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MIT student blogger Nisha D. '21

Life Changing Classes at MIT by Nisha D. '21

ft. ec-discuss

The bloggers have spent the last few weeks telling y’all what we did over IAP and talking about what classes we’re excited/not excited to take next semester.

This week, it’s time for a slightly different discussion. There was an ec-discuss (the general East Campus mailing list notorious for being somewhat spammy and prone to flame wars) thread that got revived recently about classes that changed peoples’ lives. Granted, this is a slight overgeneralization; most people reported that these classes have changed their mindsets or perspectives and not entire lives. But I thought that you guys might like to see the responses and maybe think about taking some of these classes in the future, whether on OCW or at MIT!

  • 24.00 was probably the most life-changing class I took.”
  • CMS.614 with Chris Peterson really just fucked me right up re: my perspective on a life in the tech industry.”
  • MAS.863 – how to make almost anything! Really taught me how to actually make most anything. Expect to spend a lot of time on it though.”
  • “Personal answer is definitely 11.011 or 6.172– 11.011 changed my perspective on my moral compass, what I’m good at, and how I look at the world. 6.172 taught me a lot of technical things and helped me define what I’m really interested in.
  • “the weight lifting pe class…no but actually”
  • 6.004, if I had to narrow it down to one class. Otherwise I’d throw in 6.002/6.007, 6.152, 6.828, and 6.005/6.033. Together they teach you to go from Maxwell’s equations -> cooking with sand in neat patterns to make transistors and other circuit elements -> arranging circuit elements and software to make a thing that thinks (6.004) -> writing an operating system -> designing software. Instead of having to wave my hands and resort to saying “computers are magic”, I know what the magic is at every level. Besides setting one up for plenty of lucrative jobs after MIT, it also provides a critical toolset for approaching the other magical thinking system: the brain. Most of the best things I learned didn’t come from any class, but from late night conversations with other ec-people, so make sure to leave room for that. “
  • “this class [18.919] really was pretty life-changing. i learnt a lot, and it was a terribly fabulous experience which challenged me to stretch the limits on my ability to find new methods to approach problems.”
  • 21L.003 (as taught by Ina Lipkowitz) – Improved my critical thinking and attention to detail considerably, especially when formulating an argument and addressing an audience (a skill which i foolishly thought I possessed in great abundance prior to taking this class). Got me to start reading again in this place where it is so easy to just stop reading!
  • 21w.757 (fiction workshop) was an amazing class to me because i love writing and i actually came out of this class with some awesome short stories. writing them was a really cool and different way to express things that were on my mind or upsetting me, too.”
  • “i def had a minor spiritual awakening in 4.605, as one does.”
  • 21H.157 (as taught by Mircea Raianu – he’s now teaching at University of Maryland dammit) – This class helped me connect with my roots. Though you are probably not from the Indian subcontinent, it can be really gratifying to connect with your region of origin through a deep and analytical (rather than date memorization) study of its history.
  • 18.075 changed my perspective of math, engineering, and life. It’s a really great class 10/10 would recommend.”
  • EC.S07 – D-Lab Education and Learning (taught by Lisa Nam and Jessica Huang) – Developed and implemented curricula for teaching students in the developing world. Because I took this class, I got full funding (travel, materials, etc.) from D-Lab to conduct a completely self-started EE lab workshop (they all built their own heartbeat monitors by the end of three weeks) for kids from slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who go to an NGO school.
  • 21M.600 – It fundamentally changed the way I thought about acting. Mandatory attendance classes are generally annoying for me (stressing about missing class to attend events or sickness and such), but I learned a lot about the way you project your body movements and voice and how you can use these as tools to create a persona or appearance that’s believable to an observer. Also the mandatory theater shows were a great way to get back into watching theater productions.”
  • 6.101 (taught by Gim Hom) and 6.301 (taught by Harry Lee, usually TA’d by Daniel Kramnik, though maybe not anymore after he finishes his MEng) – Analog Circuits Lab and Solid State Circuits (also a lab class) – These classes really deepened my knowledge and intuition regarding design and construction of analog circuits (and how to communicate what you learned to other people!). And the professors/TA’s are generally amazing and very knowledgable. I’ll be taking 6.302 next sem and I’ve heard it’s also extremely well taught.
  • “the iap guitar building class convinced me that i should be a course 2”
  • WGS.101 taught me how to think about gender in a completely different way. It is probably one of the classes where I learnt the most.”
  • 14.73 – Economics of World Poverty (taught by Frank Schilbach and Nathaniel Lane) – Since I was already interested in the challenges of alleviating poverty, this class absolutely blew me away and has now plunged me into a kind of obsession for learning more economics – I’ve signed up for 3 more econ classes next sem! AHHH. This one hasn’t been concretely life-changing yet, but it definitely has radically changed the way I think about poverty and designing/testing solutions to alleviate it.
  • 6.002 – As an EE noob, this class was super thorough about teaching introductory electronics concepts. I’ve heard that it’s been more difficult in past years and the labs are a bit more hand-holdy than they used to be (plus it’s a bit sad that the class doesn’t have a final project), but I’ve definitely gained a lot of intuition that’s been super useful.”
  • “To me, 6.UAT was probably the more life changing class I took at MIT.  For example, before taking it in my junior year, I had failed every behavioral interview I’ve ever had, but after behavioral interviews were not a problem anymore. It helped me learn how to communicate better (oral communication) and made me notice more clearly how people communicate here in the US. It was kinda of a culture shock, tbh.”
  • “Speaking of communication, I still keep things from 6.803 in mind when writing papers/prepping presentations. It also does a good job (somewhat indirectly) of helping you figure out how to put together PhD apps. If you think you might be interested in course 6/9 related things I’d highly recommend it, to get a taste of some potential topics in the field. Although it’s insanely oversubscribed already so maybe this isn’t very helpful advice”
  • D-Lab: Development – I’ve heard that it’s one of the less popular of the D-Lab classes, but I think just being a part of the community is a really great perk of taking classes. You meet such interesting people who have gone to the most remote places and work in roles that you don’t normally hear about at MIT. It definitely got me thinking about opportunities for impact that I’m missing being stuck in the MIT/course 6 bubble.”
  • CMS.628Advanced Identity Representation, taught by Fox Harrell (one of the best professors I’ve ever met and worked with)
    tl;dr – this class is pretty much the reason I don’t regret coming to MIT.
    Ok, I have a lot of feels about this class, so hold onto yer butts…
    Basically, this class gave me a whole different outlook/perspective on how human beings are represented both in and by the digital media we consume. This class tends to change a bit every semester, so I can’t speak to every time it’s offered, but the time I took it was slightly more focused on video games (which was right up my alley). We explored topics like why people play the characters they do, what that says about them, how games help players explore their own identities, what kind of representation is lacking in digital games, etc. As someone who plays a lot of games and also makes games, this class gave me a lot to think about that I would not have considered before.
    ~~personal backstory and over-sharing time yay~~
    The reason this class was so impactful to me personally is that it also opened my eyes to a lot of the ways I could use games not just for games’ sake. Before committing to MIT, I thought I was going to go to art school or a school that specializes in teaching people how to make games (yes, they exist). Most of the schools I applied to were in fact these types of schools. However, MIT’s games and interactive media classes (part of CMS) were really appealing to me when I was looking at schools, so I decided to apply to MIT as a bit of a long shot after my really cool English teacher convinced me to just go for it. I did not by any means think I’d get in, but what do you know, I did. After intensely researching the different programs MIT and the art schools had to offer (and also after certain events at CPW that made me fall in love with this place), I decided to come here with the idea that I could always transfer to art school if I wanted to.
    Freshman fall turned out to be really rough for me. I wasn’t doing well academically, mentally, or health-wise. I was on PNR, but that only really helps calm my worries when I’m not struggling just to pass all my classes. I honestly spent a lot of time thinking that I should have gone to art school, because I was not understanding anything here and I just wasn’t happy. Sure, some classes you take in college are going to be hard, but if ALL of your classes make you miserable, something needs to change.
    I took CMS.628 kind of by accident freshman spring. The HASS class I had tried to sign up for was overbooked and, being an undeclared freshman, I was kicked out. CMS.628 was one of the few HASS classes that both seemed interesting and fit my schedule, so I decided to sign up. Ended up being my favorite class ever. We looked at so many aspects of games and characters that I’d never thought about before, and I realized that I could do so much more with games than I had originally planned. Making games to make games is fun and good, but using games for some sort of higher purpose (I know this sounds pretentious, but trust me it’s really fun and cool) is something I’m glad I found a way to do, and would probably never have discovered had I gone to art school.
    Above all, taking this class showed freshman me that everything was going to be ok. After taking this class, I found other CMS classes I loved, and also took the more specifically game-making ones like CMS.608 and CMS.301. Using CMS.628 as a kind of gateway into CMS and the classes I actually enjoyed, I could show myself that I actually do belong here and made the right choice. Plus, CMS.628 introduced me to the ICE Lab (Imagination, Computation, and Expression), where I did the best UROP ever a year later, so there’s that. I’m a junior now and I still recommend this class to everyone because of the impact it had on me. Sure, my reasons for loving this class are very personal and unique to my situation, but I imagine this class being able to strike a chord of some sort with everyone who takes it. You’ll at least learn something cool.
What classes have you taken (at MIT or elsewhere) that have changed your mindset or perspectives on life? Let me know in the comments! And tell me some of the classes on that list that look interesting to you :)