My name is Camille (Cami) Mejia. I am a lover of music, dogs, baking, and BTS. I main Ashe in Overwatch. I love chemistry and biology. I have a fear of heights and needles. I am smart and capable and ready for whatever MIT has to throw at me.
That last paragraph is supposedly my identity — how I define myself to other people when they ask me who exactly I am.
All of that stuff is mostly true. I do like music! I bake every week. BTS owns me and could hit me with their tour bus and I’d say thank you.
But that last sentence is something I’ve been struggling with for the past month I’ve been here. “I am smart and capable and ready.” I don’t know if that’s the truth.
In a previous blog post, I listed out my classes 8.01 = Physics I<br /> 18.01A = sped-up version of Calculus I<br /> 3.091 = Intro to Solid-State Chemistry<br /> 21M.011 = Intro to Western Music but I didn’t realize exactly how unprepared I was for my classes.
I knew MIT was hard. I didn’t enter MIT thinking I was going to immediately thrive or pass all my classes with flying colors. I entered with pretty levelheaded expectations — I’m going to try my hardest because nothing here comes easy. You have to work for it.
Despite that, I didn’t expect to struggle this much. In 8.01 alone I spent nearly 7-9 hours each week on psets, and even then, I didn’t understand the content as well as I should have. Even then, there were peers who were spending more time on the psets and not finding the urge to quit.
So why was I?
Seeing classmates willingly suffer through difficult psets made me convince myself that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough — that I was shying away from a challenge, that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
I beared through another week of 8.01, thinking that if I just took more notes, read the textbooks a little bit longer, stayed for all of office hours, then I would feel it — a sense of understanding. That click to go off in my head.
Needless to say, it didn’t. 8.01 utilizes TEAL — technology-enabled active learning. Essentially, we work in groups of three and follow along with lectures via laptop. We do group problems, where we are then thrust towards whiteboards and told, “Solve!”. And for some, this method is useful. For me? It lacked structure. I had difficulty differentiating between when to use vector notation and hat notation, since that was something my physics teacher in high school never really went over. I felt like a detriment to my three-person team, as I floundered with the Expo marker in some desperate attempt to write something down (“Does the hat go there?” “Wait, does this look right?” “Sorry, I don’t know what to do.” “They seem to be doing something right, maybe?”). At the end of each lecture, I felt mentally drained from the anxiety that would come from letting my team down and also just the exhaustion of not understanding the past two hours of class.
Office hours weren’t any better. It felt like a clusterf*ck of students just hammering away at problems one by one and even when I asked for clarification, I didn’t really understand. I needed foundation.
I made the ultimate decision to switch into 8.01L, a version of Physics 1 with a slower pace that feeds into IAP.
Just last week I attended my first 8.01L lecture, an early 9am in one of my favorite lecture halls, 6-120. Being in a traditional lecture style class alone made me feel more at ease. I followed and understood lectures, finished my psets in 30-40 minutes, participated more in recitation. It wasn’t completely easy. I still had to ask for help on questions, but when explained to me, I understood.
I was feeling finally at peace with my classes. I was building a better foundation of my physics knowledge. Chemistry was fun and exciting. Music was informative and light-hearted. Calculus was going grea–
I got a D on my calculus midterm, a 45%. Granted, that’s a D+, but a D nonetheless. I had previously taken AP Calculus BC in my sophomore year and gotten a 5 on the AP test with no real difficulty, aside from a couple topics that I asked for extra help with. But the 18.01A midterm was something I was fully unprepared for.
Now I come to the dilemma again — Am I weak for wanting to drop into 18.01, the longer but more structured class? Am I just shying away from a challenge, or do I actually need help? 18.01A is an expedited version of calculus here where the class only lasts for half a term and not the full length
My roommate, Mariia, once told me that she can’t complete any of her psets without collaboration. 18.01A is the same. It seems I always have to ask for a great deal of help for 18.01A, but maybe that’s just the nature of the class. Maybe it’s not that I’m incompetent, but the class is just extremely hard. But then why the D? Why was I 10 points away from the class average? Maybe it’s not that the class is hard, but I don’t understand. Or maybe the class is hard and I don’t understand.
But if the class is meant to be hard, shouldn’t I be okay? Shouldn’t I be satisfied with my D and go on with my life and go through two more weeks and then just be done with calculus?
This is just a glimpse into my inner monologue, as I jump from one thought to another. Drop the class, but don’t. Find a better foundation, but don’t look for something easy.
Even now, I’m looking at my pset and thought I knew what was going on. I did the first question with understanding. Question 2 completely lost me. I sat in office hours for 2 hours and I still didn’t grasp a thing.
I had a talk with my adviser last night and I told him about how unnecessarily difficult the calculus problems are. I even texted a couple of friends and browsed OCW to see how much better my life would be if I just were in 18.01. That’s not to say that 18.01 is easy — calculus is no easy feat. But the drastic difference between the complexity of the problems ultimately solidified my decision.
18.01A felt like a series of “Gotcha!” questions, whereas 18.01 felt like it was working to just solidify your knowledge of calculus.
That night, I submitted my Add/Drop form to my adviser, dropping 18.01A and adding 18.01. Instantly, it felt like weight off my shoulders, which partly was because I had a pset due the next day, but also because I wasn’t putting myself through anymore unnecessary stress.
Still, there are downsides to switching to those classes. I look around in lecture and don’t really know anyone. I’ve come to hate the words “Turn to a neighbor and discuss”, as I awkwardly turn to the empty chair next to me or just stare ahead at the board as chatter goes on with me twiddling my thumbs. Psets are still lonely, as my friend group meets up for 8.01 and 18.02 and I just kind of wait around until they’re done or try and figure out problems on my own.
Regardless, I still think these classes are the best choices for me and, at the end of the day, that’s what it truly comes down to: the best option for ourselves. I came to MIT with a very skewed mindset, a strange fear of being judged or not being good enough for the people around me. I still feel like that at times. I rarely can offer any assistance for my friends’ psets, and I know for sure that I’m not their first choice in the few occasions when they do ask me.
It’s spiraled into me really just asking myself: What am I good at? What am I good for? It’s known I don’t excel in mathematics and physics. But I’m not particularly good at biology or chemistry. I can’t CAD. I’m bad at coding. I’m only kind of okay at guitar. I’ve snowballed into believing that I’m about mediocre or below average at everything I put my hand to and it’s embarrassing.
I look at my friends and can identify their strengths relatively easily, whether that be in academics, soft skills, athletics, or hobby-based skills. But when I look at myself, a giant question mark pops into my head.
I jokingly call myself the stupid one in the group, but I think I say it so much that I begin to believe it. Or maybe I wasn’t even joking in the first place. I try to make up for my lack of knowledge with enthusiasm and humor and various extracurriculars to give me some sort of substance, but just the thought that I will never be as academically adept will always linger.
I can’t fit myself into the boxes that seem to be lined up here. Declaring a major fills me with unbelievable fear because, frankly, I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I like anymore. I don’t know what I’m good at anymore. I struggle to even say I’m “good” at things because I don’t know what good even means anymore. Good in relativity to what I knew? Or to what I know now?
I love MIT and I love it here; I’m just a little lost. And I think that’s okay. I don’t really know any freshmen who’ve got their shit together, and even if they do in some aspects, I know they’re struggling with others.
Transitioning to college is hard, but simultaneously so, so rewarding. Life around me is changing constantly — new friends, new environment, new classes, new opportunities. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done so many things I’ve never done before. Each day I’m figuring myself out a bit more and more.
I found out that cooking is not as hard as I thought it was before, and, in fact, I love cooking. I discovered that I might be interested in chemical engineering. When I got my flu shot the other day, I didn’t flinch and realized I had finally conquered my fear of needles.
Yes, they’re small, trivial things, but I’m slowly figuring out what I want to do and who I want to be.
So let me reintroduce myself:
My name is Camille (Cami) Mejia. I am a lover of music, dogs, baking, cooking (apparently!) and BTS. I love chemistry and biology. I love working in lab. I have a fear of heights, but not needles. And, I don’t know exactly who I am or what I want to do, but I know is that I’m trying my hardest. And that’s good enough for me.
- 8.01 = Physics I 1 back to text ↑
- 18.01A is an expedited version of calculus here where the class only lasts for half a term and not the full length back to text ↑