Perks of college

I’ve only had two days of class this semester, but they were enough to remind me of the perks of being a college student (besides the student discounts, of course).

It pushes my boundaries.

After receiving feedback last semester on how monotone I sound when I speak, I decided that it would benefit me greatly to take a course called “Voice and Speech for the Actor.” I’ve heard really great things about the class, which is often overenrolled. I was fortunate enough to have made the cut, and so far the class seems pretty awesome and unlike anything else I’ve done before.

We spent the first day of class learning how to relax our entire bodies and to breathe the right way (btw, my clarinet teacher always nags me to do this, too). The instructor explained that we need to be open to inspiration not only intellectually, but also emotionally and instinctually. This semester, we will be working on intense concentration and relaxation combined with a complete commitment to play.

I was thrown back to my middle school days when I auditioned for the first and last time for our school play. I was so self-conscious of what I was doing that I pretty much laughed through the entire audition; as far I can recall, it wasn’t supposed to be a funny play. Anyway, this whole idea of “complete commitment to play” really resonated with me because it requires you to discard any feelings of self-consciousness and to instead be thoroughly absorbed by whatever you are doing in that moment. It’s a beautiful thing really, and I feel like I could benefit a lot from carrying around that attitude elsewhere in my life.

It brings together a diverse group of intelligent people.

I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t all too thrilled about having to take the biology general institute requirement this semester. It’s known to be a class full of freshmen, and it also has nothing to do with my major.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the diverse make-up of my recitation section. Only about half the students were freshmen, and the other half consisted of juniors, seniors, graduate students, and even a student originally from the class of 1992, but who took time off and is now taking biology to complete his undergraduate degree. It was a nice reminder that everyone on campus brings a unique perspective and that it’s a privilege to learn alongside them.

Stay tuned for more exciting updates on life in Cambridge, MA.

at peace

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. —Ernest Hemingway

I’m not much of a writer, but every so often I feel compelled to write down all the ideas flowing through my mind. Today is one of those days.

This morning I managed to accidentally lock myself out of my room, which definitely put me out of my element. I was a bit frantic because I had a presentation at 9am, which meant that at the very least, I really needed to get my laptop from my room. Fortunately, I was able to find someone with a spare key to my room, so that minor problem was easily resolved. The moment I stepped foot into my room again after spending an hour and a half in exile, I was determined to make the best out of the rest of the day.

I proceeded to give my presentation at 9am, which I think went pretty well. I got some incredible feedback from my peers. In fact, the feedback was so thoughtful and constructive that I have made a new goal for myself to work on my “feedback giving” skills. Since I’m often afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings, I tend to sugarcoat my feedback, which I realize can do more harm than good. From now on, I challenge myself to develop my opinion more so that I can actually provide valuable feedback to others.

As a side note, receiving feedback from my peers was a nice reminder that I’m fortunate to be surrounded by outstanding individuals, all of whom know something that I don’t. It’s pretty humbling knowing that there’s something I can learn from everyone here.

On a slightly different note, I’m taking an online circuits course this semester, and while there are some challenges to taking an experimental online course, there are some huge benefits. By far my favorite part has been the easy access to professors and course staff. At MIT, office hours are rarely held by professors themselves. More often, undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants are the only ones present at the office hours.

On the other hand, the professor for my online circuits course holds weekly office hours, which I have taken full advantage of the past several weeks. Even if I am already done with all the problems for that week, I choose one of the most challenging ones to discuss with my professor. He always manages to share with me new approaches to thinking about and solving the problems. Discussing the material with other people has certainly helped cement my understanding of core concepts, as well as helped me identify my own misconceptions.

During my first two years of college, there weren’t many professors who knew me by name since I took mostly large lecture classes. Now, however, I actually feel like I have a more personal connection with my circuits professor, which is pretty darn awesome. He makes tea for all the students who visit him, and after we discuss all my circuits problems, we usually have time to just chat and drink tea. We’ve talked about what it was like to attend MIT back in the 1960s, how he met his wife, how pop music is made to sound loud through amplification and clipping, and his super high-quality speakers from the 1960s, to name but a few topics. My weekly visits to see my professor and TA feel less like attending office hours and more like meet-ups with friends to discuss cool topics that may or may not be related to what my professor calls the “art of circuits.”

In short, although college life can get pretty hectic, I feel like I’ve managed to find peace within myself, and I honestly couldn’t be happier.

presenting yourself

You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t communicate them clearly to others, then what’s the point?

My oral communication class and my engineering leadership class this semester have made me focus much more on my presentation and communication skills.

I have given a few talks for my oral communication class thus far, and most of the feedback I have received has revolved around my verbal delivery. I focus a lot on the content of my talks, but I have plenty of room to improve my verbal delivery. This is more of a note to myself, but I need to experiment more with variables like silence, intonation, duration, volume, and speed. The way I speak naturally doesn’t afford much contrast among statements, so I need to make a conscious effort to change that. The manner in which I present information is almost as important, if not equally important, as the content itself.

I also received feedback from my teammates in my engineering leadership class, and the overwhelming response was that I need to speak up more and be more confident. I’m actually already aware of my tendency to take a backseat role in the team activities, stepping up only when I see a clear need. However, I’m starting to realize that I can still make significant contributions to a team even when I’m not the designated leader. Especially now that I’m more familiar with my teammates, I shouldn’t be afraid of offering my own opinions and ideas. I shouldn’t be afraid of being judged.

I took my teammates’ feedback to heart when I led the team activity last Friday. I managed to step out of my shell and lead the team to successfully advocate a solution to our pretend CEO. There’s still room for improvement, of course, but I think I’m headed in the right direction.

 

growth mindset as a teacher

Whenever an individual or business decides that success has been attained, progress stops. —Thomas J. Watson

Back in high school, doing science demonstrations at elementary schools was my “thing.” It was what I felt comfortable doing, and people respected me for it. Since starting college, I’ve “graduated” to teaching computer science to middle school girls. It started out as a challenge since I wasn’t all too familiar with Scratch, but after three semesters, I no longer feel like I’m leaving my comfort zone.

In a way, I think I’ve settled, which is problematic. As a student, I have no problem taking challenging classes that really push me to my limits. We talk a lot about the importance of having a growth mindset as a student, but I never really thought about the importance of having a growth mindset as a teacher.

I used to think that I had to be a “perfect” teacher in order to deserve any credibility, which I now realize is simply not true. In fact, that ideology hurt me more than it helped me because I stopped thinking about how I could learn to teach more effectively.

All that being said, I have decided to take two big steps in my life. First off, I applied to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the mathematics for computer science class here at MIT. I’ve never been part of the teaching staff of a college-level course, so I think it will be a great opportunity for me to not only deepen my understanding of the material but also to practice explaining new concepts to a different audience.

I’m also really excited to announce that I’ll be spending January of 2017 in Jerusalem and Nazareth teaching computer science to high school students from Israel and Palestine through the MEET program. It will be challenging, but I know it will be an incredible journey that will once again put me outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s to making progress as a teacher!

problem solver

The important thing about a problem is not its solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution. —Seneca the Younger

Over the past few months, I’ve developed a different mindset towards solving problems for technical interviews, as well as for my classes.

I used to be intimidated by technical interviews because I was afraid that I would get a problem that completely stumped me. That changed, however, after I talked to a friend of mine who had an entirely different attitude towards technical interviews. He explained that he actually enjoys interviews because he likes answering good questions. Answering things he already knows isn’t as interesting. When he explained it like that, it made complete sense.

Since then, I have started approaching interviews with an “I’m here to solve cool problems” attitude instead of a “please show some mercy on me” attitude. By thinking of technical interviews as opportunities to improve my problem-solving skills, I am able to reduce the amount of stress and worry that I bring into my interviews.

To be completely honest, I have had my fair share of unsuccessful interviews. And sure, it doesn’t feel great to get turned away by companies. However, I’m happy to say that I did come out of those interviews having learned something new, for example, a new way of looking at problems. Simply spending time thinking about those more challenging problems helped expand the way I think.

I’m currently taking a class on algorithms, and some of the problem sets are quite challenging for me. Rather than get frustrated by the amount of time I spend thinking about the material, I simply acknowledge that the most meaningful problems are often ones that require more time to mull over. After all, (almost) nothing builds character better than struggling through a problem.

those around us

Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. —Bill Nye

Colleges pride themselves in the diversity of their student population. After all, many young adults go to college to broaden their perspective of the world, to meet people who have completely different backgrounds. Looking back, I definitely made more of an effort during my freshman year to meet as many people as I could, both students and faculty alike. And I’m really glad I did because I met some truly incredible people along the way.

As a junior, however, I’ll be honest and say that I’ve become more reclusive, especially because I have my own single room now. This past week, I tried to reawaken the part of me that was so eager to learn something from everyone around me.

I went to one of my professor’s office hours for the first time partly to ask him a question, but mostly just to talk to him and see what he was like. He served me some delicious tea, and we had a nice discussion about a problem that was on the previous week’s homework. On my way out, I mentioned that I wasn’t very good at the material in that class, which prompted him to ask me why I thought that way. I replied by saying that I could convince myself that five different answers were correct when in fact, they were all wrong. He chuckled and then told me that’s exactly what physicists do. They trick themselves into believing false things are true. For instance, Galileo would not have “discovered” acceleration if he had not fooled himself into ignoring friction. My professor gave me more credit than I deserved—I’m certainly not discovering anything new anytime soon—, but I enjoyed his little anecdote regardless.

Tonight I met a fellow junior during dinner, and we had a really great conversation about Next Haunt, the haunted puzzle hunt that students organize every year for Halloween. She was part of the puzzle-planning committee the previous year, so I asked her a bunch of questions about the puzzle design process. As someone who enjoys escape rooms, I found it intriguing to learn more about the thought process behind creating puzzle hunts. Plus, she referred me to some other escape rooms in the area that she enjoyed 🙂

I’m not going to go through the list of everyone I’ve talked to recently, but I do want to end on the following point: While I do think it’s important to seek opportunities to meet new people, it’s also really important for me to acknowledge when I need time to myself. I should take full advantage of the times when I’m in the mindset to meet people, but I should also let myself take breaks when necessary. I probably sound like a broken record, but once again, it comes down to finding a good equilibrium, in this case, between socializing and not socializing.