Skip to content ↓
MIT blogger Alex M. '21

Questions & Answers by Alex M. '21

a daily blog prompt compilation

Where have I been?

I haven’t blogged since February 3. A lot has happened since; I’m sure I could write pages of excuses about why I haven’t had time to blog, and what I’ve been doing instead. The main reason, though, is that I wanted to write something perfect and meaningful and personal yet protective of my friends’ and family’s privacy, and I refused to write or post absolutely anything else. I thought I had shaken this perfectionism by now. MIT has forced me to become much more comfortable with failure, but apparently not comfortable enough.

So, I’m working on writing some more substantial posts, and hopefully I won’t be too precious about them. In the meantime, I did an Instagram Live for MIT Admissions with Shuli answering questions about life at MIT. It was a surprisingly delightful experience. I decided a good first step to get back into actually writing would be to ride the high of my question-answering experience and….answer some questions posed by the Daily Blog Prompt bot.

Tell us about your Dead Weeks and how they’ve changed throughout your MIT semesters. (Feb 3)

This is my first semester with no finals, so Dead Week marks the start of my summer, which totally kicks ass. Every other Dead Week has involved a significant amount of sitting in coffee shops (rip) and studying for finals.

As a lifelong strong-test-taker, I thought I would prefer final exams to projects, but I’ve actually really liked my final projects this semester, despite the challenges of doing group projects over Zoom. I strongly underestimated how fun it is to work hard and then have an interesting project to show for it, compared to how unfulfilling it is to work hard and then take an exam and have no tangible validation of your efforts.

Where are you in this exact very moment? Take a picture. Tell us where you just were, where you are now, and where you are going next. (Feb 13)

I am in Seattle, in my parents’ house, and more specifically in this moment I am on the couch. I’ve been here since March 13, and I don’t know how long I’ll be here or where I’ll go next.

If you’ve taken and passed (or failed) an ASE, how did you prepare? What advice do you have? If not, collect responses from your friends. (Feb 22)

I failed two ASEs during freshman orientation (18.02 and 6.0001), despite having taken and excelled in both subjects in high school. I passed one ASE during sophomore IAP (18.03), despite having never taken a differential equations class.

Passing an ASE required a lot of studying and a lot of motivation. If I had failed the 18.03 ASE, I would not have been able to change majors, so I felt immense pressure to pass, and immense motivation to study. I had absolutely no motivation or intentions to study for the other ASEs whatsoever, which is probably why I failed, but I think failing those ASEs ended up being a positive thing for me in the long run.

What are you working on? Summarize some of the material you are studying in a way that is understandable to a high school audience. (Mar 3)

A lot of my work this semester was for a capstone class for my major, 16.831: Space Systems Development. The class was working on BeaverCube, a small satellite currently scheduled for launch in fall 2020. I was in the Attitude Determination & Controls Systems (ADCS) group, and our goals were basically:

  1. Figure out where the satellite is in its orbit + keep track of it
  2. Figure out how the satellite is oriented, aka its attitude, (camera pointed towards Earth, antenna pointed towards Earth, etc.) + keep track of that
  3. Provide the right amount of torque to get the satellite in the right orientation, aka attitude, at certain times (point the antenna at the ground communication station when we want to communicate, point the camera at the ocean when we want to take pictures, etc.)

So, basically our work consisted of figuring out how to take sensor measurements -> use the sensor measurements to figure out the satellite’s position + orientation -> change the satellite’s orientation to what we actually want. There are lots of very interesting problems involved, and the work on them is ongoing, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.

What are the three most memorable moments—good or bad, happy or sad—in your time at MIT? (Mar 10)

I’m just going to do three from junior year.

  1. Winning the men’s collegiate 8+ event at Head of the Charles. I was very happy, and so were my teammates; we were so glad we had chosen to wake up early every morning for practice.
  2. Leaving MIT because of COVID-19. Everything felt very strange, and it still does.
  3. Getting results for my 16.831 paper 6 hours before the deadline after 4 incredibly long days of only debugging and absolutely nothing else. I was so tired, but I was thrilled.

What did you do for fun in high school? How did these things define who you were then, and how have they defined who you are now? (Mar 26)

I think I wrote my MIT “for fun” essay about playing basketball with my friends, even though we were all terrible at it. It’s fun playing ball sports with rowers, because everyone is super athletic but just absolutely sucks due to their glaring lack of hand-eye coordination. I remember playing tennis with my teammates after rowing nationals in California last summer. None of us had played any actual tennis, only Wii Tennis or Mario Tennis, and we were atrocious but had so much fun.

Tell us about the first time you saw MIT. Who was the first MIT person you met? What was the first MIT building you saw? (Apr 3)

I went on a tour of MIT the summer before my senior year of high school. I think my tour guide was one of the DPhiE founders, because she kept talking about a sorority she had helped start. She seemed very nice and made me much less scared of applying to MIT. I also remember going to an info session in the Green Building before the tour.

How did you handle the waiting period between hitting submit and March (or even between then and August (also known as senior year))? (Apr 14)

I applied early and am a chronically impatient person, so I coped by applying to certain rolling-admissions Canadian universities, because I really wanted to get in somewhere before hearing back from MIT in December. This strategy did not work. The Canadian universities did not tell me my decision until like February.

I didn’t have a huge problem sitting through the rest of senior year after getting my decision. I think rowing helped a lot with that, because I still very much cared about my team’s spring season, even when I felt ready to be over with high school. My high school also felt a lot less cliquey senior spring, which was nice.

Do you have any funny/harrowing/interesting memories from a sporting event you attended, participated in, or watched at MIT? (Apr 23)

Heard the race starting at 2:33:30ish in this video was worth watching, but the good part starts closer to 2:39:00. I was in the red MIT boat so I had a slightly better view of the finish, but the drone footage is all right.

Our days our organized around numerous small actions we repeat over and over. What’s your favorite daily ritual? (May 4)

I love to drink coffee and read the paper in the morning. Certified grandfather activity.

Take photos of some places you’ve fallen asleep on campus. What are the benefits and drawbacks of being asleep there? (May 10)

No photos, but the list includes:

  1. My bed – many benefits
  2. 26-100 during nearly every lecture freshman fall- many drawbacks
  3. A variety of other lecture halls and classrooms, also during freshman fall – see #2

I’m strongly anti-napping, especially in public places, so this list isn’t very exciting. I slept about 5-6 hours a night freshman fall vs 7-8 hours a night every subsequent semester. I also started drinking coffee regularly during freshman spring. I no longer fall asleep in class.

This was fun.

I enjoyed answering these questions. I’d love to answer more. One question I’d like to answer is, “What is the most challenging thing about MIT, and what did it teach you that you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?”. I think this is one of the fundamental questions that these MITAdmissions blogs try to answer. It is also one of the last questions I was asked during the Instagram Live. I did not have a satisfactory answer, but I promised the question-asker that I would blog about it. I’ve been thinking about this, and trying to write about it, and I hope to address it, at least partially, in another blog post soon.

If any incoming 2024s, or applicants, or blog readers, have any other questions, please email me at [email protected]. I would love to hear more questions, and think about them, and write about them, and hopefully answer them.