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Things I Regret… by Selam G. '18

less-than-optimal decisions I've made in college

Now that I am soon to be an old, decrepit senior, I thought it might be interesting to explore some of the less-than-optimal decisions I’ve made while in college…


1. Trying to go for the computer science minor

I regret this, because 1) I ended up aborting this plan, and 2) it caused me to take 6.042: Math for Computer Science and 6.006: Algorithms which (especially the second one) had the overall effect of lowering my GPA while also not being very useful while also causing a lot of stress. I wish I had taken 2.008: Design for Manufacturing instead, and maybe an electronics class, or simply gotten ahead in my requirements to graduate for my Mech. E degree. I probably would have had a better academic performance and probably also *cough* a better quality of life…who knows, maybe because of it I’ll one day be gr8 at optimizing stuff, but for now…*shrug emoji*.

I also wasn’t really motivated for the best reasons, I think the primary one being maybe thinking software engineering could be a career back-up plan. But I really shouldn’t have been so concerned (there’s still enough perfectly good jobs in mechanical engineering everyone, even if they don’t recruit as aggressively during career fairs :P)

I always have this problem where I get excited about stuff, and then distracted, and then intentionally put myself in a disadvantaged position, such as being a mechanical engineer in a computer science class *rolls eyes*. However it should be noted that I do not regret, for one second, taking 6.005: Elements of Software Construction, that class was awesome and very useful. I think maybe the great experience there is what inspired me to take the other two, although I had no idea so much sadness and theoretical math would be involved.

2. Taking 6.042: Math for Computer Science and 6.006: Algorithms

See Regret #1.

3. Taking on too many activities

This one is a hard one because, of course all the communities I’m now a part of are beloved to me, but I definitely regret doing the in-between stuff that I really shouldn’t have, such as a few jobs freshman and sophomore year (financial struggles, y’all) that probably were not worth it (should have just UROP’d more instead…). There were several times I didn’t say “no” when asked to help out with random events or other people’s projects and stuff, and I really should have. probably also had the overall effect of lowering my GPA. I’m getting better at it though–I haven’t really committed to anything beyond the usual load in about a year, and communicate when I need to take time off from clubs to study and such.

4. Not playing the “GPA game” well…

See #1, #2, and #3. Should not have taken unnecessarily hard classes (particularly ones outside my chosen field), should not have done too much outside of class…probably could have at least a 0.3 or more higher GPA ^^; (look at me, sounding like a college confidential parent)

5. Not going to class or recitation

This is one of the few I can use as a general note of caution to everyone heading into college, or currently there: don’t do it!! just don’t!! Even if you’re in there sleeping, at least be there. There were points in the semester where I was just like “lol class is so not worth” but ultimately, I would end up regretting not going to 100% of lectures and recitations (or at least 90%, everyone has some sick days, interviews etc.)

6. Not realizing all this sooner

…self explanatory…

7. Not asking more people for advice before making decisions

Part of the reason my academic path was so weird was that I chose a weird major, 2A-CIR, which is mechanical engineering with robotics. Because my advisor was in mechanical engineering only, I didn’t really know what I was getting into on the electrical/computer science front, and mostly chose classes based on what I thought, at the time, would be useful or helpful to pursuing robotics. It was only after a full 2 years of robotics UROPing that I realized I didn’t have to have as much mastery of software as I thought to perform well, and I ended up wishing I’d taken more electrical classes instead. I wish I had taken more initiative to talk to someone about my course load as it related to robotics (possibly my UROP supervisor, Julian, who’s been awesome to work with) and thinking a little more before picking classes. Then maybe I would have been swayed earlier to abandoning the computer science minor.

8. Having regrets.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine anything happening differently. Someone once said to me the phrase, “if you knew better, then you would have known better”. Hindsight is always 20/20, and at a place like MIT, it’s hard to think clearly in the middle of a firestorm. Regret #5, missing classes, was almost never simply because “I didn’t feel like it”, but rather because I hated the class material (6.006, for example) and then, on top of that, would be having a particularly bad day or week (this was a huge problem last fall, when I had a flurry of life issues happen and would be regularly visiting MIT Mental Health). Regret #7, not asking for advice, could be solved with better advising for flex majors, like me, or better advising overall (MIT is actively working to make this better already, so it’s a known issue). Regret #1 and #2, taking those classes I hated, are related to #7, and Regret #6, not realizing sooner, is simply impossible to control–if I realized it sooner, then I would have realized it sooner. I didn’t, and that’s that.

Lastly, Regret #3 was doing too many jobs or activities. Well, of course I felt at the time that those student jobs were necessary to financially support myself–it’s only now that I think I could have gotten by without them after all. And if being more cautious in my clubs and activities meant that I wouldn’t have found the incredible people I spend most of my time with now, then I’m glad I still pursued all those things. Finding the activities–and people–that are worthwhile takes time and energy. I don’t regret doing the Muti water project, or restarting the EESA, which led to teaching math to Habesha 6th graders in Roxbury this summer. In fact, those are probably the projects I will remember most from college, and have had the biggest, most immediate impact on the world out of everything I’ve done so far in my whole life.

This all is not just a grand excuse–I recognize where I could have avoided some stress, and I’ll learn from that and do better. My takeaways from this are to slow down a little bit, even when excited, and think a little longer before making decisions. Ask more people for a different perspective, and take more time to think and plan. I’m sharing that here so hopefully you (incoming freshmen and/or current college students) also take a little more time when deciding on those important things.

But, all that said, you can never plan completely for everything in life, and all in all, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

One more year to go!