How I Learned to Drink from a Firehose

SPRING 2017
Shaheen
T.
System Design and Management

Only three weeks into my time at MIT, I was so busy that I was barely getting any sleep. I slept with my laptop and dorm room lights on; the sole reason to catch some sleep was to wake up and get going on things for the next day. I grabbed food for survival at odd times, and only when I was not able to find free food offered at events I attended. They say studying at MIT is like ‘drinking from a firehose.’ Really, it feels like being in a gigantic fair where you want to visit each stall and experience every ride, but you don’t have time for everything. However, the importance of the choices you make at MIT cannot be overemphasized. The question is not whether you can do it all, but whether you should do it all.

When I started here, each day was an exciting exploration. I joined many professional and extracurricular clubs, attended many events (favorite: MIT C-function), and participated in many others (loved Sloan Olympics). I met enough people in the process that I had figured out that the probability of meeting Johns, Davids, Michaels, Li-s, Zhangs and Wangs was the highest. On a sincere note, each day I felt enriched by the diversity at MIT.

On the other side of extracurricular events were many efforts towards career exploration. I attended information sessions held by many companies I did not even know existed. These information sessions, which were held in all corners of MIT, took me to such nooks and corners of the school that I am ready to help gain victory for my team by finding the coin during the MIT Mystery Hunt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIT_Mystery_Hunt). My most fun career information session was one by the beauty products company L’Oréal. They won my heart with their generosity; we had loads of their products to pick from, as many as we liked. Also, to my surprise, more guys than girls attended the session — and turnout was better than for any popular tech company.

Despite all the things in the world to do, do not forget your coursework, endless case readings, and loads of assignments with multiple assignment groups that you need to coordinate with. I continued my crazy routine of attending exciting talks by amazing people, discussion groups — you can’t name them all! I tried to do everything because everything looked so worthwhile.

All this went on for a couple of months, and ended with my first encounter with a career fair. At the fair, I looked at myself from the perspective of the employers, and wondered what I bring to the table. ‘What new knowledge had I gained and what skills had I developed at MIT that I could use to make positive and great impacts? Was I working towards developing myself into someone who was an authority in a field of knowledge?’ These questions made me take a step back and re-look at everything I was doing. ‘Was I making the best out of my opportunity to study at MIT?’ I asked myself. I realized that I needed strategy, to focus my actions instead of spending my energy in every thing that just seemed worthwhile.

I decided to have a filtering mechanism in place for my decisions regarding my choices. I started by defining my four focus areas in order to prioritize my learning needs. After defining my focus areas, most decisions I made about choosing elective courses, participating in club activities, and attending the events were mostly based on these focus areas. Other decisions, such as those regarding extra-curricular club activities, were around my other strong interests. For example, because I was interested in driving positive student experiences in the MIT community, I successfully nominated myself chairperson of the Student Leadership Council of my program. This mechanism made sure I spent more time on my priorities. I had figured out a way to drink from the firehose!

MIT is a place for students with unimaginably wide range of interests, and indeed it was great that I came with an open mind and experienced the variety for some time. As a professional graduate student, however, I realized that it was indispensable to know sooner rather than later what I wanted out of my time at school, so that I could align my actions with my plan.

P.S. I do make time for rejuvenating myself. My decision making process help me save time for things I enjoy doing. I volunteer in my graduate residence brunch cooking activities, attend talks on amazing and intriguing topics such as ‘future of the world’ and many other things, and many more amazing things.