4 minute read

Note: this blog was originally written on the MIT Admissions Blog here. Because of things like footnotes and images, it’s best you read it on that site! This page will redirect you in 10 seconds.

I spent this summer in a relatively “chill” state. My UROP that I did for the first half of the summer had only one real “deadline”, and that was towards the beginning of the project. I could work at my own speed and on my own hours, which was very useful when I was in Pacific Time and my PI was in Eastern Time. Studying for the GRE was also very self-paced; I could tell myself when was good to cram vocabulary cards and practice writing essays. My internship in the latter half of the summer also wasn’t exceptionally stressful; while of course there’s the pressure of doing things well to try to get a return offer, I could essentially focus on trying to do a single thing: the work that I was assigned.

Summers also nice because I get to do things that I wouldn’t have time for otherwise. I read books! Watched YouTube! Began Avatar: The Last Airbender! Played too much SET!

But summer is over; It is fall, and I’ve started wearing jackets outside and the leaves will soon stop being green. And also there’s this thing called being an MIT student that takes up a little bit of my time.

There’s a time I can recall Four years old and three feet tall Trying to touch the stars and the cookie jar And both were out of reach

This is a post about feeling hosed and wishing it would go away. The original draft of this post felt a bit too melodramatic, and that’s not what I want. I don’t feel completely overwhelmed. People always talk about drinking from the firehose at MIT, but I don’t feel like I’m drowning in it. I’m not in meltdown mode yet. I still feel “fine”.

Life outside of classes has been messy, but it’s getting better. Lots of my time has been spent assembling furniture and trying to put things into square bins! My room is 95% set up (save for some wall decorations) and so I this area of life will hopefully much fewer hours going forward.

Besides that, there’s a laundry list of other things that are on my mind now. I’ve got extracurriculars to help out with by emceeing for fun events and running meetings. I have grad school apps that are being written much more slowly than I hoped they would be. There’s worrying about whether a singular cough is a dry throat or a certain virus. There’s trying to find time to blog, trying to find time to see friends, and so much more.

And there’s this little thing called classes, too. Classes that always take more time than you expect.

And later on in my high school It seemed to me a little cruel How the right words to say always seemed to stay Just out of reach

reset day ( /rēˈset dā/), noun:

  1. the day after all of your deadlines pass (often after a hell week) and you can relax, take a breather, and get ahead before the next busy part of life
  2. (figurative) something that always remains just out of reach

My reset day was supposed to be last Friday; I had 2 psets due on Thursday and so was ready to take a breather and relax. But then my desk came in earlier than expected, and so I instead spent that day (and weekend) setting up the last of my furniture, my desktop computer, and generally cleaning out my room.

Then over the weekend, I had a club meeting for science bowl, needed to start a pset due thursday, and also set aside time to see my girlfriend for the first time since March. Jumping between all these different things, it’s hard to find time to reset.

As the week started, I realized my second 18.112 pset was much harder than I was expecting it to be, and I ended up spending much more time than I did on the first pset. This class has been giving me stress because I’ve had a hard time applying the formulas we learned in class to the “mini-quizzes” at the end of some lectures; Tuesday’s quiz I just could not get at all despite it being a very simple application of one of the literally two formulas we saw that day.

I spent almost all of Wednesday working on the 18.112 pset, and realized that I unintentionally skipped a club meeting for ESP. Too lost in the writing up my answers that I just forgot about the time. But I was close to being done, and Thursday would finally be the end of my stressful week. I’d get to relax for a little bit, I’d set aside some time to work on some grad school apps, I’d clean up the last parts of my room.

Thursday arrives. I submit my pset, and start watching the day’s lectures. And of course, I realize that I forgot to do a micro-quiz for 18.404 that was due earlier that day.

Missing the quiz honestly isn’t that important to my grade — less than 1%. But it’s only 3 weeks into the semester, and I’m already finding it easy to lose track of all of the things that I’m doing.

Thursday passes, and because of the missed quiz it doesn’t feel like a reset day; I catch up on lectures and find other small things on my to-do list that fell through the cracks. Now it’s Sunday, the weekend is over, and I don’t know when my next chance for a reset day will be anymore.

Well, I should not have thought it strange That growing causes growing pains ‘Cause the more we learn the more we know We don’t know anything

I’m not hosed beyond belief; I’m still finding time to do things like cook dinners, teach fun topics to frosh, see friends, and more. But these don’t feel like “full breaks” to me — behind it all, I still have the stress of these different things that I’m up to.

I guess this is what we mean by the firehose at MIT; constantly jumping between a million different things because we want to do every single one of those things. I am living right now in pursuit of a reset day to take a breather, to catch my breath, but I haven’t gotten there yet. The search for a reset day feels like a cursed version of Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time allotted) where instead, whenever the reset day is about to come, there suddenly appears more work to fill it.

I keep telling myself that things will get better now that there are no more shelves to assemble and no more boxes to unpack; I hope that this will actually happen.

Another part of me wonders why exactly I’m feeling like this so early in the semester. Is it just the unpacking and apartmenting? Am I overextending and taking too many classes? Or am I in too many hard classes for one semester? Is it because I’m overcommitted with all of the other things in life? Did vegetating for six straight months make me forget how to be an MIT student?

I also keep feeling like I should already have this figured out; I’m a senior, for crying out loud. But for now, I’ll just get back to my readings and psets and application essays and hope I feel caught up eventually. Hope that I can finally reach the mythical reset day.

But still it seems a tragic fate Living with this quiet ache The constant strain for what remains Just out of reach

Carolyn Arends, “Reaching