Understanding what graduate student life is like at MIT is challenging for an outsider. Before I arrived, I had preconceived notions about what the student body would be like: ultra-nerdy kids that participated in hackathons on the weekend and probably couldn’t chug a beer. While admittedly some of these stereotypes are true, I now embody some of them myself (I spent last Friday night checking out a friend’s virtual reality setup instead of hitting up a bar…ha!)
This blog was started in order to provide a window into the real MIT grad life. The objective was to provide prospective students with diverse perspectives on what being an MIT student is really like: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s not just shiny lab equipment and high impact publications. It’s a grind. My work with this blog is tangled in my personal and professional challenges. It has been a big part of helping me find my place in grad school, and I’d be remiss to sugarcoat my experience; that’s not the point of the blog. So, here is my story on how this blog came to be, honest and unfiltered.
Over IAP, a period of time in January where MIT students can take a short class of interest, I registered to take a three-day blog writing workshop. The workshop required each student to write two pieces for publication on the new "grad admissions blog" site, an experiment modeled after the popular undergraduate admissions blog. I excitedly signed up in October, dropped out when I’d lost my confidence and energy in November, and hesitantly rejoined in December. Those were some of the hardest months I’ve ever experienced.
I started graduate school as a bold, goofy, and highly opinionated individual. There are many people who will talk about having "imposter syndrome" at MIT, the idea that everyone feels like an imposter that somehow managed to slip through the cracks to get into MIT. I have to admit, I had moments of feeling insecure, but broadly, I felt I deserved to be here. Sure, finding a lab was stressful and the coursework was challenging, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. Somehow, that changed the summer after my first year. Maybe it was being new in a lab doing things I didn't know much about— that was intimidating. Perhaps it was getting my scientific ideas rejected. Maybe it was more personal, having someone tell me I was not well liked in my department. That I had a polarizing personality. That I was un-relatable because of where I come from. Most likely, it was a combination, and that led to anxiety, which I am only now starting to get under control.
I guess what I’m saying is that I felt both lost and empty when I started on this blogging adventure. Showing up to the first day felt like the hardest task. I was having trouble even getting out of bed and remembering to eat, so the thought of having deadlines and reading critiques of my writing was terrifying.
When I started writing the first day, I started to feel a little freer. I cracked a few smiles. Was I laughing? My legs felt less heavy as I walked through my day. I stayed up late with a cup of mint tea on my nightstand, writing, editing, and revising my pieces. The blog workshop gave me purpose, a voice, and a platform to express myself during the time I felt the most disoriented. In retrospect, the timing couldn’t have been better. See, I've always loved writing, but somewhere along the way, that passion fell out of the moving van as I progressed through my early 20's. No room for dance, theatre, poetry, or creative writing. My schedule was already full from science, studying, and tailgating Wisconsin football games. But now, here I was, staving off anxiety through my keyboard. When the workshop ended and there was no system in place to continue blogging, I was disappointed. I had so many ideas, but beyond that, I was finding writing to be so therapeutic that I didn't want it to end.
During a lunch with the former Dean of Engineering, now Vice Chancellor of MIT, the IAP bloggers reflected on the blogging experience and I was excited to learn that others also wanted to keep writing. There was no plan in place to continue the blog, so I drafted a proposal to create an editorial board of students that could continue running the blog autonomously. The Dean approved. Now, six of the original bloggers, including myself, serve on the editorial board. Having this blog as an outlet to express my thoughts and experiences at MIT has been a powerful part of helping me re-stabilize after a difficult period in my life. I always thought the hardest part of grad school would be the science, but I’ve found it to be the opposite. It’s staying sane. It’s finding balance. It’s discovering how you want to spend all the rest of your time (whatever small amount that may be), and making it count.
This blog continues to be an experiment. As an editorial board, we organize workshops, edit pieces, manage and post the blog content, and develop resources to help teach others what makes a compelling blog post. It has been fun to work with fellow creative minds as we turn the grad admissions blog into an autonomous, student-run platform. We learn as we go, but we are proud to help provide diverse perspectives for current and prospective students on all aspects of graduate and MIT life. We hope to add new voices to our roster by hosting another workshop during IAP. If you are interested, keep an eye out for the application in the fall.