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MIT blogger Ankita D. '23

hell. by Ankita D. '23

handling the hardest semester at MIT, virtually

People always told me sophomore fall is the worst semester you’ll experience at MIT. This summer, a few of my upperclassmen friends warned me about not succumbing to stress as the semester gets progressively harder. They offered some anecdotes about their friends who were different people after sophomore year; more distant and withdrawn and on edge, more prone to anxiety, more jaded. I took these stories with a grain of salt since, well, I’d survived junior year of high school, hadn’t I? And it wasn’t even that bad!!

Oh man. Oh, man. Three mental breakdowns during office hours later, I’m starting to feel like I’m spiraling into anxiety about academics, and midterms haven’t even hit me yet…things are rough. I’m taking three technical classes and two HASS01 aka non stem ones, so my workload isn’t as bad as it could be, but I’m struggling to stay afloat. My eczema is flaring up due to stress and my diet bounces between entire bags of Cheetos and giant vats of tofu soup because I have no time to cook more than once a week anymore. On weekdays, I’m working constantly. I wake up at 9 am and work until around 11 pm, and then I go to bed. It’s pretty consistent. On weekends, I either take a few hours to decompress and then start working, or I take m a n y hours to decompress and then feel guilty about it later. There’s no in-between.

The issue is that I haven’t yet found a rhythm that works for me in terms of finishing my assignments. My three technicals have psets/labs that are all due on Friday, while my Chinese class assigns homework every day. My CI-H has readings due twice a week and essays due twice a month, on average. I’ve managed to stay on top of my technicals by devoting as little effort as possible to my HASS classes, so when essays or unit tests arise, I’m screwed. I also haven’t yet figured out how to finish all my psets on time; my hardest class’s weekly lab takes me 10-15 hours to complete, which leaves me with little time to learn the material and finish the psets for my other two technicals. When I tried dedicating my time to finishing the lab before starting the psets for the other classes, I rushed learning all the material and was stressed about finishing the psets on Thursday night. But when I got them done early and then started working on my lab, I had to turn it in ten minutes before it was due. Like…where is the middle ground? How do I get everything done reasonably on time without sacrificing sleep/my mental health???

My roommates and I recently had a discussion about why sophomore fall is such a grind. We came to the conclusion that our class in particular is suffering because we’re tackling this difficult semester virtually, and we HAVE NOT HAD GRADES YET. We experienced our freshman fall on Pass/No Record, and then had a few weeks of normalcy in spring before being sent home and embracing PNR once more. Our motivation was at an all-time low in the past year because, uh, the pandemic, but also because we didn’t have…any tangible factors to motivate us. As a result, starting to take courses relevant to our major in a semester where we’re virtual is absolute torture.

On top of this, we have to juggle multiple platforms and means of learning (because MIT is NOT centralized in its teaching for each class). It’s frustrating—one of my math classes teaches course material via readings on MITx, and the other uses normal lectures on Canvas. I prefer the latter since it’s what I’m accustomed to, and I enjoy taking notes on lectures and being able to read through them later, but the readings are hellish. I’m never motivated to do them and feel like I have numerous holes in my understanding of the material.

So…yeah. Academics consumes my life and I am utterly unable to handle any stress beyond my classes. That’s why I was an absolute wreck when my personal life imploded a few weeks ago; that Thursday, a few upsetting things unfolded one after the other, and I lost all my motivation to work. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would’ve fared if the chaos had ensued on a Monday or Tuesday…

Yep. Things are difficult. I enjoy being busy, but I often entertain thoughts of putting my hardest class on P/NR and thus alleviating the majority of my anxieties each week. I won’t since I know I won’t learn nearly as much if I do, but damn, it’s tempting.

Freshmen…I know things are sucky for you right now, but embrace it. At the very least, you won’t have to experience your hardest semester in an environment like the one you’re currently in—you’ll (hopefully) have lots of friends to support you in person!

Hang in there, everybody…

  1. aka non stem back to text