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MIT student blogger Chris M. '12

The Institute of Smashing by Chris M. '12

What do you think MIT and a garbage compactor have in common?

Webster’s dictionary has two entries for the word smashing when used as an adjective:

smash·ing Pronunciation: ˈsma-shiŋFunction: adjective Date: 1825
1 : that smashes : crushing; a smashing defeat
2 : extraordinarily impressive or effective; a smashing performance



Here at MIT, you’ll find that both entries are equally applicable. In fact in studying here, no matter what major you choose I can almost guarantee one thing:


You’re going to be crushed


Now before you start letting sweat bead upon your brow and frantically asking yourself what you’ve gotten yourself into, let me assure you of another truth:


It’s good for you


You see, in the many conversations I’ve had with people from the MIT community, nearly everyone has the same first set of thoughts about coming here. Following CPW, you’re positively electric with the thought of classes and schoolwork. You think you’ll come here and quadruple-major, put your nose to grindstone, and crank out a few A’s. You’re on top of the world! You’ve proven yourself worthy of attending one of the most challenging and respected universities in the world. You’re an elite. You can’t help but pat yourself on the back a little–-and you absolutely should! Getting into MIT is indeed an accomplishment worth being proud of, but that’s where step one comes in.

Before moving on I think it’s important to identify roughly two types of people here. There are those who are brilliantly self-discipllined, and there are those who are billiantly talented. Of course that’s a generalization but let’s only pay attention to the dominant traits.

For students who are brilliantly talented, the very asset that got you in will be the biggest and most important change while you’re here. You’re used to being right, being able to just switch your brain on for a few minutes and crank out the answer before returning it to idle, listlessly day dream about the future or work through some crazy hypothetical situation and shunt your work until the next time you have to kick your brain on for some project (usually just before it’s due) and literally sprint through the work to finish with flying colors.

Sound familiar? It does to me, because that’s how I was in high school. I procrastinated like you wouldn’t believe, I’d do a weeks worth of BC calc homework less than an hour before turning it in and make better marks than my classmates who diligently plugged away at it every night. I’d write essays in marathon non-stop sessions starting with my thesis and not pausing until I’d filled 8 pages with my thoughts. I wouldn’t even reread or edit my papers, just turn them in and make A’s. I’d stand before a class and wing a 20 minute presentation with no problems. I wasn’t lazy, and it’s not that I didn’t care, but I just never had to work that hard. I was getting results I was happy with, and working harder for the sake of it seemed stupid (and I still agree it is).

But for those of you rolling your eyes and thinking right now I’m some self-absorbed egotist, here comes the crushing and perhaps a sweet sweet feeling of schadenfreude.

Two years here have all but ripped my weak academic workflow to pieces. It’s a tough blow to absorb to not be able to pull off the kinds of academic feats you’re used to. Working full-tilt in brief but insanely focused spurts becomes so common that it becomes taxing. And that’s when you start falling apart. You end up exhausted and defeated in a lot of ways. My grades in a lot of classes weren’t what I wanted, and by the end of it I didn’t feel very fulfilled.

But the good news is, like I said before, all this destruction is a good thing. Or more accurately, it can be a good thing. It gives you a chance to build something that’s better than what used to be there before (which in my case wasn’t hard). It gives you a chance to finally get those time-management skills you haven’t needed up until now. And while keeping your ego in check, you become a lot better at planning and working in teams. You gradually start edging closer to the performance you’re accustomed to and expect from yourself. That feeling, that feeling of growth is a new one. And it’s a thrilling one. I’m still putting on the polish, but I’m very excited to have a system that’s working for me now and impressing myself with the things I can do as a result. It may be a work in progress, but my academic career is leagues better now than it used to be.

So when you get here in the fall, don’t freak out about freaking out. It’s supposed to happen, and that’s why there are so many abundant resources at your disposal. Advisors, Office Hours, tutors, upperclassmen, and TONS more tools are waiting to help you remove the weak elements in your life (CAUTION: There may be a lot of them). You should strive to be a completely different person once you get out of MIT, because otherwise what’s the point? Make huge mistakes, be bold, be honest, let your ego shatter, get crushed and rebuild yourself into something better than before. Don’t be afraid to make huge and sweeping changes to try and find better ways to do things. Smash everything and start over.

You’ll do it again and again, at times where you think “ok, this it the last time FOR SURE”, but after a while you’ll find that all that smashing has left you rather smashing as well. : )

28 responses to “The Institute of Smashing”

  1. '14 says:

    So the answer is “They’re both good for you?”

  2. Anonymous says:

    What about those who are brilliantly self-disciplined?

  3. Chris M. says:


    I think those with brilliant self-discipline tend to transition a little easier. They may have more difficulty with the subject matter, but they will do what they need to do to figure it out and get it done. Having good work ethics and personal time management will go a long way in making you choose one version of IHTFP over the other.

    Of course the two extremes aren’t really mutually exclusive and everyone’s a mix of the two to some degree.

  4. Carol ('15?) says:

    Touche, Chris! Methinks you’ve hit the proverbial nails on many an (aspiring) MIT-er’s head!

    I happen to fall under the category you’ve so eloquently written about (sans a LOT of the brilliance, though raspberry) Next month, I’ll be starting my 2nd year of A-levels (12th grade to you guys); last year, the workload/experience has already deep-fried my brain more than the contents of a KFC Variety Bucket. xD It made my previous public exams (GCSEs @ 9th-10th grade) seem like baloney.

    But I did pull up my socks in the end…and yes, I guess with the right attitude – and sufficient tooling! – all will be smashing, indeed smile Here’s hoping that my results will agree with me come August raspberry

    PS// Am I first? :D

  5. Armin says:

    Conclusive last three sentences were very pleasing.

    And the banner shows our little boy is growing.
    Mountains and the word “crush” have harmony, whereas I don’t recall the time you changed your banner neither I know the date which the picture was taken, I suspect you were thinking of crush thing while being in mountains.

  6. Olurotimi B. says:

    Oh the truth in those words. As much as it hurts, it really is helpful to be ‘crushed’ academic-wise in school; it’s a great way to make progress that you won’t go back on. I can attest to that first hand. Despite it happening once, it is safe to assume (oh the irony…) that it’ll happen again, won’t it?

  7. Justin says:

    Our egos have to be CRUSHED before we will have the humility to admit that we need to learn. Great post Chris!

    And a very nice banner too. =)

  8. Anonymous says:

    What about those of us who don’t fall into either category? Are we doomed?

  9. Anonymous says:

    how many banner pictures have you had?

  10. KP says:

    And that’s why I want to attend MIT.

  11. Pushp says:

    Is there a difference between Procrastinating & Being Lazy..??

  12. martin says:

    I love this post. I just hope the first smashing phase to pass by very quickly.

  13. banana says:

    MIT is garbage…

  14. Great post! ha ha I’ve got a friend like that(the brilliant one)in school! I’m not that smart…but I still want to get into MIT. Just because I like the ‘learning by doing’ and ‘Applying what you’re learning’ methods! I know I can thrive in that sort of environment where you have to really learn and not just mug things up! So I’m looking forward to the ‘mistakes’ at MIT!!!! You’re right Chris! Can’t wait for the Application!

  15. Oh I forgot to add…. SMASHING POST!!!

  16. Liz '14 says:

    Thanks for this entry, Chris. It kind of solidifies some of my expectations about MIT, and makes me a bit nervous…

  17. Sarah says:

    This is a great post. It really gave me a greater feel about MIT. Personally, I’m not some super genius. I’m the kid who people think is smart just because I work rediculously hard. I am currently a high school student (rising senior). Recently, as I have been taking a closer look at MIT I have realized that this school would be a fantastic place to challenge myself and meet people who share my passion for science/research. It is definitely comforting to see that you don’t need to be a rare brilliant prodigy in order to gain acceptance into MIT; people with a true passion for science who just happen to be really hardworking have a chance too. Yay! I think I’m going to apply smile

    Oh and I guess it’s somewhat funny that the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the title: smashing- was the insane amount of glass pipettes with microscopic tips that I have been consistently smashing in the electrophysiology lab I am working out for the summer. But I must admit, I love my HEK cells and their glycine receptors.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Quick question to Chris:

    What made you change your major for 8-15 to 2A-6?

  19. Piper '12 says:

    This is the sort of thing every prefrosh needs to know to expect before coming in.

    Only, it’s so easy to romanticize reading about it, and hard to realize how this is transforming you in the midst of it.

    I hope the prefrosh take this to heart, since it’s about as prepared as you can be coming into MIT.

  20. Vytautas says:

    I’m enrolled in another university but it also fits. No effort in high school – enormous amount of failures during first two years of studies, but now I’m more educated about personal management.

    Chris, somehow you manage to hit (or smash) the entries into the right place. Your entries are really exciting and inspiring, even I’m not the “another reason why I want to go to MIT” commenter smile

  21. This is what I love about MIT as opposed to a lot of other schools…a lot of places are perfectly happy with people soaring through classes with flying colors and no effort, and tell you that they really want you to be able to do so. MIT actually appreciates that getting “crushed”, as you put it, is actually really worth something! Like you said, what’s the point of going through four years of college without changing, becoming stronger and learning to deal with real challenges? smile

    My senior year of high school was the toughest I’d ever had–I was in all AP and dual-enrolled core classes, Orchestra (in which I was concertmaster) and second-year Choir, the highest level math in the school, and a GT independent study program. It was the first time in my life I was in classes which were actually hard enough to warrant studying. Between the nearly daily morning rehearsals for the music classes, all-nighters for math, having to skip lunch for catch-up work and to fill out college/scholarship applications, participation in NHS and other organizations, and three teachers who consistently scheduled weekly tests on the same day, second semester nearly KILLED me, and I got a B in the independent study class–yet the beating made me realize a lot about my time management and limits. I may have failed at just a few things, but I suceeded in a lot more that were far more important…it was a matter of self-actualization…

    Thanks for writing, Chris! ^_^ Other people have said how much they enjoy your writing, and I second that.

    PS: Is it a coincidence that the reCaptcha is “joyriding far”?

  22. Chris M. says:

    I always like to say that the rate at which you grow and learn things here is n-1 for the rate at which you’re challenged, n.
    It always feels like you’re on the edge of what is possible for you to learn and do, but then when you help someone who took a class you took just a term earlier, you’ll impress yourself by how much easier it seems. MIT is always just one step ahead, but you both end up moving along very quick.

  23. Thank you for this post! It’s smashing!

  24. I just finished freshman year here, so I thought this would be a good place to give you an example.

    One week in November, I had an 8.01 test, and 18.01 test and a weekly 3.091 quiz. Bad week? Yeaaah, I mean – there were worse weeks, but at that point, I was completely exhausted and work got harder. I got super nervous, and couldn’t focus on the 3.091 quiz, then right after (like, as soon as the quiz was over), I had the 18.01 test. Blowing the 3.091 quiz made me freak out even more and I did the entire 18.01 test in tears.

    So that + roommate problems + homesickness + non-academic pressures (just imagine) = worst week ever

    How did the semester turn out? I did just fine, and I still love MIT! So I’m just pointing out that it’s likely you’ll have really really bad moments here – MIT will really test your limits, but then remember – the next week (or the week after) will be better. And you’ll get through those weeks too!

  25. This may seem odd, but after reading this I feel more and more that MIT is the only place where I will do justice to myself.Yes, even with the stories of gruelling but ‘smashing’ hardwork.

  26. Pushp says:

    I love that feeling of being involved rigorously in what you love to do. smile

  27. Jason(: says:

    Great post. Hopefully I can experience this “smashing” institute someday! MIT seems to be an amazing place to learn. smile

  28. Sanju says:

    A vivid feeling, well narrated and all aspirants … get a chill feeling in the spine after reading this post.