Abundant resources exist but are underutilized
My big regret
It was Thursday, two weeks before the end of the semester, and I had barely made any progress on my 18.03 (Differential Equations) problem set that was due Friday night. For the past few months or so, my approach had been to attend all the 18.03 office hours on Friday afternoon. Even though completing a problem set the day it’s due is not ideal, this method had worked for me so far. This week, however, was a different case.
As a member of Next Sing, I had a rehearsal and concert that took up a large portion of the Friday afternoon. Going to Friday office hours was no longer an option. I don’t remember exactly what my train of thought was at the time, but it was probably desperation that drove me to go to the Math Learning Center (MLC) for the first time. The timing was just right: Thursday from 7:30–9:30 p.m.
What I expected was very different from reality. I imagined the MLC would resemble what I typically saw in 18.03 office hours: a busy room with students scribbling anything written on the board while not understanding what was happening. Instead, besides two undergraduate tutors, no one else was in the room.
The sight made me wonder how much better my life would have been if I had been devoting my Monday and Thursday nights to MLC tutoring sessions. In hindsight, if I have one regret from this spring semester, it would be not taking advantage of the academic resources that MIT offered sooner.
At the MLC, I had a brief conversation with one of the tutors. I asked him whether the session I came to was unusual in regards to attendance. To my surprise, he said that what I saw was normal. “It’s nice; I get paid for two hours while I get to work on my assignments,” he joked. I then mentioned that I had expected a lot more students at this session, considering that Course 18 classes can be challenging. “I didn’t know the MLC existed until I was trying to find a part-time job,” he responded. Hearing this was disturbing and made me realize that a large number of students aren’t aware of the academic resources offered at MIT. Either that, or they know these resources exist, but they don’t use them.
Although I have heard mixed things about the MLC from my peers, I found the first session to be helpful. I did not get as much direct help the second time I went, but I had the opportunity to ask more questions that further solidified my conceptual understanding, and the hints I got from the tutor were sufficient for me to make a good attempt at the problem.
The tutoring sessions at the MLC were different from my experience in office hours. There is the possibility that there just happen to be more students at the office hours I went to given that they are closer to the deadline. But still, at the MLC I got to learn at a pace that was tailored to me. I wasn’t done with my pset after the tutoring session, but I was able to make substantial progress in the two hours I was there.
As I walked back to New House, I had many swirling thoughts. I was glad that my work during the MLC session was much more efficient than haphazardly attempting to solve the problem set alone in my dorm room. The classroom’s quiet environment was enough for me to get motivated and start on the assignment. But anger started to build up inside of me. Why did I spend a large portion of the semester resigning myself to the false assumption that I had to struggle through 18.03 alone? I didn’t need to do this to myself when there were people passionate about helping individuals like me.
I knew that dwelling on what I could have done in the past was fruitless, but I couldn’t stop my mind from veering in that direction. When I scrolled down on the 18.03 Canvas homepage, I was surprised to find a description of the MLC. It had been there the whole time, yet my eyes had somehow always slid past that paragraph. I was rubbing salt into the wound. While processing the mistake I made this semester, a dark thought entered my mind. Had I also made this mistake in the fall without knowing about it?
I later decided to read more about TSR^2 (Talented Scholars Resource Room), another resource mentioned on the 18.03 Canvas homepage. As I read about TSR^2, I wasn’t expecting to find pset nights for so many classes beyond GIRs, for classes like 7.03, 5.07, 5.13, etc. Learning about this made my heart sink even further. Even though the main focus of TSR^2 is GIRs, attending a problem set night couldn’t hurt.
Eventually I stopped dwelling on things I couldn’t change and decided to think about what I could do differently in the future. I knew that my courses will only get harder in the upcoming semesters. I realized that I wanted to change my existing approach to learning, as it is not sustainable. Some of these changes require having better time management and taking more initiative to learn the content independently. Another important change is being more resourceful and knowing that it is okay to ask for help.
On a greater scale, I thought about how other academic resources like the Writing and Communication Center (WCC) are not well-known. Although the classes MIT students worry most about are their technical ones with difficult problem sets and midterms, complaints of writing a difficult paper for a HASS class are common. I wanted to tell them that writing a paper didn’t have to be that painful. I wondered whether they had ever considered arranging one-on-one appointments with writing consultants in the WCC, something that I am glad I did last semester for my memoir class.
I know I am not the only one who feels this way. The frustrations I have of being unaware of MIT’s resources are shared by many of my peers. In the filming for It’s Intuitively Obvious, a video series about underrepresented groups at MIT, I discussed this frustration with people in my group. They agreed with me, saying that a lot of academic help they get isn’t from MIT’s formal resources, but rather from their peers. That is not to say that peer collaboration is lesser. I am glad that MIT fosters this environment when it comes to working on problem sets or projects, and I have benefitted from this in some classes. The issue is when students think that they can only depend on each other when other resources exist.
It isn’t just academic resources at MIT that are underutilized. There are numerous non-academic resources people don’t know about that we’ll lose access to once we graduate. Whether it is the Boston Symphony Orchestra college card ($5 for the entire season!) or discounted tickets to the Boston Ballet, the opportunities here are plentiful.
When we leave this institution, the response to the question of “What is your biggest regret?” will vary from person to person. One common regret I hear among seniors and alumni is not taking advantage of the resources offered at MIT, from its proximity to Boston to its strong UROP program. I did some online searching and found similar responses of “not making the best of MIT’s resources” on Quora and Reddit.
I know that I have expressed similar sentiments in a previous article, but I would like to reiterate them in this one. When the academic grind starts taking a toll on our mental health midway through the semester, sometimes we forget that we have the privilege of attending one of the best universities in the world. Yes, MIT can be hell, but it can also be a paradise. We are surrounded by world-renowned researchers in science and engineering. We only get one chance to experience college as an undergraduate, and I plan to make the most of it. I want to listen to a famous scientist at a seminar talk passionately about their research. Take free sailing lessons along the Charles River. Participate in the Global Teaching Lab and explore a new country. Through these small actions, I hope that my undergraduate years will ultimately be more colorful and vibrant.