or, self-care as praxis and logging my student hours
So as I mentioned way back in July I most definitely overloaded myself this semester with a planned 78 units, which translates to approximately six and a half classes. A 12-unit class is the standard MIT class, estimating itself at 12 hours per week spent in a combination of lectures, labs, recitations, psets/assignments, and studying on your own time. Special emphasis is placed on “studying on your own time” given the state of this semester.
So my original schedule estimates me at 78 hours per week, which is well more than a full-time job. In reality, course evaluations drawn from students over the years as listed on firehose.guide estimated my actual class and study time at 67.8 hours per week. My advisor begrudgingly accepted my registration on condition that I send him an update email at Week 2 and probably drop a class or two. Here was that email:
Hi Prof. ,
This is my week 2 email update, as requested from registration meetings. I’ve done fairly well these last couple of weeks in handling classes. [insert a lot of statistics from my spreadsheets]
Being proactive in my assignments and the workload has been good in keeping busy and distracting myself from the fact I have to be at home for this semester. In part having a good support community due to the circumstances has helped. I’ve been able to connect with people over psets and my friends have been helpful in keeping me accountable/motivating me to work alongside them. With everyone in the same boat my classmates feel more likely to reach out and recreate the camaraderie we usually had in person through virtual mediums like really large group chats.
And there’s not being much to do outside of school. Since the weather has gotten crisper I’ve been able to go out and walk or ride my bike around the neighborhood and do some stretching. I don’t need a meal hour to hop into a dining hall but pop into the kitchen to heat up leftovers, doing a little cooking in evenings or weekends, or just enjoying my mom’s home cooking. I’ve been able to take an evening or two to sit with a sheet mask and watch a movie. But otherwise classes are keeping me from plunging into a mind-melding Netflix binge.
I think this semester is an extraordinary circumstance. Whenever we get back in person I am absolutely not taking more than 4-5 classes a semester and actually enjoying life. For now, while I am actually looking forward to when the next pset or lab releases as one of the more exciting things in my life restricted by the current circumstances of coronavirus, I am okay. I understand that it seems like I should absolutely get rid of something, but I’d like to give it a bit more time because I don’t feel time-management or bandwidth issues yet.
TL;DR I basically said no ❤ to dropping a class at that time. Partly because I wanted to test my limits and felt stubborn about proving myself to be “hardk0re” but also because the workload hadn’t quite picked up yet.
In an effort to compare to what I, the individual, spent on classes and get ~metrics and statistics~ on myself to better inform my workload expectations, I made a spreadsheet as mentioned before. I tracked my time in color-coded half-hour intervals. For the first week it looked a bit like this.
Some highlights, as taken from my email:
- An average of about 7.5 hours of sleep per day (over the two weeks) with a range of about 6 hours to 10.5 hours on weekends, which is more than I honestly got while on campus.
- There was a low outlier that was supplemented by naps and entirely my fault because of a very interesting Wikipedia article and YouTube video that led to watching four hours of an early 2000s cartoon with a mysterious history.
- My time per class including time in synchronous class components, asynchronous elements, and individual lab/pset work has not exceeded estimated times on Firehose.
- Collectively my schedule has an estimated 67 hours per week while I have been logging lower 50s, and 20.5 hours of that are synchronous classes, labs, recitations, etc.
- The seminar 16.632 actually had 0 outside of class hours as the class lab time was more than enough for me to accomplish the expected deliverables.
- I have attended every lecture, lab, and recitation, and utilized office hours a lot better than I did as a freshman.
- My extracurricular activities have mostly gone dormant due to primarily requiring in-person interaction. I now have an hour or two of optional meetings per week that are largely just social Zoom calls.
- Many hours and much of my emotional bandwidth of my last two weekends have been occupied by sorority recruitment. Once that passes next weekend, I’ll be able to reclaim that time to have even more leisure hours.
- I also found time to write another post for my blog, draft a few more, and work towards some side projects.
It looked on paper to be all well and fine. Stubbornly, I was working to make myself believe that I was up to the challenge. Given my newfound free time and significantly shortened commute (less than a minute to get to my computer) I thought that I could overload myself with classes to keep myself structured. And maybe, to forget about the despair that accompanies the current state of the world contributing to why I have to take my sophomore year of college from home. I wanted to feel something with the overload, like a weighted blanket for the touch-starved. When upset, U-PSET.
And I liked 6.003 for the most part. I had myself convinced that signal processing would help me with the way I read and deal with sensor input in IoT projects. The first few labs turned Fourier Series equations into cool looking (and sounding!) signals. At one point we were synthesizing instruments to the tune of “Cheap Thrills”, which was some dedication on the staff’s part to creating the melody frequency sequence to transform in the lab. I think Adam Hartz is a Sia fan. There was just an onslaught of deadlines in the week, from pre-lecture questions and twice-weekly recitations to labs due along the same timeline as 6.009 and a fairly long pset on CATSOOP, the website-hosted Python checker. Sure, unlimited attempts was nice until I was pulling my hair out for hours not understanding Discrete Time Fourier Series Coefficients by the analytic equation. I probably could have understood it if I spent a few more hours than I had. But I didn’t have that kind of time.
I didn’t want to admit that I truly got myself into what I got myself into. I had this weird idea to “make my tuition’s worth” as I was feeling guilty about thousands of dollars spent on Zoom classes and accountability. When I first posted my schedule on Twitter, the looks of horror were both a sense of pride and concern. I’ve always been used to being “the weirdo” at school so the reactions were expected, but the newer sense that some people actually cared about my wellbeing to calm down instead of pushing myself for the sake of it. Even though it’s been over a year since, I was so used to the competitive high school people around me suggesting that I wasn’t doing enough to take advantage of my resources. The concept of being someone not just defined by their massive amount of work is still new to me.
Recently, the first DormCon exec meeting of the year opened with personal updates, many commiserating about classes. I think I had the most units and number of classes of the people in the meeting, to everyone’s looks of concern. The meeting parted with a well-meaning reminder to “please drop a class.” My personal update the next meeting was that I had, indeed, dropped a class.
I’m starting to see MIT as almost anti-competitive, or it might just be the times for self-care. The fact that I have friends concerned about me is one still very new factor in my life. For one of the first times I’m not just around because I have something useful but because people like me as a person. Impostor syndrome continues to let you know there’s “always a bigger fish” and someone who’s taking 8 classes and a UROP in stride, but you know what? I don’t have to be that person. Nobody is making me be that person. I don’t have to be the best by metric of workload. Being mediocre but hardworking here isn’t a bad place to be.
But there’s also the general vibe of understanding this place is hard, over Zoom especially so. This is not a failure. Taking on too much and letting go wasn’t an admission of defeat. I wasn’t admitting to myself that I failed to work up to this, but that I purposely overloaded myself. It’s time to let go.
I submitted my approved form to the registrar.
and now it’s time to breathe.
- If MIT is still online next year or even suggesting it for June, I’m taking a gap year for sure.
- I started using a small bee Pillow Pet I won at an arcade to cushion my knee against my desk and it’s bee a significant quality of life improvement.
- After dropping a class, I suddenly had more time and wanted to go out bike-riding in the crisp fall air. Then they decided to redo the street outside my house with plenty of noxious fumes. So it goes.
- If you’re curious what my 6.003 lab sounded like, here’s a look into some synthesized tones (volume warning)
Hex Color: #D0E0E3, the color 6.003 used to be in my schedule