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MIT student blogger Michael C. '16

A love letter to psets by Michael C. '16

Masochists In Training

[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]

tiny triceratops is wondering why these poor souls are still psetting at 3am

Dear psets,

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