I started MIT as a bubble of idealism. MIT was going to be AWESOME. Everything was going to be AWESOME. I was going to double major in biological engineering and neuroscience and double minor in history and music and I was going to UROP and I was going to be a Medlink and an MIT blogger and then become a doctor. I was going to rock out at my classes and a bazillion activities.
This, my friends, is what we call “froshy”.
Like most frosh, I began the painful process of defroshing. I learned that, no, I was not going to graduate with a 5.0 in a double major and double minor with a bazillion activities. It turns out, things take time, and people need sleep.
They told you that you could do anything. They forgot to add that you can’t do everything.
Meanwhile, MIT was a less-than-perfect place. Not all my professors were fantastic, nor were all my UROPs great, nor did activities always run smoothly and people always run reasonably. It turns out that MIT is a place run by people, and people aren’t perfect.
For health reasons (both my own and because a family member was not doing well), I took time off from MIT. I ended up attending classes at a local university in my hometown of Los Angeles. It wasn’t bad. Taking four classes was just as trivial as my high school experience. I went back in high school mode – did a little work, chilled out a lot, ended up on the Dean’s List.
I ran screaming.
I wanted the firehose education and my east side life. When I got back to MIT, I came back with a stronger realization of why I was there. It’s cliche to say that I came back to push my limits – but it wasn’t limits of “how hosed could I get before I die”. Instead, it was about the future I saw for myself crumbling as my knowledge of the world grew. How could I know where I was going if I didn’t have the experiences to shape my interests and goals?
It was around this time that I stumbled into SIPB with some friends and discovered coding. It turns out that one could be a coder and someone interesting for me to talk to at the same time! So I tried it out. And then I accidentally switched majors – but biology was still my thing, I’d just use EECS to do biology things.
And then there came that fateful day when, while looking for a summer UROP, I stumbled upon space robots. Looking back, that was the summer where I started really figuring out that I didn’t have it all figured out. I explored the problems one encounters in space at the same time I took up the hobby of exploring the ocean. I spent a weekend with hippies in a forest. I learned to shape glass.
My remaining time at MIT wasn’t easy. There were uncountably many bumps. But each of those lead to opportunities to push my comfort zone and do some hard work in a previously unexplored area. And though MIT wasn’t perfect, there were fantastic professors, great UROPs, there were activities that filled my soul with joy, and there were incredible human beings :)
A lot of MIT students trend towards bitter over time. Seniors graduate, and people think that bitterness is the proper trait of a grown person because that’s what the seniors are. I resisted becoming bitter to the best I could, but in that last year, I can’t say I wasn’t bitter.
I finally graduated, and began some sort of recovery from burnout. I took on absolutely no responsibilities outside of work for my first few months after MIT. I wondered if this would be a permanent state, but it wasn’t so bad. Sure beat being hosed as an undergrad.
And then I started refroshening. When I started my full time job (in which I get to play with the internet!), that zealous nature started coming back. Include some travel for perspective (you can read more on that in my update on Lydia’s blog — I’m Melissa H. ’13), and the burnout seemed to leave. Suddenly I was balancing a busy summer of working, taking a class (which will contribute to both my master’s and to my current work at my job/general career), and getting back in the air after years away.
I write this while juggling the two projects (and two accompanying presentations) and quiz I need to prepare for before my last class tomorrow evening, while planning out the rest of the week to do some flight training, with my brain thinking on the projects I’m driving for work and what coding aspects I should learn in preparation. Volunteering myself for high workloads, managing them with a social life, and sleeping 8 hours every night somehow started to come easily. I feel invigorated by the work I do and what I’m learning, by my friends, and by all the sleep I’m getting :)
I felt like writing this story because it’s easier to get the full picture looking back instead of forming it ahead. As a prefrosh, you read the Admissions blogs and primarily get to read about what people are *excited* about – which means you come to MIT with high hopes that almost invariably won’t match reality. Then as an undergrad, all you see are the upperclassmen balancing the awesome things they’re doing with a distinct bit of bitterness.
So, be prepared. Stop pegging yourself as one thing and allow your experiences to shape you. Don’t panic when your idealism begins to faulter, don’t fall into the underclassman trap of thinking that the journey ends with you being bitter. The high and the low can average out into a realization of what you want to do and an unmatched optimism.
If you come to MIT, know this: MIT will give you experiences. MIT will amaze you. MIT will try you. MIT is part of the project that is the rest of your life. And sometimes, MIT will break you down to your components. And that’s the point where you rebuild something better than before.