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like a freight train by Amber V. '24

a schedule post

Hello everyone! I thought up this title as a metaphor for how the week a few weeks ago hit me, but apparently said week hit too hard for me to actually write a blog.

Life has been good, but busy. I’m taking five01 well, 4.66, as in 5 until mid-April and 4 after that. But that’s a discussion for a different blog. classes this semester, UROPing, and working on my novel. My classes have been the main thing02 the secondary thing = a newfound appreciation for sleep. on my mind, and I’ve been meaning to write a schedule post for a while. Forming this list has helped me remember the things I like about my classes, the reasons I’m excited to take them.

I’m on campus for the first time. The novelty of that comes in waves. I love getting to know more people — not just my podmates, who are lovely, but people on my hall03 Like Alan! , and friends who walk with me after in-person classes. I wander alone down the Infinite every weekday, slip into a touchdown space to listen to a zoom lecture before in-person recitation. There are other people in the touchdown room, listening to their own zooms, and I wonder who they are, what we would say to one another in a different world.

I’m hungry for the real world, which feels less real and more ideal all the time, and I’m holding out hope for May or June or fall. Until then, here’s what I’m doing:

18.02: Multivariable Calculus

  • I haven’t taken a math class since, oh lords, early 2019. I’d forgotten that I really like math.
  • I’ve been observing this trend of a given math class introducing a concept, like parametric equations or polars or just sine and cosine, and whatever it was, it seemed useless and arbitrary when I first learned it. But then, a year or so later, that concept would come in handy, would in fact become extremely relevant, graceful, and so ubiquitous you would feel naked without it. And then a new concept is introduced, and the cycle starts again.
    • This class is making parametric equations useful, and I like it.
  • Some other classes, namely 8.012 and 8.022, are like city highways: five lanes packed with cars merging in and out, too many signs to read, and you’ve got half a mile to switch lanes or else you miss your exit. In contrast, 18.02 is a rural highway, 65 miles per hour, a dotted yellow line down the road and cow pastures far as the eye can see.

21H.241: Enlightenment and French Revolution

  • It may have escaped mention on the blogs, but I fucking love the French Revolution. I watched the Les Miserables movie in 2012 and have never been the same04 and yes, that’s the 1832 June Rebellion, which played out basically as the movie portrays it, not the 1789 Revolution, which was significantly longer and bloodier. . I’ve memorized the musical and read the book05 and absorbed about 60% of it, since I didn't know anything about French history at the time, or which countries fought in Waterloo. , and I wrote about the French Revolution for my UChicago essay, a draft06 in the end, I switched it for a different topic of my blogger application, and an essay in a Greek history class, somehow. So I am somewhat excited for this class.
  • This is a seminar class with discussions structured around assigned readings. There are only four students, and we meet at 9 am. 
  • We’re starting with the Enlightenment, which is this era in 1700s France where reason and the ancient Greeks and Romans became cool, and dissing the Church and monarchy was in vogue. It’s often presented as an important shift away from monarchy and towards democracy and equality.
    • This class focuses on the relation between the Enlightenment and slavery, which is sort of where my thoughts were drifting anyway. 
    • The Enlightenment was one of my favorite parts of AP Euro, second only to the Revolution itself. I was fifteen then, witnessing the 2016 election and thinking critically about politics for the very first time. I could tell you the exact dates that various conquistadors landed in the Americas, but I couldn’t talk about the impacts of colonialism as well as I can now. So it’s fascinating coming back to this topic with a deeper understanding of the ugly parts of history.
    • A number of texts cast Enlightenment thinkers as the radicals of their day, pushing back against the horrors of colonialism and slavery; I would like that to be true, but I’m doubtful. The evolution of reason and science also marked the creation of social Darwinism and new forms of racist pseudo-science, which upheld oppressive systems. It would be nice if the philosophes07 French for 'philosopher,' or the name for Enlightenment thinkers we study and praise created only the good stuff, and other, forgotten actors invented the evil. I’m eager to learn about this, because I still do like the idea of the Enlightenment, but I am curious to find how much the idea overlaps with reality.
    • On this note, I love that we can argue in this class. I disagree with the thinkers we read all the time, but our professor encourages dissent, and we’ve had some great discussions.
  • After we wrap up with the unit on the Enlightenment, we’ll be in 1789, on the threshold to revolution. I’ve forgotten all the details and I’m thirsty to rediscover them. We’ll meet the bright-eyed radicals in their powdered wigs and fine culottes,08 French for a type of pants that were cut off around the knee, fashionable in the late 18th century, and which signified that one was of the upper classes. , watch the mobs rise and the guillotine drop, and so many heads will roll.
Painting shows a woman holding the French flag and leading a charging mob

Eugene Delacroix’ Lady Liberty Leading the People, which is in fact about the July Revolution in 1830

8.022: Electricity and Magnetism

  • Wow physics! I really did not learn my lesson from taking the hard version09 8.012, what a journey. Not that 8.01 is *not* hard, ofc, to each her own of mechanics, so here we are. (Also, Masha’s blogs have made this class sound really interesting).
  • I’m kind of struggling here, which may be my fault for not doing the reading, and may be attributable to not knowing vector calc (which seems to be just like regular calc, except with vectors). But also, heh, maybe it’s just hard.
  • I think that I survived 8.012 last semester by dedicating a lot of time to it. Each pset was a monumental task, an emotionally draining, drawn-out affair. I don’t have as much time now, and I don’t have great intuition for electricity — gone are the days when you could balance pencils at certain angles and drop them to see how they slip.10 did this actually work, you ask? Hell no. But it made my flatmates laugh. I’m not sure what will happen here, if I’ll go on PE/NE,11 essentially pass/no record, so I could afford to get a bad grade. Wow grades are scary. or drop to 8.02, or if I’ll put my head down and struggle through.

5.351/5.352: Chemistry Lab Modules

  • I’m finally in person! This is a small lab class, and mostly I just interact with my lab group, all of us masked, gloved, robed and goggled. The lab has gloves of various sizes, which means that for the first time in my life I wore gloves without a half-inch of space above each finger. This was extremely useful for pipetting 5 mL of non-toxic solution into a cuvette and placing the cuvette into a spectrometer. (Though there is much to be said for learning lab safety first, and then getting to touch dangerous chemicals).
  • The first module is spectroscopy, which means we mostly put small samples into various machines about the size of a printer, except that unlike my printer at home, they do what you tell them. Typically we tell them to give us graphs of absorption vs wavelength; the peaks of high absorption can tell us about molecular structure, as different compounds in a molecule absorb light at different wavelengths.
  • These labs don’t take a great deal of time, which means there’s a bit of hanging around and talking. I can see how I might not enjoy that in a regular year, but now I’m all for it– especially since one of my friends is at my lab table.

5.12: Organic Chemistry

  • whoooowhoo chemistry!!! This is hands-down my favorite class. I think it’s because it’s the first science class I’ve taken at MIT that is not review. 5.112 (Intro Chem) last semester was great, but it was mostly stuff I’d learned in AP Chem, or was like “here is a very complex equation that some scientists worked very hard to figure out, use it in these three ways,” and we didn’t get a lot of depth. Orgo, in contrast, builds upon itself bit by bit. It makes me remember that chemistry is like a language, and every new concept we learn can be justified using the principles we already knew: that opposite charges attract and like charges repel, electrons like having space, and stability is key.
  • Orgo has the glorious trifecta of a damn good lecturer, a damn good TA, and a damn12 Mark Twain allegedly switched all his 'very's with 'damn's, consider this profanity an homage to a master. good textbook. When was the last time I’ve had a good STEM13 I usually like my history textbooks textbook? Have I ever had a good STEM textbook? Between this and having in-person chem lab, I’m almost certainly going to be Pavloved into majoring in chem. And y’know what, I’m pretty okay with that.

We also have in-person recitation, which I’ll end this blog on.

spiral notebook and coffee cup

My notebook from the first day of in-person class. To translate my messy handwriting: “Wow wow wow we are in a classroom. [pentagon carbon structure] is stable, but [square carbon structure] is unstable because the ideal angle [between two atoms with tetrahedral geometries] is 109.5°, but [the square one] is being forced into 90° — so more angle strain. So without even knowing the reaction, we know a square is less stable than a pentagon.” There’s also an equilibrium equation that you may recall from AP Chemistry.

I arrived a few minutes late and looked around for an empty seat (or rather, for enough empty seats that it was safe to sit down). The ten or so students were spaced far apart, and the seats rose like an auditorium in miniature. I slipped to the back and opened my backpack, pursing my lips at the sound of the zipper. A friend I’d met on Discord turned and waved.

“Wow wow wow we are in a classroom,” I wrote, as I looked around the room, trying to match masked faces to thumbnails from zoom. “My heart is thundering.

The TA began to lecture, projecting his voice, since we were spread so far apart. He made actual eye contact, and chalked diagrams on the blackboards, the three-layer ones that slide up and down, like we’d seen on MITx. 

The room was cold, my hands were freezing. I was leaning sideways in my seat, the way I always did in high school, trying to fill space that was designed for someone slightly taller. Being in person felt familiar in a way I didn’t expect, like when you come home after a season away and try on the clothes you left behind; they belonged to someone slightly different, but they fit just as you remember.

“We’ve been talking about a lot of science,” the TA said, midway through class. “Let’s take a break and learn how to draw chair structures.14 which is a way of drawing cyclohexanes (ie carbon hexagons). Now, I used to draw them like this,” he said, and scribbled a chair structure that looked exactly like the ones in my notebook.

I smiled sheepishly behind my mask. The TA explained how sloppy chair structures don’t convey information as clearly — you can’t draw functional groups15 like, stuff on carbon structures that is not carbon, such as OH and N. Functional groups are more reactive than C, usually, hence they are important. on the chairs without them overlapping. I looked at my chairs, all too narrow or slanted. I drew more and more, filling the margins, trying to make them good, as the lecture swung back to science.

  1. well, 4.66, as in 5 until mid-April and 4 after that. But that’s a discussion for a different blog. back to text
  2. the secondary thing = a newfound appreciation for sleep. back to text
  3. Like Alan! back to text
  4. and yes, that’s the 1832 June Rebellion, which played out basically as the movie portrays it, not the 1789 Revolution, which was significantly longer and bloodier. back to text
  5. and absorbed about 60% of it, since I didn't know anything about French history at the time, or which countries fought in Waterloo. back to text
  6. in the end, I switched it for a different topic back to text
  7. French for 'philosopher,' or the name for Enlightenment thinkers back to text
  8. French for a type of pants that were cut off around the knee, fashionable in the late 18th century, and which signified that one was of the upper classes. back to text
  9. 8.012, what a journey. Not that 8.01 is *not* hard, ofc, to each her own back to text
  10. did this actually work, you ask? Hell no. But it made my flatmates laugh. back to text
  11. essentially pass/no record, so I could afford to get a bad grade. Wow grades are scary. back to text
  12. Mark Twain allegedly switched all his 'very's with 'damn's, consider this profanity an homage to a master. back to text
  13. I usually like my history textbooks back to text
  14. which is a way of drawing cyclohexanes (ie carbon hexagons). back to text
  15. like, stuff on carbon structures that is not carbon, such as OH and N. Functional groups are more reactive than C, usually, hence they are important. back to text