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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

Living the MEng life by Shuli J. '22, MEng '23

same, different, same

I officially graduated from MIT last year, but I’m still here, doing what we call “MEnging” (em-en-jing). The MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science01 Colloquially known as EECS, pronounced eeks, or more often just as 'Course 6'. offers a 12-to-18 month Master’s of Engineering, only available to MIT EECS undergrads, and with an application that took me and my friends about 20 minutes each to complete. As you might imagine, particularly at a school where about a third of undergrads are EECS majors, it’s a popular option. So this year, me, some of my closest friends, and like half of everyone else I know from the class of 2022 are still here in Cambridge and on campus, taking classes and doing research.

How does it feel? I don’t know. Weird? Normal? Sometimes it feels so normal, walking down the Infinite like I always do, on my way from something or other to something else. And sometimes I walk by EC and can’t recognize any of the people sitting and laughing around the grills, and I remember that I’m older than I used to be. (Aren’t we all :P) Everything is the same and different, all mixed up. I’ve been reflecting on the changes in bits ‘n’ pieces as the semester goes on; this post is my attempt to get them all organized and sorted out.

1. Where I live

I used to live in East Campus, an undergrad dorm, but of course had to move out once I was no longer an undergrad. MIT also has graduate dorms, so I could have moved into one of those. Instead, I chose to move into an off-campus apartment with three of my friends. Honestly, it’s pretty much the same price and distance from campus as most of the grad housing, but I get a bit more control about who I live with and what the facilities are like.

Living in an apartment with 4 people instead of a long hallway with 40 is definitely very different. A lot of things are simpler: splitting up fridge space, figuring out who left their stuff all over the table, deciding how we want to decorate the living room and what kitchen utensils to buy or get rid of. In some ways, there’s more camaraderie, because I’m closer with my roommates, but I also find myself alone in a quiet house a lot more than I used to.

2. Commuting

East Campus was like two minutes away from most of my classes. Now I live a horrifying 15-to-20-minute walk from campus! So far away! …okay, it’s not that far (in fact it’s a distance that many undergrads already live from campus) but it is a big enough change that it’s shifted how I approach leaving the house. I can’t just go home for lunch between classes, so instead I’ve started packing a lunch. It’s kinda fun tucking in an apple and a little treat next to my tupperware of leftovers :3 When I leave for the night day I ain’t coming back,02 Am I dating myself with this reference? Is it now possible to date oneself with Kesha? How time does advance... so I have to actually think about what I’m going need all day before I leave. I learned this the hard way by not checking the weather forecast and getting stuck in the rain on my way home D:

Because my walk is longer now, I’ve also gotten more into biking! I owned a bike for all of undergrad, but I almost never went anywhere that was further than a 15 minute walk away (and even that was embarrassingly rare), so I never really needed to use my bike. Now that biking cuts my daily commute from like 20 to 7 minutes, I’m suddenly a lot more motivated to get out my helmet. The best part is that now that I’m more used to biking, it feels more like something I can just do anytime! I used to walk to my favorite Trader Joe’s across the river, but this weekend I biked it in half the time. It’s kind of awesome to feel like there’s been a physical expansion in what areas of Cambridge are convenient and easy to get to for me.

3. Social life

This is one that hasn’t changed quite as much. A lot of my friends are still in Boston, either because they got jobs here, they’re also MEnging/in grad school, or they haven’t finished undergrad yet. So I still hang out with mostly the same people. But I’ve definitely noticed that I have to be a bit more intentional about it now – we’re all more scattered and spend less time on campus, and so I’m much less likely to run into people by chance than I used to be.

One change that’s really nice is that I go to fun events off-campus more! Honestly, there’s no great reason for this, since most of the fun things I go to are not very much closer to Central Square than they were to East Campus.  But now that the spell of the campus bubble has broken (and, maybe, now that I have a little more time), it just feels easier, and as a result I’ve had some fun adventures. (To be blogged at a later date!)

4. Academic life

I’m still hosed, sort of, but the word doesn’t mean what it used to. Hosed used to mean I have three psets due tomorrow and I’ve only started one, and I’m not sure how I can finish them all and still get enough sleep to stay awake in class. Nowadays hosed means I had to finish a pset so I’m not done grading yet, and all my roommates are playing a board game but I can’t join in. Less grading would still be nice, but I appreciate that these days, getting 8 hours of sleep is never in question.

Oh yeah, and I grade things now, that’s different! The MEng program requires you to meet a certain set of course requirements and complete a thesis, and every semester that you’re registered for a class, you have to pay tuition. However, if you can get a job as a Teaching Assistant for a class or a Research Assistant for a lab, the job will not only pay your tuition but also award you a pretty hefty stipend! So in exchange for dedicating 20 hours a week of my time to 6.1040,03 Software Studio - it's a junior/senior level class focusing on website design. MIT is paying my rent, health insurance, and savings too. It’s a pretty good deal.

Plus, although the grading can suck up (way too much) time, I actually really enjoy working as a TA. I’ve been an LA before — a Lab Assistant aka basically a baby TA — and this is like all the parts of the job I loved plus more: I get to help students at office hours and on the class forum, but I also get to teach recitations and help decide the structure and direction of the class. It’s very cool, and also pretty funny, to be on the other side of the table. I find myself being unhelpful in the way I always hated: “Sorry for the delay, the next pset/the grades/the next pset and the grades will be out soon!” It turns out that on the backend, TAs and professors are just people too, working hard as a team, a little overwhelmed, nagging each other in the chat to get their work done… It definitely gives me a perspective, and a respect, I wish I’d had more of while I was still in undergrad.

Other than TA-ing, I’m taking two classes, which are both pretty unremarkable. And of course, I’m doing research, the main part of my actual degree. To be honest, so far, I’m not exactly sure what to say about the research. I’m working with a PhD student on a pre-existing project, and we have a pretty good sense of the end goal of my work. But even with that level of direction (which not all research projects have), the early stages can still feel like a lot of stumbling around in the dark and trying to come up with ideas. I think (aka I’ve been reassured) that this is appropriate, though, so I’m not letting it bother me toooo much. Hopefully as I continue to work, more clarity will emerge.

5. The future

The MEng can feel a bit like a liminal space sometimes. I’m living a life I’ve never led before, but at the same time, making plans to leave and lead another. To graduate, you need to complete six classes and write your thesis. I was able to get three classes out of the way in undergrad (letting classes carry over is another reason this is a popular program), and I’m taking two right now. So my hope for next semester is to take one more class, write a thesis, and graduate. And then I’ll be done: out in the “real” world, a “real” adult. I signed a job offer two days ago (!), so I guess that means the next year of my life is set. Software engineering in San Francisco… if MEnging feels different now, I know that’s going to be a whole new world.

But for now I’m mostly just taking things day by day and week by week. Doing my research, getting my grading done, trying to remember to make plans with my friends, going to new restaurants and having some fun on the weekends. Although my life has changed and will continue to change dramatically, I think in some ways all the change has let me see that so much stays the same. Just because you’re in high school or college or grad school or your first job you’re not sure you’ll stick with, that doesn’t mean you’re waiting for your life to begin. You’re living it now: one day of your life, every single day. So I’m trying to enjoy each day for what it is, and not wait on what it will be.

  1. Colloquially known as EECS, pronounced eeks, or more often just as 'Course 6'. back to text
  2. Am I dating myself with this reference? Is it now possible to date oneself with Kesha? How time does advance... back to text
  3. Software Studio - it's a junior/senior level class focusing on website design. back to text