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what work is by Phoebe C. '18

bite-sized senior spring

the work of not working

this is going to be a challenging semester for me, but not in the conventional sense. i’m insanely comfortable working a lot, working hard, working with my head in a book, working late at night, working, working, working. i’m trying to challenge myself to do a different type of work this semester–the work of being present and focused, of using my body and my voice, of taking care of myself–things i am not so good at and that i can usually get away with neglecting.

this is work that i do not expect to get paid for or graded on; it’s work that i’m doing so i can get back to the place where i approach the days of my life with joy and curiosity and energy, which, for me, is so much harder than doing my work. this means letting my body sleep when it’s tired, even if it’s 10pm and i feel silly going to bed in case something else happens; this means taking vitamins and prying myself away from my computer screen when even i feel like i’m on a roll and energetic and productive (especially when i feel productive) because i have a tendency to over-exert myself and burn out.

it’s lucky, then, that i’m taking the class MAS.756, Principles of Awareness, this semester (with Joi Ito, who directs the MIT Media Lab, and The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, who directs The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT). one of the requirements of this class is to notice something new every day. we are learning to notice and to contemplate. it’s hard for me to really wrap my head around the idea of learning without structure, but i’m excited to see how the rest of the semester unfolds.


the work of waiting

four years ago, like many of you, i was waiting on college admissions decisions. today i am waiting on grad school decisions, which is feels a little more nerve-wracking because i have no idea what days/times they’re going to be released but also a little less nerve-wracking because i feel that i have backup options.

aaaaahhhh! i thought i had mostly made peace with the uncertainty, but all my emotions are heightened as decision days draw closer. i’m mostly trying to get on with my life and focus on staying healthy, but i’ve definitely stopped and freaked out a few times. grad school has been a dream of mine for so long, and i’m excited and terrified to see where the chips will fall in the next few weeks. i’ve spent the past few years as an admissions blogger reminding applicants that admissions committees’ decisions are not value judgments–they’re not meant to tell you whether the way you spent the past few years of your life is “good enough” or whether you as a person are smart enough or useful enough–and now i find that i’m the one who needs to be reminded.


a happy moment in market design

i don’t know anything about astronomy, but i figured it was something i’d always wanted to learn more about, so i registered for 12.402, Intro to Astronomy (with Anna Frebel, who studies the early universe, works on discovering the oldest stars in the universe, and is a funny and endearing lecturer). it’s a “freshman class,” but i thought it was super cool, and i briefly freaked out about the possibility that i would have decided to become an astronomer had i taken this class freshman year. i worried that i spent too much of my earlier years laser-focused on getting my math and economics degrees done that i missed out on finding my true calling, which, of course, was to become an astronomer.

then, on wednesday, i went to 14.19, Market Design, and i was reassured. it was in a cramped, too-warm room, but the professor (Parag Pathak, who does some very cool work on school assignment systems and who also gives a mean lecture) started talking about kidney auctions and school choice and stable marriage, and i suddenly didn’t mind anymore. i briefly considered dropping all my non-course 14 classes and replacing them with the econ courses i won’t get to take, but i stopped myself because that feels, in a way, like the easy way out–it’s easier for me to do psets and take partial derivatives and run regressions, harder to step out of my skin and speak loudly and stand behind my ideas. i’m spending more time away from the department this semester to get better at presentations and teamwork and managing my health, but i hope i never stop having these small moments that remind me of why i want to be an economist.


some (of my) poetry

i took 21W.762, Poetry Workshop, last semester. this is a couplet that i’m proud of:

“We’re at a party that’s not the right party,
But it’s bright and loud and enough, for now.”


some more (not-my) poetry; the work of love

the title of this blog post refers to the poem “What Work Is” by Philip Levine. it’s a poem that is about love as work, that juxtaposes the work of love with the work that we do to enable the things that we love. it snowed in boston this week, and i thought of this poem as i ran late to class and tried not to slip on slush.