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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

Juggling Act by Paul B. '11

When you're used to life in Hell...

This semester, almost all of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays take place in Building 4. (Yes, that’s its actual name: Building 4. What, you actually expect MIT kids to remember things that aren’t numbered?) Besides the plenitude of classrooms, some of Building 4’s most enjoyable features include an über-convenient café, an Athena computer cluster (not to mention two other clusters nearby, in Buildings 12 and 2), Killian Court, proximity to the Infinite Corridor, and – most relevant to this blog entry – easy access to the Undergraduate Math Office in 2-108.

Why is the Undergraduate Math Office relevant? Two reasons. First off, I’m a student grader for 18.02 (multivariable calculus), which is one of the freshman GIRs. Each semester, the Math Department (and most other majors at MIT) hire a bunch of undergraduate minions – I mean, employees – to help out with the brunt work of grading the hundreds of problem sets MIT students produce every week. Because 18.02 was my favorite class when I was a first-semester freshman (Classical Mechanics, you’re cool and all, but I’ve realized lately that Calculus is more my thing. Especially when she starts going all Stokes’ Theorem on my psets. No hard feelings?), I submitted my name as a prospective grader…and I was hired! Woo!

So, that’s the first reason the Math Office matters to me: it’s where I pick up the twenty (give or take) problem sets I’m responsible for grading every Friday, and where I bring them back every Monday.

The second reason the Math Office matters is to me is because they have a stapler, and also because they have a bowl of free candy.

The situation, you see, was this. It’s 4:30 PM. I’m sitting in the Building 12 Athena cluster, where I’ve been working to finish up a thermodynamics problem set for the past four hours straight…ever since I finished a linear algebra test that let out at 12:30. I’d gotten about a third of the pset done last night, but studying for that test prevented me from finishing all of it – so now it’s crunch time. The problem set is due at 5 PM, but everything’s going smoothly – I started with the easy problems, but with those out of the way now I’m going back to that tough problem about isothermal titration chemistry and everything is just falling into place, and I box my last answer explaining why the reaction in question is endothermic, and I feel awesome, and it’s 4:55 and I suddenly realize that I have ten pages of thermodynamics ready to turn in to my TA in 4-159 and somehow I need to find a stapler in the next five minutes.

And then I realize…oh, yeah. I’m in Building 4. So I book it to the Math Office, where I find – as always – a stapler just waiting on the front desk for students to use. The receptionist smiles at me as I hastily staple my pieces of gridpaper into something resembling an actual problem set. I smile back as I grab a tootsie roll from the candy bowl – a familiar ritual, which somehow brings me more satisfaction than the candy itself ever could. I round the corner of the hallway and make it to my TA’s room with time to spare.

You see, underneath our calm exterior, each MIT student is quietly dealing with about a hundred different things all clamoring for our attention. Classes, problem sets, reading, office hours, recitations, tests, club meetings, UROP, living group commitments, email, AIM, Facebook, “just hanging out” – sometimes, it feels exactly like a circus act. Except that clowns get it much easier than we do; they just juggle the same brightly-colored, uniform balls day in, day out. But MIT students have to become master jugglers in a circus where each ball is a different color, a different shape, a different weight. Some are feather-light and a breeze to handle. Some are as heavy as lead. And then some feel as though they might as well be on fire.

When you’re used to life in Hell, sometimes a stapler, a piece of candy, and a friendly, no-questions-asked smile are all an MIT student really needs.

23 responses to “Juggling Act”

  1. j says:

    i so agree with this

  2. Keri says:

    Laura –

    I do it, mmmk?

    Paul –

    Time and time again, that stapler has SAVED MY LIFE. I would write multiple blog posts expressing my undying devotion to the ever-so-convenient stapler.

    (Shut up. I’m tired.)

  3. Ahmed says:

    Producing entries today like Henry Ford produced cars…I feel left out.

  4. lulu says:

    yeah wtf dude didn’t even let me be on top for 5 minutes

  5. lulu says:

    also, oh yeah i have absolutely no reason to be there but i always grab a piece of candy when I go by smile

  6. Ahana says:

    Lol, I agree with Ahmed! In the short answer question on the application, I had decided Course 18 as my major. Now I’ve been following OCW seriously, but I have another good reason *coughcandycough*

  7. lulu says:

    also, i would like to rephrase that first comment. goddammit.

  8. Paul says:

    Haha, Lulu, you’re awesome. smile

  9. lulu says:

    omg i slept all day.

    i’m too worked up now

    i can’t sleep!!

  10. Laura says:

    Dude, who ACTUALLY puts the umlaut over the u in uber? I mean, seriously? Seriously?

  11. Fred says:

    an even more convenient stapler is the on outside of the student center cluster on the fifth floor.
    i’ve used it at least 20 times this term.

  12. Paul says:

    You mean SIPB’s stapler? Yeah, I use it all the time when I’m tooling and printing off problem sets in the Student Center, it’s incredibly handy.

  13. Ivan says:

    Since your a student grader for 18.02, has that helped in any way your math skills for other classes or is it indifferent?

    Since your a student grader, do students, taking those classes which you grade, come to you for advice or help on psets?

    Is it common to see students using MIT’s OCW to help with certain courses?

    Thanks in advance

  14. Reena says:

    amazing post smile
    oh, the little things…

  15. Reena says:

    Also, wow, I’ve never seen Steam Cafe.
    When visiting I’ve always thought I had to go across to the student center (or the Kendall T) to get to food.

  16. Paul says:

    Good questions, Ivan.

    Being a grader has helped refresh my memory of multivariable calculus a little bit. I wouldn’t say it’s really helped me out in any of my classes per se, though.

    No, students do not come to me for help because I’m a grader. Providing help with problem sets is something done by TAs (Teaching Assistants) and the professors. That said, there are a number of ways for upperclassmen to help out as official tutors. I also help out the freshmen in my fraternity out when they need it – it’s very common to freshmen to ask upperclassmen in their living group for help, and most people are happy to help. We remember what it was like to be freshmen just getting used to MIT. smile

    Finally, yes, MIT students use OCW all the time! Looking at the old tests posted online can be a great way to study.

  17. Ehsan says:

    It’s all about time management

  18. Fatimah says:

    This is such a beautiful post.

  19. Tiffany says:

    Are bloggers responding to other bloggers? I don’t get it but if they are, it’s kind of cute.

    Anyways, I just wanted to say that that piece was awesome. It’s better than my college essay. Maybe I should work on my essay.

  20. milena '11 says:

    My favorite stapler is the one in the chem p-set place. what’s it called? the like on right next to 4-270. yeah, anyway. that’s a kickass stapler.

  21. Vaibhav says:

    @Paul
    Wow! Imagine getting so worked up about having to find staplers! – who would have thought?
    But why don’t you just get one of those small staplers from home?? (they’re quite nifty and useful)
    Nice entry,though I wouldn’t say that life at school is NOT hectic enough :D….

  22. David says:

    Oh, look whatchya did…

    Not even staplers can elude being immortalized on the internet.

    Have you any decency?!

    The least you could do is give it a name…

  23. Paul says:

    @David: I think you’ve missed the point – this entry is not about the stapler. smile