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Thoughts for the New Year, part 2 by Nisha D. '21

electric boogaloo

The end of the semester has come and gone, and although I meant to make this post well before the new year actually came around, a short trip to India drained me of all motivation and I basically just sat around for two weeks swatting at mosquitoes and eating a lot of food.

Last year at about this time, I reviewed the status of my progress bars on the ten side quests I had set out on at the beginning of my freshman year. With three semesters between the Nisha who wrote that post and the Nisha of the present, I thought that a status update might be appropriate. (Sidenote: this will probably become a yearly thing.)

Sidequest 1: Learn the building numbers – 95% complete. I’ve gotten much better at this – but at some point this semester, I did have to ask a friend where the hell building 38 is, because all the buildings in the 30s are in a completely arbitrary order and still confuse me from time to time.

Sidequest 2: Get my Pirate Certificate – 25% complete. Turns out that you can in fact get PE credit from being a varsity athlete, so I don’t technically need to take another PE class ever again as long as I remain on the fencing team. It’s likely that this sidequest will forever be stalled at 25%…

Sidequest 3: Collect 60 free t-shirts – ~40% complete. For whatever reason, the free t-shirts rained down on me much more abundantly in freshman year. I don’t think I’ve even acquired 5 free shirts this semester. MIT needs to step its game up

Sidequest 4: Get a cool internship/externship – 100% complete! I’m excited (and still very shell shocked) to report that I’ll be working on the God of War team at PlayStation this summer :) I have no idea how this happened because the technical interview was brutal and I walked out of it absolutely sure that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the position. When I got the email saying that I had been offered the position, I was pretty much in disbelief until the recruiter actually called me, gave me the offer details, and sent me the offer letter to sign. I still kind of don’t believe it, to be honest.

Sidequest 5: Pull a cool hack – ???% complete. Like I said last year, only Jack Florey will know.

Sidequest 6: Study abroad as many times as physically possible – 0% complete. I did intend for this to happen this year; I applied to MISTI Japan with the full intention of doing it…except if I got accepted to PlayStation. Things have a funny way of working themselves out. I’m definitely applying to MISTI Japan again next year (and I’m sure a lot of people will, given that the Tokyo Olympics will coincide with MISTI Japan perfectly next summer!), and I intend to do GTL somewhere in Europe next IAP.

Sidequest 7: Beat Imposter’s Syndrome – 15% complete. I think I had my imposter’s syndrome more under control freshman year, but my self esteem definitely took a hit this semester after dropping my first class and struggling through yet another one of the foundational course 6 classes. MIT is hard, and for me, it’s often a struggle to be just average in most of my technical classes. That’s something I’m still coming to terms with, and I think it’s something that a lot of people (50%, more or less) at MIT also have a hard time with.

Sidequest 8: Survive the winter without a winter coat – 5% complete. I’ve sort of given up on this, because like the New Englander I am, I do have a single L.L. Bean jacket in my possession, and it’s really comfy. I maintain that huge parkas of the Canada Goose variety and similar are totally unnecessary though.

Sidequest 9: Build a thing – 35% complete. I’ve always been fairly insecure about not being very handy with tools and building, but many of my upperclassman friends assured me that I would learn a great deal about construction during East Campus REX/Rush, and they were right. In the process of helping build a very large fort, I picked up a lot of skills that I’m sure will come in handy for next year’s construction – and for the rest of my life, hopefully. I even subled the construction of the fort railings (which basically means telling freshman how to do my job) a day after learning how to make them myself. And although I was too busy to this year, I intend to build my own (suspended, hopefully!) loft next year!

Sidequest 10: Find something I genuinely love to do – ???% complete. Before I get started on this, let me go on a bit of a tangent.

I think the biggest thing that I will take away from MIT – bigger than, say, a world-class education and more opportunities than I know what to do with – is the sense of being overwhelmingly cared for and supported by the people that I’ve had a chance to meet here.

This feeling brings many occasions to mind – my friend brushing and untangling my hair for at least half an hour because I’m terrible at taking care of it myself, another friend teaching me C++ for hours on end before my PlayStation interview, or my boyfriend helping me complete a makeup for a failed test while I cried about having failed another test that I had studied much harder for. And of course, these are just a few examples.

So I’ve come to realize that even if I never find something that I truly love to do at MIT, I have found people and places that I really care about, and that’s definitely something.

Now onto the main question: have I found something that I love to do? The answer is still no, unfortunately.

This semester was the one that I fully realized that I don’t like computer science very much. I’ve realized that Course 6-3 is kind of a catch-all for people who don’t really know what they’re doing with their lives and aren’t really passionate about one thing, and choose the most lucrative, employable option as a result of that. Of course, there are people who are really passionate about computer science – and props to them, because they are pretty few and far between.

But I think as a result of the percentage of people in 6-3 who are definitely just doing it to be employed, it lacks something really crucial, and that is a sense of wonder. There hasn’t been a single time this semester where I’ve learned something in one of my Course 6 classes that made me go, “Wow, that’s so cool” – and this is only natural, because you can’t find something very cool if you don’t like it that much. I really and truly envy the people who love what they study and think it’s the greatest thing ever, and there are so, so many of those people at MIT – but I feel like there aren’t as many in 6-3.

As one can imagine, struggling through course material for a subject you don’t like all that much can be a pretty demoralizing experience, and that’s why I’ve had a really hard time this semester. I think I’ve realized that I took my love for video games and my desire to create them and ultimately folded to external influences by subconsciously singling out the most lucrative part of the gaming industry, and declaring that as my major – and in the end, I’ve proved to myself that money isn’t what I should have used to determine what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, this is a mistake that can’t really be undone, and all I can do is hope that maybe something about CS will click with me someday and I’ll start liking it. I have high expectations for my job at PlayStation this summer, and I really hope that I enjoy the experience of working on a big game dev team. I’m also taking 6.073 (Creating Video Games) next semester and I’m crossing my fingers for that class as well. I’ve also finally declared a double major in CMS (Comparative Media Studies) so that I can get closer to the aspects of video games that I enjoy, and hopefully I’ll find something in the intersection of Course 6 and CMS that really speaks to me. Hopefully.

The one thing that I’d like everybody to think about, though – especially if you’re a prefrosh or about to declare your major – is this. Make a list of the things that make you go, “Oh shit, that’s really cool”, and go and explore them. This is something that I deeply regret not doing in my freshman year at MIT. In high school, the things that I found really cool were evolutionary biology and genetics – I’d spend hours reading articles and papers about human evolution, and successfully managed to coerce both my parents into getting tested with 23AndMe so I could get all their genetic data to play with. I had a computational linguistics phase as well, and I’ve always had a deep and abiding love for space. But in the academic rat race that was my high school experience, I forgot that I liked all these things, and I only recently remembered the wonder and fascination that I had for them. I wish that I had taken time to explore these subjects at MIT last year instead of trying to jump ahead in my Course 6 classes, and I wish that I had more time and more energy to take classes in these subjects to my heart’s content.

So my advice to everybody for the New Year is this: take some time out of your academic requirements and your commitments to explore the things that you find cool but don’t normally have time for, especially if you’re an MIT student. There are so many classes and resources here for us to take advantage of, and it’s up to us to actually do so!

I’ll sign off for now – it’s been a rough semester and I often didn’t have the energy to blog about it, but here’s to hoping 2019 will be better.