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MIT student blogger Jessie L. '07

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right by Jessie L. '07

I graduate tomorrow, so I guess this is my last entry here, or something. Certainly my last entry as an undergrad.

It’s been quite a ride for the last four years. I came in as a premed, somewhat intimidated by the idea of an engineering school, and unsure what I wanted to major in meanwhile, but leaning toward course 9 with a focus on molecular/cellular neurobiology – something premed-ish, but with an element that was not just straight up bio, and in which I had some preexisting interest. I didn’t intend to take any computer-related classes, any engineering classes (hands-on stuff, outside of a lab, was scary), or any math beyond the General Institute Requirements. I’m leaving as a course 9 major with a lot of side classes in 6 and 18, who went for systems, computational, and mathematical neuroscience and neural engineering, who took a 30 hour/week software engineering lab that I didn’t need to graduate, who TAed a robotics class/competition, who learned how to use power tools.

This place will change you, reroute your life in interesting ways, if you let it, but you have to let it. I was a good target for being changed because, in truth, I was only on the track that I was on when I came in, by default, and it wasn’t a lifestyle that I actually enjoyed or a goal that I actually cared about. Of course, if I’d gone to pretty much any other school – certainly any non-tech school – I would still be on that track. I’d probably have gone through college roughly the same way that I went through grade school – top grades, untried, well-liked but with almost no close friends or social life, feeling vaguely unsatisfied and not sure why, secretly fearing that I hadn’t had enough challenges in life or in academics and would cave the first time I hit a wall.

I’m no longer afraid that I haven’t been challenged enough. You don’t get something for nothing. In addition to rerouting your life, making you rethink your values, and so on, MIT can do interesting things to you psychologically, and you should realize that before you go in (though it’s unlikely that you can really realize it until you’re there). It can hurt you sometimes. I could have had a much easier life the last four years if I’d been just about anywhere else. As a top high school student you’ve probably spent the last four years (or twelve years?) working toward the goal of getting into a top school, and it’s been portrayed to you that if you just get into that top school, you’ve done what you needed to do, you have it made. That’s not true – it’s once you get here that the fun really starts.

So what am I doing now? Well, I’m living in Somerville (a town that borders Cambridge) in a house with a bunch of other people, mostly MIT people. I’ll be working in Cambridge, as a software engineer of cognitive systems at Charles River Analytics, an applied artificial intelligence contract R&D company. As an R&D company that does a lot of government work, it’s got a quasi-academic feel to it, publishing research papers, attending and presenting at conferences, and collaborating with academic labs. I think it’ll be a lot of fun, and if I decide to try for grad school again at some point in the future it’ll be good preparation. It’s a (well-paying) job that uses my major, even! I really want to come back and be on one of those Life After Course 9 panels that the Brain & Cognitive Sciences Society puts on, because there were definitely times when I’d liked to have gone to one of those panels and seen someone like me there.

On that note, a tip that I’ve been wanting to bring up for a while: Course 9 (along with many other science majors) is not considered a particularly “employable” major according to popular stereotype. Every year at MIT, there’s some large number of students who get into huge fights with their parents because their parents don’t think their major is employable (I’ve known people whose parents pulled their tuition over this). Usually, these parents believe that some subset of the engineering majors and course 15 are employable, and anything else is a waste of time and money. Usually the students are resentful and rebellious and fire back that they want to do something that makes them happy.

Back when I actually went on College Confidential, I’d see parents argue about this – happiness with major vs employability – in the parent forums.

Here’s my tip: Happiness with your major and employability are both important concerns, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can major in what you want and be fine, but have a job/field in mind, that you would enjoy, where you are gaining the skills to be hired in that job at the bachelor’s level. If you’re in a major that doesn’t suggest bachelor’s-level employability, take employability booster classes to supplement it. I know a couple of humanities majors who are getting business minors for this reason. I know physics kids who take a couple of EE labs for this reason. I did this. I didn’t like computer science as a whole field for its own sake enough to major in it, but I liked it as a tool to solve interesting problems, and I liked certain aspects of it for their own sakes, and now I have a job where I’ll be using it, and particularly some parts of it that really interest me, as tools to solve problems related to what I studied in my major. It’s the best of both worlds.

A few more final tips for incoming students: Take your living group selection seriously. I cannot stress this enough. Try to pick a place that fits you in the summer in case you get stuck there, but consider Dorm Rush (REX), not the summer, to be the time when you’re truly making your living group decision. Don’t settle for a satisfactory living group when you could have a great one. Find some activities that you like, but don’t try to do all the activities, ever, right away – give yourself a chance to get used to MIT. Be open to change. Speak up about issues that concern you. Find a community that grows naturally (people you chose to live with, people with whom you share interests, people in your field, something like that), instead of accepting an artificial community that somebody imposes on you (e.g. class identity). Don’t be cocky. Ask for help if you need it. Stand up for yourself as a student. Stand up for MIT culture as a student.

Keep MIT special.

18 responses to “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right”

  1. 1st says:

    1st post. great post Jessie!

  2. milena '11 says:

    Gosh everytime I hear that song it reminds me of leaving high school :'(

  3. Laura says:

    I know someone back home who majored in women’s studies and now has a pretty nice job with an insurance company. I mean, if you think about it, unless you’re going into a specific trade, college is just to train you how to think. Insurance companies need to hire lots of people, what kind of major (other than business for the top spots in the administration) is supposed to prepare you for that? Maybe it’s a lame example, but you see my point.

    And basically everything Jessie said is 100% true. Listen to her. =)

  4. Wings '11 says:

    Thank you for the post, Jessie! You made me feel so much better about coming to MIT. It’s my dream school, but I have the same fear of caving in “the first time I hit the wall”. You make that seem OK, though =) I feel the same way about going to any other school – I got a free ride into a good institution, as probably half or more of the admitted class did, but it’s just not the *same* as MIT – it doesn’t have the challenge or the atmosphere.

    I can’t wait for these next four years =)

    Just out of curiousity, what dorm did you live in?

  5. An'11 says:

    You write beautifully! smile

  6. Rachel '12 says:

    Sounds like fun! I also like Courses 6 and 9.

    I used to think that MIT was just another interesting, tough, techy college, but reading all the admissions blogs has made me realize that it’s pretty much my dream school. I’ll be applying next year, let’s see if I can get a drink from the MIT firehose =)

  7. Wings '11 says:

    Haha, Rachel, that’s what I did. It wasn’t until junior year that I really looked into MIT, and I didn’t realize it was my dream school until early senior year – but when I fall, I fall hard, so I rushed into the EA application. I decided to apply to MIT/do the EA app two days before I had to contact my interviewer.

    Hehe

  8. Paul '11 says:

    Well written, Jessie.

    Maybe it’s a cliche, but you’ve really been an inspiration to me, and I’m sorry to see you leave. But that’s the way it has to be, I know. It’s not a question, just a lesson learned in time.

    Thanks for blogging.

  9. Lulu '11 says:

    You as a freshman sounds a lot like me in a few months. That gives me a lot of hope smile.

    Thanks for a great last entry!

  10. José P. says:

    Dream school, how I wish to be accepted by thee, and take nerve-wracking Multi-variable Calculus and Advanced Physics classes, just to see the cool sliding chalkboards.

    You think that’s good enough to get me a Pulitzer? smile

    This is truly a great entry. Those tips will certainly be useful, no matter what university you attend.

  11. Christina says:

    Good luck and Congratulations, Jessie.

  12. Happy graduation! That’s a pretty cool job you got.

    The part on engineering as the only employable bachelor’s degree struck a chord in me. When I decided on biology or chemistry as my major, lots of relatives and friends were urging me to consider biological engineering or chemical engineering instead. They simply couldn’t fathom why I chose the science equivalents when engineering offers brighter career prospects and higher salaries, and it wasn’t as if I couldn’t cope with math and physics. But to me, biological engineering was not the same as biology and the difference between chemical engineering and chemistry was far greater. Engineering felt plain boring, and neither did I like business, which is what many engineering graduates go on to build a career in. I couldn’t stand the idea of having to trudge through something I dislike for four years and proceeding to live with it or yet another thing I detest for the rest of my life.

  13. Happy graduation! That’s a pretty cool job you got.

    The part on engineering as the only employable bachelor’s degree struck a chord in me. When I decided on biology or chemistry as my major, lots of relatives and friends were urging me to consider biological engineering or chemical engineering instead. They simply couldn’t fathom why I chose the science equivalents when engineering offers brighter career prospects and higher salaries, and it wasn’t as if I couldn’t cope with math and physics. But to me, biological engineering was not the same as biology and the difference between chemical engineering and chemistry was far greater. Engineering felt plain boring, and neither did I like business, which is what many engineering graduates go on to build a career in. I couldn’t stand the idea of having to trudge through something I dislike for four years and proceeding to live with it or yet another thing I detest for the rest of my life.

  14. Vihang says:

    Awesome entry !

    One of our Sirs always keeps on telling us to do what we love instead of trying to do something that will get you a nice job with a fat salary. Money is nothing if you don’t enjoy your life.

    Thanks for blogging all these years.

  15. Tina says:

    Jessie, this was a great post smile I wanna do Course 9, and I hope I do see you on one of those panels soon! Your advice really helps. Thanks and have fun at your new job!!

  16. YG'11 says:

    Hi Jessie!
    Wow, you seem to have found THE perfect job for you! I am so happy for you and wish you all the best! smile Your advice is very helpful. Thanks for everything…

  17. Anthony says:

    A very well-written post, Jessie, and something that I don’t think I would ever have understood fully until after I came to campus and lived through a couple of years. smile You really hit the nail right on the head – many would probably consider my major one of the “less employable,” but if I were looking to my major for all the answers, I probably wouldn’t be looking hard enough anyway.

    It is hard to believe that it’s already been two years since we first met back when I was a prefrosh temped on 5E. Best of luck with your new job, and I’m sure I’ll see you around, even though I’ll be living across the river in a house with some ’07s.

    Take care,
    Anthony

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