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