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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

Denied by MIT, 5 Years Later by Chris Peterson SM '13

what happened after pi day 2011

I’ve gotten a number of email responses to my blog post about the different paths our lives can take. One of them was from a student whom we denied five years ago. He and I had emailed a bit when he was denied, but I hadn’t heard from him since Pi Day 2011; he revived the old thread to tell me what he had been doing in the time since.

I thought it was a really nice note, and maybe an encouraging one, so I asked him if I could blog it, and he said I could. I’ve reproduced it in its entirety and unedited (except for where I removed personally identifiable information at his request) below.

Hi Chris,

I wonder if you remember me. I had written to you long ago on Pi Day 2011, when I had received an admission decision from MIT, and I hadn’t made it. I am just replying on this old email thread just so you may go through our old discussion.

[…]I couldn’t agree more that over time, a person makes choices which define him/her, and ultimately most of us usually like the person we have become over the years. You might want to know how I fared in past five years (wow, five years already!). After my high school graduation in 2011, I decided to take a gap year. It was strange, most of my friends from school had gone to college all over country, few of them decided to take gap, but they had their own agenda for that year. I devoted my gap year mostly in reading, travelling and backpacking along North India for two months, and studying amateur Astronomy. I always wanted to come to MIT and be an astrophysicist.

Now something strange happened in that year, I would co-ordinate my learning mostly from [a] Planetarium in New Delhi. Me & other guys who were in this were expected to make a small java software which would to track Planetary orbits and pinpoint a planet’s location in sky based on its known coordinates. It wasn’t much of a program, but while doing so I realized that I wasn’t exactly interested in where that planet would be on a given day in the year, but was more interested in coding the variables of its orbit. I found that I like computers more than planets.

Ultimately, next year instead of joining a purely research University on Physics, I joined [a technical college] as a Computer Science student. This college was like 3000 km away from my hometown, it was so weird. I was in a state where I literally knew no one, the people were different, the lifestyle, the climate, the food everything was so different. First semester was tough, but I made some friends, and learnt to cope up with the new life style. As I moved further into my college years, things begun to get better. I was good in computers, and I actually liked working on it, so it showed up in my college performance. The professors liked me, my social life was good, I made many friends. Then in third year things got a bit tough, too much work load etc etc.

I would still regularly follow Mit Blogs, some blogs were so inspiring, Lydia and Anna and others, and then those trolls of MQuinn (I wonder if he is still around).

I had told you in my previous mail that your “Applying Sideways” blog was my favorite. It still is. Though it was mainly written for high schoolers, I found myself religiously practising it in college as well. I always did well in my classes (CGPA 9.2/10.0, not bad I guess) would always try my best to be nice to everyone, even to some particularly cruel professors, never said no to anyone who asked for help, even though it would mean taking out some time from my Jam-Packed schedule in third year (mostly I would make time by not sleeping), and always pursued my passion.

In college I mentored juniors, got selected as Google Student Ambassador and met many people from over the world, published research paper in my fifth sem, took full time undergraduate research program under my guide for my final year thesis and loved it, found the girl whom I loved unconditionally, rescued stray dogs and cats and kept them as pets, was a member of various societies in college, organized many events, had unforgettable time with my friends, etc. Above all, I was happy being there, so it has been all good. In my final semester, I had accumulated enough credits to leave college early, so I took an internship opportunity from Informatica in Feb this year and moved to Bangalore.

I wonder how much these things would have been possible if it wasn’t for your blog, specially these two points of it:

Do well in school. Take tough classes. Interrogate your beliefs and presumptions. Pursue knowledge with dogged precision. Because it is better to be educated and intelligent than not.

Be nice. This cannot be overstated. Don’t be wanton or careless or cruel. Treat those around you with kindness. Help people. Contribute to your community.

There were moments in college when I actually felt like saying no to people who would ask for help when I would be weeks behind my own college work. But somehow I would be like, “yeah sure, tell me your prob”. I would tell you a recent example, which happened this monday. I had been back to college as it was our Farewell day, and the girl whom I loved for all these years had sort of ended things with me(apparently, long-distance relationship is hard). I was hoping to talk to her and patch up things with her, but that day was Lab exams of current third years. When they saw me, they would just keep coming to me to ask doubts and stuff, and I would find myself sharing my own opinion of which ques was more important, and how to answer in viva etc. Later in noon when i was free, some younger sister of one of my classmates asked me to review a paper she was supposed to submit. I ended up reviewing her paper in detail, with citations and new methods which I could suggest. All this left me with 5 minutes time in evening to patch up things with my estranged girlfriend when she was leaving for home. It didn’t go good as I expected, but that day I think I helped around 20 people with their small problems, so I returned back to home with a weird happy feeling.

I think that of all your three points in that blog, nothing is more important than BE NICE. I have noticed that if you are nice to people, you will somehow be good in your school as you will be required to research something in order to help them, and that only increases your knowledge :p . Also most people turn out to help you back if you have any problem in anything, including academics. I don’t know its true only in my case or for others as well.

I always wonder how things would have been if I was selected to MIT, or else if I had gone for a degree in astrophysics (I still pursue it as a hobby), or if had taken up Biology and become a doctor like most of my family. Whatever it would have been, I am happy with how things have turned out so far. And I like what I have become over these years, and your Applying Sideways blog has been the one to shape it. Thank you for it. :) :)

Hope things are good at your end….

– HM