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MIT student blogger Nisha D. '21

Exhaustion by Nisha D. '21

Guess who's not ready to go to grad school after all

I’ve sort of been implying this on the blogs for a while now, but I’ve been having a crisis over whether to go to grad school or not.

And as the school year has progressed, I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that I am very tired. And I don’t think that I’m ready to go quite yet.

This semester, I have been feeling what I can only describe as an overwhelming amount of exhaustion. I am doing much less than I ever have in a semester – there are no sports, activities, or social activities to really keep me busy. I’m taking less classes. And yet, I feel like my brain is floating in sludge, and that every amount of work I do actually get done takes me a million times longer.

I think that this is partially a symptom of the #pandemiclifestyle, partially because it’s my last semester and I only need to take four classes to graduate, but primarily because I am really tired of school.

I feel like when people at MIT say this, they don’t really mean it. They complain about hating school and hating MIT, but still go on to do an MEng, or do a multi-year grad program.

But I actually mean it, and I think it stems from something that I’ve always felt that I lack in comparison to other MIT students: I just don’t enjoy academic learning as much as my peers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love learning new things. But I’ve never been the type of person to, say, read a textbook, or enjoy lectures. I’ve never even really engaged the notion of doing those things for fun on my own time. I’ve always felt like I’m inferior because of that, even though it just means that I learn differently from other people. But at school, when those are really the only types of learning that students are offered, it can get tiring to constantly shove new information into your brain using these mediums that are not conducive to your own learning.

The way that I learn best is by actually doing things. And yes, of course, there are project classes, and I made a point of taking as many of those as possible last year. But the thing about project classes is that in an environment where you’re supposed to be learning, quantifying what you’ve learned from project classes can be difficult. Sure, you learned enough to create a cool final project, but it’s hard to actually describe what you learned sometimes. And that can be sad, and a little disheartening, when it happens at school, a place where you’re supposed to be stuffing new information into your brain constantly.

I found at my internship this summer that I preferred the way that learning works in the real world. I struggled and flailed and had no idea what I was doing for most of it, but towards the end, I started to figure out how to start that build process, how to go through the logs and fish out errors, and how to deduce how to fix my code from the error message. And since I had to work on my project every day, the progress was slow but constantly visible. And that was very motivating for me personally – granted, it was because my mentor and manager chose a very fitting project for me to work on, but it worked. I learned a lot and gained a lot of confidence in myself. And it’s sad, but that’s something that I’ve never really felt at MIT.

Well, what about grad school? I wouldn’t have to take that many classes, and would get to work on lots of cool projects related to my interests. This was my primary reason for wanting to apply to grad school: I love my research, and really believe that it has a positive impact on the world. But, do I love it enough to sacrifice a healthy work-life balance and a relatively stress free lifestyle? That’s a hard question, and I think that right now, I would answer no.

I’m so tired. I need energy, and maybe being given a few years to let my brain decompress from constantly being pressure cooked for all of my academic life would help me regain it. To be frank, when I think about grad school – and I know I would work 80 hours a week and not have a single ounce of work-life balance, because that’s just the kind of person I am – it doesn’t reenergize me. It makes me feel tired and sad that I would have to give up work-life balance to pursue the fields that I’m really passionate in.

But, I have a lurking feeling that I’ll get bored of the working life someday too. Someday, I’ll crave the challenge of casting my brain out to research areas that are yet unexplored. I’ll miss writing papers, and I’ll miss building ridiculous projects for research purposes. And maybe, by that time in my life, I’ll be older and know how to assert my boundaries – I’ll say no to working more than 40 hours a week, and maintain the sort of schedule I would have gotten used to. I’ll be starting grad school less burned out and less jaded from 3.5 years of getting my ass handed to me academically in undergrad. Maybe that’ll happen one day.

Or maybe it won’t. Maybe, I’ll have buffed my research portfolio enough by the end of this year to get a research job in industry, which is increasingly sounding more and more ideal to me. By the end of this year, if all goes well01 and even if everything fails, I'll still be on 1.5 conference papers and 2 journal articles...pretty good , I could be on as many as 3.5 published conference papers and 2 published journal articles. I’ve been told that that’s pretty good.

We’ll see. I do want to do the things I love in life, but not at the cost of actually enjoying my life. This is commonly referred to as selling out, my greatest fear. But right now, to be honest, I don’t care. I just want to wake up every day and have my most stressful issue be trying to solve whatever I’m working on at my job, not the crushing pressure of having to finish a million projects for a million different research initiatives to publish a million different papers. Even if I love every single one of those projects, that doesn’t make the pressure any less crushing. Call it self-care.

Twitch offered me a job on Thursday, and I think I’m gonna take it.

  1. and even if everything fails, I'll still be on 1.5 conference papers and 2 journal articles...pretty good back to text