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MIT student blogger Snively '11

Know when to hold ‘em by Snively '11

Know when to fold 'em

This, potentially, is the longest I’ve gone without a blog entry. This is probably due to the fact that I’m not on campus and, while I’d like to blog about things I’ve been doing around my house, it’s not going to help you learn about MIT.

Since getting home from MIT I’ve had the chance to de-tune and think about my progress so far. I’m halfway done. I have a Brass Rat. I’ve completed most of the “book” classes and am about to start the “build” classes for my major (MechE). I better understand the emotions that coincide with the MIT Gamut (a term I just made up), how people feel from acceptance through orientation through freshman year through sophomore year. I understand what it’s like to be failing classes, passing classes, to get A’s, to get C’s (P/NR FTW!), to be successful, to be unsuccessful, to be happy, to be angry, to be homesick, to be glad I’m not at home, and many other typical college experiences.

Today, let’s focus on one experience from this last year, a choice I keep finding myself wanting to regret, but am never able to, because it was absolutely the right decision. I took three classes in my major this last semester, 2.004, 2.006, and 2.007.

2.004 is dynamics and controls.
2.006 is thermal fluids II
2.007 is design and manufacturing I

2.006 was, as I suspected, brutal. The PSETs were brutal, the tests were brutal, and the material was brutal. 2.007 was fun, but was backloaded (more work at the end of the semester than the beginning), and 2.004 was just, well there. That was my issue with it, it wasn’t hard enough to be scary (and thus prompt me to work really hard in it) but it was hard enough to keep me humble about my test results.

In 2.004 I was getting 90-95 percent on the PSETs, 100 percents on all the labs, and was understanding the material. The first test was unlike anything I was expecting and I got a standard deviation and a half below the average. This was not a huge setback, and I didn’t take it as one. My other scores in the class would be enough to hold me and if I did alright on the 2nd test and the final I would be ok.

Time soon came for the 2nd 2.004 test. It was three weeks away, the two weeks after CPW (a time of partying and non-studying), and a week after my 2.006 test (which was likely to be VERY hard). All of a sudden, in class, our teacher announced that the 2.004 test was going to be moved up a week to the week immediately following CPW, and the day before my 2.006 test. This was a problem.

I can’t study during CPW, especially since I’m helping run events, showing prefrosh around, and doing all sorts of other stuff. I had portioned out just enough time after CPW to study for my 2.006 test, which I felt relatively prepared for. I, however, had NOT portioned out time to study for a 2.004 test, which I thought I’d have a whole other week for.* I had not been paying very good attention in 2.004 and was going to use that week to catch up, do a bunch of practice problems, and really situate myself in the material. This plan was no longer valid. I was going to be forced to take a test I was ill-prepared for and immediately follow it with another test that I would need to study copiously for. There was simply no way I could study enough for each of them to do well on both. I had a problem.

*I’d like to take this opportunity to say that Professors who deviate from their syllabuses should be shot.

I had to take the time to evaluate where I was in each of these two classes to decide what to do. These tests were critical for my grades in each class. But, if I studied a little for each, and then did well on each of the finals, I could pull off two B’s. I looked at the finals schedule, and had a mild panic-attack when I saw that my situation had just gotten much worse.

Classes at MIT conclude on a Thursday, giving students a Friday and a weekend to study for finals. My 2.004 final was scheduled for Monday morning. My 2.006 final was scheduled for Monday afternoon. That left 3 days to study for two classes, each with finals I needed to ace, both on the same day. Three days. Two classes. Two MIT classes (one of which, 2.006, is arguably the hardest in the major). This simply wasn’t going to be possible. I wasn’t going to be able to ace two finals on the same day, Monday, after having only 3 days to study.

It was reckoning time. I had two tests, scheduled for a Wednesday and Thursday, immediately following CPW. I had two finals, the same day, the first day of finals. I’ve gotten over that macho, ego, “If I put my mind to it, anything is possible” crap. I know my limits, I’ve had 20 years to discover them, and this was going to be too much. Absolute best outcome from this was going to be a B and C. Probable outcome was going to be two Cs. Possible outcomes involved Ds and Fs. Not for wont of trying, but for sheer lack of time and ability. What could I do?

At this point, the semester was 3/4 of the way over, but MIT still allows you to drop classes this late, but no later. MIT’s drop date is late, but was fast approaching, the Friday after my two tests. That was when I made my decision. Even though I’d attended all the labs, done 8 PSETs, taken a test, and been to all the lectures, I was going to drop 2.004.

What I realized yesterday, is that poker is a wonderful medium in which to draw analogy. Sitting with a J♠ J♥ in the hole, you pay into the pot to see the flop. 5♦, 6♦, 7♦. Still satisfied, you call the bet and the subsequent raise from the other players and see the turn card. 9♥. A bet, a raise, another, and then to you. You pay. The river, a J♣. A bet, a raise, and then the player to your right goes all in.

It’s your choice. To see his bet, you’d have to go all in as well. You’ve already paid a large sum of money to the pot, but are sitting with three jacks! Such a hand, surely you can pull it off! But, but, with an 8 you are beat. With pocket diamonds, you are beat. BUT THREE JACKS!

Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Ditch that ego, ditch that hope, and appeal to logic. With no 8s in play, and three players left in, constituting a bet, raise, and all in, you’d be foolish to continue. But many do, just because of the money and time invested. The trick is to know when to fold, when to cut your losses, and when to get out, living to fight another day.

I got out, I folded, I did drop 2.004, and I don’t regret it. I performed better than I could have ever hoped on my 2.006 final, got a B in the class, and will be taking 2.004 next year with no consequences. Is it depressing that I’ve seen it all before? That I’ll be doing work I’ve already done? Yes, but with a grade report devoid of anything lower than a B, I’m willing to give some of my time back to 2.004 and, the second time around, get an A.

Let that be a lesson, that sometimes it’s simply foolish to go all in with a hand that’s simply going to lose, no matter how good you think it is. This advice will keep you safe at MIT, please take it with you.

Incidentally, the guy to your right was bluffing with his all in, but the guy who initially called had a 4♦ 8♦ in the hole.

23 responses to “Know when to hold ‘em”

  1. april2 says:

    smile This is great advice. I think that being realistic is always > crazed ambition, but unfortunately have trouble putting it into practice myself.

  2. Faes says:

    I find your outlook horribly negative and warranting no further acknowledgment.

  3. Oasis '11 says:

    Amazing post, Snively. Kudos.

  4. Kierra says:

    Through high school, I’ve gotten more familiar with having to “cut my losses” in one class in order to succeed an another, maybe more consequential class. It’s tough, but necessary. Your point that knowing your limits is much more important than fervently hoping you can get through something is a valuable one to hold onto. So, Thank you for such great advice!

  5. Anonymous says:

    great post…I always seem to have trouble folding… thanks smile

  6. Mom out west says:

    Excellent advice! You blog a lot about MIT’s facets and perspectives, and should be lauded for the same. This advice holds good throughout life, even though I totally do not get the poker analogy- I am a card illiterate. Also, unless you are contemplating a haircut, it is spelled “Sheer”, not “Shear”(end of 8th paragraph from bottom of post). Hope your summer is going well.

  7. Great post and great advice.

  8. Chris says:

    This reminds me of swimming actually, and this advice is very true. Sure, you may have a chance of doing well in two different events, but sometimes it’s more worth it to skip one and rest for the other.

  9. Eamon says:

    Excellent post. And I’m sure it was more interesting than what you could’ve blogged about your house.

  10. Jon Mitchell says:

    I find this mindset incredibly pejorative (albeit unfortunately true).

    MIT classes seem like a real give-and-take relationship.

  11. Certainly, it was a good post, but the link is incredible! I wish that were turning into a proper movie.

  12. Justin E '13 says:

    I love this post Snively, as I was somewhat curious as to how the whole add/drop thing is like in college (obviously couldn’t do this in high school).

    Also, amazing poker analogy!

  13. Aubrey '13 says:

    Thanks for the advice. I love this post.

    While you’re at your house, you could blog about seeing old friends. smile I’m wondering what that’s going to be like for me (most of my high school friends are going to local schools).

  14. Steph says:

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes you have to weigh the options and make a compromise despite it going against the plans. Dropping a class takes serious thought. Last semester was the first time I dropped two classes because I was slowly burning out. It probably isn’t a good thing that I had taken 6 semesters in a row without much of a break leading up to the drop (and dare I say, I have had only one week of break before starting summer semester last week smile. But alas…sometimes one must reach a compromise.

    Keep your chin up, Snively. It isn’t failure if you at least tried. Just pick it back up next semester. smile

  15. Kevin '11 says:

    Good god, this is so true Snively! btw, kudos on your final robot design, i liked the flags.

    but yeah, to all you prefrosh out there, i had a similar situation – was taking 3 classes that were intense (also 3 other classes, not as intense, but 2 of them were 9 units, counts as 3/4 of a class), and I dropped one – I was doing great in it, but I knew it would destroy my other classes.

    Be wise. Don’t be afraid to drop. Try not to, but MIT is war, and desperate times call for desperate measures. That said, it’s also really fun.

    But let it be known that MIT is not for the faint of heart. Throw caution to the wind and come here – best choice you’ll ever make, but when you do, play it smart.

    Kudos snively. Way to step outside that box and address a touchy issue.

    -kevin r., 11

  16. Anonymous says:

    I can see that being helpful advice over the next 4 years.

  17. Shreya says:

    I found myself holding my breath on this one. Excellent decision, Snively.

  18. Oasis '11 says:

    omg my favorite quote ever now:

    “MIT is war, and desperate times call for desperate measures.”

    HAHAHA thanks kevin.

  19. Piper '12 says:

    Truly great post, Snively.

  20. Audrey says:

    Thank you for the great post, Snively. I admire your bravery, eloquence, and honesty in your discussion of such a delicate topic.

  21. Anonymous says:

    sunk costs…
    (sorry state econ champ, couldnt help it)

  22. Banerjee says:

    **gasp** A PICTURE-LESS BLOG!!!!!!!

  23. Quinton says:

    I’ll know to not go to Vegas with you Snively. That was a well played hand. You’re a shark.