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MIT student blogger Nisha D. '21

Thoughts for the New Year, part 3 by Nisha D. '21

is third time the charm??? questionable

The hell of fall semester is finally over and I have resurfaced from my cave of despair to blog again! I’ve made this post two years in a row at this point, and I figured that it would only be appropriate to make one this year. Also, these posts are basically the only point all year where I reflect about my life, and I think I need that :P

Sidequest 1: Learn the building numbers – 99% complete. I’m SO CLOSE. I just had an embarrassing moment this year where I had no clue where building 24 was, so I can’t quite give myself 100% on this.

Sidequest 2: Get my Pirate Certificate – 25% complete. In my defense, I’m really trying to take the sailing class next semester, so maybe I’ll get this to 50% before I graduate. Turns out varsity fencing is THE BEST and I never want to leave so I’m okay with never completing this sidequest :)

Sidequest 3: Collect 60 free t-shirts – ~50% complete. This is a wild and probably incorrect estimate, but honestly, I’m sort of over the free t-shirt craze. This is probably because career fair t-shirts are pretty much my entire day to day wardrobe and this has not changed for the past two years. You get tired of wearing different Jane Street shirts every day.

Sidequest 4: Get a cool internship/externship – 100% complete! While this is technically completed because of last year’s internship at PlayStation, I have still not acquired one for this year because most of the companies I want to work for started their recruiting cycles super late (and I got rejected/ghosted from some of the big ones I applied to, RIP). Stay tuned!!11!!11!

Sidequest 5: Pull a cool hack – ???% complete. ???

Sidequest 6: Study abroad as many times as physically possible – 0% complete. Okay, I SWEAR I’m going to do GTL next year. I actually did apply very half-heartedly this year, but with no intentions of doing it anyways because I need to work on my research project over IAP :P

Sidequest 7: Beat Imposter’s Syndrome – 45% complete. I think that this semester, I felt like I belonged at MIT the most out of any semester that I’ve been here. This would have increased this percentage to like, 75% on its own. But I do feel shitty and sad about getting rejected from a lot of jobs, so I’m going to subtract 30% from that total :,). I’m pretty god damn awful at technical interviews. I think I’m getting better with practice, but I’m still pretty bad. Definitely worse than the MIT average :P.

Sidequest 8: Survive the winter without a winter coat – 0% complete. I’ve given up on this. I’m old and it’s too damn cold out.

Sidequest 9: Build a thing – 40% complete. I think I could theoretically build most of the basic things. I planned on building my own loft this year, but decided against it because a. it’s a lot of work and b. my boyfriend wound up doing all the building and he didn’t want to build a loft, lol

Sidequest 10: Find something I genuinely love to do – 50% complete. Note that this is the first year that this sidequest actually has a number value. Long tangent and explanation incoming, per usual.

I think the last year was the year that I actually found projects that I genuinely enjoyed working on, and that was really inspiring – after suffering through three joyless semesters of CS requirements, I was honestly getting pretty damn sick of this school. I found a UROP where I do independent research that’s relevant to my life interests01 who wouldn't love working with games and robots though??? . I’m pretty much carrying out my own study using technology that I built myself. I might even be published by next semester if I get everything working this IAP! I also wrote some cool papers for classes – I conducted ethnographic research into dating app culture at MIT for the class Petey taught last semester, and did an in-depth analysis of a TV Tropes page for T.L. Taylor’s Games and Culture this semester. I love writing papers, which is a truly hot take here at MIT, but every time I had a research paper due for a class, I truly relished the opportunity to dig down deeper into a subject that I didn’t know much about before.

To be honest, this focus on more research based projects is not the direction that I saw my life going in – I was sort of resigned to becoming a regular old software engineer for the first two years of my MIT experience. But I think I’ve realized that this should be my backup plan, because I really think that I can do more with my skills than become a software engineer02 read: code monkey . Working as a programmer this summer in PlayStation, my literal dream company, sucked the soul out of me more than I thought possible. And honestly, I suck at computer science – granted, that’s a comparison to people at MIT, but I’m awful at technical interviews and haven’t gotten the hang of them after countless hours of practice. Maybe I just have Impostor Syndrome, but I think it’s telling that I’ve enjoyed all my design-heavy UROP projects far more than I have enjoyed any software project in my entire MIT career.

I’m still trying to give it a shot. I applied to a lot of software internships03 and got rejected from a lot of software internships for next summer, as well as product management and product engineering internships. I think that having technical experience is important to actually gaining ‘hard’ skills. But I can’t see myself as a software engineer forever.

I’m rapidly approaching a crossroad that I’ll have to navigate in senior fall. I think that I have three options that I’ll have to choose from. Note that these are in order of preference.

  • Apply to the Media Lab for graduate school (masters/PhD program). 
    • Pros:
      • Continue my research in games, learning, and robot collaboration.
      • Participate in a ton of cool projects, and create a few myself!
      • Meet some of the coolest people in the field! Maybe even form a startup!
      • Learn about job opportunities beyond just being a software engineer, and gain the qualifications to get those jobs.
    • Cons:
      • I will be a broke grad student for a while. At minimum two years, even more if I get in to the PhD program.
      • I don’t know concretely what sorts of jobs I would get with this higher powered degree. I don’t really want to go into academia.
      • It’s really hard to get in to the Media Lab and I may not be qualified straight out of undergrad.
  • Apply to the MEng program to get a master’s degree in a year.
    • Pros:
      • You get a master’s degree…in a year. That’s pretty dope.
      • Gives an extra year of buffer before applying to real world jobs, and also I could apply for better jobs with a master’s degree.
    • Cons:
      • Might be hard to find a TA-ship (which is how you get funded for the degree).
  • Apply to jobs in the real world, preferably in 1. UX design 2. product management and 3. software 
    • Pros:
      • $$$
      • Start living *real life*
      • $$$
    • Cons:
      • I will probably be miserable pretty quickly if I do not get a job in UX design or product management.

I’m not really sure what I’m going to do here.

I will have to do at least two of these things, which doesn’t bode well for my stress levels come next fall. If I boost my GPA enough this spring, I’ll be able to apply to the MEng program and I probably won’t have to worry about jobs for another year. If I’m not able to, I’ll have to apply to jobs. I’ll be able to apply to the Media Lab either way because they don’t care about your GPA, thank the lord. I might even have to do all three because MEng funding isn’t necessarily guaranteed, and if I didn’t get into the Media Lab or get funding for an MEng, I would definitely want a job as a backup. Next fall is gonna be a wild, wild ride.

You might be wondering how I came up with that completion percentage for Sidequest 10. In short, I think I know what I like to do, and what makes me tick. I like my research, and I like doing research for topics that I’m interested in. I like designing technology. I like thinking about technology at a high level and thinking about how users might interact with it. I want my career to be something related to UI/UX and not to algorithms, low-level systems design, compilers, or anything that’s just pure coding.

But – there’s always a but – I still don’t know exactly know what I’m going to do with that knowledge. Looking out into the future, any of the three options I mentioned above seem possible. I have no idea what next fall will bring. It sort of feels like applying to college all over again. I do hope that this will be the last significant crossroad that I’ll have to encounter in my life, but honestly, it probably won’t be, so I better start getting used to it.

In retrospect, though, I think that the evolution of my reflections over the last three years is noticeable. Freshman year, I had my first existential crisis and realized that life is ultimately meaningless04 which is true, and still depressing if i think about it too hard . I also realized that I had no idea what to do with my life at MIT, and described this feeling as such:

Now, let’s describe MIT as an ocean of possibility. Once you’re in it, you can basically head in any direction you want and land on solid ground. Such is the nature of this school, and this is one of many reasons it’s one of the best colleges out there. However, to go back to the analogy: once I reached the figurative ocean, my boat broke down, dumping me into the deep end and soaking my map, leaving me paddling in no particular direction whatsoever.

I no longer feel quite like this. I think that I’ve commandeered a boat from…somewhere…and paddled it in the general direction of forwards. I’ve almost reached the mainland. I just need to decide which one of three rivers will carry me there, and I’m sort of stalled at the confluence of all three of these rivers trying to decide.

Good analogy? Not really, but let’s move on. Life is still meaningless, but I don’t think I’m paddling aimlessly in my MIT career any longer.

Sophomore year, I was writing from probably the lowest point in my MIT career. I realized that I hated computer science. I realized that I wasn’t even very good at it, and regretted not exploring any of the other countless opportunities that MIT provides.

I still am not computer science’s biggest fan, but I do think that knowing how to program is basically like knowing how to read in the current day and age. Maybe not quite that important, but it’s unequivocally useful to know how to program. And I do appreciate being able to create cool side projects and make games with the programming skills that I’ve learned. Did I need a computer science degree to do this? Probably not. But having a computer science degree gives me marketable skills in case getting a master’s degree doesn’t work out for me.

I still regret not exploring more opportunities within MIT. I realized that I should have been a 6-9 instead of a 6-3, but it’s too late now. I wish that I hadn’t gotten started in the Media Lab so late, and wish that I had explored more Media Lab classes in freshman and sophomore year. I wish that I had time to take more evolutionary biology and genetics classes. I wish that I was good enough at math to understand more math and physics classes. I do regret all of these things.

But I think that I’ve found a little niche in the world of MIT that I fit into, and that I’m pretty good at. And that’s something that I’m really grateful for, because I think that gives me the support I need to explore similar fields and find something that I’d be interested in working on as a career. And really, that’s something that freshman Nisha and sophomore Nisha would have both died to have. I think progress has been made.

Stay tuned for next year, when I’ll hopefully have a better idea of which road life will lead me down.

  1. who wouldn't love working with games and robots though??? back to text
  2. read: code monkey back to text
  3. and got rejected from a lot of software internships back to text
  4. which is true, and still depressing if i think about it too hard back to text