One of Tang Hall's events this semester has been to invite various people at MIT to come have dinner with some of the residents and talk to us. The first person in this series was Steve Immerman-Dean for Student Life. Although I expected him to simply be a stodgy administrator, it turns out that he actually took time to speak with us on a personal level, and then provided a meaningful talk unlike all the other research-y talks we usually listen to here. He spoke of "bigger picture" things and leading MIT in a good direction. One noteworthy comment he made was that MIT students generally don't spend much time in reflection, choosing instead to keep their eyes focused on the road ahead by always working towards the next research milestone.
His recommendation to keep a journal is a justification for starting this blog. Perhaps by recording some of my thoughts as my time here passes, I will better see how I've grown.
So! To start it off, here are a few of my initial observations of MIT.
It's true-MIT is full of super nerdy people. However, it has been a pleasant surprise to see that it is the norm to be nerdy AND have broad interests in various extracurriculurs.
Probably the biggest difference in the classroom between OSU and MIT is the students' focus. Because of this, the professors can move through the material much more quickly, and the questions fielded are usually quite insightful.
My first semester classes weren't easy, but they were definitely do-able. There is a substantial amount more preparation and studying to be done per class than at the undergraduate level-that much has become apparent. This is in part because the focus of classes has drastically changed from one that simply involves reviewing old exams/hw, learning the steps to solve a certain type of problem, and repeating (with slight variation) on the tests, while surviving on partial credit to one of thoroughly understanding things from a fundamental, conceptual level. It was only towards the end of the semester that I recognized this approach as being similar to that which I experienced in Germany (thankfully though, here the professors/TAs ARE willing to help with the "details" of solving a problem even though that's not what is discussed in lecture)
I have felt quite self-conscius of my ability to keep up with the other students in my classes, since it often seems to take me longer to grasp the concepts here, but I think now that I have a better idea for the difficulty level of classes here, I can adjust my study habits accordingly. Plus, we were shown a survey on the first day of orientation that indicated most MIT students view themselves as being below the average of their classmates intellectually (but above the average socially and athletically...) so maybe I shouldn't be too concerned.
It was very comforting to hear a friend tell me that it took him over a year to truly adjust to MIT classes. He referred to it as being a "teething period" :)
There seems to be a noticeable difference in the overall ability of the second years compared to the first years to comprehend new ideas. I'm definitely starting to experience/believe the statement that when you pursue a graduate degree at MIT, the most important thing you will gain is the ability to learn.