Sunday, September 19, 2004

Summary of the first complete week

Here's what I've figured out after my first complete week of classes at The Institute:

- You definitely get your money's worth as far as education is concerned. There's an incredible amount of material packed into each lecture. I have to write furiously to keep up and at the end of each one, I have 3-4 pages packed full of equations or notes on the slides used by the professor. The problem with having to write as fast as you can just to keep up is that you don't really have the chance to think hard about what's being talked about or recall much of what the lecture was about. I guess that's what the problem sets are for; they definitely force you to think about what was talked about in class and try to extend it to apply to the question being asked.
- The workload [3 classes + a lab rotation] seems to be the equivalent of a 60-70 hour work week. I'm trying to treat it as much like a job as possible ie I'm trying to get the majority of my reading and homework done while on campus so I don't have to work very much at home. That's in contrast to most of the other students I've talked to so far, most of who have no work experience -- they can't actually fathom the idea of doing "real" work during the day, beyond going to classes, and rely on getting it all done at night.
- The fact that in graduate classes virtually everybody either gets an A or a B and grades generally don't really matter [unless you totally flunk a course] means there's much less pressure to get every last point out of a problem set. That in turn translates into needing to know when you've reached the point of diminishing returns, beyond which the amount of time required to get those last few things absolutely right just isn't worth it.
- While there probably are people in my classes who are orders of magnitude smarter than me, they're not in the majority. I can hold my own and things that I don't understand tend to confuse other people as well. That's a bit of a relief -- I was worried about being the class dummy. Well, strictly speaking, in my grad biochemistry class, I probably am the class dummy, but it's not because everybody else is smarter than me, it's because a lot of it has to do with experimental procedures which I'm simply not familiar with. When it comes to the more quantitative stuff, I'm right there with the rest of the class. The twisted thing about it is that I think I was actually more confident coming in than a lot of other people are, having survived 7 years at MS among lots of very smart people -- apparently a lot of students, especially those who didn't go to MIT as an undergraduate, have lots of doubts about whether they really belong there, whether they were let in by mistake etc. So if I was a bit worried, I wonder what it must be like for somebody who doesn't have that sort of self-validation to fall back on.

On to the next week ...


Blogger Bernard said...

Hey, I am glad that you have figured out that there is a "point of diminishing returns" when it comes to doing problem sets.

With regards to taking notes in class, I am assuming that you are frantically writing every word the professor utters because he/she does not give out class notes. If they do give out notes, my advice to you would be to glance at chapters relating to the lecture ahead of time, and listen in class - occasionally taking notes - as this will force you to comprehend what is said vrs. "mindlessly writing what is said". It worked for me, but then again, as Kathleen just pointed out to me, different people assimilate knowledge differently.

With regards to problem sets, as you noticed they are out of phase with the lectures. what worked best for me was reading the problem sets when they are given out in class (glanced through) and formulated answers as the week progressed.

oh and by the way, if you are stuck on a problem for way to long (everyone has a different threshold), ASK

just some thoughts.....

7:54 PM  

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