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decisions, decisions by Paolo A. '21

why are there so many of them

I like to think that people are defined by two things — the values that they hold and the choices that they make. So I figured that a half-decent way of introducing myself to the world (and give a decent overview of the bajillion things I’m busy with these days) is to share some decisions I’ve made over the past few weeks across all sorts of areas in my life. In alphabetical order:01 <span class="md-plain">i don’t wanna order this by order of importance because you might just pay attention to the little things and get bored when you hit the big ones. or you might just scroll to the big decisions and </span><span class="md-meta-i-c md-link"><a href="https://youtu.be/YcqauC49Xmc?t=37"><span class="md-plain">let the little things in life pass you by</span></a></span><span class="md-plain md-expand">. how would one even decide whether some decision is more or less important? another option was ordering chronologically, but that feels too linear, and let me tell y’all my brain does not exactly work in straight lines. this post was drafted very non-linearly and every one of my blog posts will probably be written in a similar way.

  • Bed: Amazon three blankets on the floor. A few weeks ago, I had to choose whether to order a bed from Amazon, IKEA, or Wayfair; I ended up deciding to get an Amazon mattress delivered on 9/3, and I’d just sleep on an air mattress that I brought from home until it came. However, Southwest ended up leaving behind my checked luggage (thanks Southwest), so when I flew into Boston on 9/1, I didn’t anything to sleep on. A combination of friends’ belongings and my stuff in storage (which got delivered to me 2 days early?) meant that I ended up sleeping on as many blankets as I could find. This was not a comfortable sleep. Luckily for me, my Amazon bed got delivered the next day (early!), and laying on that felt like literal heaven.

  • Classes: 14.04 (Microeconomic Theory), 14.THU (Economics Thesis), 18.112 (Complex Analysis), 18.404 (Theory of Computation), 8.225/STS.042 (Physics in the 20th Century). I am a 14-2 (Mathematical Economics), which means that I am an exceptionally rare unicorn02 per the <span class="md-meta-i-c md-link"><a href="https://registrar.mit.edu/statistics-reports/enrollment-statistics-year">registrar</a></span><span class="md-plain md-expand">, the class of 2021 has 9 14-2 majors and 10 14-1 majors, out of ~1100 people in their senior year. i added the numbers for primary and secondary 14 majors, so the numbers aren’t the numbers in that link. pretty sure i’ve interacted with / been in a class with every 14-1 and 14-2 in my year. at MIT. These classes are all somewhere in the intersection of “in my major”, “interested in the subject”, and “things that’d be nice to leave MIT vaguely knowing”. The quick rationales for classes that were on my Firehose03 <span class="md-def-content"><span class="md-meta-i-c md-link md-expand"><a href="http://firehose.guide">firehose.guide</a></span>, a tool developed by a student in their spare time to help people plan out their schedules</span>  but didn’t end up making it on my class schedule are:

    • 14.121 (Microeconomic Theory I): Grad-level microeconomics, perhaps a bit too rigorous for me this semester compared to 14.04. And too many hours that I don’t have time for. I’ve also gotten advice that taking grad micro as an undergrad isn’t the best idea since I’ll just have to retake a very similar class if I go on to grad school.

    • 14.661 (Labor Economics I): A different grad class that’s about wages, human capital, job searching, and more. This field is super cool, but I just don’t think I have time for it this semester. Pretty bummed about this one, since I enjoyed a different class (14.19, Market Design) I took with one of the professors. Might take a spring version with a different professor.
    • 6.036 (Introduction to mAcHiNe LeArNiNg)04 <span class="md-def-content">i also was taking this in part to fulfill a requirement for a course 6 (cs) minor. i’m a firm believer in taking classes and just letting the minors pop out so whoops. looks like no course 6 minor for me. : I keep hearing about this thing called ML but never have taken any time to figure out what it’s supposed to be. Maybe it’s good to learn at some point. But like too many other things, this semester is too busy for it now.

    • 3.091 / 5.111 (Chemistry): I am bad and am punting my Chemistry GIR to senior spring. This is bad procedure. It’s just that too many of the classes I want to take happen to be fall-only classes :( Better hope I pass it next spring, or I’m not graduating05 <span class="md-def-content"><span class="md-plain md-expand">aaaAAAAaaAaAAAaaa when did i become a senior i remember being a wee frosh and finding everything so new and exciting and now i am an old and alkjdsnflkjsaf someone please i am </span><span class="md-meta-i-c md-link"><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdOIHNF2vJc">not ready to be old</a></span>.

    • 8.05 (Quantum Physics II): I’ve always wanted to learn more about quantum and just spend time doing the math of it rather than just the “pop culture science” things I see of “ooooo Schrödinger’s cat” and “quAnTUm cOmPUtInG”. I’ll probably never have the motivation to self-study it ever on OCW, so maybe this is a thing I try to take next semester. (And probably on listener, TBH.)

    • 11.011 (The Art and Science of Negotiation): Everyone who takes this class recommends it to everyone they know — they even wrote an MIT News article about it. I’ve kept telling myself that I would take it next semester, but now it’s senior year and I don’t think I can make it fit. Another one bites the dust :(

    • All the random HASS classes in the world: This section is already going on long enough, but there are literally dozens of HASS classes in the course catalog that I wish I could be taking this semester that I will never get a chance to :(
  • Introduction post: you’re reading it! Finding the best way to say “hello” is hard. I’d thrown around a few ideas, from “never thought this would happen / akjdsnfksjdf i’m a blogger?!?!?!”06 confession: i was trying to think of a blogging schtick and my initial thought was “i want to rickroll the blogs. i’ll start my first blog title with ‘never’. and then ‘gonna’. and then…” <span class="md-plain md-expand">as you can tell by the title of this post, this is no longer the case. i got </span><span class="md-pair-s "><em>really</em></span><span class="md-plain md-expand"> stuck on what “gonna” was gonna be; depending on how far i got, “desert” is also pretty tough. this is my personal challenge to future bloggers to find <span class="md-pair-s "><em>some</em></span> way to rickroll everyone that is more involved than a well-placed link. or maybe just meme in general. post made entirely of memes when?</span> to “the story of this summer” to “[screaming into the void about my senior year being not what i wanted]”. My goal with this introduction post was to show as many different things about me as possible while also talking about things I think about a lot, and those two things led me right here to this blog post’s premise.

  • Lecture attendance / moving-in day: trying to go to most, but “skipping” the first day to move. I’m a person that tends to go to most of my classes, mostly because I like being in a set schedule. I’m still planning on trying to do this even with my classes with asynchronous options, but there is one large exception to this: the first day of classes. I had a few options for when to move to Boston: the weekend before school started (8/30), the first day of classes (9/1), or the first weekend of the school year (9/5). The Massachusetts quarantine order made the first option infeasible. The 5th would let me move in on a weekend when there weren’t any classes, but delaying my move-in meant that I wouldn’t be around to move furniture, clean up our apartment, and settle in earlier. So I took the L and decided that I could skip one day of classes, which I think is small enough in the grand scheme of things. My class schedule actually worked out incredibly nicely with my flight schedule, and I had a 4 hour layover exactly when my 3 hours of classes07 two of my lectures actually overlap (18.404 and 14.04), and so i have 4.5 hours of classes in a 3 hour block of time. thanks to the magic of ~recorded lectures~, i can pretend i am hermione and take two simultaneous classes without <em>that </em>much worry. the only problem is if there are tests on the same day but i'll figure that out if i have to. on Tuesday were.

  • My blogging style: still in the works. I’m relatively new to blogging; I’ve been blogging semi-regularly this summer (after at least three08 both numbers in this sentence are three; blog readers it is important for you to all know that i can only count to three. i am aware of the existence of numbers beyond three but their ordering is a mystery that i will never know. there are many phrases that i repeatedly tell other people; “i cannot count past three” is one of them. today i was doing 20 squats with a friend and i lost count between 18 and 20. counting is absurdly difficult sometimes. these footnotes were numbered automatically, in case you were wondering previous failed attempts and one attempt in group blogging where I posted like, three times).

    In terms of the way that I write, while I generally like the aesthetic of typing in all lowercase and very stream-of-conscious-y, sometimes that doesn’t always feel right (like for most of this post). The current idea is that that tone is going to be more in my footnotes (and occasionally in the bodies of my blogs). In terms of content, I have no idea what I’ll talk about. These both will definitely evolve over time, so I don’t think it’s worth stressing too much and trying to over-plan it. I’ll probably just keep doing whatever feels right in the moment and it’ll lead to something decent.

  • Returning: off-campus in Central Square. I’d signed a lease with some friends back in January, back when I could still give hugs to my friends and COVID was a news headline in very small font. The end of last semester was hard for me class-wise; it’s just so much easier to be productive when you are surrounded by other people who are also drinking from the firehose. When MIT’s re-opening plan09 <span class="md-def-content">some useful context about mit’s reopening plan: seniors can come back in the fall and freshman + sophomores + juniors can come back in the spring. all classes that can be online will be online. you cannot take in-person classes unless you are on-campus and abide by mit’s guidelines of social distancing, twice-a-week testing, etc. it’s definitely one of the most conservative plans for bringing students back to campus (i think only paralleled by harvard’s “only freshman, no in-person classes at all”)</span><span class="md-def-content">  released in July, I had the option of either honoring my lease and living with my friends or returning to campus, where I could have access to libraries/gyms, but all classes that could be online would be online. Econ majors are effectively the lowest priority on the “get to return” scale, and so even if I were on campus, I’d have exactly 0 classes to take in-person. So I kept my lease, turned down MIT housing, and because of MIT safety policies, I guess that means that I’ve taken my last in-person class at MIT. Maybe even taken my last step inside MIT before I graduate.

  • Science bowl: an invitational! I loved science bowl so much before college; my 8th-grade teacher introduced me to it, and then I started a team at my high school in my junior year. Through an incredible series of coincidences (involving uniquely colored t-shirts, living in the same wing as someone else, and being an over-eager frosh) I’ve ended up as the coordinator of MIT Science Bowl. We run the Northeast Regional Middle School Science Bowl, and last fall we ran our first Invitational competition. MIT isn’t allowing in-person events through the end of this year, so we’re figuring out how to adapt to an online format. We’re still working on figuring out the logistics for it all but it’s going to be happening and I am so excited :D :D 

  • Thesis: oh NO. As mentioned above in my classes section above, I’m doing a thesis this year. For now. Doing a thesis sounds very hard — it’s independent research that I have to develop into a single well-put-together paper. But real research and Ph.D. programs are all about churning out high-quality research, so I figure that I should probably try dedicating a decent chunk of my time to that. I’ve got a few ideas, from thinking about how ESP10 educational studies program, we run splash and spark and hssp and cascade and many programs. cj is also a part of this hi cj assigns students into classes, whether competition between schools (especially charters) improves student performance (which I wrote about in a paper for a different class, 14.33), and a few other thoughts that aren’t fully fleshed out yet. I still have absolutely no clue what I’ll be doing, so we’ll see how it goes.

That was a lot of words, and I still feel like there are still parts of me that you aren’t getting. Sure, I haven’t told you about everything that I’ve been busy with (many decisions about furniture, friendships, and more), and there’s the other half of what I say makes up a person — values. But I don’t think I’d solve the issue by rattling off more decisions and a list of values to you (and pretending that my values are just something that I innately know and can rattle off). Even if I do share all of that, I feel like it’d still be an incomplete introduction to me. So what’s missing?

During my sophomore spring, I spent many lunches getting to know Janice Y. ’22, now a good friend of mine. We’d grab food together about once a week in Maseeh and talk about all sorts of things, from what was keeping us busy to the things that were important to us to problems in our life. One week, she said to me something along the lines of: “I’m telling you my problems in retrospect after they’re already solved; you’re not getting the parts of my decisions where I’m struggling with everything and still figuring it out”.

I feel the same way with the decisions that I’m writing about above; it feels off to say that I use neat and tidy frameworks to make decisions because those frameworks don’t exist and that’s also not how decisions are actually made. Decisions are messy, you go down wrong paths, you have bad ways of thinking about problems that (hopefully) get better over time. Showing you these choices in hindsight is not the same as if we did it by hanging out in my room while I lay down on my floor and ask you to help me figure out both the small and big things in life. But when writing about all of this, it’s just easier to tell the story in a way that makes it all seem (relatively) neat and tidy and put-together. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this idea of “storytelling”, and how it’s natural for us to tell people things in a way that makes it seem like it’s all nice, neat, and orderly, while the reality is just that life is complicated.

But this is a blog; almost by definition, I’m naturally inclined to write things in a way that makes it all seem orderly. I am scared that I’m going to default into showing the put-together parts of me on these blogs; naturally, sharing the worries and stressy and everything messy with thousands of strangers is not exactly easy. It’s not much easier in person, either; I find myself constantly worrying about whether I’m posing and putting on a mask and not actually showing people who I really am. This last summer, I’ve grown increasingly worried about the idea that I’ll head out into post-MIT life and people will only know the put-together parts — in essence, the “resume” version of me — and that the things that I feel define myself in the present will simply go away because I forget how to be that person.

“Authentic” and “vulnerable” are words that get thrown around a lot — for current applicants, I’m betting a decent chunk of you have heard them many times over in the context of writing your essays. In the ultimate Senior Year 2: Electric Boogaloo, I’ll be trying my best to be authentic too, because sharing my MIT experience would be incomplete without sometimes showing you the not-so-put-together parts of my existence at this college. The musings, the worries, the crises. Because looking at things in hindsight and only seeing the outcomes of decisions could never actually show you all of the life that happens in the in-between.

I fell in love with these blogs back when I was applying and read through the blog archives religiously; I still cannot believe that I’m here and that the words I am writing are on this website. I don’t really know what I want my blogging to be, what my goals are, what I want to share with y’all. But I do know I’ve only got one year11 does this year even count as a year? personally i think not. what will 2020 throw at us next oof  of saying words here, so I really hope that whatever I share, it is a real slice of my experiences, my life, and my MIT.

So I guess this is hello c:

  1. i don’t wanna order this by order of importance because you might just pay attention to the little things and get bored when you hit the big ones. or you might just scroll to the big decisions and let the little things in life pass you by. how would one even decide whether some decision is more or less important? another option was ordering chronologically, but that feels too linear, and let me tell y’all my brain does not exactly work in straight lines. this post was drafted very non-linearly and every one of my blog posts will probably be written in a similar way. back to text
  2. per the registrar, the class of 2021 has 9 14-2 majors and 10 14-1 majors, out of ~1100 people in their senior year. i added the numbers for primary and secondary 14 majors, so the numbers aren’t the numbers in that link. pretty sure i’ve interacted with / been in a class with every 14-1 and 14-2 in my year. back to text
  3. firehose.guide, a tool developed by a student in their spare time to help people plan out their schedules back to text
  4. i also was taking this in part to fulfill a requirement for a course 6 (cs) minor. i’m a firm believer in taking classes and just letting the minors pop out so whoops. looks like no course 6 minor for me. back to text
  5. aaaAAAAaaAaAAAaaa when did i become a senior i remember being a wee frosh and finding everything so new and exciting and now i am an old and alkjdsnflkjsaf someone please i am not ready to be old. back to text
  6. confession: i was trying to think of a blogging schtick and my initial thought was “i want to rickroll the blogs. i’ll start my first blog title with ‘never’. and then ‘gonna’. and then…” as you can tell by the title of this post, this is no longer the case. i got really stuck on what “gonna” was gonna be; depending on how far i got, “desert” is also pretty tough. this is my personal challenge to future bloggers to find some way to rickroll everyone that is more involved than a well-placed link. or maybe just meme in general. post made entirely of memes when? back to text
  7. two of my lectures actually overlap (18.404 and 14.04), and so i have 4.5 hours of classes in a 3 hour block of time. thanks to the magic of ~recorded lectures~, i can pretend i am hermione and take two simultaneous classes without that much worry. the only problem is if there are tests on the same day but i'll figure that out if i have to. back to text
  8. both numbers in this sentence are three; blog readers it is important for you to all know that i can only count to three. i am aware of the existence of numbers beyond three but their ordering is a mystery that i will never know. there are many phrases that i repeatedly tell other people; “i cannot count past three” is one of them. today i was doing 20 squats with a friend and i lost count between 18 and 20. counting is absurdly difficult sometimes. these footnotes were numbered automatically, in case you were wondering back to text
  9. some useful context about mit’s reopening plan: seniors can come back in the fall and freshman + sophomores + juniors can come back in the spring. all classes that can be online will be online. you cannot take in-person classes unless you are on-campus and abide by mit’s guidelines of social distancing, twice-a-week testing, etc. it’s definitely one of the most conservative plans for bringing students back to campus (i think only paralleled by harvard’s “only freshman, no in-person classes at all”) back to text
  10. educational studies program, we run splash and spark and hssp and cascade and many programs. cj is also a part of this hi cj back to text
  11. does this year even count as a year? personally i think not. what will 2020 throw at us next oof back to text