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December 12, 2004

Perspectives

Dug this up from an old classmate, Vicky, from UCLA. She was one of those south campus majors treading on north campus for GE stuff.

Her perspective has greatly expanded than what it was at UCLA. Talking to her in class and outside of class, dissecting Professor Agnew's Political Geography class questions... she worked hard and stuff, but she was never nearly as expressive as she was in her Xanga. I think she was more content to "just" exist then. The mold, the expectations, they were different for her. Realizations and goals for many are to graduate, to get a good job, to exist. Big ideals like to change the world or to innovate aren't at the foremost for many people.

Some of her observations on MIT:

So, what is it like to be at the number one technological institute of the world? Well, people here are simply particularly good at asking pertinent questions and solving problems.

That's one thing I've noticed-- I suppose it has to be much, much more obvious at a place like MIT or CalTech-- just as much as it is much more obvious in graduate programs (vs. undergrad) at schools. Those who do well in class always seem to be the ones at office hours and in class, asking pertinent questions and solving problems. The C- students... nope. I noticed this myself at UCLA. I wasn't enjoying myself while I was a south campus major, but when I found a major I liked (it also happened to be north campus), my interest level skyrocketed, my grades when up... and yes, I became one of the people asking questions and solving problems because I wanted to.

At the end of the day, what it all boils down to is, "can you do this current project, and do it well?"

Good to know reality penetrates into the college world sometimes. ;-)

Iíve realized that school is about focus, and that one canít possibly study everything.

An excellent realization. So many just don't ever make it. An easy example that I-- unfortunately, from some perspectives-- can draw from, as well as many of my friends. There are those of us who did well in school in our (initial) chosen majors. There are those of us who did so-so in school in our (initial) chosen majors. There are those of us who did awful in school in our (initial) chosen majors. I was the last of those groups, as were several of my friends. The first found focus, and some even enjoyed it. The second didn't, but but they did it. The third either crashed and burned and somehow muddied through it... like a few I know. Or they were like myself... dug the hole and dug ourselves out of it, and found our focus.

To those who held it together through undergrad and made it into grad school, to those who didn't tank their GPA in the process... tremendous respect is deserved, particularly for those of you who know that reality isn't the mythical glass bubble of isolation.

Iíve noticed that public education is severely compromised because it emphasizes on what one cannot do, and it jeopardizes the life of many promising individuals.

This is one note that worries me. Vicky's perspective is clearly... different. I forget where she is from exactly in California, but I remember the ghettos, the stabbings, the shootings, the classroom lockdowns in my public education. And the whole "cannot do" business was not an attitude we encouraged. Maybe it was like that for the masses, but that wasn't the case for everyone. I do agree, this is definitely an attitude that endangers many people.

In college, they said that it isnít their responsibility to find students a job once they graduate. (Here, not only do recruiters come begging, but people are especially open about pointing you towards cool projects that pay.)

Damn. She makes our public education seem depressing. The damned thing is, she's more right than I like to admit.

In public school, they said I should study molecular biology to get a better chance for a real job. (Here, Iím told that I can dream of my own job and make millions at it, theyíll even find the venture capitals to support me.)

Makes me wonder what kind of crap public schools she went to. *evilgrin* The strong can-do-with-VC-funding attitude is something restricted to rich*ss Ivory League schools though. That's one promising thing that is truly lacking in most public schools. Ideas may flourish, but failure is still the kiss of death; the 90% failure rate of most startups means public education simply does not have the capital to expend on such ventures. That is a major advantage in major private schools, be it Stanford, CalTech, MIT, Harvard, etc.

At guidance counselors they said, ďDonít go to Poland, Brazil, make sure you have a good internship in junior year so you look productive.?(Here, everyone says, ďThatís amazing that you went to Mexico, what projects did you work on? I want you on my team, and you should meet this guy for a job.?

Sounds like she got a lousy bunch of counselors to me.

But to be fair.

Jobs and internships are overvalued in school. Once you graduate and get into the real world, you have the rest of your life to work. The (relatively) unrestricted time off to travel in school, with few responsibilies, is rare and precious and just hard to come by in the working world. I can't pinpoint when I realized this change in college, but it was important in nature, even if it was too late for me to use it. My friends who have studied abroad, even for a few weeks... the experience you gain there is invaluable.

I just wish I had learned it sooner. Indeed, this is a flaw in attitude... and here I sit. One wheel trying to correct it. Maybe I can only affect a few people around me, but I do what I can.

But the biggest contrast between rich and poor, Harvard and community is: Harvard people can make a lot more mistakes than everyone else.

Replace Harvard with "wealthy" and that is indeed the truth. To execute these ideas fully, capital (money, intelligence, etc.) is often required in vast amounts. Schools with substantial industry investment can do this, and more often than not, those schools are private schools.

First, lie and assume that confidence if you need to. Everyone does. Secondly, work hard and make sure your work reflects clarity of thought. Third, analyze your story and make your argument plausible and strong. It helps if you have conviction. Fourth, lead what you can, may it be class discussions, projects, or even tasks. Lastly, sincerely ask them for forgiveness that youíve played on their assumptions of your credentials, but emphasize that youíre qualified. At the end, theyíll respect you and change their assumptions anyway.

I'm not sure that's how I would phrase it, but she definitely gets one point across that I agree with-- lead. Work hard, be qualified, be good at what you do. With that, you can lead. And to lead is by far the easiest way to set your own path, to make changes, to have an impact on those around you and the world you exist in.

Vicky, I hope you're doing well. This Geography dork from UCLA is not going to a prestigous graduate school or anything like that, but I'm glad to see you've made these realizations. So many just don't and it limits them.

Posted by brian at December 12, 2004 11:57 PM

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