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MIT student blogger Bryan O. '07

The View from 1000 Feet by Bryan

Life after MIT ... kind of

8 months ago, an email from MIT asking me for money read something like:

Dear student,

Your monthly student account statement has been posted. Please review your statement on MITPAY by following one of the secure links below, and arrange payment for any charges shown. Statements are available by the 10th of each month and balances are due by the first of the following month.

This would normally total to a tuition payment at the beginning of the semester or my overdue library book fees of 50 cents a day.

Today, an email from MIT asking me for money reads something like:

Dear Bryan,

Now that you’re rich and famous, would you consider giving us a piece of your salary?

OK, so it’s not really like that, but sometimes, I feel like responding:

Dear MIT,

You know how much my graduate student stipend is. How much can I afford to donate?

Again, it’s not completely the case. I figure sometimes if I hold off from my daily purchase of fruit snacks, I can afford a $50 donation once a month…maybe.

But getting hit up for cash by the ‘tute is not the central theme of this entry.

So according to my quick Google calculation, it’s been 230 days since I graduated from college; at the same time, I can still remember hopping off the subway back in 2003 with duffle bag in hand where I walked into my dorm room in Baker ready to begin my college experience.

My mom always tried to teach me when I would call home and complain about hard tests and feeling oftentimes overloaded that I would look back one day and see the positive much more clearly than I would be able to when I just felt as if I had been pwned by a 2.005 exam..

Dear Mom,

You were right.

It’s funny to look back in my journals and see the days when all I wanted to do was snark on “omg this sucks” or “it’s 2 am and this problem set is still not done” but believe it or not, it was a good thing.

So taking a look from 1000 feet, in the past six months, I’ll admit a lot of things have not completely changed. I’m still an MIT student. I still have problem sets; I still have final exams, but it feels a little different now, and I think a lot of it is from the skills that I gained in my first four years here.

What are those merit badges I earned?

The Fundamentals:

I can add, subtract, multiply, divide, differentiate and do fourier series. I can explain PCR. I can design floating buoys for wind turbines. I can write policy proposals for the environment. I can speak spanish. I know what the Damkohler number is.

Punchline: I learned a lot in my classes. While that in itself is a tremendous feat, there is much more that I gained from my education than information and equations.

Synthesis:

One of the most valuable learning experiences (possibly the most valuable one) is the one I gained through my research project as an undergraduate. With almost all problem sets that I received at MIT, there was an answer that could be found after some amount of work. With research, the mental leap was a much longer one to make. Inherent in the word, research is a repeated effort to search for new information and new ideas, and oftentimes, an equation or the appropriate engineering assumption is going to be insufficient in order to get where you need. With my research, it wasn’t just about what I could regurgitate on a test or what I could write in a 10 page paper. It was about how many different sources could I draw from in order to get the information I needed in order to be productive and see forward motion in my project. So while with problem sets, you have to agree with the professor’s solution in order to get the A; with research, people disagree and the field is constantly changing, so you also obtain the skill of being able to critically navigate through the volumes of material and make decisions about what is useful and what is not.

The capstone to my formal educational experience in the classroom was my research because I was able to draw upon all of that material in order to create new hypotheses and challenge prior held ideas. This, for me, is the best preparation for the real world. There are no problem sets in the real world; there are real problems and they require the skills you develop in a broader sense in order to really be able to address them.

So keep in mind, that’s it’s not just about what you know. It’s about how you use it and how you communicate it.

Analysis:

So the higher math gods might come down and strike me with a bolt of lightning, but I am going to publicly say that there is more to life than math and science. I will not deny my love for biology and engineering but while my education has prepared me to obviously take these challenges on, a lot of people go on to careers in finance, consulting, and government and do well. They are successful because they took advantage of the fact that the skills that you learn at MIT don’t solely prepare you to write equations. While I primarily use my education to work on the science and math questions, I’ve also found it helpful in understanding political discussions (if you’re 18, you should vote ps) by understanding the players, the issues, and how they interact.

Personality:

MIT taught me a lot about myself. When I first came to college, my arrogance got the best of me. I didn’t go to office hours and I didn’t ask for help. BAD IDEA. I soon realized that I need to constantly appraise my own abilities and make an effort to supplement the areas of my education that just did not click for me the first time. At the same time, MIT also taught me to be more confident in myself because yes, MIT is hard and when you’re taking an hour test with six hard problems, you have to learn to not second guess yourself and write an answer you believe in and move on.

MIT also taught me to worry and stress less and take risks more. With four years of college, you can do fine taking no risks. For me, taking risks at the appropriate time allowed me to progress academically and with respect to my research and also my personal life.

So what does any of this mean?

Simple explanation: What you learn from MIT is more than just math and science, but you have to be willing to accept the greater lessons that are available to learn.

So I’ll end this entry and echo a question that Laura recently asked, “what do you want to know about?”

27 responses to “The View from 1000 Feet”

  1. BRYAN – You know what I think you should blog about? Differences of being an undergrad and grad student at MIT.

    –I second that!

  2. Rory Ward says:

    Talking of feet i love them. I suppose its a fetish

  3. Edgar says:

    No sabia que hablaras Espanol, Bryan!
    Awesome entry. It’s nice to hear the great impact that MIT has in its students.

  4. Steve says:

    It is kind of funny how they hit you up for money less than a year after you graduate.

  5. Christina says:

    Steve, they hit you up for money while you’re still a student. It’s just called a “class fund donation” instead of an alumni donation.

  6. Shamarah says:

    Yayyy, Bryan’s blog is making a comeback!

  7. parent says:

    Ok. Harvard, then Princeton and now Datmouth. When is MIT going to step up to the plate and make the school affordable for those that can least afford it? That group is of course the lower-middle to middle class that own their own homes. Anybody?

  8. Piper says:

    Ahhh, I like this post. It’s very similar to my feelings on high school. I’ve been a graduate of it for a semester, and yet I remember running up many stairs (we’re built going up a hillside) and entering my first class, PE, completely out of breath and late. From there, all the trials, all the joys – I wouldn’t change it for the world. I learned a lot of book stuff, but what I learned outside of “education” proved much more important.

  9. $? says:

    I 100% agree with parent. I’ve been accepted, but it looks like I’m not going to be able to go– we just can’t afford it.
    Bloggers, how are you managing to pay for MIT? Do you work 50 hrs a week? Are you taking out so many loans you’ll be up to your eyeballs in debt once you graduate? I’m struggling a lot with the money issue right now. Please answer- I’d appreciate it a lot.

  10. Hi parent,

    You have just asked the question I want to ask. Yes, anybody?

  11. Sam says:

    Bryan, I’m glad that you wrote this entry; your observations as someone who’s been through MIT puts the next four years in perspective for prefrosh like me, not only in regard to math and science-y development, but with personal and social development. And I have a feeling that it’s the latter that will matter more after four years, after all the classes, exams, and problem sets are done with. (At least for undergrad… sigh)

    Anyway, reading through this and your other blog entries, I have to say this: Not only do you blog about interesting events, but the way you write is smooth and readable. So, that’s cool.

    What I do want to know is, now that you’re in grad school, do you still keep in contact with your undergrad friends? What about your high school friends? What I’m most worried about college is losing touch with my high school friends.

  12. Edgar says:

    @Piper- my first day of class was so similar to yours, except it was also my first day of class at an American school, with absolutely not knowing a word of the English language. Like you, I am glad I went trhough those experiences! raspberry

  13. Libin Daniel says:

    Had same feelings for my school which my classmates proudly call JAIL..Oh, it really WAS. But prisoners do enjoy life every now and then..reminds me of ‘Catch Me If You can’.

  14. Piper says:

    BRYAN – You know what I think you should blog about? Differences of being an undergrad and grad student at MIT.

    Edgar – Ah, what an experience that is. I haven’t gone through that myself, but my mother is a Mexican immigrant who came here not knowing any English as well. It takes a special type of strength to do what you guys did.

  15. milena '11 says:

    @ parents:

    Here’s a crash course in effective comment posting. Bryan does not work in the finaid department (as far as I know), so why don’t you hit up Daniel Barkowitz, who also conveniently happens to have a blog here?

    And now for my two cents: I go to MIT practically for free. I got a super sweet finaid package. So you can’t right off the bat say that MIT is not affordable to those who can least afford it (that sounds kinda awkward btw), because I can’t afford it, yet here I am. So, um you might want to try an appeal, as Hank said, or just choose among the many fine educational institutions in the Boston-Cambridge area. But the finaid people are pretty chill; if you really can’t afford it they might be able to help.

  16. Hank R. says:

    @parents

    My household income is less than 40k a year. When I originally got my financial aid offers, I was less than pleased with MIT’s. THis offer isn’t final though, and you can appeal it, which is what I did. In my appeal, I also sent copies of my other award offers which were better than MIT’s. MIT upped its offer and now I’m here.

    This also happened to a friend of mine who got an astronomically better financial aid package from another school.

    I’m not saying that it’ll work, but they won’t give you less, so you have nothing to lose. Try an appeal.

  17. parent 2 says:

    I can’t believe there are parents complaining about the package received from MIT. I am lower middle class parent. My family will do whatever it will financially take for my child to attend MIT.

    Any handouts that MIT gives my family will be icing on the cake. This is MIT and they know numbers. They know what people can afford! When we buy a car, house, clothes or food do you get a discount based on income?

    Take whatever help MIT gives you and say thank you.

  18. kudos says:

    terrific post!
    For everyone who reads this , please read the PERSONALITY section once,twice,thrice or more…

  19. E. Rosser says:

    Hear, hear! I can’t wait for both the book smarts AND the “worldly” smarts that come with MIT, or any college for that matter. Now about that getting accpeted part… Why can’t it be March?!?!

  20. parent says:

    We are obviously doing the same. I have paid the vast majority of two years expenses at MIT. We are doing it but at Harvard next year we would pay nothing. Hard to justify $30,000-$35,000 extra for MIT over Harvard.

  21. Sam says:

    Yo, Bryan, I’m a grad student at a state school, making way less than you, and I still donated to MIT! I mean, it was only $1, and only because I thought it would increase our USN≀ ranking, but still.

    NO EXCUSES.

    Also, the Damkohler number owns all.

  22. 2010 says:

    I’m glad my favorite blogger is back. (And that was even before I met you in person!)

  23. Bryan says:

    Aww 2010, that makes me feel all warm inside Aww 2010, that makes me feel all warm inside <3

  24. Paul says:

    parent – I try to avoid commenting on financial aid as much as possible, since that’s really not my function as a blogger. That being said, I do feel obligated to say that MIT and Harvard are vastly different schools. Of course, Harvard is a fantastic school, and if your child is fortunate enough to choose between Harvard and MIT, congratulations to him or her!

    But for my part, I don’t feel I would have fit in as well at Harvard as I do here. Hacking, IHTFP, the firehose, one of the most well-known and successful engineering program in the country – Harvard has none of these things, because it can’t.

    I’m home here.

  25. Paul says:

    parent – I try to avoid commenting on financial aid as much as possible, since that’s really not my function as a blogger. That being said, I do feel obligated to say that MIT and Harvard are vastly different schools. Of course, Harvard is a fantastic school, and if your child is fortunate enough to choose between Harvard and MIT, congratulations to him or her!

    But for my part, I don’t feel I would have fit in as well at Harvard as I do here. Hacking, IHTFP, the firehose, one of the most well-known and successful engineering program in the country – Harvard has none of these things, because it can’t.

    I’m home here.

  26. Hawkins says:

    @Bryan – Great post! Yes, tell us more about the differences between graduate and undergraduate life at MIT! Have you read The Idea Factory?

    @parent – I must agree with Paul that MIT offers several things that Harvard does not, and vice versa. They are very different from each other, and the decision between them should not be a question of money. How about letting your child choose where to go? Personally, Harvard never interested me in the slightest. My dreams are in engineering and science, and I’d gladly take out the entire cost of MIT in loans before I’d go to Harvard for free.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Hard to justify $30,000-$35,000 extra for MIT over Harvard.

    — Uh, then (tell your child to) go to Harvard. Appeal, tell your child to get a job, do whatever you have to do, or go somewhere else. Problem solved smile