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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

The Firehose by Paul B. '11

Warning: insomniac blogger on the loose.

This video is very appropriate this morning.

Since about five o’clock last night, with some breaks for sleeping and eating, I have spent most of my time immersed in the intricacies of addition reactions to alkenes and alkynes in preparation for my upcoming midterms in 5.12 (organic chemistry), not to mention the peculiarities of second-order ordinary differential systems for 18.03 (differential equations). Yes, I have two midterms on the same day. Yes, I’m not very happy about that fact, but it happens.

I’ve been studying hydrogenation, hydroboration, and hydrohalogenation; epoxidation, oxidation, oxymercuration, and hydroxylation; halohydration, osmylation, reduction, alkylation, and (of course) ozonoloysis. I’ve plumbed the details of syn addition, Markovnikov’s rule, carbocation stability, radicals, hyperconjugation, and all sorts of stereochemistry and regiochemistry. I’ve investigated the phenomenon of damping, the principle of superposition, the concept of linearity, the exponential shift law, and more.

Yes, I know that’s a lot of chemistry and math talk right there. Yes, that was the point. Not because I’m trying to show off – I read most of those terms off my notes; I don’t know all them off the top of my head (mainly because the technical names of those chemical reactions actually don’t matter very much in the long run) – but rather because if you come to MIT, you too will suddenly become exposed to vastly more technical and scientific knowledge than you may have ever realized existed.

For most of you, I imagine this will be a welcome change. Others…may be a little more skeptical about that prospect. Goodness knows, I probably would have been. But I’ve been here nearly a semester and a half now, and I feel that’s enough time for me to assure each and every one of you, right now, of this one crucial fact: as daunting as the material, the courses, and MIT in general may seem now – you can and will find yourselves equal to it. Sometimes, that may take more effort than others. But you can do it.

In every single one of the classes I have taken so far at MIT – whether it’s organic chemistry, classical mechanics, differential equations, or anything else – I have been consistently confronted with problems more challenging than anything I ever dreamed of encountering in high school. But that, I can’t help but feel, is one of the purposes of MIT. If college didn’t push the boundaries of what you know – well, what’s the point? There is a reason an MIT education has been compared to taking a drink from a firehose, but that reason is not to overwhelm you with knowledge and make you want to shout “IHTFP!” from my (I mean, your) dorm room window.

It’s to show you exactly what you’re capable of. Which is so much more than you might otherwise think.

19 responses to “The Firehose”

  1. Shruthi says:

    Organic chemistry is a life saver. Seriously!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post, Paul. This is very reassuring for both the incoming students and their parents.

    TIME WARP – Discovery Channel Program filmed at MIT

    I have a great idea for a post for Paul or any other blogger who might know anything about this. Last night the Discovery Channel aired the pilot of a new program called “Time Warp.” It is filmed in the Edgerton Lab at MIT, where they can take pictures at a rate of 20,000 frames per second. They showed how sound waves shatter glass, how a dog uses its tongue to lap up water and the effects of a martial artist’s punch to the face. In that particular series of pictures, you could see the eyes of the fighter jolt out of place and his nose bend into the shape of a “C” upon receiving the punch. Here’s an article that you can read about the new program

    and if you want to take a look at the Edgerton Lab:

    If anyone can find a video clip to post – great! I was unable to find any. The Discovery Channel has signed up for 26 episodes, possibly more. The pilot aired at 10 PM on Tuesday night. The program schedule on Discovery Channel did not list this show on its Tuesday night lineup, but it might be worth tuning in next Tuesday at 10 PM to see if it airs again.

  3. Tanmay says:

    ‘I was just coasting along.’– I would love to say that when I solve my first psets.

  4. Jalpan Dave says:

    Paul, you’ve made an extremely accurate point here.

    I’d like to expand this discussion by sharing what I felt in my first semester in college (i.e.) last year. In my high school, I was always amongst the top 3 in my class (I too am not showing off!!^_^) but when I came to college and was exposed to much tougher questions, I felt very worried and wondered what would happen. To “worsen” things, unlike at MIT, every class I took had over a 1000 students! My Physics class had 1034 students and because the Calculus course is compulsory for all freshmen, it had over 1800 students!!

    I thought I was doomed. But then, as I appeared for the mid-term tests and did well, as Paul said, “I found myself equal to it.”

    What worked well for me is to adopt the advise given on one of MIT’s website where it says something like “Competition is discouraged and emphasis is placed on the learning experience rather than the grade.” It’s presented in a much better way on the site but I’m unable to find it now.

    Good luck for both the tests Paul!!

  5. Omar '12 says:

    I have a differentials midterm today (and three other tests as well as my research poster due)! The differentials test is not as hard as yours though hehe. Good luck.

  6. Aditi says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with Shruthi with the one minor exception of Aromatic conversions (now those are FUN!)

    I don’t mind being challenged as long as I don’t have to turn into exhibit c (but then again , that’s inevitable for me )


  7. milena '11 says:

    wait… i thought oxymercuration was NOT going to be on the test. hm.

  8. Snively says:

    A kid in my 8.02 class has a 6.01 test, an 18.03 test, and a 5.12 test today.

    Legendary. If he were in Film Music he’d have a midterm today as well. Why are all the tests on the same day!?!?!?

  9. What’s wrong with yelling IHTFP out your window? Are the teachers insulted when you yell out that “Institute has the finest professors”? Does the administration feel they have failed when you decare that “I have truly found paradise”? Do the teachers abhor the fact that “I help tutor freshman physics”? Does not the yelling of IHTFP just truly speak for the wonders of MIT, an expression of joy, not frustration?
    Why are there no declarative sentances in this reply?

  10. MIT '12 says:

    Yeah, I just was accepted to MIT, and I already knew how tough it is to do the work there. So tough I was actually considering of going somewhere else. But thanks, Paul. this really helps.

  11. Isshak says:

    Chem FTW !!! Math, hm, not that much ^^’

  12. Roshan '12 says:

    lol.. i missed it

  13. senna '12 says:

    I completely agree. There’s no other way to know your boundaries, or better, to expand your boundaries, than to push you beyond the limits (and to allow yourself to go beyond the limits). =)

    I have my own theory based on my experience: whenever we get stress because of something we can’t do, it’s a good sign that you will master it soon =D

    Carbon becomes diamond when exposed to pressure =D

  14. Alvin says:

    Ugh, that 5.12 exam was brutal! 18.03 was a little better though (for me). I hope the midterms went well for you. At least we now have a nice week off to look forward to..

  15. Natasha says:

    The endings to your posts are always so touching and inspiring…love ’em!

  16. Anonymous says:

    This really helps. I am really scared… actually terrified of what might happen if I go to MIT next year. Are there a lot of opportunities for tutoring/do professors make themselves available for those kids that are totally lost? Would I be looked down on for re-taking calculus 1 and starting all my classes at a lower level because I’m scared that my foundation isn’t strong enough?