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MIT student blogger Abby H. '20

screaming by Abby H. '20

a mood board

Everything’s going just fine! I’m registered for classes, the grad school admission process is almost done, and I’m on track to graduate and enter the adult world. And yet the past three weeks have been the most stressful experience of my whole time at MIT. It turns out that there’s more to this place than just doing classes.

Here’s the blog post where I vent.

A while back when I was asking people for recommendation letters, my PI of three years made a suggestion. He wanted to nominate me for a UROP research symposium in January, so he could add that to my letter. I said of course, even though I can’t stand because I absolutely love doing scientific presentations. Furthermore, it would be impossible incredibly easy to condense three years worth of research into a 10-12 minute talk.  How could you tell the person who is writing your most important recommendation that you don’t want to do a little presentation? I said sure. And then that January 30th symposium date hung over my head for almost two months, as I tried my hardest to ignore it.

cat doing dishes with mouth open

By the middle of December, I started getting interview invites from a handful of the places I applied to. Very exciting. Then I saw that a couple of the places had interview weekends scheduled for January. One was incredibly close to that January 30th date. I had assumed that these took place in like February or March, but I really had one place that wanted me there on January 9th. I guess this (predicting interview schedules) is the one time you should check the “The GradCafe.”01 not a big fan of college confidential part 2 so I refuse to even hyperlink there So then my priority became preparing for interviews. The symposium cast a shadow from behind me, like when you’re walking in the evening and someone who walks faster starts to overtake you.

cat with mouth open on a cat platform

I shopped for interview clothes at a department store when I was home in December. I’d never owned dress pants before. Everything is expensive. During my first round of interviews, I found that the patent leather heels I bought were a terribly uncomfortable choice, but since I hadn’t had time to get my pants hemmed,02 five foot tall people are simply not able to have clothes that just fit I had to power through it. All nine hours of it, from interviews to post-interview faculty dinner. Oh yeah, I also lost my credit card during this trip and immediately deactivated it and ordered a new one, only to find it in my backpack less than an hour later.

cat yelling

Great news! My PI is one of the hosts of this year’s symposium! Better not embarrass him with a terrible presentation!

various warped crying emojis

As soon as I got off the plane in Boston, I rushed to prepare my symposium slides to a reasonable enough extent that my postdoc mentor wouldn’t be disappointed with the lack of progress. She’s been doing interviews for faculty positions at all kinds of places, so the overlap of our OoO times made it difficult to meet and practice. I met with her the next day and once again got to work, this time with a slightly better idea of what the presentation should look like. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to parse the structural/chemical bio done by our collaborators that was so essential to explaining the point of my project. And I had another interview weekend around the corner to worry about.

animal crossing cat crying

I checked the status of my pre-registration and found that one of the classes I pre-reg’d for was cancelled. This made me really sad at first. It was a CMS class called “Designing Active Archives.” It sounded really cool. For context, my experience with this field includes volunteer Ancestry.com data entry03 essentially reading handwritten documents and typing out what they say so people can then search for their ancestors' records and running a Twitter account where I find reaction images and repost them04 there are some rare reaction pics out there that you just can't find on Google image search with a text description of the photo so that people can search for them. The pictures in this post come from there. The sadness at losing the opportunity to take this class faded away into anxiety once I remembered that I needed that class to fulfill an elective for my CMS degree. I had to find another CMS elective if I wanted to finish that degree by this semester. If you don’t go here, you might not understand that  CMS classes, especially the fun elective ones with minimal or no prereqs, are consistently overenrolled. I have a major edge05 my main plug for majoring in CMS is that you won't get kicked out of the super popular fun classes since I’m a CMS major, but I still had a brief06 I'm in CMS.301 (Intro to Game Design Methods) now headache over it.

homer simpson yelling out of car window

I went in for the next place’s interviews with a slightly better understanding of what the people were going to ask me and a symposium slide deck that was in shambles considering my talk was in six days. My first “30 minute” interview went over by !!!25 minutes!!!, eating into 15 minutes of the next “30 minute” interview, which ultimately made me late to the third interview by at least 10 minutes, partially due to the fact that I ran up eight flights of stairs to get to her office since I didn’t know where the elevators were. My interviewers were all great, and my feet hurt much less, but I didn’t think I made a great impression by being late to all of my interviews, including the one that happened in the afternoon after an hour-long break. For that one, I had walked back to the hotel to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for a bit, left with enough time to make it to the next interview location, found out that it was in an active hospital, buzzed the doorbell in the left side of the hospital lobby to be let into the area that was clearly labelled with the name of the place on my interview schedule sheet, was let in and encountered a flustered receptionist who had no idea what I was doing buzzing into “the executive suite,” headed down the hall in shame, went through a metal detector and got in line with a bunch of other people, had someone passing by tell me that I didn’t need to stand in that line and that I could just go around to the elevator, took the elevator to what I assumed was the correct location, found that the office listed on my interview schedule did not exist, asked someone in the closest office where I was supposed to go, was told “uhh, I’m not sure. Try around the corner,” still couldn’t find that office, asked some guy with his door open who told me it was next door, and found my interviewer, all with negative ten minutes left to spare. He was pretty cool about it but I almost just took a knee and left.

dexter from dexter's lab screaming

Once back home, I got to work on the symposium stuff. I wrote a script and finalized the slides. I met with my postdoc over phone, over FaceTime, at her house, at a conference she was attending in Boston. I spent four entire days doing nothing but working on this presentation. I have it memorized still, but at significant cost to my mental state. My brain felt… itchy. I’m someone who is usually very quick to memorize things, but for some reason, this time it didn’t stick. Even when I forced it to stick, I kept coming in about two minutes over time. Truly a mess. I had looked at my slides so many times that they had started to lose meaning. My itchy brain was unfolding, becoming smooth.

mr krabs from spongebob screaming

I’ve known for a while that I want to go to grad school in New York.07 despite my ethical qualms about going to schools named after sketchy billionaires i.e. basically all of the NYC biosciences grad programs I applied to four programs in NYC. I got interview invites from two, I got rejected by the other two. The first interview went well, or so I thought, but I was so exhausted by the process that I think I put off an irritated vibe that they didn’t appreciate. My feet hurt. I got waitlisted. Suddenly my NYC prospects shrank from four to one. I got an email saying that the second interview program would release decisions by January 30th at 4 pm eastern time. Right in the middle of the symposium. So I had to continue practicing this presentation despite most of my mental energy being devoted to the what-if08 spoiler: the decision did in fact come right in the middle of my presentation and I got in :) of admissions gone bad.

chihuahua screaming

During our reg day meeting, my advisor handed me a degree progress sheet that showed I was four electives short of the CMS degree. That would mean I would have to take six classes09 hell no this semester instead of four or else abandon that degree. I recounted everything and showed the administrator my math. I’m all set now, but this was anxiety-inducing in a major way.

ghost hunters replaying a disembodied scream

I’ve been keeping up with politics recently as well. Probably the worst thing to feed my brain. I requested an absentee ballot for the primaries in my home state of Alabama. Go figure, that’s kind of hard to do. There’s a form you have to fill out, you have to scan a copy of your ID, you have to print all of it and mail it somewhere with a questionable amount of postage. I received my ballot recently and found that there are a lot of judges running that I don’t know anything about. I’ve been questioning whether I should even have a say in the Jefferson County circuit court judge races, considering I’m choosing judges who will oversee courts in a place that I visit maybe twice a year. Nonetheless, I read up on the candidates and chose the ones I thought seemed most appropriate. Next came the weird business of figuring out how many stamps to put on the return envelope, which simply says “additional postage required.” Turns out that there’s truly no way of knowing unless I physically go to a post office. But I’m not going to let that stop me. (And neither should you! If you’re a citizen and 18 or older go vote! Please!)

me holding up my absentee ballot

do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

I’ve got interviews happening in California from Thursday through Tuesday of next week. It’s the first week of classes, so this is terrible timing, as a lot of classes require you to be at the first session and will kick you out of the class if you don’t show up. Therefore, I’ve made the prudent(?) decision to miss the optional activities happening on Thursday in order to make it to my two classes that day. I will be leaving class and heading directly to the airport. I need to pack. I will arrive at SFO at 9:30 pm and dive right into interviews at 8 am the next morning. My dress pants are still too long. I have no time to deal with that.

kermit the frog saying no

As I write this, it’s Tuesday night, and I’ve been keeping up with the Iowa caucuses. And by “keeping up with” I mean making sustained throat noises at my laptop screen as the headlines roll out and the numbers don’t. New Hampshire is happening soon.10 and I'm kind of sad that I can't take a daytrip to NH to see the Strokes perform at the Bernie concert because I will be in California AHHHHHHHHHHHH

anxious emoji looking at computer

In hurried, gesticulating, half-baked conclusion, this kind of stuff never ends. You make it through one obstacle just to find the next. You should still take some time to be proud of yourself for clearing each hurdle. You should also recognize that you don’t need to clear every hurdle. Sometimes you don’t have any control over whether or not you can clear the hurdle. Furthermore, to quote Kierkegaard11 my 14 year old sister asked for Camus's The Stranger for Christmas and you bet I bought it for her in a highly “undergrad who doesn’t really understand the context or meanings of philosophers’ quotes” way, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. No, I will not elaborate on that.

Here are some links to YouTube videos that I’ve been watching to calm down (they may also work for the kind of stress that comes with waiting for your damn admissions decisions):

Enjoy!
  1. not a big fan of college confidential part 2 so I refuse to even hyperlink there back to text
  2. five foot tall people are simply not able to have clothes that just fit back to text
  3. essentially reading handwritten documents and typing out what they say so people can then search for their ancestors' records back to text
  4. there are some rare reaction pics out there that you just can't find on Google image search back to text
  5. my main plug for majoring in CMS is that you won't get kicked out of the super popular fun classes back to text
  6. I'm in CMS.301 (Intro to Game Design Methods) now back to text
  7. despite my ethical qualms about going to schools named after sketchy billionaires i.e. basically all of the NYC biosciences grad programs back to text
  8. spoiler: the decision did in fact come right in the middle of my presentation and I got in :) back to text
  9. hell no back to text
  10. and I'm kind of sad that I can't take a daytrip to NH to see the Strokes perform at the Bernie concert because I will be in California back to text
  11. my 14 year old sister asked for Camus's The Stranger for Christmas and you bet I bought it for her back to text