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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

What do you want to be when you grow up? by Laura N. '09

Worst. Question. Ever.

Now that I’m a junior in college, I’m supposed to be almost an adult, or something. I’m not very far from “the real world,” as they say, and apparently, this means I’m going to have to go find a job- also in the real world. Hopefully, after four years of TFP, this hypothetical job will not entail flipping burgers.

The only practical result of this for me, since I insist on denying that the future is rushing towards me at a terrifying pace, is that I am constantly being asked what I’m going to do when I graduate.

And I HATE it.

Why? Because I have NO CLUE what I’m going to do when I graduate. Furthermore, I’m spending four years bashing my head against textbooks about thermodynamics and control systems, and I don’t even know if I want to be an engineer anymore.

I can’t tell if I never even wanted to be an engineer and just accidentally ended up on this path which led me to MIT and my ultimate hatred of anything math-related, or if I’m just burned out from classes and getting sick of doing textbook problems instead of actual engineering, or if maybe I choose the wrong major after all and should have just been Course 16, or if I’m just in a grouchy mood lately and want to do nothing but lie on a beach reading all day for the rest of my life.

Luckily, I’ve found that Adelaide ’09, despite being as mild mannered, polite, and sweet as I am not, usually agrees with me on matters of great importance, such as this. During one particularly gross problem set, she proclaimed that she would simply become a hermit in a cave in Hong Kong after graduation. I proclaimed that I would become a baseball announcer, since everyone on the floor has commented on how much enjoyment I get out of yelling at the television during baseball games. (This usually involves mocking the actual announcers for their lack of insight into the intricacies of the greatest sport of all time.) Adelaide told her mom about this plan, who wasn’t sure that Adelaide would like it so much, so she suggested that Adelaide at least keep her options open- maybe there are suitable caves in other cities as well?

Inspired, Adelaide and I proceeded to spend the rest of the semester continually adding to the following list of ridiculously improbable post-graduation paths. The only thing is, we’re not at all sure how ridiculously improbable any of them actually are…

  • hermit in cave in Hong Kong
  • baseball announcer
  • The Daily Show
  • Admissions Counselor
  • Teach for America
  • start up FIRST teams worldwide
  • escape to Spain
  • EMT/Paramedic
  • wedding planner
  • teacher
  • Board of Education
  • librarian
  • author/screenwriter
  • movie producer
  • magazine editor
  • book critic
  • escape to Italy
  • escape to South America
  • engineer medical devices
  • one of Santa’s Elves
  • actress
  • United Nations!
  • sock designer
  • teacher at HTHS (my high school)
  • Discovery Channel “reality” (host our own Mythbusters type show!)

I’d like to point out that the word “engineer” did make it onto the list once, at position 19, and was immediately followed by “one of Santa’s elves.” You see the scope of our confusion.

While this was going on, I was applying for a summer internship through MISTI-Spain. MISTI, which stands for MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (gah! embedded acronyms!), is a program which helps students find and plan study and internships abroad. I’ve been corresponding with Telefónica lately, a telephony and IT company based in Madrid. They asked me to come visit them at the European Career Fair, which was today in the athletics center on campus.

So I got up this morning, ate some waffles, and headed over to the fair. As soon as I got there, I realized an important fact: I was wearing jeans, and every signle other person there was in business attire.

Yeah, it had totally slipped my mind that I was supposed to dress up for these kinds of things. I’m very fashion challenged. So, I headed back to my room to get changed. This proved to be a difficult task, because I hate dress clothes and…well, I had an adventure. I found an undershirt and then put the collared shirt on over it. Was I supposed to tuck it in? What about the buttons? You only button the bottom half, right? Or something? And what about the sleeves? The shirt I was wearing needed to be cuffed…but do you have to fasten the buttons on the cuff afterwards? I didn’t know. I decided not to, because I could barely bend my elbows without the sleeves cutting into my wrists as it was. I probably looked like an idiot. Maybe I should have gone to Charm School. How to Dress Yourself 101. Or something.

This is what my bed looked like when I left:

I successfully arrived at the Career Fair, now appropriately dressed. The first booth I passed was MISTI, one of the sponsors:

I wandered around the fair a bit, taking pictures for your enjoyment:

Javi ’08 posed in front of a very green display, because he thought it looked cool. =)

Then I briefly chatted with the representatives from Telefónica (they’re interviewing me tomorrow, so we kept it short today), and then I wandered around the fair, looking for cool companies to talk to.

I picked up some information on Sennheiser (they design audio equipment…I never knew there were so many kinds of headphones), EADS (aerospace, defense and security projects), Stryker (designing medical devices, with openings in over a dozen countries including Italy and Spain…and hey! that was actually on the list!), and Finmeccanica (more aerospace and defense with a year long training constituting a master’s program in International Business Engineering which takes place in Rome).

And then something happened.

I thought…that maybe I might actually want to be an engineer after all. Previously, the idea of having a job as an engineer in some firm just…bored me to death. And then I learned about some supercool and socially responsible European firms…and for whatever reason, the idea of doing the exact same thing I thought I’d dread, only in Rome instead of New York…made some sort of huge difference. I can’t say I have any concrete plans. The coolest company I talked to today was Finmeccanica, and the chances that I would ever actually be admitted to their program is approximately zero. But still, some idea has been planted…so I think that maybe, if I can somehow manage to get a job doing interesting stuff and applying engineering to sustainability or renewable energy with a company that has projects which advance technical education, and can mix things up a bit by living in Italy or Spain…maybe this will work out after all.

While I was writing this entry, Alison ’09 informed Zach ’08 and myself that she was voting for Obama in the primaries, which basically shattered our respective worlds. (Alison is the resident Republican.) I immediately emailed Adelaide to tell her about it, and a few minutes later she sent me a Skype message about her concern for Hell, which had apparently just frozen over. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned this blog entry, and she told me to wait while she ran and got her Chinese notebook, on which she had scribbled another item for the above list which came to her in a moment when she was supposed to be studying:

Adelaide says: OOOH!
Adelaide says: i have something to add to the list!
Adelaide says: wait i wrote it down in the back of my chinese notebook!
Adelaide says: okay, and this is a serious plan this time (not that i’m not serious about the cave in hkg on occasion, but you know):
Laura says: of course
Adelaide says: grad school somewhere (possibly california since that’s where all the cool kids are going these days, and, you know, good schools and stuff and i have to get out of mit), internship at the UN during a grad school summer (since they only take grad student interns), then work in developing sustainable energy things — i’m doing tons of fluid mechanics here and am really getting into the idea of working on wind turbines/wave turbines. preferably, working in hong kong, but that’s not required. and then, to keep life balanced, I would be a FIRST volunteer and a UN volunteer. and life would be good
Laura says: oh wow, that is like an actual plan

So, good times all around- apparently we’re both figuring out what to do with our lives. So okay, Adelaide has figured something out, and I have a vague idea that I’m not totally screwed. But still! Baby steps! It’s exciting!

Our conversation veered slightly off topic, and we started talking about classes we’d be taking. I leave you with this parting thought:

Laura says: did I tell you? I’m planning on taking 21M.051, so I can stop being musically ignorant
Adelaide says: i certainly don’t recall you being musically ignorant
Laura says: ummm
Adelaide says: however, speaking of ignorant… i don’t know what 21m.051 is
Laura says: it’s called fundamentals of music or something
Adelaide says: oh ok
Laura says: and I am most certianly musically ignorant
Adelaide says: really?
Laura says: James was going on about the difference between minor chords and major chords, and I said, “what’s a chord?”
Adelaide says: oh well never mind then
Laura says: my knowledge of music is that there are scales, with lines and spaces
Adelaide says: it’s a start!
Laura says: and each one represents a note, which come in octaves
Laura says: I have no idea what that means
Laura says: the octaves part
Laura says: but I know you count by 8
Adelaide says: i mean, when you think about it, mozart didn’t know any more than that when he composed his first sonata or whatever when he was 5
Laura says: haha so there’s hope for me to be the next mozart =P
Adelaide says: precisely!
Adelaide says: ADD IT TO THE LIFE LIST!
Laura says: Adelaide, you’re awesome
Laura says: this is totally how I’m ending my blog entry

35 responses to “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Call up Dean Kamen (and/or) Woodie Flowers and help out with FIRST.
    Then you can spill us some info about the game a month before kick off XP

  2. Reg says:

    Is Adelaide from Hong Kong? I’ve never seen someone talk so much about HK before.

  3. hi, i am glad to see you ,i want to make friends with you ,

  4. Lauren says:

    That is an awesome post. I also don’t know what I am going to do with my life (I think course 18, but then there are little voices in my head that say, 16 [I really like fluids]?? 8?? double major in 21M????), except I have the next four years to figure it out and/or decide to be a hermit in a cave as MIT crushes/nourishes my spirit, possibly at the same time grin.

    also – NESTED ACRONYMS, nice. Just like my math team’s name… the MOON – Mathematical Organization Of NQHS (North Quincy High School). Haha…

    Anyway, that is a wonderful list. Good luck in 21M.051! Music is very nice grin *says the pianist* And good luck with becoming the next Mozart. It COULD happen. Just think of it this way – in some multiverse, you ARE the next Mozart. And in another, you could even be one of Santa’s elves!

    Mmm, thinking of things to add to the list makes me think of a conversation I had with a friend the other day about going through wormholes. You could always just go through a wormhole after graduation and see where you end up! Granted, that would require finding a wormhole, which is another task within itself…

  5. Oasis says:

    Escape to Spain (!!!).

    We actually visited Telefonica this trip in IAP and got a lot of “you HAVE to come back for MISTI-Spain”…hmm, I’ll see if I ever end up getting to Spanish IV.

  6. @Reg: Adelaide has a very complicated life story, so defining where she is “from” is rather difficult. However, she spent a good part of her formative years (age 7 to 11) in Hong Kong, and liked it tremendously. And it has pretty mountains with pretty caves to live in, so if she were to become a hermit, Hong Kong would be the place she’d pick. (She’s also going to stop talking about herself in the third person, now).

    @Spammy (AKA Sam ’07): I agree with the MISTI enthusiasm. I believe I’m going to get a chance to guest-blog here about MISTI-France, which I’m obviously super excited about, so stay tuned.

  7. I’m in AP Music Theory this year. It’s a tough class. Assuming at least that difficulty, be prepared for a challenge (but then again, you are at MIT). That said, I personally find it all very interesting, but if you are like me, you will almost immediately become frustrated at your inability to play an instrument effectively to apply the knowledge you gain (I sing in chorus, at least).

    Are there any opportunities for basic instrumental lessons through MIT (piano, guitar, etc.)? And while I’m on the subject.. have you ever heard of any sort of drawing lessons? Because my present lack of visual artistry annoys me to no end.

    Anyway, to give advice from a person with less experience, take all of those possibilities on your ridiculous list and actually consider them—if they are things that would make you happy, actually consider them.

    If you think you might have liked Course 16 better, consider it for grad school.. its not like MechE is irrelevant to the field, it could give you a nice head-start. You might even be able to get one of these European companies to foot the bill if you are going for them afterward.

    In short, though I think you were already in the process of convincing yourself this, don’t get down about the future. There is uncertainty in the future.. but all told, this is a good thing. Uncertainty is full of opportunity. You’ve gotten through 2.5 years of MIT and by the time you get to this so-called real world, you’ll have gotten through 1.5 more. You will be rather well prepared.

    Best of Luck!

  8. Andrew says:

    Enlightening post. I am in much the same position right now, but I’m just about to go into college, an MIT ’12 hopeful. And Adelaide, keep us informed on whether or not you decide to work on wind turbines, that’s actually something I’m thinking about doing right now.

  9. Jessica says:

    Have u try the SCIENCE online bookstore Cocomartini

    I get all my textbooks for this semester from this bookstore. All are brand new and half price discount.

    Good luck and wish some help.

    hehe ^_^

  10. Husain says:

    i am just a high school diploma with 6 years in IT. AS far as i know one of the most serious question in admission application is your future plan. i wonder how he accepted in MIT with this perspective. I thought a graduate from MIT is more enthusiastic than this.

  11. Karen says:

    I really enjoy your blog entries – they’re very personable smile Maybe it’s just that I can relate to all of them – this particularly reminded me of shortly after I got a Physics test back, when I yelled “screw all this stupid math, I’m going to become an English major”.

    Also, if you ever need quick business-casual fashion advice, e-mail me! Four years of Congressional Debate makes you quite good at throwing outfits together properly smile

  12. Twilight Bob says:

    I wanna be an astronaut!

    Funnily enough–that’s my senior quote. I’m a tremendous wise-ass, so I thought it would be fitting. That will appear below my photo in the yearbook, and I suppose, what my classmates will remember me by for all eternity.

    Twilight Bob out.

  13. Nihar says:

    Hey Laura!
    Could you mention some of the stuff the folks at these Career Fairs look into? Besides the interview, what basis do they evaluate you on? Or is the interview the most important criteria?

  14. Hank R. says:

    I’m still holding to my original goal of being Batman when I grow up.

  15. Hawkins says:

    I love this entry. lol! I’m still very much undecided about my future, but luckily I have a few years at MIT to help me figure it out. At least I know what I don’t want to do…

  16. Sam says:


  17. Paul says:

    My plan is to be an evil genius and take over the world.

    Or maybe cure cancer. Either one.

  18. Aditi says:

    my picks:
    start up FIRST teams worldwide
    escape to Spain
    escape to Italy
    one of Santa’s Elves
    United Nations!


    good luck with figuring things out

    MIT has a charm school :O

  19. Isshak says:


    Noooo ! Not again !

    ^^’ Paul, you should talk to Piper about that….

  20. Isshak says:

    Wow, I would have gone for the designing medical devices in Italy, or Spain !

    Laura, why not being a musical engineer in a cave in Hong Kong while having your own library ? That sounds doable.

  21. Tom says:

    I can’t believe that “professional blogger” did’t appear somewhere on THE LIST, but otherwise…nice entry. wink

  22. Dave says:

    Laura, you’re doing a UROP as well aren’t you? And if I’m not mistaken, you UROP supervisor also appeared on some television show.

    For all you know, your invention might have tremendous potential. Might sound far-fetched but for all you know, you might be able to participate in the MIT 100k competition:):):) Did that ever occur to you by any chance?

    Why don’t you tell us what your UROP is about? I’m sure quite a few of us are eager to know what it’s about. At least I am.

    Apologies if you’ve already posted about this and I missed it.

  23. Yay! I’m happy because now The List is online, so I can refer to it when I need to. Because, if you hold onto it, it’s one thing if you’re living next door to me, but it’s slightly different when you’re on a different continent. smile

  24. Noelle says:

    Starting up FIRST teams worldwide and becoming a Discovery Channel star are already on my things to do if I grow up list… now for something realistic, hmmm???

    Oddly enough, I could see myself designing boxes all day.

  25. Ankit says:

    Hoboes differentiate themselves as travelers who are homeless and willing to do work, whereas a tramp travels but will not work and a bum does neither.


  26. Reg says:

    I would be glad to recommend you some caves to live in :D

    There’s honestly too many mountains here; we should all just move to the mountains and stay there.

  27. Corey says:

    You know, even if you do become an engineer, the hermit cave thing isn’t out. I’m sure there are plenty of very successful hermits in caves all over the world.
    You just don’t hear about them because, well, they’re hermits.

  28. E. Rosser says:

    FIRST volunteer deinately issues some pwnage to any other job EVER. But I’d also like to work with “green,” sustainable energy at some point, just like you mentioned. Like the FLL teams did this year. HEY! There ya go.
    Today the student newspaper editor treated our Calc class to a preveiw of the “Senior Superlatives” survey, and apparently my best guy-friend and I were tied for most likely to become President. So we immediately turned to each other, and to relay the encounter I shall adopt Laura’s convo-mode:
    Him- Did you hear that?
    I- You know what I’m thinking?
    Him and I- TICKET! Hello, World Domination!
    (Erupt into evil cackles.)
    So yeah. Disturbing antecedent. Thought I’d share, while on the subject of career paths. Thanks for your indulgence, and Good Night.

  29. carboplatin says:

    My advice: don’t worry about it. Just do lots of different things. Some people know what they want to do for a living at age 16 or 20, others (more than you might think) still don’t know at age 30 or 40 or 50.

    – An MIT alum

  30. Anonymous says:

    Haha, that evil genius thing was also on my list. Taking over the world is a lot easier than curing cancer. I mean, look at all the emperors in our history books.. compare that with say, the guy who invented vaccines raspberry

    Hehe, I’ll probably end up being an engineer-hermit. I’ll work for Microsoft, then break from them with an invention and start my own evil business empire. I’ll have a huge mansion when I’m 50 with 4 kids and I’ll be controlling my empire from my hidden underground basement-lair which will be accessed from the mansion’s study (where nobody ever goes).

    Oh, I’ll also donate money to orphans and schools and scholars. There’s nothing I can do with money once I get a mansion with an underground hermit cave. So, MIT certainly won’t regret accepting me as a student wink

  31. Hyun Jin says:


    How bout taking the visage of a nocturnal animal and fighting crime?

    After the evil business empire. raspberry

  32. Hyun Jin says:

    Actually, we could add “superhero” to the list… or is that too cliché?

    … a superhero that doesnt wear their briefs outside their pants, mind you.

  33. nehalita says:

    you have no idea how many times I told myself that I’ll just become a FIRST employee. So many times…

  34. What do I want to be?

    an evil ninja pirate who takes over the world using shark-mounted lasers, supersonic cavalry, and a borg army of assimilated elves.