I know, I know, it’s been like eight years since I wrote anything. I promise I haven’t fallen off the earth! Coming off of pass/no record, though, is taking a little bit of adjustment. Speaking of adjustment..
This semester I applied for and joined ESG (Experimental Study Group), a freshman learning community that offers all of the core classes in smaller classes. It’s a pretty big shift coming from the typical freshman classes of 200+, or however many people can fit into 10-250 at once without setting off any fire alarms (I heard that last semester, on the first day of 3.091, people were literally sitting in the aisles of this lecture hall that sat 450), but it’s definitely an awesome community to be a part of and a different approach to the GIRs.
Typically, freshman classes have huge lectures with everyone in the class, and then every other day, have an hour recitation with about 15-25 other freshmen and their TAs. Classes in ESG, however, have about 5-15 students in them – 15 being the very most. These classes are offered exactly the same as the regular material learned in typical freshman classes – called “mainstream” classes – but in a more intimate setting.
How intimate? Questions I ask in ESG classes on a daily basis? Probably around 5, in an hour of class. This includes questions such as “where did that negative charge come from”; “I don’t understand that; can you explain it again?”; and “wait, WHAT?!” Questions I asked in mainstream classes in an entire semester? 0. You get a lot more comfortable talking to your professor when it’s you, them, and a few other students who were probably wondering the same thing you were. (This includes “wait, WHAT?!”)
So you’re taking the same class, studying the same material. All your classes, however, are more similar to the recitation format, just slightly smaller. In mainstream, your TAs hold office hours where you can talk to them and ask questions, but in ESG it’s even easier to talk to your TAs and ask them questions because participation is inherent to the ESG learning community.
If you’re not sure that you want to submit entirely to ESG, you don’t have to. It’s a good way to get to know a small group of people, but if you’d still like to take interact with the rest of your freshman class, you can. I’m only taking half of my classes in ESG; my other two are regular mainstream classes. Some ESG classes, like 5.12 (Organic Chemistry), even have sort of a half-ESG option in that you attend mainstream lecture (which again, you wouldn’t want to miss, because Dr. Berkwoski is hilarious), but attend a recitation in ESG. I have a mainstream TA, but I also attend the office hours (extra study sessions) held by the ESG TAs, because it’s much easier to freely freak out about how much you don’t understand what’s going on. (And because I really enjoy 5.12. Nerd much?)
But the best part of ESG? Besides the small classes, and having a place to chill on campus 24/7? Free food. At every turn. Remember orientation? Yeah, it’s kinda like that. My biology professor’s Kitchen Chemistry seminar offers baked goods every other day; my TAs bring ice cream and order us Thai food for late-night study sessions, and one of the ESG administrators makes a pasta dinner every Wednesday night. And, of course, there are Friday lunches (with speakers such as representatives from OpenCourseWare).
Tonight was special, though, because it was Ting Ting’s (one of our 5.12 TAs) birthday! We celebrated ESG style by interrupting our study session to eat chiral cake. (Yes, we know that the substituents aren’t arranged in alphabetical priority. We only wanted it to spell out her name!)
Besides all the fun we have cooking together (and eating together.. hellooo, freshman 15), ESG is first and foremost a learning community – one you should possibly look into when you get your registration packets! (Especially because MIT is a very “wait, WHAT?!?!?” kind of place. I just wanted to write that again.)