I had expected to adopt MIT terminology into my own vocabulary. Before I knew it, I was “pset-ing” or Undergraduate Research Opportunity. -ing” instead of “studying,” and going to my it was a bit of a shock going home for winter break and remembering that nobody understood what i was talking about when i'd say “course 6” rather than “compsci” or “18.02” rather than “multivariable calculus.” instead of “bio class,” and referencing street names and buildings and course numbers with all the confidence of a freshman faking it until she made it.
I hadn’t expected the extent to which I ended up adopting my friend’s terminology into my own vocabulary. My friends’ and my vocabulary have become homogenized to the point where I can predict what they’ll say next because we talk literally exactly the same. On top of hearing variations (or combinations) of “slay,” see also: “so false.” can be used as a filler/form of agreement, or as an adjective, i.e. “so true of the professor for letting us use cheat sheets.” see also: as i should, as one should, as he/she/they should, as i will, as i did, as i have done, as i can, as i shouldn't, etc. etc. in every sentence, there are two other types of common phrases I heard throughout first semester. They fall under the categories of, what I like to call, the “PNR mindset” and the “grindset mindset.”
The Pass/No Record, an MIT policy where, for your first semester of your freshman year, Cs and above are shown as a Pass on your transcripts, while Ds and Fs aren't shown at all. mindset is less a list of phrases and more the collective tendency to excuse poor time management decisions on being a frosh that doesn’t need to worry about their GPA yet. Biking to McDonald’s at ungodly hours, starting a round of poker or mobile game hyperfixation the night before a midterm, skipping a lecture or two or ten, were all waved away with the excuse that “it’s fine, it’s PNR.” My upperclassmen friends would decline our efforts to drag them into weeknight shenanigans with a somewhat wistful/bitter/tired “I can’t, I’m not on PNR.”
It’s hard to explain the grip that PNR has on me and my fellow frosh. In the aftermath of our last for whatever reason, classes will oftentimes have multiple midterms per semester, leading to more than one wave of midterm weeks. how you can have multiple midterms when there's only one middle of the term, i could not tell you. midterm week(s), we’d be be writing UROP applications or playing Tetris in a lounge and someone would experience a sudden bout of introspection: “guys, we only have a few more weeks on PNR,” they’d say, to be met with a chorus of denial and “shut up”s. As first semester finals came to a close in late December, I saw no small amount of 2022 recap Instagram posts with captions along the lines of “PNR shall be missed.” And with the first week of Independent Activities Period, aka the month in between winter break and spring semester in which students are free to visit home, go on vacations, do internships/UROPS, take fun classes, etc. passing by with me struggling to keep up with personal projects and care even without classwork, I’ve been confronted with the reality that, come February, I won’t be able to just “oopsies” or laugh my way out of Cs on my tests anymore.
The grindset mindset (a somewhat redundant name, I know), alternatively, is how I’ve come to categorize the genre of humor my friends and I shared around the middle of the semester. When my friend once claimed he could beat the school record for the 400m sprint if he woke up at 7am and trained every day for a month, we started saying that any trial or tribulation could be overcome if you’d “give me a month.” We’d offer consolations of “you can do it, you’re an academic weapon” or “push through, you have the indomitable human spirit” (straight from my friend’s frankly unhinged Tik Tok feed) whenever someone was in a slump. We’d overconfidently call our psets “light” or “slight work” before getting absolutely bodied by said psets. I guess the idea was that saying a “new pset just dropped” rather than dreading the impending deadline would trick our silly dopamine deprived brains into looking forward to the next time a pset would be released on Canvas.
Looking back now, both mindsets were just coping mechanisms in their own way.
In the beginning of the semester, I was more on the grindset mindset side of things. I attacked my coursework with the likely familiar attitude of someone determined to make this year their year, to get a jumpstart on the curriculum, to finally fix their less-than-stellar study practices. I started off the semester with a hellish schedule – 9:30am lectures Monday through Friday, with a nearly booked calendar until 5pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. I’d be late to the Introductory Biology class that has a smaller class size and a larger emphasis on modern biology topics than 7.012. recitation because building 1 is a long, bendy walk to building 36 with no clean diagonal path; I’d be late to 18.02 lecture because I had to walk from the main campus to the Sloan buildings for my Corporate Financial Accounting. class and back again, a 30-minute round trip that didn’t fit into the 20 minutes I was allotted via MIT time; and then, I’d be late to my PE class because I’d grab a banana in the Banana Lounge with my fellow 18.02 students only to get caught at the crosswalk on the way to the football field.
Despite this, for the first few weeks, I was kind of on top of things. I slept at a reasonable time. I actually went to recitations and (more or less; see below.) paid attention to my TA explaining the practice problems. I woke up at my first alarm and had time to make breakfast and admire the Boston skyline as I leisurely walked to my morning lecture alongside the Charles River.
Yet, what I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was already severely burnt out before the semester had even really started ramping up. I read somewhere that you should aim to have seven commitments a semester; I had four classes, a UROP, my job as a blogger, and I was on the club badminton team. On top of this, I was vaguely involved with some other clubs, still trying to flit around and see which ones I wanted to devote more time to. I was making new friends in my classes and acting (somewhat loosely) as a merch chair on my floor (arguably, B1 is a commitment in and of itself with the number of activities happening at all times). I was attempting to keep my relationships with my family and underclassmen asking me for advice and friends from high school afloat.
Admittedly, this might not sound like that much to high school me, who had a much more rigid class schedule and was the leader of three clubs and a varsity sports team. Having such a flexible schedule was and still is an adjustment; imposing discipline on yourself is the only way to really get anything done. Some days I use my free time well, getting sporadic bursts of productivity and chasing it until it’s gone; some days I can’t muster up the will to do anything other than soak in the presence of my friends; some days I just try to reset and do laundry and wash my hair and nap; some days I kind of just idle around my room and let time pass by without me noticing.
There was, of course, so much more to my semester than what was strictly outlined on my Google Calendar: parties and free food events and club outings and birthday celebrations and chill dorm hangouts and movie nights and late night meals and spontaneous T rides to Chinatown. Whenever I’m asked “how’s MIT?” I always say that I was constantly stressed but I didn’t have time to think about how stressed I was because I was having so much fun, and that’s exactly because these are the things I’ll remember looking back. But indulging in these things meant that, between socializing and schoolwork and sleep, something had to give. My schedule, as it stood, was simply unsustainable.
I dropped 15.501 after the third lecture even though the professor was cool; the walk was too far and I felt too out of my depth with the content and I fell asleep in the front row of a lecture hall with only three rows. I dropped 7.015 after way too many weeks had passed; the small class size had made it hard for me to find friends to do the psets with and I hadn’t heeded the professor’s first-day warning that you should only take the class if you’re really interested in biology (which I am not). I started missing 18.02 recitations in favor of heading straight from my Design Computation: Art, Objects and Space. lecture to N52 with a store-bought box of sushi and the intent of using the three hours before Design Studio: How to Design. started to get work done for the class (only to end up napping on the Design+ couch). I began skipping 7.012 recitations even though they were my only hope of learning the lecture material, since my 4.500 and 7.012 lectures were at the same time and skipping 4.500 lectures meant risking failing the class; even then, I’d make it to class later and later (and so did my classmates, noticeably) as it became harder and harder to wake up to my alarms.
In the end, I passed all my classes, although probably with more uncomfortably slim of a margin than I should have. The nights leading up to my final projects and exams were stressful and sleepless, much more so than my counter[parts who needed, like, a negative eight to pass their classes. Granted, I probably exaggerated my inability to get a 40 on my multivar final to some extent, but most of my panic stemmed from how acutely aware I was of the possibility of my laziness biting me in the ass. If I’d somehow managed to NR my classes because I didn’t end up watching the lecture recordings for the days I missed or because I waited until too late to start my project presentation, there’d be nobody I could blame but myself.
Two years ago, on December 12th, 2020, I wrote an The on the topic of New Year’s resolutions. I wrote that “periods of self improvement and setting long term goals do not have to be limited to the few weeks following January first; New Year’s resolutions are just putting a name and cultural importance to an adjustment to one’s life that can be made at any time of year.”
One year ago, on December 18th, 2021, I opened my MIT application portal to find an acceptance letter waiting for me. Amidst the excitement and relief and screaming and crying was a sense of trepidation. I was undoubtedly proud of myself, but an inkling of fear simmered underneath. Was I ready, in my current state of self? Would I be okay?
A few weeks ago, on December 22nd, 2022, I turned in my last final and subsequently experienced my, loosely speaking, last day of PNR. In hindsight, I’ve changed in the five months since I’ve become a college student, while somehow not changing at all.
I already had poor study habits in middle and high school since I could usually maintain good grades with last minute cramming and essays submitted a minute before the Canvas deadline. This didn’t magically change once I became an MIT student. The me who waited until the add-drop deadline five weeks into the semester before realizing maybe taking 7.015 wasn’t right for me is, evidently, the same me who spent the winter break of my senior year playing on the class of 2026 MI(necraf)T server instead of working on supplemental essays for the other colleges I was applying to. But the me who played games instead of writing essays is also the same me who kept attending lectures long after syllabus week, when my friends started skipping; the same me who took notes while the people in the adjacent lecture hall seats watched Youtube or did their homework for other classes or dozed off.
Growth is slow. I can’t say I was always proud of how I handled things, but in the wake of the struggles and frustrations and late nights I faced, I think I’ve come out with a mindset that’s the healthiest it’s ever been. Not quite the PNR mindset, not quite the grindset mindset, but something in between.
This may have been written in the few weeks following January first, but I’m not going to attempt to cram a year’s worth of self-improvement into a New Year’s resolution. PNR was good for my grades, but not particularly for my work ethic, and I’m prepared to remediate that, no matter how long it takes.
So while, yes, PNR shall be missed in the coming semesters, I am ready, and I will be okay.
- Undergraduate Research Opportunity. back to text ↑
- it was a bit of a shock going home for winter break and remembering that nobody understood what i was talking about when i'd say “course 6” rather than “compsci” or “18.02” rather than “multivariable calculus.” back to text ↑
- see also: “so false.” can be used as a filler/form of agreement, or as an adjective, i.e. “so true of the professor for letting us use cheat sheets.” back to text ↑
- see also: as i should, as one should, as he/she/they should, as i will, as i did, as i have done, as i can, as i shouldn't, etc. back to text ↑
- Pass/No Record, an MIT policy where, for your first semester of your freshman year, Cs and above are shown as a Pass on your transcripts, while Ds and Fs aren't shown at all. back to text ↑
- for whatever reason, classes will oftentimes have multiple midterms per semester, leading to more than one wave of midterm weeks. how you can have multiple midterms when there's only one middle of the term, i could not tell you. back to text ↑
- Independent Activities Period, aka the month in between winter break and spring semester in which students are free to visit home, go on vacations, do internships/UROPS, take fun classes, etc. back to text ↑
- the Introductory Biology class that has a smaller class size and a larger emphasis on modern biology topics than 7.012. back to text ↑
- Corporate Financial Accounting. back to text ↑
- Design Computation: Art, Objects and Space. back to text ↑
- Design Studio: How to Design. back to text ↑
- The general consensus now is that taking the ACT or SAT with writing is unnecessary, as most colleges don't take your writing score into account anymore. back to text ↑