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all the classes I took freshman year by Masha G. '24

feeling scholarly, part 1/2

Just like that, freshman year has come and gone. It’s weird to think that I’m already a quarter of the way through my time at MIT, but the world works in mysterious ways. Throughout this past year, I’ve blogged a lot about my feelings and about experiencing MIT for the first time while in a pandemic. Among all that, I feel like haven’t spent enough time talking about the most fundamental aspect of college: classes. So I thought I’d fix that now, with a review of all the classes I took freshman year.

I only noticed it now, but my class selections for the fall and the spring were remarkably similar. Both semesters I took a math class, a CS class, a physics class, and a German class; with the only difference being that in the spring I took an extra math class. This makes for four classes in the fall and five in the spring, both of which are right up against the freshman credit limits. Before I say anything else, though, I’d like to admit that, in retrospect, five classes was definitely too much. Taken on top of a UROP and my extracurriculars, I definitely did not have enough time for everything I wanted to do this past semester, which resulted in a lot of stress. I’m glad I made that mistake now, though, so I’ll be more mindful of my workload in the future. I’m not promising that I’ll never take five classes again, I know myself too well to be able to honestly say that, but I will at the very least try very very hard to not take four technical subjects at once.01 but I still have trouble saying that firmly because, well, I’m a chronic overcommitter and a workaholic to boot

I’d like to also note that the classes I took are not a typical freshman schedule. I only took one GIR this entire year, which is pretty unusual (most freshmen take many GIR’s). I had two reasons for this. One, I got credit for 18.01,02 Calculus I 18.02,03 Calculus II and 8.0104 Physics I through classes I had taken in high school.05 18.01 and 8.01 via AP classes and the math placement test and 18.02 via transfer credit from a local college Two, I simply do not want to take chemistry and biology (the remaining two science GIR’s). I know I’ll have to, eventually, but I’m pushing them back to either junior or senior year.06 is it because I’m a serial procrastinator? maybe… I’d rather focus on subjects important to my research/career path early on, so I can both understand more about those topic areas and understand what it is I’m doing with my life. I’m certain enough that biology and chemistry will not play into my work in significant ways, so there’s no need to rush taking them.

 

Fall Semester

Let me start with the fall, though. On one hand, the fall should have been easy because of P/NR.07 the freshman fall pass/no record grading scheme And it was, in some ways. PNR definitely made it easier to get into the flow of things, to figure out how classes work at MIT without having to worry about getting perfect grades. That made the fall much less stressful, but I still wouldn’t say that it was easy. Thanks to the virtual nature of that semester, I barely knew anyone in any of my classes, plus I was in a weird time zone, so I didn’t really have anyone to work together with on psets or even to just talk through the material.08 admittedly, this was partially by choice… I still hadn’t gotten out of my high school mindset, where I did all work alone In retrospect, dealing with classes alone made the semester overall much harder than it could have been, though at the time I didn’t think that much of it. Instead, once I discovered the concept of office hours, I went to those almost religiously, which really, really helped. Honestly, bless the TA’s who run office hours. Especially on days psets are due. I couldn’t have gotten through the fall without them.

 

6.0001/2:  Introduction to CS and Programming using Python and Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science

6.0001 and 6.0002 are known for being either ridiculously hard or ridiculously easy depending on you previous level of exposure to programming and Python. I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time in high school working with data in Python, which meant that neither 0001 nor 0002 posed a significant challenge. I enjoyed the classes. I found it to be a good review, with the added benefit of formalizing everything I had haphazardly learned about Python through my high school projects. I particularly liked the format of the psets. They typically gave you a general outline for how to write a program, which you would then follow to get something working.

8.022: Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism

8.022 was the only GIR I took this past year: it’s a version of 8.0209 Physics II for prospective physics majors. It has a slightly different teaching style than 8.02, with more emphasis on math and the derivations of physical laws. I talked a little about 8.022 in my reflections on first semester post. This class had the honor of assuaging any concerns I may have had about majoring in physics10 well, that's not strictly true, but it definitely lessened the concerns significantly – I enjoyed it a lot, and I specifically enjoyed its format. The class strikes a good balance between going in-depth with the math and not necessarily requiring you to understand every detail of the derivation in order to do well.

The math was hard, but ultimately, it was up to each student to decide how deeply they wanted to understand it. I did not always choose to understand fully, which, well… I don’t regret it, because I don’t need to understand it completely. But I’m a perfectionist at heart, and it can be difficult to come to terms that I don’t have the time and energy to dive fully into every subject I study. In the end, I had many moments of epiphany in 8.022, just marveling at the beauty of how math translates to physics, and that made it worth it.

18.03: Differential Equations

That same question of choosing how much effort to put into understanding a subject also came up in 18.03. I left the class in a bit of a haze. I still can’t really remember what I learned, though I’m certain that I did learn something. Part of that was the way the class was taught – I found the online presentation of the material via the MITx platform (which acted as a de facto online textbook) to be difficult to follow and hard to focus on, and the lectures to be pretty disorganized. However, it was also a conscious decision that I made at the time, largely sponsored by PNR and my deteriorating mental health towards the end of fall semester, to not put too much effort into 18.03. I figured that if I ever really needed to use differential equations, I could re-learn specific material as it becomes needed. This has largely held up, so I don’t really regret it, but it did still feel icky to have left the class with such uncertainty. I still feel like I should know more about differential equations than I do.

21G.418: Race and Migration in Europe

21G.418 is an interesting class, in that it’s cross-registered between the anthropology and global languages departments. While the class is taught in English and covers a variety of situations across all of Europe, there is a bit of an emphasis on the politics of race and migration within Germany specifically. There is also an option to write the research papers11 this was my freshman CI-H class, which means it has an intensive writing component for the class in German, which I for some reason decided to do, despite my German probably not being strictly at that level. But because of who I am as a person, I wanted to challenge myself, and I was on PNR, and I figured that my written German is significantly better than my spoken German anyway, so… I did it. It was really stressful, of course,12 why do I keep subjecting myself to these things... but it was definitely a good exercise that helped me improve my German skills.

As for the subject itself, I found it fascinating and really engaging. On one hand, I’m curious about Europe and its relationship to migration, so it was really interesting to learn more about the situation. Further, I had never really engaged with anthropology before, and knew very little about the field. I found it really interesting to read the texts, and see, from a high level, the kind of thinking anthropology engages in. While I was left with mixed feelings about the field and the lens through which it frames certain issues, I’m really glad I took this class. Plus, I just really like reading kind of dense academic humanities texts, so. I got my share of that.

 

IAP

Over IAP,  I took an extra physics subject, 8.223. I wrote about my impressions in detail in this post, so I’ll just copy my thoughts from there:

8.223: Classical Mechanics II

8.223 was a very lovely class. I wouldn’t say it blew my mind, probably because I had already been exposed to these sorts of problems before, but it had lots of interesting problems with cool applications and difficult math that led to satisfying conclusions. In other words, all the things I love about physics wrapped up and tied with a ribbon. I also really appreciated the way it was taught: the professor⁠ pre-recorded lectures and posted them the day before they were “due.” Then, each day, he would hold a sort of q&a session where he would answer questions and clarify concepts from the recording. This was followed by a recitation with one of the TAs. Though I usually didn’t have time to go to these live sessions, but the recordings were always posted afterwards, which was super helpful.

 

Spring Semester

In stark contrast to the fall, I spent the spring on campus, surrounded by people. Furthermore, many of the people in my pod were taking the same classes as I was, making collaboration on psets that much easier. If I didn’t understand a concept, I could step out into the hallway, knock on my podmates’ door, and someone would probably be able to explain it to me. Even for 8.03, which I didn’t share with my podmates, I was able to meet up with friends I had in the class in touchdown spaces on campus, and work together there. I can count on one hand the number of times I went to office hours for any of my classes this past semester, and honestly… working with friends is much better. I’m so glad I discovered that. As I mentioned before, though, this courseload was definitely too much. So read the following with a grain of salt, and the understanding that I was very stressed for much of the semester.

 

6.009: Fundamentals of Programming

This might be a controversial opinion, but I loved 6.009. The class has a simple format: most of your grade is made up of weekly labs, which are long coding assignments designed to take about ten hours each to complete. At the end of each lab, you find yourself with a cool working program, such as an audio track manipulator or an image compressor. Although it was definitely a lot of work, and although I did not manage that work very well (think cramming most of the labs into the twenty-four hours before they were due), I thoroughly enjoyed it. I never before appreciated just how much I enjoy the very process of coding, regardless of outcome or goal. I also really felt myself grow as a programmer, learning new skills and seeing my style visibly improve. Overall, the class was incredibly satisfying – the payoff is very clearly visible, which made the difficult moments easier to bear.

8.03: Vibrations and Waves

I wasn’t originally planning on taking a physics class in the spring, but my experience in 8.022 made me want to continue with the subject immediately. 8.03 is the next subject in the physics major sequence, and it follows the same general format as 8.022: in-depth, math-heavy derivations of physical laws and concepts, but with an emphasis on then applying those concepts. Aside from my dislike of the MITx online platform (I find short videos interspersed with practice problems hard to focus on), I would say I enjoyed 8.03 overall. As with 8.022, I alternated between falling in love with the beauty of how nature arises from math and being deeply confused about the math itself. In 8.03, I found myself constantly surprised at how much I actually understood: I would often sit down to do a pset, feeling completely lost, and then finish it with relative ease. There are different depths of understanding, and maybe I’m just expecting a deeper level of myself than I strictly need. I suspect this will be an ongoing theme with physics classes, and that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure I don’t actually want to pursue physics beyond my undergrad degree.13 but that's a subject for a future post...

18.06: Linear Algebra

18.06 left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, the class was very well taught. I loved the way the professor laid things out clearly and logically, from motivating a concept to proving it to showing its applications. 18.06 was very straightforward in this sense, which was great for me as someone who isn’t necessarily interested in abstract math but rather its practical uses. On the other hand, some of the class policies were unnecessarily strict, and often times psets would include really involved problems with lots of annoying arithmetic that didn’t actually contribute to my understanding of the concepts. I also just… forgot to submit one of the psets, even after doing it on time, so overall I was pretty stressed about this class. It all worked out in the end, though, and I did leave the class with the distinct feeling of “oh, I know linear algebra now,” much to my own surprise. So I guess that’s a win.

6.042: Math for Computer Science

Although being coded course 6,14 computer science 6.042 is very much a math class. It’s centered around the general topic areas of proofs, logic, graphs (the abstract kind), and probability. As with 18.06, I enjoyed this class largely because of the way the abstract topics were presented directly alongside their applications. 6.042 actually got me pretty excited about computer science in general, and about taking 6.00615 Intro to Algorithms in the fall. I regret taking so many classes this past spring because I couldn’t dedicate enough time and effort to each one. This is especially true with 6.042: so many of the problems on the psets were so interesting, if only I had had the time to sit and think about them properly. The class is very puzzle-like, and many of the assignments border on competition-style math. However, I would never leave myself enough time to do the psets properly, leading to a lot of stress and missed enjoyment.

21G.410: Advanced German: Professional Communication

Unlike 21G.418, 21G.410 is fully taught in German, with an emphasis on spoken language and presentation skills. But Masha, didn’t you say that your spoken German is much worse than written? Yes, yes I did. And I took this class anyway, because I like to challenge myself, and because it didn’t seem all that difficult in the first few weeks. And to be fair, it wasn’t difficult, so much as it was just beyond my level. I struggled a lot in the class, but looking back, I can definitely see how much my German has improved. Would I take it again if I could go back and make the decision again? Probably not. It added a lot of stress to an already difficult semester, and I could probably use a review16 I'm thinking of probably taking 21G.404, German IV, next year of German grammar before I keep going further with the language. Plus, the material itself wasn’t super engaging, though it was undoubtedly very useful.

 

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the classes I took freshman year. As you can tell, it was pretty stressful, but a lot of that was a result of choices I consciously made, knowingly putting myself in difficult situations. Despite that, I feel like I learned a lot, challenged myself, and got a better sense of what I enjoy academically. My choice of classes definitely helped me with my choice of major, and just in my general thinking about my life and career path. That’s a discussion for my next post, though. I’ll link part 2 here once it goes up.

  1. but I still have trouble saying that firmly because, well, I’m a chronic overcommitter and a workaholic to boot back to text
  2. Calculus I back to text
  3. Calculus II back to text
  4. Physics I back to text
  5. 18.01 and 8.01 via AP classes and the math placement test and 18.02 via transfer credit from a local college back to text
  6. is it because I’m a serial procrastinator? maybe… back to text
  7. the freshman fall pass/no record grading scheme back to text
  8. admittedly, this was partially by choice… I still hadn’t gotten out of my high school mindset, where I did all work alone back to text
  9. Physics II back to text
  10. well, that's not strictly true, but it definitely lessened the concerns significantly back to text
  11. this was my freshman CI-H class, which means it has an intensive writing component back to text
  12. why do I keep subjecting myself to these things... back to text
  13. but that's a subject for a future post... back to text
  14. computer science back to text
  15. Intro to Algorithms back to text
  16. I'm thinking of probably taking 21G.404, German IV, next year back to text