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Why My 5.13 Problem Set Took All Day by Jess K. '10

Moral of the story: Don't procrastinate, or I'll never talk to you again.

I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’ve procrastinated on such tasks from toddling around on the carpet and thinking “I suppose I’ll try walking later,” to my second-grade phase of “Why learn to tie my shoes now? I have like, four more years before it becomes socially unacceptable to wear velcro.” I have never, ever been one to get anything done before it’s due. I’m well aware that this is one of my greatest flaws, and will probably be my downfall one day when I’m ninety-two in a backless hospital gown thinking, “eh, I’ll breathe again in an hour or so. Inhaling is soooo much effort.”

At MIT, though, I’ve tried to remedy this countless times, because time management is such a necessity. Sometimes I tell myself that if I get it done now I won’t have to worry about it later, and when I worry about it later I inevitably worry about it much more than I would have if I had just done it now. Other times I try scare tactics and write notes to myself – “IF YOU DON’T READ THIS CHAPTER RIGHT NOW, I’LL NEVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN.” It hasn’t worked so far – Thursday was the day before my 5.13 (Organic Chemistry II) problem set (pset) was due, and it took me all day.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it. Organic chemistry is probably one of my favorite subjects – drawing those little arrow-pushing mechanisms warms my heart like a big hug from Bryan Nance (not that I ever get hugs from Nance). But if you were here, you’d see that there was no possible way for me to get done before 4 AM. Here’s exactly why it took me so long:

9:30 AM: Wake up, particularly early because no class until 12. Trek out to the suite kitchen to begin problem set, hoping to get about half of it done before 5.13 recitation.

9:40 AM: Just remembered – opened a bag of sugar yesterday, and Burton-Conner kitchen particularly prone to ants.

9:43 AM: Finding tupperware to put sugar in.
9:45 AM: Wonder vaguely why anyone would be awake now, especially to put sugar in tupperware.
9:46 AM: Keeping ants out of sugar is important, anyway.

(While writing this just now I got up to clean my whiteboard, and then thought about making pancakes instead of writing this entry. I was almost halfway to the kitchen when I remembered this entry was about procrastination.)

9:53 AM: Back to pset. mCPBA is the most commonly used peroxyacid to turn alkenes into epoxides.
9:54 AM: …right? Decide to use the internet to make sure.

10:06 AM: Wikipedia.
10:07 AM: Facebook.

11:45 AM: Class. CLASS. Where – what – HOW DID THAT JUST HAPPEN

11:47 AM: Hop in the shower, swearing to delete Facebook account tomorrow.
11:52 AM: Breakfast on these mornings is always Go-Gurt (despite scarily-fluorescent shade of blue in blueberry Go-Gurt) and granola bars (bananas occasionally; in other words, easily portable food.)

12:05 PM: 5.13 recitation, discussing chemistry of epoxides.
12:35 PM: Open backpack to rediscover failed attempt at problem set from this morning and feel very ashamed that Lauren has finished hers already. Decide to start earlier next week.

2:05 PM: Off to Steam Cafe (to which people submit their own recipes), on the fourth floor of building 3 for really excellent Indian food. Crack open the pset once again.

4:45 PM: Almost three hours of work. Celebratory email-checking!

5:05 PM: 5.112 office hours at ESG with Mindy, the other chemistry TA. Discussing why helium is not found at high abundance in atmosphere decidedly more fun than epoxide chemistry.

7:15 PM: Last students finally leave, and decide to make quick pasta for dinner with Phyo, another TA and ’10. Lament over not having any time to do problem set.

7:35 PM: Teaching Seminar, a required 6-unit class for all new ESG TAs. Discuss different teaching approaches and what not to do while attempting to inhale dinner and remember whether oxymercuration of an alkene yields syn or anti stereochemistry.
7:37 PM: Anti. Definitely anti.

8:40 PM: Call from Yuting, who wants to work on the problem set. Hike over to Next House (ex-home that is still home to friends met last year) to collaborate and finally get this thing over with.

9:05 PM: Crash on a couch in the lounge. Pull out book.
9:07 PM: Javi pulls everyone in the hall into his room to watch his very independent, very underground film for his media studies class called “The Thing That Happened to Moji”. Taking place entirely in the hall bathroom, the film centers around the thing that happened to a freshman named Moji (who mysteriously NEVER APPEARS), and the people who discuss it whilst brushing their teeth and doing other various bathroom-type activities (i.e. “Did you hear what happened to Moji? I heard she had to go to the hospital.” “You had to be there; it was AWESOME.”).

9:14 PM: Remember it’s parents weekend (students’ parents are permitted to visit and see how dedicated their children are to their problem sets) as Lauren’s parents walk into the room.
9:19 PM: The punchline of the movie, delivered by Lauren: “I’m pregnant.”
9:20 PM: Lauren immediately turns to parents: “IT’S A JOKE.”

9:21 PM: Realize nobody actually knows what happened to Moji and feel slightly disappointed.

9:35 PM: Back to problem set.
9:37 PM: Freshman wanders into hall looking for Moji. Immediately ask if he heard what happened to Moji.

11:28 PM: Matt Cohen, Dance Troupe dance partner and friend, wanders into the lounge. Happen to let slide the fact that Matt can shimmy like Shakira.
11:29 PM: Everyone immediately begs Matt to shimmy.

11:32 PM: End up dancing with Matt.
11:45 PM: Decide dancing was a productive, well-deserved study break. Back to problem set.

12:55 AM: Karen brings out cannolis from Mike’s Pastries.
12:57 AM: Study break to discuss the cannoli vs. eclair.

1:32 AM: Problem set.

2:33 AM: Starting to get sleepy from waking up early. Ten minute power nap.
2:43 AM: Problem set! Preparing thiols using sodium hydrosulfide has poor yield; thiourea better choice.

3:03 AM: As (most) everyone has gone to sleep already, finally able to get work done.
3:05 AM: Last problem. Celebratory dance party.

3:30 AM: Eighteen hours later, problem set is FINALLY finished. Head home to crash immediately.
3:34 AM: Quick email check. No, there is no biochemical engineering program at MIT I lied, there’s 10-B (chemical-biological engineering).. I don’t know what I was thinking. Thanks, Peter.

4:41 AM: ..er.. quick email check? Fall into bed, with only seven hours before needing to wake up again and turn in the problem set that took all day.
4:42 AM: Problem set is.. where exactly?

4:45 AM: BRIEF PANIC ATTACK.

4:47 AM: Remember gave to Shen to turn in, thereby bypassing waking up another hour earlier (and probably, putting flour in tupperware)
4:48 AM: Mental note to put flour in tupperware.

So the pset got done, as it always does. But it’s days like these when I feel I should probably print out these blog entries and turn them in with my exams, so they’d give me a day instead of the allotted hour.

Even still, though I’d probably end leaving the testing site to check my email.

36 responses to “Why My 5.13 Problem Set Took All Day”

  1. Shantini says:

    Procrastinating? Hmm sounds like me. But for kids like me who want to get into MIT, I probably shouldn’t recommend it smile

  2. Isshak says:

    “3:34 AM: Quick email check. No, there is no biochemical engineering program at MIT.”
    Hmmm, I wonder who asked such a question… ^^’ Thanks for clearing that up ! I wonder where i got the idea there was one…
    You are such a proscrination queen ! And to top it all, if you have an A at your pset, it really makes you wonder if you should change your habit (after all, it’s working right ?)

  3. PS says:


    10:06 AM: Wikipedia.
    10:07 AM: Facebook.

    That made my day =)

    *Ahem*. Getting back to stud… oh, wait, new mail

  4. Hyun Jin says:

    Well, this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    Procrastinate now! Don’t put it off till later.

  5. Thomas '12 says:

    I’m just practicing adult skills: procrastination and rationalization.

    -Calvin

  6. hungyee says:

    I procrastinate a lot too.. Oh I probably shouldn’t mention it on admissions blog lol. but… somehow work done at the last minute often gets you an A.

    I was wondering,what would happen if you couldn’t turn in the pset on time? For my school,we’ll be sent to detention class,get it done and turn it in the next day. But things aren’t that simple at MIT I guess? lol

  7. Hunter '11 says:

    AHHH, procrastination, it messes me up so much..

  8. Kevin X says:

    Wow there are so many good procrastination stories out there and this is one of them. Too bad your pset was due at a specific time. Once I made an excuse that I left my paper in the printer so my mom was going to deliver it later and then spent the next 3 periods (free/computer periods) typing up the paper and handed it in. Got a 100 too =D

  9. Anonymous says:

    Cannolis from Mike’s Pastries!

  10. Quentin says:

    Oh man. Procrastination is a disease. And it’s manifesting itself right now in making cookies and paying £0.00 for Radiohead’s latest album.

  11. Mike says:

    I’m glad to know that the fine art of procrastination is practiced at MIT, for I can definitely see this happening to me, although it could probably distilled to:

    12:00 AM: Wikipedia.
    2:00 AM: Facebook.
    Repeat ad nauseum

  12. Angela says:

    I’m procrastinating by reading this.

  13. Sarah says:

    Haha-I’m doing the same thing, Angela.
    This blog is a wonderful tool for procrastination.
    Should I actually be typing admissions essays right now? Of course not!

  14. Ian says:

    10:06 AM: Wikipedia.
    10:07 AM: Facebook.

    11:45 AM: Class. CLASS. Where – what – HOW DID THAT JUST HAPPEN

    Simply genius.

    Also, wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog. Which is, a lot.

  15. Ginger says:

    Wow…I love your way of procrastinating! It sounds like the way I procrastinate. XD

    10:06 AM: Wikipedia.
    10:07 AM: Facebook.

    Pure genius!

  16. this is great … one of the things I quickly found out in college – there’s never time for work, but always time for procrastination … like right now, I’m responding to a blog, when I should be studying for a french midterm (naughty grin)…

  17. Krypton says:

    facebook.com [Enter]

    Oops, wrong window!

    Let’s see if I actually get started on that Genetics p-set tonight. (I admit the chance of that happening is low, but thanks to this entry, it isn’t zero!)

  18. Kate says:

    Definately sympathise with you. I *might* have finished my computing homework literally five minutes before leaving the house to go to class. Good to see the habit of the fantastic is still in practice outside of highschool walls.

  19. Peter says:

    No biochemical engineering program? Then what’s Course 10-B (Chemical-Biological Engineering) considered?
    Also, that was amazing!

  20. Jeseth says:

    “Procrastination gives you something to look forward to” I don’t know where I heard that quote but I think it is applicable.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hey…..some1 frm MIt says u cant get in till u’v invented something or a re great n only SAT scores matter.Is it true????????
    Jess>>>Wht ws so gr8 in u or others u knw who r in MIT!!

  22. Kevin says:

    Ah, procrastination. What a coicindence, I’m doing that right now instead of writing my MIT application essay.

    Great blog btw. I love your writing style.

  23. silverSurfer says:

    i definitely have a problem with procrastination and grammar…. I’ll get back to you on that.

  24. Omorx says:

    A very nice post.

    Jess, how about sleep? Are you good at procastinating your sleep too? I know that you deffinately not like to procastinate food. Everyone knows that you love food especially when it’s FREE. Hope you’d blog on this someday.

  25. silverSurfer says:

    The onset of procrastination even in the toddler yrs and you remember… weird… wink

  26. Wow, this just made my day.

  27. Ronny CHEN says:

    You know what, I’ve been doing that for the 18 years and I always regret but this mistake is again and again made. Thank God there’s someone like me in this world… I wonder if I will ever be able to finish any work far from when it’s due.

    Well, that’s the way it is, face it.

  28. Aakriti says:

    hey jess…did u win tht competition??

  29. YingWei says:

    what can one do in facebook?
    i really don’t know about it :(

  30. Taylor says:

    Wow. I had no idea that anyone else wrote themselves threatening notes. I’m not alone!

  31. Ghysella says:

    And I thought there are no procrastinators in MIT…
    Maybe I still have a chance in this school after all

    Jk jk (for the first sentence :p)

    I think you made a clear point about the dreadful effects of procrastination. Nonetheless, I have never met a single soul who can say that they can beat procrastination for a day, far less a whole school year. Perhaps it’s due to our laid back school environment and whatnot.
    Well, thanks for posting this up!

  32. Justin says:

    Oh, whew. After reading this, it sounds like it’s a good thing I don’t have a Facebook account, or I’d NEVER manage to apply!

    *Clicks the Stumble button*

    ONLY 4000 MORE AND I GET A FREE SODA, OKAY? GET OFF MY BACK.

  33. Claire says:

    Ah, this reminds me of the great Paradox of the Honor Student:

    You research/think about/look at orientation materials for colleges that you can’t even apply to yet, and all of a sudden it’s really late and you haven’t started your homework yet, so you do worse on that particular assignment, even though the colleges you are looking at are, say, MIT.

    Sigh.

  34. ting2 says:

    jess, I think that particular 5.13 pset is notoriously long. I stayed up all night doing it too, and I had 10 crammed pages to show for it. smile but by the end of it, I could tell you EVERYTHING about epoxides.

  35. javi says:

    this same thing has happened to me….except what distracted me was that i was too busy trying to write a song about 5.60 to the music from britney spears’ gimme more……we got too into it….

  36. J says:

    Love you, Jess! I’m always amazed by how witty and well-written your entries are. You truly possess a natural talent for writing. You are definitely my favorite blogger. B)

    The Facebook to Class gap was priceless. =P