Another take on pass/no-record by Lulu L. '09
and some other stuff. Hey look, I haven't pontificated about anything in a while.
This started off being a comment in snively’s entry. Then it branched off, sprouted leaves and thorns and eventually grew legs and started running around out of control, so I figured I’d put it in an entry by itself.
This is what got me going:
Taking “advantage” of pass/no-record.
“No. You didn’t get an A. You got a P. Just like _________ over there having fun. You got the same grade only he had more fun.”
I read that statement, it made me cringe, and I decided I don’t want that statement to go unchallenged. It’s not that it’s untrue, there are certainly upperclassmen who say that to freshmen. But to me, there’s really nothing more embarrassing than people telling other people that they are working too hard. More than not there’s some aspect of selfishness and self-validation to that advice. I do it myself sometimes, usually when I’m in a terrible mood, and I generally feel bad afterward. I don’t want freshmen to think that that kind of talk, that kind of pressure, is OK especially for upperclassmen to exert on freshmen, and that because they’ve been there longer they necessarily know better, and you can’t just tell them to shove it and mind their own sorry business because they’re older than you. Which, incidentally, is actually exactly what you should do.
This is because school is a different thing to different people. Don’t assume you know what it means to someone else. Just because those guys are working hard on pass/no-record doesn’t mean they’re humorless grade-grubbers, or that they don’t know how to “have fun”, or that 3 weeks into school they don’t already have super hot girlfriends. And just because these other guys are not working hard on pass/no-record doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wasting their time here, or that you should feel superior to them if you are. Yeah, some of what ends up being said is tongue-in-cheek, but the implications are very real. Truth is, we’re at MIT, and we’d all do better if we could rise above the tired old notion of coolness and likeability somehow being the inverse of how much work you do on weekends.
Frankly, some of the coolest people I know, never failed a test here. Never missed a lecture, never skipped a problem set. Failing here and there is ok, when you’re getting your footing, it’s not a requirement by any means. It’s not a requirement in order to have friends. It’s not a requirement in order to have the “college experience”. In order to be fun at parties.
I always hated that upperclassmen would give bad advice like that. And it’s ridiculous that it’s coming from MIT students.
What I would recommend?
Find out what pass/no-record will be for you. Personally, I’ve always believed in grades. Take that however you may. I believe grades aren’t there just to embarrass you or for you to wear around your head like a crown, grades are a personal measure of achievement when all other measures yield ambiguous results or fail in their objectivity. With some exception, of course, grades often reflect how well you’ve learned the material in the course. Whether that material is useful to you or stupid and irrelevant and who cares about that class anyway pfffff, well, that’s up to you to decide. That’s why it’s not a judge of character, it’s simply a measure of achievement.
Pass/no-record, in my opinion, isn’t an announcement that you shouldn’t worry about your grades, it’s an opportunity for you to figure out what it is that you want to worry about, what you want to get out of this place. Instead of just barrelling ahead blindly on the momentum of high school, whether it was a culture of competition or perfection or a place of familiar but unchallenged values, I think what it does is it gives you some time to think, to try some different approaches, and if you happen to decide that academics is what you will put first, it erases any damage that may have been done.
The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to treat pass/no-record as if it did not exist. Blow it off just because you can, and you’ll have wasted a rare opportunity in life at a trial run. Put your best foot forward and see how you measure up. Find out what works and what doesn’t, grow a pair and learn some valuable self-assurance for the years to come. Because, like it or not, confidence matters. Confidence allows your knowledge to find its way into application. Confidence earns you respect among peers. Confidence can be everything.
The GIR’s that you take on pass/no-record aren’t freebies. They’re classes upon which all other classes build. Juniors and seniors have the option to put a class on Pass-Fail, but oftentimes, they don’t, because they are trying to avoid incentives to slack off and avoid the regret of a semester bent on learning nothing. Doing this with your foundational classes in physics/math is really not a good idea, unless you’re sure you’re going into an unrelated field. I never learned 8.022 all that well and it’s come back to bite me more than once. In the quantum sequence, in astrophysics, in cosmology, in engineering, even, and that’s why I’m taking 8.07 now.
Freshmen. Ask yourselves this: how seriously do I want to take my academics for the next 4 years? How much do I want to learn? What would I give up in order to achieve that goal? Look, these aren’t rhetorical questions, these are really important questions that need need need answers. Especially that last one. Everywhere you look, at MIT, are people who’ve answered that question differently. There were kids in my quantum class that would spend 12 hours– extra hours– just figuring out all possible ways of solving a problem. You’ll meet people like that, and you’ll be amazed at just how much of a difference that kind of commitment makes. Being next to those people made me realize that when I made the initial choice of “this is what I am willing to give up”, that wasn’t a part of the picture. That was beyond what I was willing to sacrifice. And yeah, that meant that I will not be able to match their level of mastery of the subject until I’ve changed my priorities. And that’s something I have to live with.
Of course, more doesn’t always mean better. For some subjects, subjects that aren’t pure science, academics is really only just an obstacle. It’s a crappy way to learn a set of skills that will eventually go toward a trade and a career. Mostly, I hear this from engineers, consultants. If you are getting more out of work experience than academics, by all means recast your priorities. But don’t let peer pressure be a part of that change. These people will be your suitemates, roommates, for a few years, and then they’ll be gone; but what you pick up here, where you end up taking it… well, that’s entirely up to you.