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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

Observations of an MIT Sophomore by Paul B. '11

Advice and insight.

I didn’t mean to write this entry. I sat down to write about some recent events I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while – and well, I started writing this instead.

  1. You only have one freshman year. Live it up.
  2. Pass/No Record is not an excuse to slack off and not learn the basics – it’s a chance to adjust to MIT and learn the study habits you’ll need for the next four years without having to be (as) afraid of failure.
  3. Don’t save all your work for the night before it’s due. Seriously.
  4. Caffeine is not a substitute for sleep. Try and get 8 hours a night – your body (and your friends, and your grades) will thank you.
  5. Excuses are for high school.
  6. Sometimes it’s possible to get extensions or have allowances made for extraordinary circumstances – but you shouldn’t rely on it. Remember that compassion isn’t a prerequisite to becoming a professor at this school.
  7. In my humble opinion, xkcd used to be a lot funnier than it currently is. Sic transit gloria mundi.
  8. Running into people you haven’t really talked to for a year can be immensely satisfying.
  9. At MIT, we have the luxury of being within walking distance of one of the world’s greatest cities. It’ll take you at least four years to explore everything Boston has to offer. Get started soon.
  10. Sometimes, you should just T it. – and sometimes you should F the T. The hard part is figuring out when.
  11. One thought about choosing your living group: it’s not about the quality of the facilities, but rather the character of the people who live in them.
  12. Help is rarely as far away as you think it is. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.
  13. Don’t be afraid to approach your professors – whether it’s because you have a question about lecture, you’re hoping to get a UROP in their lab, or anything else. This is how Melis and I got an interview with Eric Lander last year. The worst they can do is say no, and either way they’ll know your face the next time you ask. :)
  14. If you ever find yourself saying you don’t have time for a boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other, you’re doing something wrong.
  15. Don’t pick ozonolysis.
  16. You don’t have to go out and party every Friday night to be “popular.” In fact, if you go out and party just “because it’s Friday” and not because you actually trying to have fun, you’re just a sheep.
  17. Regarding East Campus and West Campus: yes, they’re different. That’s the point. But we’re still all MIT students.
  18. MIT is one of the few institutions in the world that offers you near complete freedom in choosing where you live. Whether you live in a dorm for four years or you join an FSILG, don’t overlook the value of Rush.
  19. There’s sometimes a grain of truth to the stereotypes you hear spread around. But more often than not, that grain is microscopic. In the long run, it’s better to judge the rest of MIT – and its students – for yourself.
  20. It’s true: sometimes, going back and forth across the river just to get to school is a pain. But at the same time, it’s taught me how to keep walking, even when I’m going against the wind. It’s showed me exactly the value of knowing exactly how many smoots away I am from Hell – plus or minus an ear or two. It’s helped me find time to walk by myself for a while and just think about things. And I’m grateful for that.
  21. Trying to develop your own personal website can be a great exercise in learning HTML and CSS.
  22. LaTeX is your friend – except when it’s not. But it’s still worth learning, or at least playing around with. Of course, I’m biased.
  23. Sometimes it’s good to just step away from everything and everyone online and just exist in the real world – whether it’s studying, hanging with your friends, or just being by yourself and thinking about the world. Facebook, AIM, and your inbox can all wait.
  24. Finding time for your high-school hobbies – writing, an instrument, reading – can be hard at MIT. But it’s worth it. I’m trying to get back into poetry. :)
  25. Donating blood or volunteering at a blood drive is one of the easiest and simplest ways you can make an impact on someone’s life – without even having to leave campus.
  26. Sometimes it’s okay to do silly things.
  27. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eat breakfast. Don’t skip other meals. Cook for yourself every now and then. Try and get into a consistent workout schedule – MIT’s athletic facilities are fantastic and free – or join an intramural team. Do something just for fun.
  28. Have you ever noticed how sometimes you can be so focused on taking the perfect photo that you forget to just enjoy the moment?
  29. Call your parents. No, really.
  30. Read this entry, which makes this sound like a caveman’s muttering in comparison. But trust me: you’ll be glad you did.
  31. Some people can’t be replaced, no matter how hard you try. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t welcome new faces in their place.
  32. Stand up for yourself as a student. Strive to make this school everything you thought it would be when you were a prefrosh. Remember that culture is truly defined by the students who actually create it and are part of it – not the administrators who impose it from ten thousand feet up. Above all else, keep MIT special.
  33. No one is going to respect you simply based on the title (or titles) you hold. Conversely, it is possible to be incredibly influential and respected in an organization without ever holding an official title.
  34. The pace and energy of this place make it hard to find time to reflect. It’s still worth trying.
  35. Some of the most important mentors I’ve had at MIT have never been officially recognized as an advisor by any department or academic office.
  36. Don’t compromise on what you believe in.
  37. People screw up – in your classes or your relationships or whatever else. At MIT, it’s pretty much bound to happen sooner or later. Rather than beating yourself over the head, it’s better to just dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and get back up swinging.

20 responses to “Observations of an MIT Sophomore”

  1. Dhvanit says:

    Third !
    Well, this one’s superb post Paul ! Simply GooD ! Also shows that you work with your heart !
    And I especially agree with 1,14,29 & 33..

  2. Kevin says:

    Another great blog post Paul, I really like the random ramblings/insights into an MIT student. It’s informal but still touches on a lot of things that are interesting. Especially point #32 “Strive to make this school everything you thought it would be when you were a prefrosh”. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind wherever I go.

    Also I think the link in #21 is broken >.Another great blog post Paul, I really like the random ramblings/insights into an MIT student. It’s informal but still touches on a lot of things that are interesting. Especially point #32 “Strive to make this school everything you thought it would be when you were a prefrosh”. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind wherever I go.

    Also I think the link in #21 is broken >.<

  3. Anonomollois says:

    pretty lame and obvious…
    interesting enough to read down but then overly cheesy and outdated.
    Morally inclined however for brownie points..
    Its not the kitchen its the chef.. Most importantly, education and entertainment are equal as universities and fame are not.

    MIT = Expired.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s not broken. It just doesn’t work if you’re not on the MIT server because it doesn’t include the “” part.

  5. Ehsan says:

    Paul, some of the greatest advice I’ve heard in a long time (for mostly students).

    It’s so awesome that you share with us your experiences, mistakes and opportunities, so that we can better our experience as an MIT student (if we ever get there).

    Thanks again for spending your Monday morning(we all know how hard that can be) to teach prospectives and maybe some die-hard admissions blog readers!

  6. Ahana says:

    Ben’s ’50 Things’ entry was one of the best ever on the admissions site. Your entry, which is heartwarming, comes very very close to it ;P
    Also, I agree with the xkcd part…Randall Munroe seems to have abdicated the funniest-ever-geek-comic King throne. Sad.

  7. Monorina says:

    5,6,7 and 21 rule the roost. I already know a bit of HTML,tho. I’m a self taught computer afficiando who swears by Bjarne Stroustrup( as in ” by bjarne” or ” I’m bjarne away by your actions”)- the creator of C++.And,yes,a wannabe 6-2 at MIT.

  8. Sleep? Who needs sleep nowadays?

    Its totally overrated.

    Besides, you can totally catch up during 8.033 exams….

  9. Muz says:

    I’m not at MIT, but I agree with almost everything non-MIT related, except 7 and 12.

    All students, everywhere, should follow 3 and 4! You’ll get away with it in freshman year and high school, but not after! Sleep 8 hours at night, and you’ll be studying at twice the efficiency as otherwise. Late-time studying is for procrastinators.

    Also, on 21, it’s not just websites and CSS – anything you can put your hands on, do it wink

    One thing I love is that it isn’t padded up to be a nice round number like 40 or 50 raspberry

  10. Tiffany says:

    So true: number 28. But sometimes it’s the pic that can bring you back to the moment that might otherwise have been lost if you hadn’t documented it.

  11. Paul says:

    @deng: At MIT, Rush is the period during Freshman Orientation where incoming students explore the various living groups on campus and decide where they want to live. There are currently two major halves of Rush: Dorm Rush (more formally known as Residence Exploration or REX) and FSILG Recruitment.

    Dorm Rush sort of starts in the summer, when incoming freshmen get to the fill out a form ranking their top dormitory choices. Late in July, a lottery is run and the temporary dorm assignments are released. Incoming freshmen move into these “temp” rooms for Orientation, but they are encouraged to explore the other dormitories and figure out which residence suits them best. Each dorm offers tours and throws other events that showcase their dorm’s culture and help freshmen get to know each dorm’s residents. At the end of Dorm Rush, students can enter the lottery again if they’ve decided they prefer another dorm, or they can simply confirm their temporary assignment.

    FSILG Recruitment starts immediately after Dorm Rush ends, and it’s divided into Fraternity Rush, Sorority Recruitment, and ILG Rush. I would talk more about FSILG Recruitment, but this comment is getting rather long, so perhaps I’ll just save those thoughts for a full-fledged entry. smile

    @Everyone else: Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad to hear that my semi-random observations were appreciated. smile

  12. Yuki says:

    This is a great entry. smile

  13. veronica.b says:

    That was one of the most inspiring entries I have read up to this point, and that’s saying a lot… =P
    I love to hear about MIT from a student’s pov because it makes me realize that MIT is truly not “all about the grades and [nerds]”. However, it does own up to the common conception that MIT is a place to discover yourself, have fun, and LEARN!
    Thanks again for posting these random, but powerful, observations! They pretty much made my day… or night… I lose track nowadays. =)

  14. david says:

    xkcd just took up 3 hrs of my life.

  15. deng says:

    k thanks ^_^

    same here
    maybe more

  16. Billy D. says:

    Thank you for such a well-thought-out, inspirational post. It really touched me and has inspired me to finish a project I’ve been working on for a week. Many, many thanks.

  17. Maria says:

    I completely agree with #4.
    I’ve made a point of getting to sleep every night before 9pm this year and I’m very happy with the results. Getting sleep makes me work faster/better, which in turn gives me more time to sleep, so I work even faster/better, etc… it’s not really exponential improvement, more like logarithmic growth =P

    I disagree with #7 though, xkcd still makes me laugh from time to time… the submarine congressman in the very last panel of #498, for example.

    Thanks for the insightful post!