that take place throughout the day. We also just have very fun activities on campus. Some of my favorites have included basically every SaveTFP event and also the Digital Anxieties conversation with Bo Burnham and Jonny Sun.

10. Try and make some friends in different living groups.

I’m guilty of actually not doing a very good job of this, but I really want to change this next semester. It’s really easy to just stick within your living group and you will only interact with those people because, well, you live with them and see them basically everyday. But! It’s also great to just explore different dorms and meet lots of new people. I am hoping to do this more. If you’re in a dorm that isn’t Random Hall, please hit me up. Let’s talk.

Update: Guess what? Spring semester Cami did indeed branch out more! I rushed WILG, Delta Phi Epsilon and Pi Beta Phi (and accepted a bid from PiPhi), visited friends in other dorms more (namely Simmons) and overall just had a good time meeting new people.

11. Exercise!

Exercise is a very, very good stress reliever and it is good for you! I know it’s hard to start, but I recommend just taking a PE class to really force yourself to do it. It’ll build good habits and you’ll feel really good about yourself after each class or session and even better when you start to see progress. It’s overall a very rewarding experience.

Update: I worked out 4-6 times a week consistently for the duration of the spring semester and it was SO NICE. Highly recommend.

12. Please heed the November Rule…

If you don’t know what the November Rule is, Nisha wrote a really good blogpost on it. You do not want to start the year off by fucking up your relationships. Just try and refrain from that. Please. And if you’re a frosh, for the love of god please don’t hook up with upperclassmen in your first month. You’re a baby, you need time to grow.

Update: Definitely listen to this.

13. Learn how to cook. No, like, actually.

College is the time to cook! Cook!! There are so many grocery stores around here. There is literally no excuse! Sometimes, you won’t have time to go to dining halls, or you might not even live in a residence with a dining hall. Do not starve. Most dorms have cookbooks in their bookshelves. Grab one and learn.

Update: lol guess i’m a hypocrite. still do this though, even if i didn’t. im suffering because i can’t cook.

14. Join group chats for classes. Alternatively: find one or two people in each class to ask questions and pset with.

Do not spend your entire semester flying solo. MIT is very much an environment that not only encourages collaboration, but frankly, requires it. Your life will be so much harder if you try and tackle every pset alone. It’s just so much better when you can message a friend and asking them for help. I have either a group chat or a really good friend in each of my classes so I know I won’t be left in the dust if I have difficulty understanding a concept.

Update: YES. THIS. DO THIS.

15. For the love of God, please go to Office Hours if you don’t know what’s going on.

Trust me, they’re so helpful. Go to Sunday tutorings for 8.01. Go to 6.0001 office hours if you’ve been staring at your code for 6 hours and it’s still not compiling. Please, just go. It’ll do you wonders.

16. Plan your classes wisely.

ASE if you think you’re ready/can handle it/the class poses no real benefit to you and you know the material really well and you want to take an exploratory class. Free up your schedule so you can take more exploratory classes in majors you think you might be interested in, and put off that GIR if you want to. Personally I wasn’t able to get credit for 18.01 and 8.01, which I’m grateful for since I had a really bad basis in physics and math. But, if you have a good foundation, then work hard to ASE out of GIRs. Feel free to use the summer to study for them, but don’t feel pressured to do so.

Don’t schedule shitty 9ams and don’t overestimate your abilities to wake up for those 9ams. Be smart and reasonable about your schedule.

17. Do not compare yourself to your classmates.

You are at MIT. There are going to be crazy smart talented kids in your year. That does not make you any less crazy smart talented. You are here for a reason. They accepted your application for a reason. You are here because you deserve to be here.

Update: this is easier said than done. it’s hard. i know it’s hard. i know this firsthand.

18. Don’t be afraid to take mental health days.

I think one of the weirder things about being in college is that you literally can just get up and leave your class and go home, whereas in high school you were awkwardly stranded in this building in the middle of your town and if you felt bad, you had to ask permission to leave.

There was a day where I was incredibly tired and stressed and just overall having a bad time, so I decided to skip my lecture to go to Newbury Street and sit in a cafe and work in there. (There’s actually a blogpost about this that I just never posted.) It was one of the best days of my semester. Very calming, very nice, and very needed.

If you feel like shit, don’t go to class. If you realize you feel like shit in the middle of class, just leave. If you wake up and think to yourself “God, I’m so tired and I’ve felt stressed for the past week and I need a break”, don’t go to class!

Make use of mental health resources on campus, as they’re more than willing to help and give you the assistance you need.

19. Less of a tip, but make sure you have the following items at college, as they are pretty useful:

  • sewing kit – can come handy
  • ironing board and iron – formal events!
  • formal attire – we have lots of fancy events [update: i agree with this EVEN MORE NOW]
  • vitamin D pills – take care of yourself, kids.
  • tampons and pads – regardless of whether or not you have a vagina, this is literally just a general rule of thumb for anyone. you’re going to have friends who get periods. you can be the hero of the story and provide them with equipment if the time ever comes and they don’t have anything on them. i really wish more people would do this, actually. sorry, tangent.
  • air mattress – strange, i know. but you never know when you have to let a friend crash due to some event. mariia and i have two air mattresses and they’ve come in handy. we host people for lots of hackathons and conferences and make some money off of it. it’s cool.

These are more of the lesser known/more easily forgotten items.

20. Take a day to actually clean and organize your room.

Regardless of how much time you spend in your room, it’s just generally good practice to keep your living space clean. Your room is your safe haven and is yours and so you should keep it clean! Also, if you have roommates, it’s probably a good idea to keep your spaces clean so you don’t piss anyone off. Vacuum once in a while. Fold your clothes and sort them. Hang your clothes if they have to be hung. Make your bed (unless it’s a top bunk then like…fuck that.)

21. CHOOSE YOUR CI-H VERY CAREFULLY.

Before you sign up for that CI-H, please ask your upperclassmen friends if it’s a good idea. There are two CI-H’s with finals. I won’t say what they are, but…but bro, it’s literally such a bad idea to choose a CI-H with a final. Don’t do that to yourself. Ask yourself if you can really write 10,000 words about this thing. Don’t make yourself suffer in a shitty CI-H.

22. Make a Venmo if you don’t already have one.

It’s just very convenient to be able to send your friends money if you forget your wallet, or just request someone on the spot rather than risking the chance of forgetting it.

23. If you have the time, get a job.

Whether it’s a UROP or work-study or some part-time job on campus running desk or something, it’s really nice to have a source of income to help you splurge on that extra thing you might want.

24. You are not alone.

Literally every single frosh, and I mean every single frosh, has no fucking clue what’s going on. You were all yeeted to the number one school in America, told to take a bunch of classes, and now are wandering around trying to figure out who you are, what you want to study, and what you want to do with your life. And it’s okay to not know the answer to any of those things right now. Hell, it’s okay to not know the answer to any of those things a year from now either. What’s important is realizing that whatever doubts, concerns, turmoil you’re feeling inside right now is being felt by 1000 other kids with you. And that’s not to minimize your feelings, but encourage you to open up and talk with people. Tell them about your fears. Tell them about your stresses. At CPW, an upperclassmen made sure to stress the importance of friendship and community here, saying that “everyone is going through their own unique ice cream flavor of Hell, but you all bond in that mutual suffering.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed up just having really deep, insightful conversations with friends, as we reflect on our time here and the time we will be spending here. It helps you feel more secure in your place here at MIT, knowing that people are sharing this experience with you.