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MIT student blogger Phoebe C. '18

done done done by Phoebe C. '18

end-of-semester happiness

hi internet! i took my last final this morning and am now done with junior year. i haven’t blogged in a while, so i thought i’d write up a post about my semester.


i only had one final this semester, and for the first time in recent memory, i don’t feel burned out at the end of the semester!

the final was for 14.64 (labor economics), a class i loved (not reflected by my spotty attendance). in many of my course 14 classes, i’ve ended up reducing the problems to mathematical manipulations and letting myself lost sight of the underlying economic intuitions–this class did a great job of highlighting the real-world implications of models and integrating empirical papers that tested these implications.

in my other classes, i either had late-semester exams that weren’t technically finals or final projects. another of the classes i took was wgs.111 (gender and media studies), for which i got to write a final paper about the cosmetics brand Glossier. the paper is here. protip: if you want to stop yourself from spending money on a brand, write an essay on their marketing strategy so you never want to visit their website or see their logo ever again :~) as i’ve mentioned before, i took cms.307 with junot díaz in the fall; that class introduced to me a bunch of frameworks for thinking about gender and race, and i wanted to continue thinking about those things this semester. wgs.111 was fairly low time-commitment but allowed me to continue thinking critically about gender, which was fun and somewhat therapeutic.

another of the classes i took this semester was 18.104 (seminar in analysis). this is a communication-intensive course in math, which, in this case, meant that lectures consisted primarily of students taking turns teaching material from the textbook (the subject this year was the calculus of variations). there was also a final paper. my partner and i wrote about minimal surfaces, which are [a superset of] surfaces that minimize surface area for a given boundary (technicality: they are a superset because surfaces that don’t actually minimize area but are critical points are also called minimal surfaces). i thought the subject material for this class was pretty interesting, and i appreciated the flexibility of being able to write a paper on a chosen topic.

the last class i took this semester was 18.702 (algebra ii). i dropped this class last spring because i royally screwed up an exam, and then i royally screwed up a different exam post-drop-date in the same class this year. for some reason this class was exceptionally hard for me–spent many many hours on it, still struggled to wrap my head around material–but i guess i managed to scrape through it. it was the kind of thing where i felt like i had to work twice as hard as other people to see half the results, but i’ve definitely been on the other end before, and i’m trying to not feel too bad about it.

outside of coursework, i also UROPed + took a PE class; otherwise, i didn’t have many regular commitments! (all my clubs are very low time commitment, especially during spring semester)

thoughts on what i hope to do with my life

i realized at some point during the semester that i actually really, really like economics, which was kind of a happy accident. as a freshman, i ended up in this major because i liked both math and the humanities, and economics seemed like a reasonable compromise; i also read poor economics and freakonomics and thought they were interesting books.

then, for a while, i was knee-deep in theory courses, which sometimes feel dry and far removed from the sorts of things that made me interested in economics in the first place. fortunately, this year, i think i’ve developed a much better grasp on what economics actually is and what sorts of problems economists study: some of that has been informed by my economics coursework, some from UROPing, some from reading the news and academic papers, some from making connections between the cs/math/data work i’ve done. i think i’ve realized that it’s a field where people are studying the sorts of problems i like to think about using the sorts of tools that i think are interesting to learn.

i have been trying to reconcile my actual interests with my long-held vision of The Person I’m Supposed To Become. i’ve been realizing that my strongest and most enduring interests–as in, the things i think about in my free time–are mostly nontechnical, and it sort of feels like a fall from grace to move from being a token-woman-who-is-good-at-STEM to wanting to do slightly less theoretical work that is more meaningful and interesting to me. it’s not a big deal, just a small source of frustration that some of my course 14 friends, especially those who are women and who switched from STEM majors, have empathized with.

other miscellaneous things

1) my attendance of things (classes, meetings, talks) in general was probably at an all-time (where all-time refers to the time i’ve been in college) high this semester. this was probably because most of my classes took attendance and because i’m getting better and better at managing my mental health. i took advantage of the many interesting talks that MIT hosts by actually showing up to some of them, and some of them have been helpful in exposing me to new concepts to think about and articles/books to read.

here’s a list of some talks and talk-ish things i’ve attended:

2) i’ve read just two books this year, just kids by patti smith and being mortal by atul gawande (which i read because someone mentioned it at the last burchard dinner). would recommend both!

3) i am currently really into the song “play” by iamamiwhoami right now. it’s this wildly grand swedish pop (electronic pop?) song that is totally not my usual type of music. beautiful and intense auditory experience.

4) there’s been a lot of mess and a lot of cleanup this year. as i’ve mentioned before, fall semester was extraordinarily rough for me, and at the beginning of this semester, i spent so much time on the third and fourth floors of medical that it felt like i was taking an extra class. now i am doing better–i get to spend time with beloved friends and books, listen to music that brings me joy, watch the sun set over the charles, walk alone without fear. i get to do things i enjoy, think about things i care about, and call it work. i’m looking forward to the summer :)