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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Catching up by Laura N. '09

What's new? Lots of things. I just haven't told you about them yet, because finals own my life.

Wow. The last few days have been absolutely insane.

You see, once I found out that all of my finals were crammed into the first two days of finals week, I thought- “YES! I’ll get out of here way early.” So I told my mom to come Tuesday night and bring me home Wednesday morning. Yeah, that wasn’t necessarily the best idea. I didn’t leave myself very much time for packing or doing dishes or eating or…well, lots of things.

But now, it’s all almost over. I finished all my finals (passing them is an entirely different story- I have this suspicion I’ll be taking 18.03 again next semester), and have packed up just about everything I don’t need to get ready tomorrow morning.

So what final details of my freshman year haven’t I told you about yet?

Well first off, we had floor elections a couple of weeks ago, and I’m the new Conner 2 webmaster (or webmistress, as Sam likes to say). I’m pretty excited about this, because web design is cool. I used to be pretty good at it, but then I stopped learning new stuff and forgot a lot of old stuff. I’m really looking forward to working with it again- it’s one of those things I like to do for…what’s the word? Oh yeah, fun. To tell the truth, it can be a really frustrating hobby- (“Oh my God, where’d the page go? The whole thing is gone! I have 500 lines here and I’m missing one damn quotation mark that destroyed the entire page!!!”), but I find it really rewarding at the same time. I mean, I’m not exactly the world’s most creative person, so it’s pretty cool to look at a page I created and take pride in its…artistic…nature. Right.

In other news, I chose a major! It’s an awesome choice that doesn’t have a number. It’s called “undesignated.”

I know, I know, I’ve been telling everyone that I’m Course 2, but that’s mostly just to have something to say. And it’s still in the running for actually becoming my major. The truth is that I never REALLY knew what I wanted to major in. I knew I was interested in MechE but I really wanted to think about it before I decided. So I went through my choice of major process the same backward, idiotic way I did my choice of college process- process of elimination. (I kid you not.)

I made a list of all 20 some odd majors here at MIT and slowly crossed them off, one by one as I decided against them. I think Course 1 was the first to go- I had an internship at a civil and environmental engineering firm last year, and I found it pretty boring, personally. Some others stuck around awhile longer- 6 and 9 almost made it to the top three. Brain and Cognitive Sciences are SO COOL. But in the end I decided that I was never going to go on to become some kind of research scientist and actually USE the stuff I learned in Course 9. Course 6 stuck around too because I’ve never known any programming beyond TI-Basic (yes, in 10th grade I programmed my graphing calculator to do such fun things as solve quadratic equations for me and automatically find reference angles) and I’m really interested in learning. But major? In Course 6? Nah. I couldn’t really see myself dedicating all of my undergrad years to it. Besides, there were other things I found far more interesting.

Like physics. I really, really love physics. Which is weird, because I used to really, really hate physics. Ready for a great physics nerd story? So my high school competes in the New Jersey Science League competitions. Basically, we send a bunch of people to another school for the afternoon where we all take a 50-minute multiple choice test in the appropriate subject- there are beginner and advanced levels of each of bio, chem, and physics. (The advanced level corresponds to the AP course.) Sophomore year I was in regular physics, and I was never good enough to be invited to science league competitions. This was sad, but not too sad. I used to get over 100 on all the exams in that class, but I hated physics anyway. …it was complicated.

Anyway, junior year I took chemistry, and my chemistry teacher invited anyone who was interested to join the team. Well I wanted to know what I had been missing out on all this time, so I signed up. On our way to the very first competition, we began having a conversation about science SAT subject tests, and I mentioned my super-awesome 790 on the Physics SAT II. Dr. Christoe, the AP physics teacher, exclaimed, “Laura! I never knew you were good at physics!” (This is the same teacher who taught me for a year in Principles of Engineering, which was basically glorified physics. Thank you, Dr. C.) So now Dr. Christoe has this idea in his head that I’m going to take the Physics II test (based on the AP class, remember) for him. Mrs. Lyons, the chem teacher, told him he was out of his mind. So I took the chemistry test and had a grand time at my first ever NJSL competition.

During the days leading up to the next competition, Dr. Christoe was nervous, because he couldn’t scare up enough students in his class who wanted to take the test. So he asked me if I’d like to do it. I again told him he was crazy- I was in Engineering Physics, which, despite being the hardest class I ever took in my life, was not at the same level as the calc-based physics he wanted me to do. (I was only in precalc at the time.) But he kept insiting, and eventually as we were boarding the bus to head off to the competition, the decision was made that I would take the physics exam. The AP students spent the bus ride briefing me on all I needed to know for this unit and wished me good luck. I thought this was rather a waste of everyone’s time, but I was starting to like physics by now, so I gave it my best shot.

Tangent story- it turns out that I learn math through physics far better than I could ever learn math through math. There was one question on this exam that I vaguely understood- but I had no idea how I was supposed to calculate the answer. So I made up my own weird method of calculation based on my physical understanding of the problem and hoped that I had managed to get the right answer by random chance. As it turns out, I did get the problem right. On the bus ride back, Garret (now MIT ’08, actually) explained to me how to get the answer. He started by drawing an integral symbol on the page, and I stopped him right there. I had only ever seen that symbol before, and it scared me. I showed him how I solved the problem- and it turned out that I had basically derived the long-hand method for taking an integral without ever knowing what an integral was. Through physics, anything is possible. =D

Anyway, back to my story. So we’ve all now taken the test and are waiting for the results. They always announce the top 2 individual scores in each test, as well as the school with the highest overall score. They started with Bio I, which High Tech didn’t compete in. But in Bio II, we had the top 2 high scores and the top overall score. Same in Chem I. And Chem II. And Physics I. So far, we had swept all of the categories. They announced Phil as the high scorer in Physics II, which was no surprise. But now we were all anxious. I crossed my fingers and hoped that Garret or Liddy had placed second- then we would sweep the entire competition, which would be pretty sweet, I think.

Unfortunately, neither Garret or Liddy placed second.

I did.

It was the most surreal moment ever. All of the High Tech students went crazy- not only had we won every category, but the final victory came from some poor girl not even taking the class she was testing for who was only able to solve the problems by making up her own math.

To answer your question- yes. I felt pretty badass. =) I spent 4 years playing high school field hockey and never had a moment of victory quite like the physics competition I won my junior year.

Yeah. I’m a huge dork, and I love it.

Wow I’ve gotten off track. The point is, I clearly love physics. It holds a special place in my heart. But major in it? And do what? Go into more physics? I just didn’t really see it. What about Course 2, which I was so eager to try out here? And then came the wild card- Course 16, which is just unbelievably cool.

“What do you do for a living?”
“Oh, you know. Rocket science.”

So that leaves me with a tough choice- Mechanical Engineering, Physics, or Aero/Astro. What’s a girl to do?

Well, I pre-registered for Unified, which is the introductory-really-hard-kicks-everyone’s-you-know-what class for Course 16, as well as 2.001, the intro class for Course 2. I decided to hold off on Course 8, because I know I probably won’t major in it. If anything, I’ll take it as a minor or maybe major in 8b, which is the “flexible” major with far fewer requirements. I basically have all the time in the world to take physics classes, but if I decide to be Course 16 after NOT taking unified as a sophomore, my life will pretty much suck.

So in the end, I have no idea what I’m doing. I can’t decide and I probably won’t decide until I absolutely have to. But at least I have some general ideas- a good starting point to start thinking about all this seriously.

Well, that’s it for me as a freshman. I’m heading home tomorrow morning, and looking forward to an awesome, relaxing summer as a lifeguard.

Coming soon- responses to questions. I absolutely, positively promise! (I’m typing this in the Athena cluster and don’t have my half-finished answers at hand- a million apologies.) Also coming soon- more info about Burton-Conner, inspired by questions and emails. And maybe even some introspective ponderings about completing my first year at MIT.

9 responses to “Catching up”

  1. Sulinya says:

    What an awesome competition story! Good luck choosing a major grin

  2. Shannon says:

    “yes, in 10th grade I programmed my graphing calculator to do such fun things as solve quadratic equations for me and automatically find reference angles”

    That’s really creepy. I did the exact same thing and used to use it on tests until my teacher found out and had to start changing the calculator section of the test to not include anything I could write a program for. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.

  3. John says:

    Ah! I = NJSL competitor. My freshman and sophomore years, I took AP Bio and AP Chem, but I competed at the Bio I and Chem I levels because (a) I didn’t want to have to study for the level II exams (oh, and I would have studied) and (b) because there weren’t any honors kids to take the level I exams. So, basically, I cheated for two years and I didn’t even do that well :(. I passed the AP exams, though.

  4. MIT alum says:

    Hey Laura,

    Good luck on your major decision! smile As one who actually took all of Unified, and the 1st term junior year course 16 classes, and *then* switched majors, I am here to tell you that life does not end if you do indeed take all of Unified and then switch majors. smile

  5. Sarab says:

    Cool! Loved the dork story!!

    Hope you make the right choice on what to major in!!

  6. JKim says:

    I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life.

    And you have a MUCH better idea than I do, but still, now I don’t feel so alone smile

  7. Ruth says:

    I too feel that I am generally directionless in life, but reading your blog makes me feel like I am not so alone, and just might make it in the world!

    Seriously, update! A more pictures, less blocks of text. Go!

  8. Simone says:

    now that freshman year is over, how would you describe your first year at mit? relieved that you’re still alive, dying for fall semester to start? from hearing about how hard mit is as a prefrosh, to a rising sophomore whose gone through all the goods and bads of freshman year, what do you have to say about mit now? also, just out of curiosity, and its totally okay i you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, but what’s your grade like so far at mit (1st and 2nd semester, assuming there wasn’t pass/no record)? and what was your grade like back in high school? for example, were you a straight a student in high school and getting straight b’s here at mit?

  9. JKim says:

    I’m also almost completely directionless, except for the fact that I know where I’m going next year, so thanks for this post smile