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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Flashback 1.0 by Laura N. '09

What was I like as freshman? Wouldn't you like to know.

So, a few weeks ago, Matt gave me an excellent idea for content: recycling! So, welcome to “Flashback: Part 1,” where my older and wiser senior self will laugh herself silly over my less wise freshman self.

So, who am I? I’m Laura, and in my first entry ever, I introduced myself to the blogosphere. (I still really like that entry, it’s definitely worth a read if you’ve got the time.) What did prefrosh Laura think she’d major in?

When I do get to MIT, I’m planning to declare Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering) as a major and possibly minor in Course 17 (Political Science).

Interesting. I got the major right, but probably on accident. Also, unless something changes drastically (again), I’ll graduate without taking a single political science class. But, if you think about my sudden realization that I want to work in International Development, everything comes full circle.

If you’re a prospective student and you’re thinking, “Man, I wish I could do some of those things MIT kids do, it seems like so much fun. But I don’t know the first thing about it, so I guess I won’t apply-” STOP.

Good advice then, and good advice now.

I am here, ready and willing to be the poster child for “people who get headaches listening to conversations at MIT but still love every minute of it.”

Huh. This is really interesting, because I remember writing it, and really meaning it. But I have really transformed into the type of person who leads those headache-inducing conversations. I really remember being so overwhelmed by MIT, and how smart those kids were, and how much more they knew than I did about…well, basically everything- computers, science, the WORLD, whatever. Well, the dirty little secret is, freshmen are all dumb. What I mean is, people start on a pretty level playing field. Even people who have some crazy experience that’s totally outside your realm of comprehension, they’re gonna fail some tests too. Years later, most of these dumb freshmen have transformed into those crazy intimidating MIT students. I guess what I’m getting at here is this: the point of college is to become educated. And in some ways, MIT does an awesome job of that (yes, some, not all)…so being intimidated because you don’t think you know anything is really silly. That’s the point. If you knew everything, why would you go to college?

My prefrosh blogger self was a little strained for topics, seeing as how she was writing before even showing up at MIT. (This was well before being an admissions blogger was cool, so there was no super competitive blogger selection process, which is how you all ended up with me.) So I wrote about the summer housing lottery.

So I filled out the Freshman Housing Lottery like this: I tied Baker and Burton-Conner for first and listed New House as my third choice. After that I barely even remember. I know I’d be happy in any of those 3, so it’ll all work out okay.

HA! Ahahahaha. This is priceless. Let me let you in a little secret: my summer housing lottery preferences were COMPLETELY WRONG. I forget the exact order of my preferences after that, but I believe Random came in around 5, right before or after Simmons, and East Campus made its appearance around number 9.


I mean, for me, obviously. I fell into the same trap as nearly every prefrosh ever, so hopefully enough people will read this and believe me, as someone who got it wrong and then spent 2 years as REX chair trying to convince others not to make the same mistake: Burton Conner IS NOT Baker. I mean, not even close. I would not have been happy at Baker. Matt lived there happily for 4 years, and I’ve heard it’s a cool place and all, but just….no. I got to campus and realized that I thought East Campus might actually be cool. Which really confused me, because I was terrified of it before arriving. I was suddenly torn. Stay in BC, or request a transfer to EC? I even trudged across Mass Ave in a torrential downpour to ask the poor, exhausted deskworker for a tour. I asked a upperclassman BC resident who was on the waiting list to move to EC for his advice. I agonized over the decision, and finally confirmed my assignment to Burton Conner.

3 years later, I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do. If I were to do it all over again as a prefrosh, knowing what I know now, my preferences might look something more like:

1. East Campus/Burton Conner
3. Random
4. Bexley
5. New

10. Baker

What is the moral of this story? For the love of the Almighty- DO REX!

The next step was to upload [the banner for my blog back in the day before]. Any images we bloggers post here need to be hosted in our Athena lockers. All MIT students get Athena accounts, which allow you to have your email as well as some server space with MIT. This space is known as your Athena locker. So Ben sent me a link with info about how to upload to this Athena locker, only Ben is a crazy Mac user and my parents (who buy the computers we use) would be so totally confused by the concept of a different kind of OS that they always stick to Windows. So Ben’s help didn’t really work.

So after searching unsuccessfully for similar info about Windows, I stumbled across this program called Filezilla, which supposedly allows you to upload files securely. So I downloaded it and started trying it out.

I had no instructions, but I figured hey, I got into MIT, how hard can it be? I totally know what FTP is (file transfer protocol) and I think I might have used it once before, so let’s see what I can come up with. Well, after hours of hard work and blundering around without a clue as to what I was doing, I finally….

…gave up and hosted the image on


Then I came back to my dorm to try to set up my Internet connection… I had removed my ethernet…thing to put in my wireless card, and the computer got mad at me for that. It kept crashing as soon as I turned it on. After playing with it for awhile, I finally managed to get to the point where the wireless card detected a signal. From there it was only a matter of entering my Athena usernname and password and…

You guys, I’m so, so proud of myself right now. It was probably the simplest thing I ever had to do on a computer but hey! It worked! I’m excited! I can use the Internet now!

Awww. I was so scared of computers! I had never used anything more complicated than Powerpoint, which I taught myself in my 7th grade computer applications class. Within 10 months of those blog entries, I’d been hired by MIT’s Information Services and Technology Computing Help Desk. I still work there, and it’s actually turning out to be the activity at MIT that I’ve stuck with the longest. Every time I work, I answer a whole range of phone calls- everything from people who should never be allowed to own computers right through clients who work as the tech support of their lab who have run into a trickier problem than they’re capable of dealing with. I won’t say that I answer all of these calls with the utmost amount of grace and intelligence, but I do well enough. Incredible, when you consider how puzzled I was by connecting my computer to the wireless network the first day that I arrived on campus. Now when I answer the phone at IS&T, I silently pray that the person on the other end of the line says, “I can’t get my computer to connect to the Internet,” because I know I can likely resolve that within 5 minutes.

We excited prefrosh also received the results of the HASS-D lottery. I was lucky enough to be assigned my first choice class here too- 21F.716 (Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature). Let me just say that I really have no problem with this concept where everyone refers to classes by their numbers, I’ve even got some of them figured out already. But “21F.716” is way too much for me. How do you even say that out loud? Isn’t it just much easier to call it “Spanish Lit” or something? Really now. Anyway, I made a stop at Barnes and Noble yesterday and picked up a new Spanish-English dictionary and now I’m fully ready to take some Spanish at MIT. I’m not sure if I’ll have to meet with the professor to “prove” my proficiency at Spanish, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe my AP Spanish score will count….

Aw, another cute one. “But…but…everything is numbered?!” Yes, Naive Prefroshling, everything is numbered. Get used to it. Also, when I asked the Spanish professor how to “prove” my proficiency in Spanish, she basically told me in so many words, “You’re a big kid now. You know if you can handle the class, not me. If you want to sign up for something that you know is over your head, that’s your problem.” I took the class, was one of 3 non-native Spanish speakers, and got an A-. (Hidden grade, of course.)

I’m getting a little tired of every single person I run into at Bed, Bath and Beyond asking me if I’m excited about school. No offense to all the adults out there, but that one definitely ranks at the top of the list of “Lamest and Most Annoying Questions Ever.” Just a heads up.

HA! This one made me burst out laughing when I reread it, because it reminded me of reading blogger applications. While you all had highly engaging blogs and everything, I think I read about 15 trips to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (which took me back to fond memories of my own trip to the same in my hometown) and I swore I would strangle someone the next time I heard the words “the next four years of my life.” Also, it’s interesting because “So, are you excited about graduating? What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” is now officially the new “most annoying question ever.”

This trip down memory lane brings me to…my first day of classes at MIT. Seriously. I was prolific back in the day. I probably even rivaled Snively in terms of blogging frequency. Don’t believe me? Go check out the archives. To be fair, my entries were all pretty short, and they’ve gotten a lot longer over time. In any case, this still leaves me with quite a bit of material left to reminisce over from freshman year, so look forward to similar entries in the future.

Apparently I used to end every entry with “Have a nice day.” I also used to say ’09er instead of just ’09. It’s actually really annoying to read. Would it be wrong of me to go back and change those entries? And P.S., I had really long hair!

Here’s a photo of me posing with Susan Hockfield during Orientation of freshman year:

My hair has been getting progressively shorter since then. In fact, I got a haircut just a few days ago, and decided to show off both my new style and my civic responsibility by posing with my completed, sealed, and stamped absentee ballot:

So that’s your friendly reminder to register to vote or request your absentee ballot, as appropriate. Deadlines are quickly approaching!
Responses to comments:
A few weeks ago I wrote long and detailed responses to about a million comments, and then my computer crashed and I lost them all. Apparently I haven’t learned the cardinal rule of computers despite my progress: always save your work! Here’s attempt number 2, I’m sorry it’s so late!

Claire said: mattress alarm clock = clock that vibrates the mattress at a specified time, really useful for deaf and blind people.

Ha! Actually, it’s an alarm clock that flips your mattress upside down and throws you out of bed. I think the idea has merit, but my 2.009 group is currently going in a different direction…

Oasis ’11 said: A good entry into ID is doing Peace Corps after you graduate.

=) At the time of your comment, my application to the Peace Corps was about 3/4 complete. I’ve since submitted it, and have scheduled my interview for next week- so wish me luck!

RobotGrrl said: Robotics is more than designing vacuums. It’s mainly about research and innovation- which makes it way more fun than what you mentioned! For instance, ever since the Dartmouth Conference about AI in 1957, we’ve been trying to create something that has a ‘general’ AI. We assumed it would be incredibly easy, when it actually isn’t. The amount of thought that has to go in to programming something how to perceive its surroundings is astonishing!
My point being, the future of robots just isn’t in household maintenance. It’s in interaction between the robot, its environment, and humans. Maybe you just were introduced to the wrong view of robotics. ^_^

Okay, don’t get me wrong, I know robots are awesome. I just can’t see myself working on them for the rest of my life. I think it’s kind of silly that we spent millions of dollars in research into things like AI when we still haven’t figured out how to feed all of the hungry people in the world. Trust me, when I showed up at the Career Fair a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help myself- I handed a copy of my resume to NASA, because there’s still that small part of me that’s sad to be turning away from my dream of designing Mars rovers. But, I ultimately think I’m doing the right thing for me right now.

John Wong said: As a older person living beyond school I have an independent perspective on this. I think your primary passion was Spanish, yet somehow you ended up as a science/engineering major. I think you let other people influenced your career decision. However it’s never too late to do things on your own.

With all due respect, not so much. =) I mean, sure, I sort of turned my back on things I’ve been interested in, and probably too much…but that’s not to say that I’m not into engineering. Also, majoring in Spanish? No way. I could never do it. Just like I could never be “just” an engineer. The point is, I really need the mix, or I can’t function, and I’ve finally figured out how to do that!

han dijo: que buena historia… me gusta…creo q nos parecemos jjaja a mi siempre me gustado la mate y las ciencias pero ahora veo q tambien me gusta dibujar… aunq dibujo horrible y no tengo paciencia pero me gusta jajaj es raro tengo un dilemma por momento, quiero estudiar pure math pero no se que puedo contribuir a la sociedad con eso cuando graduo :-( parece q esta major no es muy practico.(escribo en español porq solo quiero q tu lo leas eso… y tambien queria probar cuan bueno es tu español)
really thank u for this entry… It is the longest post I ever have read completely at mit blogs.

Pues, como otra person también dijo, me imagino que no somos las unicas personas en el mundo que hablamos español. Y también me parece un poco maleducado decir algo en plan “quiero probrar cuan bueno es tu español,” especialmente porque hablo lo suficiente para poder encontrar el error en tu comentario…

Alright kids, this might be the longest entry EVER. I’m off to grab some food, head to a 2.009 meeting, and then pack for a spontaneous 24 hour trip back to the greatest state ever.

11 responses to “Flashback 1.0”

  1. Ehsan says:

    First one that atually read the post! GOD!!!

  2. sauza says:

    but why are you going to colorado?

  3. Sam says:

    Laura, I can’t make my lab printer duplex. Can you come fix it?

  4. Steve says:

    good blog,I am doing research for my Daughter,she wants to apply to MIT but I think she may be feel somewhat intiminated,she is a hs jr in a sci.math.& tech. academy in the midwest ranked 8 of 667,she didn’t get much respect going in as a girl,that know has changed, it if I can get her to read your blog ,it may help her. Thanks

  5. Ahana says:

    …and my computer got mad at me…
    Laura, I love you! In a totally geeky way grin

  6. Ahana says:

    …and my computer got mad at me…
    Laura, I love you! In a totally geeky way grin

  7. Tom Abraham says:

    More than for fueling a dream, more than the hope I get reading about an /MIT undergrad/ learning how to get the internet to work, more than anything, the reason I keep coming back here must be the use of lowercase all over this place!

    It’s just so reassuring. smile

  8. Lainers says:

    Thank you for this entry.