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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

Making Connections by Shuli J. '22

we live in a society (affectionate)

A few hours ago, I was on my way to my room in the west parallel01 EC has two buildings; one is to the west of the other of East Campus. I was coming from the east parallel, where I had been delivering dinner to a friend who wasn’t feeling well. Because it’s (very) rainy today, instead of going outside to get from one parallel to the other, I went down to the basement to walk through the tunnel that connected them. On the door to the basement stairs I saw a poster advertising the names and emails of EC’s Medlinks (students who are trained to provide first aid and basic medical help). By chance, I recognized the kerb of one of them: they’re a student in 6.031,02 Elements of Software Construction. It's a lot harder than the name makes it sound the class I’m currently working for as a Lab Assistant.

This was such a small thing to notice, but it triggered a cascade of thoughts in my head that I’ve been thinking about, each separately, for a few weeks now. Thoughts that suddenly combined into an idea, which quickly grew into a blog. Thoughts like:

I staff 6.031 office hours from 7 to 8 pm on Mondays. Then, I walk two buildings over and I go to office hours for 6.806,03 Advanced Natural Language Processing. Exactly as hard as the name makes it sound a class I’m taking. When I’m staffing office hours, I feel just a little like a genius. Students come in, hopelessly confused, and I can (sometimes) instantly recognize their problem, fix their misconception, and set them on the right path. Somehow, two buildings and an hour turns me from a genius into a fool: when I show up at 6.806 office hours, it’s my turn to be hopelessly confused. I ask questions that feel incredibly basic, and then ask them again because I didn’t understand the answer. The TAs seem like geniuses to me. But those TAs are me, shifted over one hour in time and two buildings in space.

On Monday nights, 6.03604 Introduction to Machine Learning and 6.031 both hold office hours in the same big room. Yesterday, as I was helping a student around 7.50 pm, I noticed that the LA who covers 8 to 9 pm was already in the room. She was getting help with a 6.036 lab. As I finished up with the student and prepared to leave for 806, I could hear her saying to the 6.036 LA “I have to go — I need to go staff 031.” And she picked up her laptop and walked twenty feet to the other side of the room. Twenty feet, not even two buildings, not even one.

The friend who I was bringing food to today, I met in class sophomore year (as it happens the class was 031).05 So this class might have lowkey defined my entire MIT experience a little. No biggie. Maybe I'll post about that some other time We both lived in EC but didn’t know each other at all, except that we both knew Nisha. When I walked into class on the first day, the two of them were already sitting together, and Nisha waved me over.06 In my friend's memory of this day, Nisha and I were already sitting together when they walked in. Isn't that funny? Memories are such fickle creatures Then, it just so happened that we were also in 6.04207 Math for Computer Science together that semester, so we started sitting together there too. It took until November for us to start hanging out after class. By the time spring semester started, we were friends — and by the time we went home in March, we were good enough friends to decide to live together in September.

Now I’m deciding again who I will live with next year. I’ve made such close friends here through such tenuous beginnings:08 If you notice yourself here, I love you <3 (and if you don't I probably love you too) a single shared 6-unit class, one night spent exploring EC’s halls, 9 am 8.01. And I’ve made friends in less tenuous circumstances, too: a shared club and two classes, a shared major and club, a shared dorm and a faith.

Even (even?) now as a senior, I sometimes still find out by chance that two of my friends know each other in ways I would never have expected. One of them tutored the other in a class, one of them grew up in the town next to the other, they’re in the same lab group and have seen each other’s biweekly presentations for forty weeks straight. When I contemplate these relationships, they overwhelm me: their number, their importance in my life, their importance in others’ lives in ways I can’t even see…

And most of all, what’s making me emotional tonight is how much we rely on each other, and how much we can rely on each other. When we were online, the world shrank so much. I had my roommates, a few friends, the classmates I barely knew from a tiny square on Zoom and couldn’t have recognized without their name written underneath their pixelated face. When I needed help, I could ask my roomies; I could call my parents; I could text to the giant class groupchat and hope one of 200 people I didn’t know at all felt called to text me back.

Now, in person, I spend so much of my day helping other people and being helped. I give freshmen and sophomores advice, and grad students give me advice. I run office hours, and I go to office hours. I give my friends mental health tips and bring them food when they’re sick, and they stay over when I’m feeling alone and tend to me when I smack into a doorframe and cut my elbow open.09 Don't worry, Mom and Dad, I'm fine now :) And any one of these people who I help or who helps me, helps and is helped by everyone else too. Every day on campus I smile and wave to a dozen people, and I know they have my back and I have theirs. The world has expanded again. It is full of people I know and love, and people I don’t know but might love soon, and every day we all move around campus, from one building, friend group, class, or club to another, and we are all interconnected.


A graph titled "MIT online". The legend says one node equals one person. The graph has me at the center and shows my connections to three groups: my five roommates (close to me), five friends (a little further away), and lots of classmates (very far away).

What MIT online felt like (very approximate graph): I had some connections, but most were weak. I couldn’t see and never thought about other people’s connections.

A similar graph, but titled "MIT IRL". The legend says one node = ten people. This graph is much messier and shows my connections to lots of different groups of people. It also shows their connections to each other, and to nodes that aren't even on the graph.

What MIT feels like IRL: I have many more connections, with lots more groups of people. I can see other people’s connections to each other, and that makes me think about what connections they have that I can’t see. The graph is messier, but it’s also more vibrant, beautiful, and alive.

  1. EC has two buildings; one is to the west of the other back to text
  2. Elements of Software Construction. It's a lot harder than the name makes it sound back to text
  3. Advanced Natural Language Processing. Exactly as hard as the name makes it sound back to text
  4. Introduction to Machine Learning back to text
  5. So this class might have lowkey defined my entire MIT experience a little. No biggie. Maybe I'll post about that some other time back to text
  6. In my friend's memory of this day, Nisha and I were already sitting together when they walked in. Isn't that funny? Memories are such fickle creatures back to text
  7. Math for Computer Science back to text
  8. If you notice yourself here, I love you <3 (and if you don't I probably love you too) back to text
  9. Don't worry, Mom and Dad, I'm fine now :) back to text