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past, present, future by Nisha D. '21

reflections and plans

past

At the beginning of the semester, upon looking at my overloaded schedule, pretty much every upperclassman I know (as well as my advisor) told me that I was pulling a “freshman spring” and taking too many classes. As it happens, they turned out to be right. Listen to your elders, kids.

Still, though, I’m glad I did it. I learned the limits of how much my brain can successfully absorb, and learned what it was like to have absolutely no free time whatsoever. I vaguely learned how to manage my time so that all my psets got done, and I learned that it’s okay to get an extension from S^3 when you’re literally too hosed to function.

There are some things I wish I could change. I regret not taking 6.004 (Computation Structures) this semester – it was Chris Terman’s last semester teaching, and he’s a verifiable icon in the MIT community. I wish I had checked how many finals I would have to take at the beginning of the semester instead of realizing somewhere in the middle that I had FOUR finals to prepare for. Most MIT students take an average of 1 or 2 finals a semester (and a lot have no finals, just projects), and four finals turned out to be predictably excruciating to prepare for. Never again. I also regret not taking more extensions from S^3 – I always told myself that I didn’t need more time, but sometimes I would submit psets that were on time and very poorly done. I wound up only going to S^3 once this semester to ask for an extension during a week in which I was almost too stressed out to move, but it shouldn’t have taken me that long to do so. The deans at S^3 understand that MIT students have a lot on their plate, and are very willing to give you an extension if you explain your issues to them.

All of that being said, I’m glad that I took the classes I did this semester, even though I may not have enjoyed the experience as much as I would have liked to. Here are my final thoughts on my classes – since I’m writing this a few weeks after finals ended, I may be viewing them through rose-tinted glasses, but I think these evaluations are about as fair as I can get.

18.03 (Ordinary Differential Equations): A bad grade on one of the midterms shattered my hopes of getting an A in this class, so it went from being my favorite class at the beginning of the semester to my least favorite nearing the middle. However, I ended up appreciating it quite a bit at the end, when we went over Fourier series and partial differential equations. It made me realize how much of the physical world (pretty much all of it) can be modeled with differential equations, and how important these equations are all fields of engineering. We also had an excellent lecturer (Bjorn Poonen – the man, the myth, the lion), and I’ve realized this semester that the professor really makes or breaks the class.

6.036 (Introduction to Machine Learning): At some point in the middle of the semester, the material in this class went from reasonable and perfectly understandable to completely and utterly incomprehensible. For the entire last half of the semester, machine learning was the unicorn of my classes – cool and mysterious but impossible to grasp. Things really came together while I was studying for the final, though. Even though I wasn’t fully confident going into the exam, when I received the graded test back, I realized that I had understood much more machine learning than I thought I had, and that was one of the most satisfying feelings ever.

6.006 (Introduction to Algorithms): My experience in 6.006 takes me back to my AP Macroeconomics class in sophomore year of high school. For whatever reason, I found economics extremely difficult. I could not for the life of me wrap my head around the concepts, and I struggled to come out of the class with an A. On the other hand, my younger sister, who took the class as a freshman the following year, got an A with very little effort. In short, there are classes that you can study for and do well, and there are classes in which massive amounts of studying yield minimal return in terms of performance on a curve. For me, 6.006 was the latter. There are people who just naturally understand algorithms better than me, and can come up with innovative solutions far faster than I ever could. This bugged me to no end during the semester – in particular, after studying my butt off for the second midterm and receiving a grade that was barely passing on the curve, I couldn’t help crying out of frustration. I wound up passing the class with a sub-optimal grade, but in the end, I think I’ll remember the 6.006 material for much longer than any of the other material I learned this semester, simply because I put so much work into understanding it.

8.02 (Electricity & Magnetism): I had a bad lecturer for this class, and combined with the TEAL format, this made 8.02 the most excruciating five hours of my week. I wound up doing poorly on the first midterm out of sheer disinterest, but managed to pick my grades up on the second midterm and the final. Studying for the final made me question why I had found the class so difficult – 8.02 is very standardized, and the questions they ask are all fairly cookie cutter for an MIT class (for all you incoming frosh who want to do real physics, take 8.022). That being said, understanding the material is what will differentiate you from the students who simply memorize how to do the problems (@me on the first midterm).

CMS.840 (Literature and Film): This class was a pleasure. I missed having the opportunity to read and analyze literature, and CMS.840 provided that to me in bucketloads. The class was small and discussion based, and even though the weekly readings and writings would sometimes be annoying when I had four psets to do, I realize now how much more I prefer writing papers to doing psets, an opinion that the majority of the MIT population would likely disagree with me on.
present

Even though finals were only three weeks ago, it feels like a lifetime has passed between me sprinting out of the 18.03 final and today. I went home for a few days, went to Maine for a few days, and spent the rest of the time at East Campus hanging out with friends and graduating seniors. I went to my first Pride parade and got to appreciate Elizabeth Warren running around in a rainbow boa. I watched a lot of Brooklyn 99 and read the entirety of The Da Vinci Code in one sitting. I also started on the His Dark Materials series (@Petey) – I never read it as a kid for whatever reason, but I’m glad that I get to enjoy it as an adult who can have a greater appreciation for the philosophy behind it. I also am messing around with a cool edX course on computer graphics and hope to learn some more about virtual reality.

I started my job today! I’m working at the MIT STEP Lab (also known as the Education Arcade) on a location-based augmented reality smartphone app – think Pokemon Go, because that’s basically how it works. The platform is called TaleBlazer, and it’s available to anybody for creating your own location-based games. I think the project is really cool, and I’m glad that I get to work on something so pertinent to my interests! (Shameless plug: check out http://www.taleblazer.org).

future

Like most students, I’ve already planned out my fall semester classes. I’m definitely taking 6.004 (Computation Structures), 6.009 (Fundamentals of Programming), and 18.701 (Algebra I), but the free variables are my HASS classes. I’ve learned from last semester’s mistakes and am going to take three technicals and two HASS classes (which total to 0 finals) instead of four technicals and one HASS. However, since it’s difficult to get into certain CMS classes without being a CMS minor/major (which I never got around to declaring), I’m currently preregistered for eight CMS classes in the hope that I’ll get into at least two of them. I also came to the realization that MIT has thousands of fascinating classes, and unfortunately, I will never be able to take the vast majority of them. However, MIT does have an option to audit classes, and I’m considering taking 8.286 (The Early Universe) on listener status. The class is taught by Professor Alan Guth, a theoretical physicist famous for his research on the expanding universe, and is only offered once every two years. Unfortunately, I’m already overbooked for the timeslot in which it’s offered, so I probably won’t end up taking it since it would be highly impractical to schedule three lectures in the same block of time.

More immediately: I’m pretty excited for this summer. A lot of my friends are on campus, and I have no doubt that we’ll get up to some good shenanigans. This is probably the only summer in my MIT career that I’ll be on campus, and I plan to enjoy all the fun activities Boston and Cambridge have to offer. Also, since I’m on campus, I’d like to do more ‘Comprehensive Guide’ blog posts, and am open to any suggestions for what to map next! I already have a very extensive project planned, but it’ll probably take the whole summer, so if there are any features of MIT that you believe can be easily mapped, email me at [email protected] or leave a suggestion in the comments!