Coming to MIT: Lesson 1

Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 8:23 PM
So I just got on the bus back to Boston from Hartford, after visiting my cousin for the weekend. I had a pretty fun time there, and got to see Dan too. I met a bunch of engineers working at UTC too.

I’m going to take this time to try right a bit about my experience at MIT. I learned a lot since arriving here, and have been meaning to record it, but never had the will or time to do it. I’ll start with my initial feelings about when I just arrived.

To many, MIT is the ivory tower of academic learning. In my mind, it was the most revered and prestigious school of learning, as far as science and technology goes. Obviously, we all learn as we grow up that the school you go to isn’t the only important thing. I remember in highschool, as one by one we all got rejected from incredibly prestigious Ivy schools like Yale or Harvard (guess some of did get into that one), we started saying, “hey, what do rankings mean anyway right?” Well it’s true that rankings don’t tell the whole story, and for four years while I went to University of Michigan, that was my belief. That perspective changed as soon as I got into MIT.

After getting in, there was the predictable feeling of euphoria and achievement, but it was a few months after (June or July of this summer, ’09), that my original impression of MIT from above hit met. It went something like this:
Holy shit…what did I get myself in to…

I had a big case of the panic attack. I just completely got caught up with the MIT stereotypes, and thought I was completely out of my league. Maybe people will find out that I actually don’t belong there. After all, admissions departments make mistakes. In addition, I had gotten in only after being rejected, because I was offered a fellowship (S.M.A.R.T. Fellowship by the Department of Defense). For almost three months, there was a gnawing worry in the back of my mind about how I would deal with MIT.

This didn’t really change after I arrived on campus. For the first week, I had to go through orientation session after session, in which the speakers intoned that we didn’t have to worry about not fitting in, or not making it here. They kept telling us how great we were, and we would go on to do great things at MIT. This did not help at all, as I continued to think it was the other people who were the great ones. I certainly was not one of them.
Eventually, this feeling of inadequacy passed. I do not feel like I’m any better than I was before. It’s just that, the other people seemed less overwhelming. More normal, albeit with a geeky streak. In particular, two things helped me to change this. One, my classes were hard, but I found that other people were struggling just as much as me, or even more in some cases. Two, another person in my group (lab group), was feeling much more depressed than I was. Thomas, a new international student, had and still has a sense of disorientation. He seems like a bright guy, but just found everything really intense, and was struggling to keep his spirits up. For me, I realized that even if smart people can feel this daunted, then perhaps we are all just experiencing the same challenges.

The moral of the story: MIT is not really the ivory tower I once thought of it as. It is a challenging school, but as a famous professor here said, “Getting an education from MIT is like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrtant.” Everyone here feels just as overwhelmed as I do. And it’s ok.


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