Surviving by Mollie B. '06
My deep thoughts on surviving and thriving at MIT, straight from three years ago.
Today I am bringing you my MIT Survival Guide, which is a list I made just about three years ago this week when I was a freshman and still sort of in awe of the fact that I’d apparently survived almost a full year at MIT. I did not, shall we say, come from the most stringent of high school backgrounds, and freshman year was pretty hard for me. So the fact that I’d survived a year with a 4.0(/5.0) GPA — thank God for pass/no record — and was heading off to a shiny internship at the NIH… I was pretty psyched.
Original list (which is to say, my perspective on life at 19) in italics, perspective on life at 22 in normal text.
1. There is no substitute for sleep. Caffeine is great in a pinch, but eventually the piper must be paid.
I still totally agree with this. I figured out pretty quickly that I get better grades at MIT when I get more sleep. The correlation coefficient on that is about 0.6, and I am not even kidding you. (Hey, speaking of my sleep statistics — (awesome) Professor Wolfe, who teaches 9.00, found my sleep statistics on this blog when I wrote about them once, and he asked if he could use them in lecture. I granted permission, and my friend Dave ’07 said he actually did use them. I am a celebrity in the world of sleep statistics.)
2. It really is better to get a good night’s sleep before a test than to stay up and cram. Really.
Oh man, this one time freshman year… okay, I’m not telling that story. But seriously, all-nighters are bad for your brain.
3. Shopping is therapy.
Especially when there are so many great malls in the Boston area. ;)
4. Naps: they’re not just for kindergarteners!
I never used to take short naps, but I’ve found that just closing my eyes for 15-20 minutes can really help me out if it’s a rough week and sleep is not up there on the priority list.
5. Food made from scratch (or close to it) tastes so much better than the stuff out of microwave boxes.
Tonight was just bowtie pasta with red peppers and garlic bread, but last night Adam and I made bite-sized pieces of chicken stuffed with feta cheese and spinach. It was out of this world.
6. Videos and pizza with friends is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Saturday night, and is often better than going out to a random frat where you know no one.
Yeah, don’t let anybody tell you what “social” means. Social means different things to different people, and that’s totally okay.
7. Trying new activities — like cheerleading — can be a great idea. Discovering skills you never knew you had is pretty cool.
I know it’s tempting to stick with what you know, but I hope some of you will consider joining totally new activities in college.
8. You gotta have friends…
This, I think, is the primary reason to take dorm choice seriously. Freshman year would have been a lot more difficult for me if I hadn’t had a great group of friends and suitemates to be my support system when the going got tough. And the going can get tough in a lot of different ways, whether it’s school troubles or romantic troubles or what-have-you troubles. Pick a dorm where you’re surrounded by people who will support you and love you. (True story: The first time I got sick freshman year, I was scared and wanted my mommy and was barfing like crazy. And Ethan ’05 stood in the bathroom while I barfed and bought me crackers and Sprite and put me back in my bed. These are the kinds of people you need to have around you.)
9. The store brand does NOT taste any different from the name brand.
I have no idea why this is on my MIT survival guide list. But yeah, um, buy the store brand pasta or whatever.
10. I still don’t know how to cross streets in the city, but I do know how to get anywhere in Boston by T.
I used to have this problem in the city — I had never had to cross actual streets, and I didn’t understand when I was supposed to go and when I wasn’t. Hayseed girl from the sticks and all that. I almost got flattened by psychotic Boston drivers a couple of times. But the T is cheap and easy to navigate once you know your way around.
11. Like a plant, I need a certain amount of sunshine to thrive.
And on sunny days, there’s absolutely no better place to thrive than Killian Court. But wear sunscreen.
12. Preserving one’s mental health is a perfectly valid reason to skip class.
Haha, I still believe this. Most MIT classes don’t take attendance, and it’s up to you whether or not you want to go. I almost always go, because I’m a lecture learner, but some people aren’t and they don’t go. Hey, whatever works.
13. [This item deleted due to fear of the RIAA]
14. Besides my room, the reading room at Hayden is my favorite place in all of campus. Whoever bought those comfy leather chairs gets a big gold star from me.
The reading room is a 24-hour study area in Hayden Library, and it’s one of the only places on campus I can fall asleep. Those leather chairs are sooo gooood. Maybe even better than chair B?
15. Money doesn’t grow on trees… and earning it is time-consuming.
Haha, listen to the poor whiny freshman. That year I only worked 8 hours a week, too. Wuss.
16. Being afraid to ask for help is a very major handicap.
This is the first thing to get over when you come to MIT. A lot of MIT students are used to being the most giant fish in a teeny little pond, and they get here and they’re like “whoa! this stuff is hard!” Just get it into your head that it’s going to be hard, but everyone else will be more than happy to help out (because they will), and you’ll all help each other and everything will work out just fine.
17. He who takes the hardest classes, does the most psets, participates in the most extracurriculars, and gets the least sleep — WINS. By choice, I am not a participant in the contest.
I wasn’t a participant in the contest freshman year. I have to admit that I joined it around junior year, and I’m not sure why. (Jessie would probably say it’s because I’m a closet academic masochist, and I’m not in a position to argue.) But, hey, take the moral high ground that I ceded. Don’t participate in the contest! Yay!
18. Never, ever, ever let one class’ evaluation of you determine your worth as a person. Grades are important. Sanity is way more important.
I still think this is true. When you fail your first test at MIT (and pretty much everybody fails at least one), come back here and read this and repeat it until you believe it. You can fail a whole bunch of tests first term freshman year and still be happy and successful and go on to do great things. Hey, I failed at least five, and I still passed all my classes!
19. It’s wonderful to be perfectly content in the company of just yourself.
And this philosophy, my friends, is why I live in a single.
20. Nothing is more important than getting up when you fall down.
You need resilience and stick-to-it-iveness to get through MIT. And at the end of the day, those traits are just as important (if not more important) than anything you’ll learn in class.
Thought of the day
This thought is brought to you by Adam, who is cranking through his last 16.05 pset:
“Heat transfer is fun!”
1. Helen asked,
Although I looked carefully through your sleeping statistics and you successfully convinced me of your enough sleep, I am still concerned about what a late bed time will bring to you (and almost everyone) Do you have any secrets dealing with the black rings or/and wrinkles around your eyes?
I’ve found that concealer works pretty well. :) Seriously, though, classes at MIT don’t start until at least 9, so if you get to bed by 1 or 2, you’ll be able to get plenty of sleep.
2. Anthony, who is apparently way classier than I am, and therefore has reason to know things about dry cleaning, endorses the dry cleaning place in Kendall Square.
3. Lea asked,
Another question, do most dorms have window screens? Even Simmons’ small windows?
So far as I know, MacGregor’s windows are the only ones with screens, because the tower’s really tall and falling out of it would probably not make your day.
4. An anonymous commenter asked,
Hi Mollie. This question is regarding weather. I live in a place where we haved like 30 celsius degrees all over the year and I must admit I do not even know how does a heating machine works or even looks like. How do you survive in winters? Besides warm clothing to go out and those underground passages among buildings what do you do when you are in your dorm? Do you have to sleep with heavvy clothes or you have this machines that make weather warm? Would a long sleeve pijama be enough to protect you from cold in dorms?
And one more question: you mentioned that we have to buy our own blankets. If it is too cold in winter, would we need also bedspread or something additional?
The dorms are all heated, and I think the standard temperature in my room is around 22C (sometimes higher, because I like it really hot). I personally have a small space heater somewhat like this one — I don’t have to use it, but it’s nice on winter mornings. I wear a long-sleeve t-shirt and pants to bed, and I’m usually fine.
It’s nice if you have a down comforter on your bed in the winter, but a few nice thick blankets will probably do the trick too. There are about five blankets on my bed, but that’s because Adam likes to steal the covers in the middle of the night. :)