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MIT student blogger Emad T. '14

The First Year (In Numbers) by Emad T. '14

This belated post was written in English and with numbers, the Institvte's nth language

Throughout my 5-ish months as a blogger for the Institvte, I’ve covered a lot of ground, if we go by number of categories. Our blogs have a ton of primary categories under which a poster may classify an entry. With this one notwithstanding, I’ve covered 9 categories over 11 posts – but somehow, I’ve left out the classes I’ve taken as a freshman.

Let me fix that.

I’ll start with semester one, which is when the proverbial fire hose of learning was opened at full force. I’ll try to sum the classes up in 100 words or less:

    • 5.111 – Principles of Chemical Science: You may remember 5.111 as the class where I threw ping pong balls for science. However, it also stands apart from my other classes as the only one that offered free food.The 5.111 staff would periodically invite students to forums, where they could talk over pizza and snacks. They sought our impressions of the class and suggestions on how to make it better – and they do listen.

      For instance, some students mentioned there weren’t enough concept questions asked, which are used both for attendance and to get students thinking at their seats. They responded by adding a few more.


    • 8.01T – Physics 1 (Newtonian Physics): Your mileage may vary on MIT’s TEAL system, which splits a class of roughly 80-100 students into manageable tables of 9. For me, it was a mixed bag.While I had a lot of fun with the people at my table (yeah table 12!), it was sometimes hard to learn from the smarter people in the group, who ignored TEAL’s efforts at encouraging collaboration by plowing through the work. This wasn’t so bad for the kinetics unit, but by the time we got to gyroscopes…well, it wasn’t pretty.


    • 9.48J/24.08J – Philosophical Issues in Brain Science: If you’ve ever believed that neuroscientific findings and philosophical principles are inextricably bound, you’ll be enthralled by how entangled the two disciplines really are.Its lectures injected theory and experimental reports into discussions of autism, Molyneux’s problem, the nativism/empiricism debate, and the limits of consciousness. Though several knowledgeable guest lecturers from Brown, Harvard, NYU, and MIT weighed in, my TA and several essay assignments encouraged me to support or reject each view through critical analysis.

      9.48J’s interdisciplinary approach to humanities set the bar high for other HASS classes here. Hopefully the others are just as good!


    • 18.02 – Multivariable Calculus: I can’t mention 18.02 without describing Professor Poonen, an engaging, endearingly quirky lecturer – and eclectic artist. He’s done some memorable things throughout 18.02, like drawing ears on triangles to show symmetry, and sketching a horse to show what saddle points look like.Sadly, 18.02 became just another GIR. In my opinion, the few practical, non-esoteric applications of multi became increasingly irrelevant for, say, a life scientist. I’ve been told 18.03, Differential Equations, is better about that, but I’m still tempted to put that class off.


    • SP.708 – Introduction to Screenwriting: This six-unit course met with other members of my advising group, a feature of RBA-based dorms like Next House. In our class of 8 freshmen, an upperclassman student adviser, and a faculty adviser, we constantly drafted up ideas for short films in an informal setting. We also got plenty of cookies and food here, but technically, this was a seminar (so it was the only seminar to offer food).It was good to try something new, but it was hard to keep up with those assignments on top of everything else. Those extra 6 units were quite a bit to add.


Whew. If you got this far, take a breather. That’s what I did after the first semester, though I’ll admit that may have been due to the weather. I also spent it sleeping, going out on weekends, seeking UROPs and internships, and did I mention sleeping?

Anyway, on to semester two, where the hose is still hosing. Same deal: 100 words or less! Not including captions. (This is getting to be pretty challenging.)

    • 5.12 – Organic Chemistry I: Part of a premedical trifecta of classes I’m taking this semester, orgo is actually more interesting than I thought it’d be. What’s more, it’s not just straight memorization, but about applying central concepts.The methods aren’t hard to pick up, and putting them together helps you analyze really intimidating molecules. For example, I have no idea what this is off the top of my head:

      You get brownie points if you can name this. The delicious kind of brownie points.


      I…I ran out of carbons when I made this, so the magenta is also a carbon.

      But I don’t need that name to tell you where it might react. Why? Molecules with pi bonds or heteroatoms with lone pairs are common sites for reactions. That’s orgo at work!


    • 7.013 – Introductory Biology: My TA for this class is headed to law school. But it’s cool, since he was also a TA for this class last semester.Also, I essentially took this class last year when I took AP Bio in my senior year of high school. While that isn’t necessarily new for me, my two lecturers – Professors Jacks and Sive – are. Professor Sive also has an incredible British accent, which should make these lectures worthwhile.

      If you want to hear it, or learn more about Professor Sive’s birthday ducks, don’t despair – it’ll be going up on MIT’s OpenCourseWare.


    • 8.02T – Physics 2 (Electricity and Magnetism): My lecturer, Professor Soljacic, helped invent wireless electricity. I think that makes him an expert on the topic.True to MIT form, he made my class wrap our heads around it on the first day. Surprisingly, the concept and its explanation were both really accessible. Also, TEAL seems to be working out a little better, probably because people have adapted to the idea of working in groups. But we’ll see.


    • 9.00 – Introduction to Psychology: As I started writing this, I realized Hamsika did everything I’m doing this semester – and more.Now that I’m totally unoriginal, let me spice it up: this class is going on OpenCourseWare.


      Good thing too, because the lecturer, Professor Gabrielli, is both entertaining and insightful. He frequently connects psychology experiments to society and human behavior, often with a profound statement at the end. Why, for example, do people praised for intelligence do worse than those praised for effort when they take on hard tasks? Natural intelligence, he wagered, is viewed as finite; effort, however, is infinite.


Professor Gabrielli’s conjecture sums up the year nicely, as of right now. I came in, as countless other MIT undergrads probably have, relatively sure of how smart I was. Now I know that there’s much that I don’t know, and once the notions of natural intelligence drop off, I can seriously get to work on pursuing more knowledge.

Guess that means I’ll see all of you on the other side of this semester.

4 responses to “The First Year (In Numbers)”

  1. Keri says:

    I work in the Gabrieli Lab now! MIT won’t let me leave.

  2. Vivek says:

    Interesting combination of classes you signed up for last year. Seems intellectually challenging. Good for you. Hope you got good grades (irrespective of the pass/fail record system). Look forward to more informative posts.

  3. Austin says:

    You took quite a course load last semester! All of these classes seem genuinely interesting.

  4. That’s a good science oriented course load. If I were you, I would have done just physics and Computer Science.