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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Schedilemmas by Yan Z. '12

Schedule + dilemma = most incompetent-sounding portmanteau ever

Three days before classes start, I woke up at 7:09 AM, ran 6 miles, discovered three new species of granola in an unexplored section of the pantry, preheated an oven to the wrong temperature in Fahrenheit but exactly the right temperature in Kelvin (on accident), took a partial derivative, tossed up a pan of granola flatbread, studied experimental bacon physics for six finger-scalding hours in preparation for an all-bacon dinner for 40 people, packed two suitcases, moved from pika into Random Hall, walked back to pika anyway, drank two cups of black tea, gave tours of pika’s revamped drawbridge-accessible treehouse, crawled onto the cold-tiled roof, and stared at the thick haze of light pollution overhead until I was stuffed with numbness and murky starlight. Lately I’ve been tracing a trajectory through the last week of summer that curves just short of preparations for the impending semester. Behold, the death of 3-month vacation heralded by this monstrosity of Google calendarism:

[See legend at end of post to decode course numbers.]
[Professor Nergis, whose last name is gentle to neither pronunciation nor spelling, is my academic advisor.]

This is my class schedule for Fall ’09. There’s eight courses spread over a 120-hour canvas; I’ll probably drop three of them so that I don’t go to bed weeping tears of angst every night. One of MIT’s masochist-friendly policies is that upperclassmen are free to register for every single class offered at the Institvte if they should desire a GPA of 0.2/5.0 or so. Conventional wisdom for the indecisive is that you should sign up for all the classes worthy of consideration and then progressively trim the fat from your course load until you can swallow your weekly serving of credit hours. For instance, my dilemma right now is choosing between 18.100B (Introduction to Analysis) and 8.07 (Electricity & Magnetism II). Tortured by a soul-ripping conflict between studying rigorous math and learning where MIT keeps its prodigious supply of educational solenoids, I turned to my ex-roommate, Katelyn (a devout math major who watches Jeopardy, not that this is relevant).

Y: Should I take 8.07 or 18.100B?
K: Math!
Y: I don’t know if I want to be hosed trying to prove that 1+1 does not equal the set of irrational numbers greater than Australia.

Later that night-

K: Math is the dressing that makes physics taste better.
Y: But18.100B is like mayonnaise. It doesn’t even go on the salad, unless the salad is potato salad.
Y: By “potato”, I mean “theoretical,” and by “salad,” I mean “physics.”
K: How do you know adding mayonnaise won’t help the taste of say, a lettuce salad? It may surprise you.
Y: Hey Katelyn. That sounds delicious.
Y: By delicious, I mean “gross,” and by “Hey Katelyn,” I mean “That’s the last time I ever invite you to a potluck.”

Shortly after-

K: Your salad right now has too much lettuce. It needs garnish.
Y: Yeah, well, your salad isn’t even a salad. It’s like a condiment bar.
Y: If you’re taking applied math this term, maybe it has some tomatoes.

On the bright side, pika rush* coincides with the first week of school, injecting sunbursts of stressless creativity into a greyish schedule. Who can resist cheesemaking lessons on Registration Day, followed by an all-night Dr. Who marathon? Nobody, that’s Who.

*At MIT, the first week of school is reserved for fraternity/sorority/independent living group recruitment. Although freshmen must live on campus, the rush period gives freshmen the opportunity to explore non-dorm housing options for their future years at MIT as various living groups grapple to outsplurge each other on steak and lobster dinners to attract ramen-acclimated visitors. pika inexplicably prefers to shell out for esoteric items like granola and organic nut butters. Probably half of last night’s dinner budget was converted into pureed cashews.

My actual schedule for this week:


18.303- The classical partial differential equations of applied mathematics: diffusion, Laplace/Poisson, and wave equations. Methods of solution, such as separation of variables, Fourier series and transforms, eigenvalue problems. Green’s function methods are emphasized. 18.04 or 18.112 are useful, as well as previous acquaintance with the equations as they arise in scientific applications. [I dropped this class because of a last-minute lecture time change by the course administrators.]

18.100B- Fundamentals of mathematical analysis: convergence of sequences and series, continuity, differentiability, Riemann integral, sequences and series of functions, uniformity, interchange of limit operations.

8.03- Mechanical vibrations and waves; simple harmonic motion, superposition, forced vibrations and resonance, coupled oscillations, and normal modes; vibrations of continuous systems; reflection and refraction; phase and group velocity. Optics; wave solutions to Maxwell’s equations; polarization; Snell’s Law, interference, Huygens’s principle, Fraunhofer diffraction, and gratings.

8.033- Intro to Special Relativity. Normally taken by Physics majors in their sophomore year. Einstein’s postulates; consequences for simultaneity, time dilation, length contraction, and clock synchronization; Lorentz transformation; relativistic effects and paradoxes; Minkowski diagrams; invariants and four-vectors; momentum, energy, and mass; particle collisions. Relativity and electricity; Coulomb’s law; magnetic fields. Brief introduction to Newtonian cosmology. Introduction to some concepts of general relativity; principle of equivalence. The Schwarzchild metric; gravitational red shift; particle and light trajectories; geodesics; Shapiro delay.

8.07- E&M II. Survey of basic electromagnetic phenomena: electrostatics, magnetostatics; electromagnetic properties of matter. Time-dependent electromagnetic fields and Maxwell’s equations. Electromagnetic waves, emission, absorption, and scattering of radiation. Relativistic electrodynamics and mechanics.

8.286- Introduction to modern cosmology. First half deals with the development of the big bang theory from 1915 to 1980, and latter half with recent impact of particle theory. Topics: special relativity and the Doppler effect, Newtonian cosmological models, introduction to non-Euclidean spaces, thermal radiation and early history of the universe, big bang nucleosynthesis, introduction to grand unified theories and other recent developments in particle theory, baryogenesis, the inflationary universe model, and the evolution of galactic structure. [This, by the way, is taught by the infamous Alan Guth, who not only developed the idea of cosmic inflation but also applied it to the stack of papers on his desk.]

SP.417J- Intro to Black Studies. Interdisciplinary survey of people of African descent that draws on the overlapping approaches of history, literature, anthropology, legal studies, media studies, performance, linguistics, and creative writing. Connects the experiences of African-Americans and of other American minorities, focusing on social, political, and cultural histories, and on linguistic patterns. Includes lectures, discussions, workshops, and required field trips that involve minimal cost to students.

CMS.100- Intro to Comparative Media Studies. Offers an overview of the social, cultural, political, and economic impact of mediated communication on modern culture. Combines critical discussions with experiments working with different media. Media covered include radio, television, film, the printed word, and digital technologies. Topics include the nature and function of media, core media institutions, and media in transition.

21L.011- The Film Experience. An introduction to narrative film, emphasizing the unique properties of the movie house and the motion picture camera, the historical evolution of the film medium, and the intrinsic artistic qualities of individual films. Syllabus changes from term to term, but usually includes such directors as Griffith, Chaplin, Renoir, Ford, Hitchcock, De Sica, and Fellini.

21W.785- Communicating with Web-Based Media. Analysis, design, implementation, and testing of various forms of digital communication through group collaboration. Students are encouraged to think about the Web and other new digital interactive media not just in terms of technology but also broader issues such as language (verbal and visual), design, information architecture, communication and community. Students work in small groups on a term-long project of their choice. Various written and oral presentations document project development.

Next up on the MitBlog: Candy circuits, notes from my kitchen experimentation lab book, plus a certifiable tonnage of bacon.

28 responses to “Schedilemmas”

  1. Carolyn says:

    How’d you get your calendar to show so many colors? I didn’t think it could do that yet!

  2. VAL '14? says:

    That salad analogy is just about the best analogy I have ever heard.

    Also, 18.100B, 8.03, and 8.033 sound absolutely awesome!! I cannot wait until college.

  3. VAL '14? says:

    @Carolyn: If you make different calendars (for example, “Classes” and “MIT Rush”), you can make each group of events under each calendar different colors.

  4. Chris says:

    WOW. That’s all i have to say. smile

  5. Evan Kroske says:

    I can’t believe my former community college doesn’t let me take more than 18 credit-hours per semester, yet MIT, the most difficult of all sleep-deprivation studies disguised as colleges, will let you take as many courses as your masochistic heart desires.

    I think you should drop a few of your weak liberal artsy classes instead of E & M II or 18.100B. Playing with high-frequency electricity and theoratical numbers is far more important than watching movies or studying African history and culture.

  6. Emily says:

    I can definitely imagine being torn if I had to choose between a maths or physics course at college. When I first saw the immense number of classes available at MIT and realised how few you could take, it seemed a great shame. There’s just so much to learn.

  7. navin says:

    this is my first’ first!!!!!!!!

  8. Take 18.303. I’m taking that this semester. Go applied math !!!!

  9. navin says:

    the best i like out of those courses listed above is 8.033

  10. Piper '12 says:

    Do you plan on sleeping this term? wink

  11. Sam says:

    18.100B is kind of overrated unless you’re a math major! it was kind of fun to, like, invent the integral, but not really worth the semester full of work.

  12. Anon says:

    Chocolate pika(n)s.


    (no, I really did read the whole entry, that just caught my eye)

    Also, what’s Boston/MIT like compared to Irvine?

  13. Su ('14?) says:

    And I thought my high school course load was crazy lol mine looks like a 5 year old’s schedule compared to yours.
    “kitchen experimentation lab book” – that sounds awesome!! I’ll be awaiting that blog entry :D

  14. Yan says:

    @ Evan:

    It’s unfair and meaningless to judge math and science as superior to liberal arts, but I’m only planning on keeping one of the four humanities classes listed above.

    @ Louis:

    I pre-reg’d for 18.303, and then the time slot was changed from 1 PM to 11 AM. Life is hard.

    @ Anon:

    Boston streets are about an order of magnitude narrower than those in Irvine. Also, whereas minute details of Irvine’s layout were pre-planned by the Irvine Company in the 60’s, thus giving the city a creepy Orwellian vibe, Boston’s geography is much more spontaneous and charming albeit nonsensical. It’s a pedestrian city above all else.

  15. Lauren says:

    8.286 sounds like an awesome class. smile

    Good luck figuring out your schedule… they all sound like really cool classes.

  16. Yan says:

    @ Piper:

    Drop first, sleep later!

    (I’m not actually planning on taking 4 HASSes. Just for the first week.)

  17. Marina says:

    You should really take Analysis, it’s really fun and like SJL said above it’s a basic part of math. But then E & M II sounds really interesting too….

    Good luck with that!!

  18. Steph says:

    Eeek. Your first calendar hurts my eyes. haha
    Obviously you’re going to trim it down, but do people actually take course loads that big and do well?

    @Evan — My community college is the same way except for that they allow up to 19 units without a counselor’s signature. Although, as of now it’s just 19 due to the state’s budget crisis.

  19. SJL says:

    WHAT!?!?! you ran a 10k (6 miles). what was your time, I really want to know? By the way, i support your taking analysis, because it is really one of the basic subjects in math. You need this course if you really want to get the most out of say DiffyQ or PDE or fourier analysis, all of which are very important in physics. The only down side to analysis is that it is really difficult so you want to study ahead of time or not have such a heavy course load.


  20. Tyler says:

    Gotta have time for a Doctor Who marathon!

  21. Anonymous says:

    In Soviet Russia, 8.286 takes YOU!

  22. SJL says:

    Sorry, I just had to put another post. But i am curious about the Doctor Who marathon. Is this a real marathon run? And how many people do this marathon?

  23. SJL says:


    never mind… I just found out that marathon also stands for hours of television on a specific show. I was thinking about the 26.2 mile run.

  24. Sagar says:

    Hey Yan!

    Why are you such an amazing writer? It’s really inspiring.


  25. Yan says:

    @ Anyone reading this:

    After Day 1 of classes, I’ve cut out 18.100B, the film class, and CMS.100; added Black Studies; and have put 8.286 and 21st Century Music Composition Techniques on the definitely-maybe list. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

  26. Snively says:

    Sad times for dropping film experience. That was a good class.

    Don’t have a mental breakdown.

  27. NathanArce says:

    Ah. This I did not know (about dropping 18.100B). Well, more like I didn’t hear that you had actually signed up for it, though you mentioned that you decided not to take it :3

  28. Sam says:

    haha, this is so funny. I will recommend this page to random people even if they’re not remotely interested in MIT wink