song: that funny feeling covered phoebe bridgers, by bo burnham
every saturday or sunday my freshman fall, i’d go over to have dinner with my friends and their family.
every saturday or sunday my freshman fall—i can no longer remember which—my problem set for 18.701 (algebra I) was due.
i signed up for 18.701 because it was the right thing for me to do. at least that’s what everyone told me, and so that’s what i believed. at that point, i completed the introductory math courses i needed to take, and i knew what courses i wanted to eventually take, and so 18.701 became a way for me to start learning pure mathematics to the degree that i needed to learn it. and i had satisfied the prerequisites, and i had spent that summer trying to prepare my proof writing skills. i did everything right that i could do to prepare for this course. i told myself that i’d do it again.
in my preparation for this class, i read one of the problems in the first chapter, and i thought to myself “i can’t solve that.” and then i started taking the class. and i had to solve that problem. and i did. and this happened over and over again until one day i had completed the class. i did it.
there are moments where you can feel yourself growing as a person at mit: that problem you had no clue how to do suddenly is in your problem set, that topic you tried to independent study but were utterly confused, now makes sense. and at the end of every semester you’re just glad you made it to the end—but nonetheless you’ve made it—and now you have to make it again. 7 more times. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2.
there are moments where you have to make tradeoffs at mit.
that show you always watch every tuesday gets put on hold because your problem set is due, or you’re just too tired. that club you swore you’d join—that you desperately wanted to join—now conflicts with a class.
or, it’s saturday (or sunday), and you’re at your friend’s family’s place for dinner; except you’re not, because while everyone is hanging out downstairs, you have to hop on a zoom call to finish up the last few parts of this problem. it’ll be an hour at most. maybe 2. 3.
but it’s worth it, right? because now you’ve made it to the end. you’re a better person/mathematician/what have you now. and you’d do it again.
a week or so ago, my friends and i made apple cider and watched over the garden wall for those fall vibes. at the same time, my collaborators—friends—and i were wrapping up the first draft of a project we’ve been working on since this summer. and at one point, one of my collaborators asked if we could hop on a zoom call real quick to go through some final edits. while my friends are watching the adventures of wirt and greg, i was in my friend’s room on a zoom call working on these final edits.
and it’s nothing i hold against my collaborator—not at all—but when i hopped on the zoom call i felt such massive déjà vu back to my freshman year. off in some room in a house, while my friends are hanging out, and i’m taking a zoom call.
when i say i’d do it again, i mean it. if i hadn’t taken 18.701 that fall i wouldn’t have taken 18.702 (Algebra II) in the spring, or 18.102 in the spring, or 18.155 when i did, or—
where i would be right now in my life/my career/my education would be different. and that isn’t a bad thing. i like where i am at. i wouldn’t want to change that. but there are moments when you realize what parts of yourself you’ve sacrificed, or even worse you feel that you’re different and you don’t know how—and don’t know if—you want to change.
there are ways you can prevent these sacrifices. maybe you don’t need every point on this problem set; maybe it’s time for you to just go to bed and work on things tomorrow; maybe you should drop that class. these are easier said than done. these are lessons i’m just barely learning my senior year.
but even so. i’d do it again. Differently.
maybe i have grown.