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what am i doing by Selam G. '18

great question.

I thought, since my last post was actually quite uninformative re:MIT facts and information, and instead I just blogged my feelings (which isn’t all bad, I suppose) today I could actually tell you what I’m doing this semester.




I had the most information about this in my last post actually, but to recap: Professor Russ Tedrake’s goal is to construct a paper airplane that he can throw from MIT and have it land accurately in Harvard Square. His lab has already made a paper airplane that can repeatedly land on a perch, the way birds do, and he is fascinated by the way passive mechanisms allow us to move about. For example, this robot falls down a ramp in a walking motion (no power, no motors, no electricity!) showing how purely mechanical designs can be efficient and effective. So, we should really be taking more advantage of that in robotics–a principle he impresses on students every Tuesday and Thursday in 6.832: Underactuated Robotics.

Help I’m surrounded by grad students :O one of them actually works in the lab where I’m doing my thesis–we’ll get to that later!


This past weekend, my homework assignment was to eavesdrop (or “carefully overhear”) some strangers’ conversation. On getting into an uber, I took detailed notes on a completely random person’s dramatic conversation about when she would turn 21 and be able to purchase alcohol, whilst complaining about a group of people that ruined the party they were coming from. I hoped they couldn’t see me typing all this into my phone.

21W.755: Reading and Writing Short Stories is an incredibly difficult class to get into. I almost didn’t, actually, but I suppose crossing my fingers and praying that seniority would work in my advantage helped. I also desperately needed to fulfill my HASS-Arts requirement (we’re required to take at least one each of Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities designated courses) and so I’m glad that I’m in this class, both because I really wanted to take it and also because I need to graduate….^^;

So why was I told to listen to a stranger’s conversation? Our professor, Shariann Lewitt, tells us to pay more attention to the world around us. Each class it’s something different–a smell, a sound, a texture or tactile feeling. This reminds me of something David Foster Wallace wrote, which I can’t for the life of me remember the title of the book or text, but he says essentially that writers are just incredibly thirsty observers (I believe his word was “nosy”), living for witnessing others’ moments. I hope I will become a better writer, and a better observer. I have quickly learned why the class was so full the first day–I’ve learned so much already.


21G.038: China in the News: The Untold Stories was also slightly oversubscribed the first day, but I luckily got to whip out my Chinese minor privileges to stay in the course. I actually wasn’t sure what to expect for this class until the first day, but as it turns out, the course focuses on the politics of framing. This means, the politics of how the frame of some image (or writing, or film, etc.) is chosen. A frame is a “single story”, a single perspective on an issue. For China, the frame is often about communism and censorship and a generally negative filter, so it makes for a particularly good case study. We also discuss China-U.S. relations, and China’s own internal dialogues on various issues. I’m quite glad I chose to take this course, and I’m excited to learn more about the very modern China–my mother, having left in the ‘80s, is a bit more removed from the most recent developments.


This is the first year I’m taking only one technical course and two humanities courses. That’s because 2.THU is not really a class–it’s my thesis!!!!!!!!! This means I don’t have classes or anything usual for this ‘course’. Instead, I’m continuing my research in Professor Alberto Rodriguez’s lab this semester, the Manipulation and Mechanisms Laboratory at MIT, fondly nicknamed the MCube lab. I love working here, and I’ve been surprised how much my past experience as a UROP on the DCP team at the Media Lab has really helped (those two years paid off!!)

Now that I’m a senior and a lot more experienced, I’ve been able to really be a part of the lab. I attend meetings and reading group (where we read journal papers covering related research) and I’m around enough that I can actually get to know everyone, which I’ve really enjoyed. I was even convinced to take 6.832 by another person in my lab, and we’re now in a study group together. I feel like I’ve been able to get a good taste of graduate school this way, which was my whole intent behind thesis-ing (as a 2A major, I’m not actually required to do one).


So I’ve mostly been asked the question “what are you doing” in a different context lately: “what are you doing after graduation?”

Let’s list the stressful questions college students face from beginning to end, why don’t we:

  1. Have you thought about where you’ll apply this year?
  2. So, where are you going to college?
  3. What are you going to major in?
  4. What are you doing this summer?
  5. What are you doing after graduation?

I wasn’t stressed out about the first two, because my eyes were always set on MIT and I was fortunate enough to apply and get in early action. I was also pretty certain about my major when I entered–I was deciding between Course 6 and Course 2, mainly trying to decide which one was best for robotics, and then I picked 2A-Robotics (lol).

Sophomore year I was a lil stressed about #4 because I thought I needed an internship, but I’m really glad, actually, that I didn’t get an internship that year. Instead, I traveled between 3 continents and 6 cities–a summer program in China in June, UROPing in Boston with a surprise stint at some Google warehouses for two weeks (wherein I drove a Toyota Forerunner in San Francisco and it was awful), and finishing up the Muti Water Project in Ethiopia in August.

But #5 has been giving me nightmares–or it would, if I could manage to sleep at night.

To clarify, I have some options now so I feel a lot better, but at least initially, it was really scary to hit senior spring and think about not having a job after graduation. I really should have been less freaked out, because I am fortunate in that after graduation I could always go home, spend time with the fam, and keep searching, or even do something random and apply to graduate school next fall if it came to that. But since I did not apply to grad school this fall (I want to work first) I was left with a feeling of real panic and (somewhat irrationally) fearing that I would be starving in June.

The answer to that question is still basically: I don’t know yet, ask me in a few months.

Infinite Jest



Chris and I and a few other students have been doing “Infinite Spring”, where we schedule reading sections of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest with the goal of simply reading and finishing it. We also hold book-club-type meetings every Tuesday where people can get together and discuss if they want. This type of schedule is nice because for most people, including me, the deterrent to reading and especially finishing Infinite Jest is in large part because it is simply enormous (it’s 1000+ pages). I’ve enjoyed it so far, though I should say it is very strange and confusing in many places, and slightly surreal. But I enjoy having something to read after a long day (well I didn’t in like the first 60 pages, but it got more coherent and I do now!)

I especially like how the book reflects some of my own feelings back to me–as all books do, ultimately, but this one, partly about a high-pressure school, seems particularly apt. It’s pictured next to another thing that I enjoy–I got this leather traveler’s notebook with my initials stamped on it from Etsy :3

Running around campus/Boston

Here are some pictures, just because:


did u kno they have korean skincare products at some CVSs now :O (blogging about how I’ve gotten into skin care is on my to do list lol)


In building 14N, there’s a bunch of posters everywhere, lining the stairwells, the elevator, some parts of hallways. They are particularly aesthetically pleasing and/or funny here, as 14N houses the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences


Did you know that in Walker Memorial (a building where we all take our exams) there is a bar? It is called the Muddy Charles Pub, and I had to look that up because everyone calls it just “the Muddy” and I actually forgot the real name lol. Anyway, instead of a normal wedge door stop, they prop their door open with a really old laptop and I think that’s hilarious. Also, as it’s open to the whole (of age) MIT community, this is not a good place to complain about professors or TAs, as my friend helpfully pointed out.

My significant other and I went to see the Takashi Murakami exhibit at the MFA one of the Sundays of IAP. I enjoyed these colorful flowers~