That’s a wrap!

I’m officially done with school for the foreseeable future! I took my last final last Thursday, after which I visited some friends in New York for a couple days.

Now that I’m back in my empty apartment—my roommates are away—I figured I would do my final review of the past semester.

  1. Spend my time deliberately. I think I did a pretty good job with this goal. I set aside time to finish different tasks, and I stayed committed to those plans.
  2. Listen to podcasts and read books. I started quite a few books but didn’t actually finish any of them unfortunately :/ My goal between now and commencement is to actually finish some of those half-read books.
  3. Hang out with friends. I was pretty successful at this goal, too. I grabbed meals with several friends throughout the semester, and even made trips to New York to visit my friends there.
  4. Make steady progress on and eventually complete my thesis! Sometimes I’m still amazed that I actually completed and submitted my thesis. I had days when I doubted myself, but in the end, everything came together 😅
  5. Exercise regularly. I lifted weights two days a week and played volleyball two days a week up until mid-May, which is pretty good for me. Volleyball was a blast, and I definitely felt like I was a part of the community this semester.
  6. Cook better (maybe). I’m still no master chef, but I did pick up a couple new recipes, including one for Chinese watercress soup with pork ribs. I made it twice, and in my opinion, it tasted just the way my mom makes it.
  7. Be an effective TA. Piazza was relatively quiet compared to last semester. There weren’t as many questions, which I think was a result of students being more relaxed this semester, and the problem sets having better scaffolding and clearer instructions.
  8. Speak up during seminar. The prison class that I took this semester was actually a different format than the inside-out class I took last year. Our role was more as observers in the classroom than as actual students. At the same time, I still learned a lot about the criminal justice system and various differences between the different security levels. Also, I learned how to approach teaching for a different audience than I’m used to.

All in all, I would say that this was a good semester to end my academic career. My classes were great; I finished my thesis; and I still had time to exercise and spend time with friends.

Onwards and upwards! 🤞

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How has MIT shaped your perspective of the world?

I spent a decent amount of time in high school working with kids, and I really enjoyed doing so. At the same time, though, I thought it was a phase that I would eventually grow out of. To be honest, I felt judged sometimes for spending my time teaching children instead of working on some snazzy project with the robotics team like many of my classmates. My experiences at MIT, however, showed me that there most definitely is a role for people with technical backgrounds to create a meaningful impact through education.

  • Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET): I spent January 2017 in Jerusalem and Nazareth teaching for a bi-national program (founded by former MIT students) that brings together Palestinian and Israeli high school students and teaches them computer science and entrepreneurship skills. By the end of the 3-year program, the students will have created a startup that addresses a problem faced by both communities. Through that process, they will also have learned skills they need to create positive social and political change in the Middle East. Read more about my adventures here!
  • Yeomyung School: As part of the MIT Global Teaching Labsprogram, I spent January 2018 teaching a 2-week hands-on STEM workshop alongside three other MIT students at Yeomyung School, an alternative school for North Korean defectors in Seoul, Korea. This was probably one of the most challenging teaching experiences I’ve had because of the language barrier, but it was also one of the most meaningful because I was able to connect with my students even though we came from very different backgrounds. Read more about my adventures here!
  • CodeIt: During my four years at MIT, I was heavily involved with CodeIt, a program that teaches middle school girls how to code. As students, many things we do, like take classes, really only benefit ourselves directly, but with CodeIt, we had the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of young girls. This program is like my baby—I poured my heart and soul into improving the program each semester, and I’m so, so proud of how far CodeIt has come since it started my freshman year. An added bonus of being a part of CodeIt was meeting other individuals who also care deeply about education and technology 🙂
  • ScratchApp Inventor, and Khan Academy: I’m super lucky to have had the opportunity to contribute to all three of these educational technology platforms during my time as an MIT student. Scratch and App Inventor are block-based programming languages that empower people of all ages to build interactive games, animations, and mobile applications. Khan Academy is an online platform that makes a world-class education possible for anyone with an internet connection.
  • Prison Initiative: During my junior fall, I took a class titled “Non-Violence as a way of life” at MCI Norfolk, a medium-security prison. My classmates consisted of 15 MIT students and 15 inmates, and through our discussions on topics like forgiveness and restorative justice, I learned about the criminal justice system from a perspective that many people don’t often get to see. Taking this class sparked my interest in attending talks given by formerly incarcerated individuals and in volunteering with programs like Coders Beyond Bars.
  • Project Invent: I haven’t participated in Project Invent directly, but the founder of this non-profit, Connie Liu, is an MIT alum whom I really admire for starting a non-profit that empowers high school students to solve real-world problems. Personally, I think that’s one of the most important mindsets that we can teach students, and it makes me incredibly happy to know that there are people who are actually bringing that idea to life!

This answer ended up being much longer than I intended, but just to summarize, going to MIT helped me realize that it’s not just possible for someone with a technical background to contribute to the field of education, but rather, there are many, many ways in which technical people can make the world a better place through education.

Reproduced from my Quora answer

End of semester reflection

I just finished my first semester as an MEng student! It’s been a whirlwind of a semester, so I figured now would be a good time to reflect on everything that has happened these past couple of months.

  • Thesis progress: The new and improved App Inventor gallery is alive and well. The bare bones web app is mostly there, though there is much work to be done to make it production ready. Also, there are still several features from my original design that I still need/want to implement. Let’s hope that I can be super productive this January and crank out the remaining code prior to user testing.
  • TA for 6.00: My biggest time commitment/highest priority this semester has been doing work as a TA for the introductory programming class. I love being a TA for this course. My responsibilities included holding office hours, drafting problem sets, and answering student questions on the Piazza Q+A forum. I’m very proud of my nearly 3000 contributions to the Piazza forum. Not to brag or anything, but I received a decent number of shoutouts on the MIT Confessions page, too 🙂 It feels super rewarding to contribute to the learning of more than 500 students in the class.
  • Club volleyball: Joining the women’s club volleyball team was probably one of the best decisions I made this semester. I’ve met some super cool women on the court, and in general, playing a team sport is great motivation for me to exercise on a regular basis. I didn’t compete at any tournaments this semester, but I’m planning on competing next semester 🙂
  • Clarinet: Unfortunately, clarinet playing fell to the sidelines this semester. I continued taking lessons from Tom every couple of weeks, but to be honest, I didn’t practice all that much between lessons. My excuse is that traveling between San Francisco and Boston nearly every week does not leave much time or energy to practice. At the very least, winter break and IAP will be a good chance for me to resume my clarinet practice habits.
  • Cooking: I am sorry to say that my cooking skills have not improved. In fact, I might go as far as to say that they have gotten worse since the summer after freshman year. It’s pretty hard to motivate myself to cook quality meals for myself, so my goal over IAP is to cook with my roommates more often. Fingers crossed that this helps me at least maintain my current weight 😅
  • Job search: Studying for software engineering interviews actually paid off! I ended up landing offers from way more companies than I thought I would, so I had the opportunity to choose from some fantastic options. Without going into too much detail, I will note that the job selection process ending up being much more hectic, stressful, and emotionally draining than I expected. Fortunately, all the drama is finally over, and now I can just look forward to starting my first full-time job in August!

If I were to compare my undergraduate experience with the first semester of my master’s studies, I would say that while being an undergrad was extremely stressful due to academic and extracurricular demands, grad life has been more emotionally draining. In any case, I am more or less proud of what I’ve accomplished this past semester, though there are definitely things I’d like to continue working on next semester. Until then, I’m going to chill at home and hopefully catch up on all the books I wanted to read this past semester but never got to 😂

The final countdown

There’s a little more than a month left of school, which means nostalgia is beginning to set in. As I look back at my college years, I’m somewhat overwhelmed by how much I’ve learned and grown since I first stepped onto campus my freshman year.

I think I’ll wait until I’ve actually graduated before doing my whole “look back on college life” post, so in the meantime, I’m just going to reflect on a few things that have happened this past semester.

To drop or not to drop

I dropped a class around four or five weeks into the semester, which is the latest I have ever dropped a class. My team was having some team dynamic issues, which really stressed me out. Every time we had an assignment due, all I would ever talk about with my friends was how frustrated I was with how my team was working.

At some point, I decided we needed to have a team meeting to discuss how things were going. I voiced my concerns and asked for ways in which we could alleviate the situation. I actually left that meeting feeling quite optimistic about the rest of the semester. Long story short, things didn’t get much better, so I decided it wasn’t worth the continual stress to remain in that class.

Dropping that class was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make because I didn’t want to abandon my team, and I didn’t want to feel like I was just giving up when the going got tough. However, I realized that sometimes I have to choose my battles. I don’t have to fight the hardest battles every time just because they are the hardest. If what I’m fighting for is not worth the struggle, then it is okay not to go up for that fight.

Turns out that decision was probably one of the best decisions I have made this semester. I quickly went from being miserable all the time to feeling the happiest and least stressed I have felt during my four years in college. (Also, it just so happens that the class structure changed, and the teams were disbanded soon after I dropped the class. Fortunately, my team did not suffer the consequences of being short one member.)

Showing up

Back when I was a freshman, a professor once told my class that opportunities are everywhere, and all you have to do is show up to learn about them. Someone in my lab emailed out about a Science of Learning Journal Club meeting, and I decided to go. Even though I had to shift around some other commitments and skip lunch to read the journal paper, I’m really glad I did so because I had a blast at the journal discussion.

I’m proud of myself for going even though I didn’t know a single person who attended that discussion. I was the only student among a bunch of Open Learning staff members, so I definitely felt out of place at first. Fortunately, they were actually super excited to have a student’s voice join their discussion. I’ve never felt so special just to be a student.

During the span of one hour, I met some incredible people who all care deeply about education and participated in some thought-provoking discussions about learning science concepts. I can’t wait to see everyone again next month because even though we represent very different demographics, I still felt like I had found my people.

What I learned from taking a class in prison

This past semester, I spent more than 30 hours in prison as part of my non-violence as a way of life philosophy class. I was one of 9 MIT students who made the hour-long drive from Cambridge to Norfolk every Thursday to attend class alongside prison inmates. I’m still trying to make sense of my prison experiences, and though I can’t say that I’m necessarily a changed person because of the class, I can certainly say that this class has made me think more about issues I hadn’t thought about before, and it has helped me learn more about myself and my own beliefs.

Each week, we covered a different non-violence-related topic (e.g. anger, forgiveness, honesty, and punishment). During our breakout sessions, we would split up into groups of 3 MIT students and 3 inmates and discuss the week’s topic. As the semester went on, many of the inmates started opening up more about themselves, and something I really appreciated was their honesty. The forgiveness discussion was a particularly riveting one, and I think it was primarily because seeking forgiveness from others requires demonstrating vulnerability and opening oneself up to the judgment of other human beings. I think it was at this point when I started developing a soft spot for my inmate classmates.

For my final class assignment, I wrote a paper on how the criminal justice system should prioritize educational programming for the prisoners because it helps rehabilitate offenders and sets them up for success upon their return to society. My initial thesis also mentioned releasing prisoners early if they could convince a panel of judges that they were ready to contribute positively to society. Looking back, I realize that I wanted so badly to believe that all my classmates were wonderful people and that they all deserved a second chance. After all, I listened to them tell their stories, and many of them seem hungry for the chance to help make the world a better place.

To be honest, I’m struggling a lot with writing this blog post because I’m not entirely sure what I think anymore. Transitioning into “stream of consciousness” mode…

My cousin’s three-year-old daughter has nightmares whenever she watches movies or TV shows with bad guys in them, so her parents simply stopped showing her movies and TV shows with antagonists. It occurred to me that I was doing the same thing to myself by convincing myself that there are no truly bad people out there in the world. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and believe that there is good in everyone. I guess it makes me feel safer, and because I’ve been living in a bubble all my life, that way of thinking has been completely fine for me. But maybe that’s not the smartest way to think.

Many of the prisoners are serving life sentences. I know what some of them are in for, and I still struggle to comprehend how anyone could commit such atrocities to other human beings. Like I said earlier, I have a lot of respect for all my classmates, so it makes it difficult for me to understand why or how they could have committed those acts. I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance for sure, and quite frankly, I don’t think it will ever go away.

I guess if anything, this class has reminded me just how complex the world is and how much I don’t know about it. I’m sorry this post doesn’t have a “punchline” or anything. I just wanted to get something out there before I forgot all my thoughts.

last first day of school

I can already tell this semester is going to be incredible. After several semesters of taking classes simply to fill requirements, I’ve finally made it to the part where I get to fill my schedule with only classes that I actually want to take.

I was talking to a sophomore friend the other day about whether or not she thinks she changed a lot during her freshman year, and I loved her response. She said that she doesn’t think she necessarily “changed” a lot, but she definitely discovered more about who she is as a person. I love that description because it really resonates with me and how I think being in college has transformed me as an individual. For the most part, my interests actually have not changed that much since high school, but the process of trying out different things has made me more conscious of what I really enjoy and care about.

Without further ado, I hereby announce the class lineup for the semester, as well as my personal goals to kick off my last year as an undergraduate student.

  • 6.809 Interactive Music Systems: About 70 students pre-registered for this class, which has only 18 spots. I am so grateful to be one of those 18 students, especially after attending the first class today. The instructor Eran Egozy was not only one of the adjudicators during my clarinet audition last year (and probably this year), but he is also one of the founders of Harmonix, the company that created Rock Band and Guitar Hero (no big deal). My friends who took this class last semester had nothing to say but good things about both Egozy and the curriculum itself. From what I can tell from the first day of class, 6.809 is going to be awesome. I mean, what better way to combine computer science and music than to learn how to enable everyone to experience the joy of making music?
  • 6.828 Operating Systems: We’re taking it a notch down by exploring how operating systems work. My computer systems class last semester (6.033) gave an overview of the Unix file system, virtual machines, and the shell, but we pretty much covered all the OS-related topics from 6.033 in one 6.828 lecture. Needless to say that this will be quite a challenging journey, but fortunately, I have a bunch of friends in this class with me.
  • 6.175 Constructive Computer Architecture: My sophomore fall, I took computation structures (6.004), which introduced the building blocks of digital systems. 6.175 is a follow-up class that focuses on implementing different versions of pipelined machines and culminating in implementing a multicore processor. Pretty gnarly stuff. Other than the fact that only 10% of the class is female, this class seems super interesting, and I really like Professor Arvind’s lecture style. Today he drew an analogy comparing Picasso’s 75 or so recreations of Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” to our own recreations of pipelined processors. This class will also hopefully make me a more useful lab assistant for 6.004 this semester.

Other highlights from today, which I will use to segue into two of my major goals for this semester.

  • Be kind. One of the first things I did when I moved in a few days ago was put up some banner paper so that I could create the Sharpie mural I’ve wanted since last year. At the top, I wrote the words “be kind” in big letters. Those are the words I wake up to every morning and remind myself of throughout the day. To me, it’s a reminder to be kind to others and to be kind to myself. Quick example: Today I bought lunch at Stata, and when I asked the checkout person how he was doing, he said excellent and gave me a smile. After paying, I made sure to wish him an excellent rest of the day, to which he responded, “Thanks. I appreciate it,” and gave me a smile in return. It took no more than two seconds on my part, and I won’t claim to have made a huge difference in the world or anything, but it felt good to have contributed to making another person smile at least once more today.
  • Relax and make time for friends. In stark contrast to freshman year when I was frantically trying to make friends, I actually have an incredible support system now. Everywhere I turn, I see familiar faces. It’s still the beginning of the semester, but since it’s the last time all of us will be living on campus together, I want to prioritize making time to hang out with my friends.

Stay tuned for thoughts on my other two classes, which have yet to start… 🙂

Junior Spring Postmortem

This is my usual end-of-semester postmortem. I’ll try to address some of the goals I outlined at the beginning of the semester and gauge how successful or unsuccessful I was at achieving those goals.

Invest time in people.

Meets expectations.

  • Although many of my friends were occupied with their busy schedules this semester, I still managed to show my support by attending their dance performances and the like.
  • I also shared a lot of meals in the dining hall with friends. Rather than eat all my meals alone, if I felt up for having company, I made it a point to text at least one or two people to join me.
  • I’m also glad to say that through my diverse set of classes, I met some new friends, who were able to share personal experiences of theirs here and there.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Exceeds expectations.

  • I think I did surprisingly well with this goal. In fact, I might have gotten dangerously close to apathy. Whoops.
  • My attitude this semester was generally to do the best I could at each step of the way without stressing too much about the details.
  • For example, I used to care a lot about getting every single question correct on exams, but this semester, my strategy became to study as much as I needed to feel confident going into the exam. I carefully answered each question to the best of my ability, but I wouldn’t dwell too much on those that I wasn’t sure about. This lowered my stress levels significantly, which allowed me to move on to my next task immediately after taking an exam.

Communicate effectively.

Meets expectations.

  • My Voice and Speech for the Actor class is pretty relevant to this goal. One of the most mind-blowing discoveries I made this semester was the realization that delivery is just as important as content. In fact, some would argue delivery is more important than content. You can express two entirely different ideas by adding different vocal choices to the same sequence of words.
  • When I made this goal, I was mainly concerned with my ability to explain concepts to my 6.042 students. In the end, I think I did quite well. The part that made the biggest difference was preparation. When I looked through the problems ahead of time, I found that it was much easier to give coherent explanations on how to solve the problems. This was true even when I held my review sessions.
  • My computer systems engineering class was my first technical communication-intensive class. Although it was a lot of work, I certainly learned a lot about reading technical computer science papers and writing system critique and design papers. I certainly have lots of room for improvement, but I think I made good progress this semester.

Be willing to ditch your plans.

Exceeds expectations.

  • I had my fair share of ditching plans to study in favor of going out with friends on Friday afternoons. I still managed to complete my work somehow, and I’m glad to say that I feel just that much closer to the friends I spent more time with.
  • It’s fair to say that I pretty much “winged” it this entire semester.

Conclusion

Honestly, this past semester was probably my least favorite out of the six I have completed so far. I ended up taking a lot of classes simply to fulfill requirements, and unfortunately, I simply didn’t enjoy some of them. On the bright side, during my remaining time in school, I’ll have the freedom to take classes I’m actually interested in!

My biggest achievement this semester was teaching the inaugural CodeIt App Inventor class. There are things I’d like to change for the future, but I’m quite happy that nothing crashed and burned entirely. I have a running list of improvements to implement for next semester, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much better we can make the program within the next year.

Believe it or not, taking the acting class made me a better musician. Although I am still far from ever becoming a professional clarinetist, I now have a better sense of what it means to make “vocal choices” in the context of music. At least my chamber teacher seems to think I have improved a lot this semester 😛

Lastly, I wanted to say a few words about participating in the engineering leadership program this year. Although the leadership classes were not my favorite, taking the end-of-year cumulative quizzes made me realize just how much content we covered over the course of eight or so months. I’m by no means an expert in everything we learned, but at least I’ve had some exposure to the various concepts. As with many things in life, leadership takes time and practice to develop, but through this program I was able to soldify my foundation just a bit more.