MIT is hard. BUT . . . since it feels like I’ve only been writing wanky blog entries lately, I’d like to write one that’s not, because everybody likes happy, right?
This weekend is parents weekend, so instead of just seeing the faces of young students and old professors, you start to see this weird in-between age bracket that is usually absent from campus. Parents are usually easy to spot for a couple of reasons. First, they all have name tags, proudly displaying their names. Two, they usually come in pairs, and three, they have this look of excitement that is shared only by all of the freshmen here.
Aw, why isn’t anybody else excited? It’s not that we hate everything or aren’t happy people, it’s just that after freshman year everything just seems much more difficult. Freshman year isn’t easy, by any means, but the difficulty seems to come from the fact that you’ve never done MIT before. Sophomore year the difficulty is no longer because you haven’t done MIT before, it’s because now MIT expects that you know what’s going on and throws a more difficult curriculum at you.
Anyway, back to parents. Parent’s weekend allows parents to wander around campus, visit the dorms, attend classes, and generally see what MIT is like. Last year I thought it was hilarious because each of my classes had a special “Parent’s Weekend Curriculum.” Physics was all demos, chemistry focused on our professor’s research, math was a little easier, etc. This year, however, I didn’t notice any special curriculum. In fact, in 2.005 (thermal fluids) we had our most difficult lecture of the entire year. Alright, sure, they did bust out a container of liquid Nitrogen to please the parents (though they squeezed it into the topic pretty well, kudos) but the second half hour of class was kind of hilarious. We were talking about spacial and time dependent heat transfer from gas through solid when the Biot number is approximately one. Basically, you have a block with a heat-resistance approximately equal to that of the surrounding gas and you want to see how heat travels through the solid. Somehow, through the use of magic that is completely foreign to me, we came up with one equation that related time to distance and could calculate all of this.
I say magic, but we actually had to go through the proof for this and I promise you, it was definitely the scariest and most overwhelming thing anybody in that class had ever seen. Ever. There was some weird partial differential equation separation of variables thing, variable substitutions in integrals, Fourier transforms, and algebra (read, witchcraft) that somehow produced this long, hellish equation containing a bazillion variables. Oh, wait, reviewing my notes, there was also something called a “Similarity transformation,” an “Error Function,” and an “Error Function Complement.”
My favorite part was the variables. We actually ran out of variables and started to have to reuse variables we’d already used, but assign them different values. Yeah. I looked around and saw some students just sitting with their mouths open, others laughing, and still others were trying to learn but failing miserably. Parents just sat there, looking at the board, pretending to know exactly what was going on and looking really interested.
At the end of lecture we all just kind of sat there, dumbfounded, before standing up to leave. There’s a lot of academic rigor at MIT. The classes are hard. They’re totally doable, but hard. My parents, who couldn’t make it to parent’s weekend, have a very holistic view of MIT. They figure that I got in and am doing the work. As long as I try my hardest, work hard, and learn, they’ll be ok with whatever grades that yields. A lot of parents don’t share that opinion, BUT . . . I’d bet most anything that the parents who walked out of that 2.005 lecture now have the same view as my parents. They understand why MIT is hard now, and hopefully they understand that during our test on Thursday we’re going to be tested on the material that they just watched us learn.
Alright, all that said and done, here’s the bottom line. MIT is still a fantastic school, I love it, and FREAKING OUT about the amount of work and how hard it is is part of the fun. How much fun would a roller coaster be if it didn’t scare you? Each and every day at MIT is a new challenge to overcome. Overcoming it elicits a feeling of excitement and accomplishment that propels you on to the next day. There will be few occasions where you will feel as accomplished as when you make it through a hellish week here.
That hellish week for me is this next week. 2 PSETs, 2 tests, a project, and 2 hundred pages of reading. Even then, that’s nothing compared to some of my friends’ schedules. But, we all survive, figure it out, and end up moving forward. I don’t know how it happens, but everything seems to work out in the end. MIT is hard.
Well, unless you study biology.