Don’t Neglect Your Creative Side by Derrick B. '08
And I don't mean the side of you that thinks up math problems while you fall asleep.
First off, congratulations to the Class of 2012! From what I hear you guys are amazing. I can’t wait to meet you. And to those of you who weren’t offered admission, you’re just as amazing. I regret that we won’t be able to meet on MIT’s campus, but hopefully I’ll see you around in the real world. And now, with the congratulations out of the way, it’s time to get to the meat of this post.
MIT is the greatest place I know to study any sort of math and science. Walking through the new Center for Theoretical Physics , I’m struck by how much this place seems like an academic ivory tower. Nothing made that more apparent than standing in front of a chalkboard with three other students listening to the incredible Robert Jaffe explain the intricacies of quantum scattering from a one-dimensional coulomb potential. I can’t imagine that kind of one-on-one attention being too common. The low student-to-faculty ratio is definitely something you should take advantage of during your time here. Your opportunities are only limited by the amount of sleep you need (or in some cases, the amount of caffeine you can ingest before losing your sense of sanity).
While the opportunities in math and science are boundless, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that there is more to life than just differential equations and chemical reactions. Going to MIT helps to give you the tools you need to change the world. Let’s not forget that there actually is a world out there, a world that exists outside our little academic ivory tower. In my senior year I realized that I’ve perhaps dedicated too much time to purely technical pursuits. And I’ve begun to feel a certain yearning to do something completely different.
My sophomore year I took up writing. First writing about pure science in the class The Science Essay (which I highly recommend) and eventually progressing to full-fledged fiction. I still make time to write, even if its only a page a week. Right now I’m working on a piece combining fiction and science. It’s titled “Through the Double-Slit: Adventures in Quantumland”, and it’s about (you guessed it) quantum mechanics. The story is inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and the style by the book the Phantom Tollbooth, one of the seminal books of my childhood. I’m also learning to play the piano. I find that I’m particularly fond of the work of Erik Satie.
So what does this mean for you? Basically, don’t lock yourself in your room and run numerical simulations for your entire undergraduate career. Try something new. Find something you love, something completely different from your everyday life, and stick with it. Don’t neglect the side of yourself that would rather fingerpaint than do stochastic calculus. You’ll enjoy your time here more if you get a full experience, rather than one covering only the sorcery of mathematics.
And now, it is 11:30 PM and I have an entire quantum mechanics pset and a biodiesel cost analysis due in the next 48 hours, neither of which I have started (because I’ve been practicing piano). And I have a cheesecake to bake for my girlfriend’s birthday. Nothing like a well-rounded life to keep you busy.