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MIT student blogger Rachel F. '12

Free-est post! by Rachel F. '12

un-free schedule

In the hassle of getting my life and graduation requirements together, I almost forgot to take advantage of my (last :’/) biannual free post: what am I doing this semester?

MIT has many urban horror stories about students struggling to graduate on time for the dumbest possible reasons: taking all of their GIRs second semester senior year because they didn’t spread them out, realizing they forgot about the swim requirement a day before graduation, or belatedly discovering that one humanities class didn’t count toward the requirement they thought it did. One alum I worked for told me that he convinced the EECS department to let him take his GIRs during his MEng, because he spent all of his undergrad years taking fancy high-level classes. Sometimes, students just punish themselves intentionally by taking eight classes a semester so they can graduate in two years, or get nonexistent triple majors, or…for fun. (There’s no credit limit for freshmen with sophomore standing or upperclassmen; the only bound is your sanity.)

Here’s the anticlimax: I am not one of those people. (Unless something has gone horribly wrong.) My courseload:

6.851: (Grad) Advanced Data Structures, taught by Erik Demaine, who became an MIT professor at age 20. He frequently cites his own papers in lecture, and we have optional, weekly open problem solving sessions, which is kind of intimidating. I say that a lot. I mean, other professors have (jokingly?) put open problems as extra credit on problem sets, so it’s nice that ours are just completely for fun.

This class is my official substitution for 6.006, which I need to complete my major, so the downer is that I can’t drop it when catastrophe strikes. It’s been fun so far, though. Seemingly half the CS/math majors I know are in this class, including a ’14 down my line of succession from my high school robotics club, and an ex-IOI freshman on my hall. Small world!

21M.380: Recording Techniques and Audio Production is one of those very cool, random, ultra-pragmatic classes that pops up at MIT every once in a while. The assignments so far have consisted of close, detailed listening to songs of our choice, and analyses on how they were mixed. The lectures are refreshingly less theoretical than the average MIT class; instead of generalized, abstracted equations, the lecturer shows us interesting psychoacoustics trivia and heuristics that are useful to know off the top of your head when doing audio production; for example:

I keep getting distracted by curiosity about various physics-based/biological/statistical generalizations of what we learn. Mostly, the teacher gives us demos (listening and generating lots of noises and signals in different contexts, through filters, et cetera) and enough theory to internalize them.

Incidentally, this class completes my four-subject humanities concentration in music.


Every engineering major has a thesis, although most use a heavy-duty lab class in lieu of an independent project / research paper; Course VI is one of the few with an open-ended thesis project. I’m doing some sentiment analysis with the Media Lab’s Digital Intuition group, which does a lot of neat natural language processing that I didn’t really know was possible, using a project called ConceptNet that they’ve open-sourced and collaborated on with universities in several countries. It has a basic web interface and an API that lets you access a massive semantic graph (hypergraph, rather) about words and concepts in several languages. Since everything’s open-source, you can go play with it if you’re curious.


At only 30 units, I’m light-loading this semester, which means I get a tuition discount! The classes listed above are all I need to graduate, so I’m casually following along (without enrolling) in MAS.S60: Practical Natural Language Processing, incidentally taught by my thesis advisor. In junior fall, I took a similar but more rigorous and theory-heavy class, 6.864: (Grad) Advanced Natural Language Processing. I’m poking through the MAS.S60 material because it has coding labs in lieu of enormous mathy problem sets, and while 6.864 was fun, I didn’t get to actually implement code until the final project.

I’m also taking an introductory animation workshop through the Student Art Association, which organizes extracurricular art classes that serve as practical alternatives to the tempting logistical nightmare of crossregistering at and commuting to MassArt. Today, we jumped right in and started making cyclic hand-drawn animations.

is this not enough for you

I have five sessions of job interviews in the next two weeks. Three of them span half a day. No comment.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the underlined text in this post contains useful alt-text.

17 responses to “Free-est post!”

  1. Steve-o says:

    Good luck on the job interviews (you don’t need much luck, though), it’s been great reading your posts, will be sad to see you go…

  2. alex says:

    Hello, great post, but could you elaborate on the theoretical nature of the average MIT class? My intrigue stems from “The lectures are refreshingly less theoretical than the average MIT class…” I had always thought MIT focus more on practice then theory, or are they not as mutually exclusive as I may be thinking?

    anyways thanks always for your time

  3. karan says:

    So it has come to this:::huh? lolzz

  4. Emad T. '14 says:

    Ahhhh NLP! I wanna learn it so I can go get some linguistics-y job this summer. Too bad it’s during another class of mine :/

  5. Emad T. '14 says:

    Op wait, literally all of the course material is online. Even the textbook.


  6. Tom says:

    Noooo :( This is my favorite blog and so it has come to this…

    Rachel, are you going to make a personal blog somewhere so your curious (and awesome ^^) fans can follow you? :3

    In any case, thanks for such beautiful blog!

  7. Dade Murphy says:


    Erm, 6.851 looks nice. I’m glad the materials are online.
    A fun summer lies ahead.

  8. What did they do to your display pic?
    (Hover your pointer over it, if you didn’t notice)

    It’s coool :D

  9. Kamran says:

    @ Raj
    she just hacked her own avatar.

  10. Rachel F. '12 says:

    . Non-humanities classes at MIT are almost always very theoretically rigorous, and many also focus on practice. I don’t think the states of the two qualities are too dependent on each other, although an extremely theory-heavy class may not be able to spend much time on practice and vice versa.
    . Since this is a very specific class about the practice of audio mixing (rather than something more general / theoretical like psychoacoustics, how axioms of music derive naturally from the physics of sound, etc), the amount of theory covered is probably more than sufficient for a one-semester class. It emphasizes knowing good practices and quick heuristics off the top of your head.
    . I’m used to taking more general classes where they emphasize knowing the equations/theory. This is not that analogous, but if MIT had a non-humanities class on audio engineering, they’d probably want you to know how to calculate the effects on some sonic spectra if it bounced off acoustic foam in a certain location and you were at some elevation above sea level in an environment with a given humidity. Or maybe how to calculate the effects on a signal after you pass it through a series of devices with various noise floors, etc. You know, something that would be critical to designing such devices. This music class is just like, “okay, this is why these things are good, this is why these things are bad, use this range and these heuristic adjustments and you’ll be fine.”
    . Sorry that got so long-winded. Just wanted to be reasonably accurate/thorough.

    Emad: Do it! smile Check out the old course site for 6.863 and 6.864 too. The 6.863 curriculum seems similar to MAS.S60, or at least they both use NLTK for the labs…

    Tom: maybe smile

    Raj: jQuery

  11. M.SB. says:

    fgsfds, lolwat

    (+ ezxkz)

    Anyways, good luck doing awesome things! smile

  12. Rachel F. '12 says:

    Oh wait did you all think this was my last post? I just meant this is my last semester.

    Thanks for reading, anyways.

  13. Tom says:

    Oh thank god it isn’t. I was about to die…….

    And you’re welcome xD

  14. Guilherme L Wanderley says:

    I didn’t thought it was your first post raspberry Anyway, good luck with your interviews! (:

  15. Rachel F. '12 says:

    Emad’15: depends what your advisor and Albert Meyer decide. I hear they’re stricter these days about it. my friend is taking database systems as his substitute.

  16. Emad'15 says:

    Isn’t 6.006 a requirement for 6-3?
    I think I know most of the stuff in 6.006, and I’d like skip it/ASE out of it. Can I take any grad class instead, or just 6.851?
    Thanks! smile