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MIT student blogger Sam M. '07

It’s bigger than you, and you are not me. by Sam M. '07

Consider this entry the hint of the century.

DID YOU KNOW? Laverde’s Market, nestled in the MIT student center, claims to have the largest selection of cold drinks on the East Coast.

I was perusing The Tech yesterday evening when I happened upon an article by sometime MITblogs commentator Ruth ’07, wherein I found this most excellent passage–an imagined dialogue between two typical MIT students.

Here, your personal worth is determined by your workload: your lack of sleep, your berth of problem sets, your number and difficulty of major. Your “hard coreness,” so to 5p3a|<. We’ve seen it time and time again. Two sullen students recognize each other in line at La Verde’s.

Tiredly, the first asks: “Hey, how’s it going?”

Confidently (but also tiredly), the other responds: “Oh, man, I’m so hosed. I just pulled two all-nighters and still haven’t started my third pset that’s due tomorrow.”

Faux-sympathetic acknowledgment: “Yeah… I just finished my fourth pset of the week and have to stay up all tonight to start and finish a stupid HASS paper.”

Evoking the triviality of his opponent’s assignments, the other continues, “I’d rather take a HASS test than read a hundred pages on something completely irrelevant to anything.”

Check: “The paper’s not as bad as the programming project I’ve got due at the end of the week. My group hasn’t even met yet.”

Suddenly, out of nowhere: “Oh, and I just added a UROP, so I’m now at 72 units.”


The victor’s sub sandwich is up, he grabs it and swaggers off to the caffeinated drinks before gloating smugly at his inferior from the checkout line.

So what if all these fantasies come flailing around? Is MIT really like this caricature? Well… yeah, sort of. It’s a weird transition out of high school, actually. In my high school, among the classes with honors and AP students, people would try to disguise the amount of work they had done for a class–“Oh, I didn’t even bother studying for this test” or “Ha, I just wrote this entire term paper the night before and made up half the sources. Good thing he doesn’t spot-check.” At MIT, it’s not like that… it’s more like, “Dude! Help! I went to office hours and three different recitations and e-mailed the professor and I still have no idea how integrating factors work!” or “I better get a good grade, because I spent 100 hours on this project.” or “I slept in the library last night because I just didn’t have time to look up any sources before tonight.” People don’t usually come out of tests thinking that they totally aced them–it’s more like, “Well, I’m glad I studied so hard.” or “That seemed easy… I bet I messed something up.”

But, really, that’s one thing I liked about MIT–at some other colleges I visited, the students I met would expound on how much smarter they felt then the rest of the world. When I visited MIT, most of the students were describing how much dumber they felt than everybody at MIT. It’s the same idea, I guess, but just expressed in a slightly different. I thought the latter environment would be more conducive to my learning, which is one of the major reasons that I chose MIT. Why would I want to learn anything if I already thought I were smarter than everybody else?

Remember, I set toast on fire.

But, of course, this is not the entire portrait of MIT’s culture–much like a parfait, it has layers. And you know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. So, I hope that you have been using the blogs to get an accurate taste of all the layers of MIT, together, at the same time. I’ll try to show you a few more as the reply deadline approaches.

Why did I think of this? Let me tell you about my day yesterday.

I was on campus for fifteen consecutive hours yesterday, beginning with a discussion of Eichendorff’s poem “Heimweh” (“homesickness”) in German II, continuing through six hours of UROP, a marching band rehearsal, 4.16 miles of running, and four hours in the 6.002 laboratory trying to figure out how to use a MOSFET in a first order circuit.

When I got home, I still had to start studying for 10.37. So, following the old adage that true wisdom comes out of the mouths of babes (“babes” as in “younger people!” geez!), I took some advice that I think Laura once gave out and went on a schedule of 20 minutes sleep, 40 minutes studying. By 5 AM, I had neatly outlined all my notes into two glorious review sheets and organized all the rest of my lecture notes, handouts, and problem sets in a lime-green three-ring binder… and I was actually not too tired to boot.

I got to the test at 11 AM, just a bit late, and took a seat next to Mike. The TA said, “Please keep your tests face… well, actually, there are two sides, so just start when you get it.” You could cut the anticipation in the room with a metaphorical bone saw. Finally, the TA handed out the tests. The first thing Mike said upon looking at Problem 1 was, well… unprintable here. Just try to guess what it was. But not in my comments! Or else Marilee Jones will rescind your admission and have you deported. She’s got connections.

I started with Problem 2.

Some people have asked in the comments before if tests are ever open notes, open review-sheets, or whatever, at MIT. Pretty much all Course 10 tests are open notes. The 10.10: Intro to Chemical Engineering final was even open-laptop. That being said, I opened my notebook once during this entire 50-minute exam. Outlining twenty lectures of notes into two pages really helps memorize all the pertinent formulas.

That’s what a professor means when he says “open notes.”

All in all, the test did not seem too bad (so I bet I just messed up something major and thought it was easy), and the past day really wasn’t so bad as it originally seemed to be. Yeah, it was a day in the life of an MIT student… but it was just one day. Some other days I’m not on campus for 15 hours. Some other days are like, oh, say, this one.

I think I thought I saw you try.

6 responses to “It’s bigger than you, and you are not me.”

  1. gm says:

    awesome post… what you say about high school is applicable to mine. =)

  2. thekeri says:

    The title of this entry is from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” – what I can only call one of my favorite songs ever.

    You know, the music alone makes me love you.

    Oh, and I have a question – just how different is course 10 from course 5? (Hey, I’m a slave to Chem.)

  3. chris says:

    ahhh, thekeri, finally someone with good taste in music! unlike gm up there

  4. Anonymous says:

    You totally rock, man…

    Awesome post!

  5. Kallie says:

    I like parfaits :D

  6. Caroline says:

    I so caught the Shrek reference in this. smile Awesome.

    MIT looks so crazy hard it scares me… But I’m also wicked psyched. smile