Friday, June 10, 2022
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Do you ever feel, like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again? Because I do. This semester has taken its toll on me quite a bit, and I really can't wait for it to be over. Let's examine what went wrong this semester!
1. I took too many STEM courses
- Calculus II has actually been a pretty good course. My professor explains the concepts pretty well and is eager to help students. Problem is, the exams are on the difficult side– and the grading is rather sadistic. For instance, on one exam, I forgot to put my answers (which were clearly shown on the paper) on a specific part of the exam, and the graders gave me 0 credit for it. I had to fight for myself to be fairly graded at all, which is messed up IMO. 7/10 class overall, pretty difficult but has its fun aspects.
- CS bored me to death this semester. I had the same CS professor that I had this semester, but this time around the quality of his teaching was far worse (he had never taught this course before, so makes sense). Fortunately, lectures were optional, so after struggling to focus two lectures in, I never went back. The projects for this class have been really annoying; the instructions are too wordy and sort of cryptic, so I've wasted tons of time chasing trivial things. Office hours have been very helpful though! The nice thing about college is that the course revolves less around one person, the teacher/professor, and supplemental help is pretty accessible. 4/10 class, taught badly but since the course is required for upper lever classes I sort of understand why I have to take it.
- General chemistry is the worst STEM class I've ever taken. The content is so eclectic and badly taught... this course was a pathetic attempt at an introduction to chemistry. My professor was supposed to be the best at teaching intro chem, but they were terrible at it. There's no intuition that's developed for chemistry in intro chem; it's all memorization and plug n' chug. For every "pattern" or "formula" I learned, there were always numerous exceptions that needed to be known for it (that's just how chemistry works, I know... but I feel like needing to memorize exceptions is a huge waste of time on top of learning the concept). Also, the homework software for this class was ancient and incredibly frustrating to use as well... I spent way too much time trying to format my answers in just the right way so it wouldn't mark everything wrong. 2/10 class, would not recommend. I understand that the incentives for research faculty are not to teach intro chem excellently, but I feel like there should be a baseline of quality that doesn't exist right now.
- Biology was solidly meh this semester. My professor was an alright lecturer, but I felt like the lectures lacked some of the pizzaz that my instructor from last semester had. This semester's biology course was less molecular/cell based and more into "look at this graph and decipher it", so I didn't find it all that interesting. 6/10, not bad.
2. I was kind of a shut in
3. I didn't know how to use the ambient time I had
Okay, so did anything good happen to you at all this semester, Alex?!
- I came to UMass solely for the quality of its CS program.
- I realized I don't want to be a CS major anymore, and I don't want to spend my entire undergraduate experience working towards becoming a programmer, since that's not what I'm interested in doing after college.
What's next in store for me
Things I'm kinda anxious about for the future
- Debt. The University of Michigan offered my family $0 in financial aid, so attending UMich will definitely be more stressful for me in some ways since doing research isn't the most lucrative thing while I'm in the red.
- Burn out. I've been pretty burned out here at UMass from this semester, and I hope it doesn't continue over to Michigan. Definitely going to try to take a lighter course load next semester so I'm not swamped with work.
- Loneliness and losing touch with people :(
- Transferring universities is notoriously difficult on people's social lives, so I'm kind of worried I'll be lonelier in a new place.
- Black swan events. Super Covid. Death of a family member. Political turmoil. Aren't these always things to worry about?
Monday, March 21, 2022
Last week, I spent my spring break exploring Boston.
Well, sort of. I actually spent most of it in Brookline, which is a suburban city 15 minutes away from Boston by car. My friend and his family hospitably offered me their cozy guest room for the week. It was really cozy. Anyway, here's how the week went:
|Beacon Street has some very pretty buildings, like this one behind me :)|
- We talked about the merits of the Snell mouse strain compared to GH deficient mice. Snell mice are deficient in thyroid hormones in addition to GH/IGF, which makes them stunted if I remember correctly. In the early 2000s, his lab conceived the Snell mouse, which is a strain of mice that are incredibly long lived. They live close to 4 years, while average Mus musculus mice live only around 2 years in the wild.
- His thoughts on aging clocks (he thinks they're too noisy in their current state); I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was working with aging clocks though, since he seemed pretty skeptical of them.
- He disavowed the usefulness of senolytics, which was not super surprising to me since they're somewhat controversial in their benefit. He went as far as to say though that they don't even work at destroying senescent cells, which threw me for a bit of a loop!
|The Green Line is pretty. Heck, all of Boston transport >> New York in terms of sheer aesthetics|
|The aforementioned donut I got– it looked way more appetizing in person I promise|
Things I liked about Boston
- The architecture. Boston's buildings are shorter than New York's looming skyscrapers, which makes you feel more in control, I guess? Everything also felt like it had more historicity than New York, too– probably because Boston has more historical buildings sprinkled around than New York.
- The people. Everyone I met that lived in the Boston area was so friendly. My friend warned me that most Bostonian strangers are kind of aloof, but I didn't really experience that. When I was lost, people gave me directions. Uber drivers helped me find the best place to get a haircut (true story). Neighbors were warm, too.
- Did I mention the architecture? Well, in addition to the architecture, the setup of the city itself was very nice. It felt almost European in some parts– with lots of cobblestone streets and old stone buildings. The towns/cities around Boston also have their own personalities too. New York has this too with the boroughs, but it felt a little more pronounced here.
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Biden, Biden, Biden. Joe Biden. Love him or hate him, he's in the news all the time now (probably because he has the most important job in the world).
At the date of this post, Biden is not a very popular president. His approval rating is comparable to the Trump era:
And it seems like Republicans will take back Congress soon enough.
Build Back Better
A common Democrat line of attack I've seen in the past few months of having eyeballs is that Biden hasn't been able to pass the Build Back Better Bill.
What people don't know is that:
1) Half of it has been passed already and
People like to make fun of Biden for causing the incredibly anomalous rate of inflation plaguing the U.S. economy right now.
But a lot of that blame I feel is misplaced– inflation is happening in part because of the supply chain crisis, consumers having more money to spend, and maybe (just a hunch), the Fed printing trillions of dollars since the start of the pandemic. In fact, inflation doesn't seem to just be a U.S. problem: inflation is plaguing diverse economies across the globe (though part of this is in reaction to U.S. inflation, fair enough).
A bit of hypocrisy I see is that people think Biden is at fault for *all* of this– he's not. When the economy was doing great under Trump, people were quick to retort that the economic state of a president is mostly the fault of the prior president. Why shouldn't that be the case here?
Biden's military decisions have definitely come under scrutiny too for various reasons. I think this is honestly his biggest crux. He humiliated America's image of military competence in Afghanistan (grossly underestimating the Taliban's speed of takeover), and is now fumbling with the Russia-Ukraine conflict. There is not much to redeem here. I will say though that Biden's actions in Afghanistan were in a way what the American people wanted– to bring our boys back home once and for all. And he did that! I am also encouraged by Biden's nonresistance to the Space Force, which I think will grow into a very important area of defense for the stars and stripes.
Biden's image is probably what will keep him unpopular. His character is not really enjoyed by the American public. He's less controversial than Trump for sure, but he's not the most inspiring figure. He's approaching his eighties, can't really control his speech (which in all fairness is due to a lifetime stutter, not necessarily his age). He kind of resembles Magneto. And last but not least, he's a career politician who barely won his primary by a plurality and election by mere thousands of votes.
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
"A flatworm, a cancer cell, and a lump of intelligent frog skin walk into a bar. The bartender asks, what's the deal? The flatworm chirps: Why, we're all model organisms in the works of the scientist Dr. Michael Levin!"
(the bartender then promptly starts to dissociate and have a panic attack)
Saturday, December 18, 2021
You’re sitting down on damp grass in the morning sun. You look ahead at your bare, dirty feet and sigh. It’s late springtime (maybe May?), and the chickadees, doves, and warblers are having an intellectual debate in the trees. A warm plane of daylight, given permission to shine by a slowly retreating cloud, moves to touch your leg (the ultraviolet light penetrating the outermost layers of your bare skin, damaging your DNA as you enjoy the great outdoors).
You scratch your scalp as you stare out into the great big clearing you’re in. You are waiting, patiently, for something. For someone, actually. You’re not sure who, but you know you won’t be alone much longer.
Minutes pass, then hours. The cool air of the morning turns into a chill noon breeze. You’re growing impatient, and tired. Finally, your consciousness slips, and you turn your head to the ground, the soft grass cushioning your body.
In your dream, you are lying down just as you are now. But there is an animal next to you, lying on its side. It’s a dog, you think. She is sound asleep--her stomach slowly rising and falling--her breath gentle and rhythmic (like the sound of a waterfall when she exhales). Not a muscle in her long body is tense, but she doesn’t appear weighed down by gravity. Her mouth is agape, tongue lolling in her sleep. You prop yourself up with your elbow and lean over to kiss her on her head. You study how the sunlight hits her smooth black hair, when all of a sudden, you hear a rapid whooshing sound from above. Just in time as you look up, you spot it-- a large green apple (perhaps 100 feet above), rapidly in free fall, headed straight to collide with the dog. You tense up, study its trajectory, and prepare to catch it. It sails into your hands. It’s even bigger than you thought. You take a bite.
Your eyes open. The apple is red, and the beast is gone. You’re so cold you’re shivering. You know He’s behind you.
Turning around slowly, you cautiously take a peak at the figure. His face is in an expression between disgust and… smugness? He has very chiseled features, and pale eyes. His light brown hair is combed to one side. He’s got the “I work at Goldman Sachs” look-- the sleeves of his light blue dress shirt are rolled up halfheartedly, his khaki shorts draped legs (business casual) are kicked out lazily on a recliner chair.
You can already tell that you’re going to do a lot of the talking here. He motions you to the stiff wickerwood chair planted next to his. You get up, groaning, and trek over to your uncomfortable seat.
“I know you but I don’t.”
He ignores you, his affect unchanged. He’s looking out at the clearing just like you were many hours ago.
“What do you want?”
“I want to negotiate,” he says in a resonant baritone.
Your brows scrunch up in confusion for just a second, then it clicks. You look at him again. Now he’s fully smirking. You’re at a loss for words.
“I want a deadline.”
You feel the rage build up inside. Since the inception of life, there’s been Him. Everything ever birthed in this world has been ended by him.
“No. No way. I would never want to work with you. You stand against everything that is good. You don’t bring anything into this world. All you do is take away!” Your voice stays calm despite your passion.
He laughs a bit, surprisingly in a bit of a humble way. He shakes his head a bit and looks back at you.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, so I can understand why you think you’re right...” A moment of contemplation for what next to say.
“...but I’m here for a reason. There is a reason for what I do.”
You don’t answer immediately, because you don’t know how to answer back. But then you do.
“All good things must come to an end, youthinks?”
Back to that condescending smile. “Not only that, but the second law of thermodynamics makes me inevitable. I’m also inescapable, infallible, incurable-- the list goes on. All life must rot; all life must die; all things must perish. It’s just the rules.”
Your turn to laugh.
“So what do you want me to do? If you are so infallible, why are you threatened by me?”
He sighs. “You don’t get to play God. Live your little life and be happy with what you have. Forget about me, even. But let me do my job.”
“A hundred billion human lives have been lost to your whims. Countless consciousnesses snuffed out, for what? You are my personal apocalypse. A scourge that few fear in concept, but that all suffer from in reality. But you can be finished, just like how you finish us. You too will age, rot, and die, because you underestimate the power of human will.”
He studies you very closely. Maybe for a minute. His eyes are beams of cold, calculated, deterministic void. Then he extends his hand out to shake yours.
Instead, you put the apple in his hand, and it turns green again. He takes a big bite and gets up. He walks out of the clearing. Out of sight, out of mind, out of spirit. You laugh and think to yourself what a peculiar life you have.
Sunday, November 21, 2021
Don't get too excited, I haven't gotten absolutely smashed drinking Whiteclaw upside down.
I did have a lot of fun though meeting new people! People are what make college, I've found. If you surround yourself with the wrong people, life will suck. The people I've met here come from all over-- Nigeria, Vietnam, Mumbai, New Mexico, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Lebanon (I particularly like international students because they are some of the more hardworking people I've met here).
- A caveat about people: it's still pretty difficult for me to find "intellectual" friends- as in, people who can hold intelligent conversation and are really driven to *do things*. I originally thought it was the product of my environment (being surrounded by confused freshmen in a not-really-prestigious state school), but I've learned that I'm maybe judging people too harshly. Most people, all the way up to the Ivy League, stumble through life myopically. Even the smartest people can lack foresight and directed ambition! Perhaps what's startling for me is that the people I see in my self selected bubble online have their lives figured out (and to be fair, they lean mostly in their mid-late twenties compared to late teens lol). And to be clear, I'm not saying I'm better than my college mates-- I have no idea what next Tuesday or 5 years from now will bring-- but I pride myself in being very future minded which is something I've lacked to see in classmates.
- Clubs in college, like in high school, are gimmicky and poorly run. Most clubs are recreational, and I've heard the pre-professional ones (like business frats...) are kind of a cult. Needless to say: clubs are a waste of time, focus on building yourself to get the highest ROI
- I realized I much prefer living alone than living with a roommate. It's more a problem with me than other people tbh- I am a very light sleeper and I also need a place where I have privacy
- I am much less stressed out with the spaced out schedule college provides. I only have around 2-3 classes a day compared to the 8-10 classes high school crams in a day. Because things are more generously spaced out, I'm never *too* stressed and the content I learn in a day is much easier to digest
- Professors are hit or miss:
- I really love my biology professor-- he's the kind of teacher you'd want to take classes with again and again! I thought that an introductory biology course would be too basic to enjoy, but it's honestly a flawless course IMO. We've learned about everything from cell signaling cascades to CRISPR (not just an overview in passing, but how it actually works in vivo!) to recombinant plasmids and promoter regions. Taking this course has absolutely reinforced my love of biology.
- The introductory sequence for CS is kind of crap here. It's mostly an Intro to Java Syntax course more than anything-- which makes it particularly dull. Writing code in Java is like walking on hot coals with all the fucking brackets and semicolons. I also particularly dislike the emphasis of OOP-- not everyone in CS (cough cough, me) wants to become a software engineer! I wish there was more emphasis on data science, statistics, and AI earlier on in the CS curriculum in college.
- From what I've seen, math professors are make-or-break for absolutely foundational knowledge. I'm taking Calc I right now, and I'm painfully aware of this fact. Luckily for me, I have a very geeky grad student with a CS background, so I'm actually enjoying the course-- but for others in calculus courses, I've heard everything from raving reviews of professors to seething hatred and misery. I insist on using RateMyProfessor for all of my math professors lol
- If not necessary, I will never take a liberal arts course again. I have to take one right now for honors' college requirements and its totally a lost cause. The problem with liberal arts, I've found, is that it's way too interdisciplinary. We learn everything from the Cave Allegory to over scrutinizing Silent Spring and doing metta meditation. Not to mention that the political environment here leans very far to the left, which makes every class a blast to be in as someone who doesn't hate the word "capitalism" !
- Joining a lab here was a very smooth and easy experience. I looked for labs doing research tangentially related to aging, sent out a few emails, and got responses relatively quickly (in HS I sent out ~100 emails with an abysmal response rate over the period of months). I honestly think I stuck gold with the group I joined-- they're doing really amazing research, both computational and wet lab based! From what I've seen, the PI is a very friendly and nerdy guy, and the grad student I'm working with appears diligent and knowledgable. Things are still early and I'm just getting settled in-- but I'm very excited to watch where this goes :D
With all that being said, I am pretty satisfied with how university life is turning out. I'm making friends, keeping up with school, and still have my eyes on the prize of getting into biotech. I'd rate this semester a 7/10 so far.
Thanks for reading :)
Monday, August 23, 2021
In the Year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty one, a great summer was had!
As move in day looms at the end of this week, I think it's a good time for me to reminisce about how this summer turned out.
Part One: late June, early July
Part Two: Mid July
Part Two: late July
Part Three: August
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
In the weirdest year ever, I'm graduating high school a year early. And I'm doing it on purpose.
Before I continue, I'd like to acknowledge the privilege that I have had growing up:
1) I live in the 21st century in a good community in a developed country.
2) I was raised by two parents who invested in my future and helped me develop as a person.
3) According to many, I enjoy certain social advantages due to my physical makeup/identity.
Despite these things, I have found it difficult to feel happy, productive, and successful receiving the education I am getting at the public high school I attend. Specifically, I am deeply uncomfortable with the pressure that competitive high schools make. Ambitious students in the New York-DC-San Francisco metropolitan areas face ever growing zero sum games that end up helping nobody and which make everybody feel worse off.
I felt an intense malaise as I progressed through high school. I may have done well in my courses, made friends, and joined clubs that I was interested in-- but the way I was going about things made me very unhappy. In my school, all the most motivated students have the ephemeral urge to "look the best"-- meaning to do what's best for college. Such actions include:
1) maxing out on AP, honors classes to the point where many students don't have lunch periods during the day
2) joining/founding clubs that disintegrate as soon as key members graduate
3) making interesting classes genuinely unenjoyable by asking questions about upcoming exams; kissing up to those teachers to waste class time
4) forming toxic cliques who taunt/shun away outsiders; cutting corners/cheating with said cliques
5) taking the SAT/ACT an inordinate amount of times, reinforcing a culture around standardized testing everyone secretly hates
I've found that teachers in competitive high schools also indulge in many seriously selfish, lazy, and hypocritical behaviors-- whether it be by synchronously planning exams with other courses in the same week, calling out students on late work when they grade work at a snail's pace, or flat out refusing to answer questions by students.
With all of this in mind, I found myself incredibly disillusioned by mid sophomore year. I had done all I could to go above and beyond-- skipping requirements to enroll in classes, auditing classes for fun, and even changing foreign languages after freshman year (something rarely done in my school apparently). Still, I felt unsatisfied and my future seemed aimless... what was all this scholastic pressure building up to? Why did I feel like I couldn't do anything I was really interested in when I got home? What was I interested in anyway?!
Right after my 16th birthday, the coronavirus flicked off the light switch of the world... and with that, my life changed completely. In the chaos of early online learning, I had little to no schoolwork and no exams. and as a result, I woke up at a healthy hour, sometimes even earlier when I did for school; I had free time that organically became time used for passion projects; I began to have a somewhat normal social life that didn't intertwine with school.
It was really like night and day. In 2020, I felt so much happier, healthier, and more productive. And naturally, it made me think... could it always be like this?
COVID-19 has drastically changed the playing field for college admissions. It has been turned upside down in many ways-- most notably with how most schools chose to be "test optional" for the 2020-2021 year. This shucking of the SAT and ACT caused a shift in epic proportions of who did and didn't apply to college-- wealthier kids with worse scores felt more confident to take on the best schools, while many poorer kids didn't apply at all this season due to pandemic financial stresses. At scale, most elite schools faced upwards of orders of magnitude the amount of applicants, while less regarded state schools struggled to find new students.
When I saw that this year was going to be test optional, the gears started to whir in my head. Perhaps it was possible that I could graduate early, and save a whole year of my life from high school suffering?
It was a quick thought process, one that soon calcified into an affirmation, chanting loudly in my head. I could graduate this year. I could leave by next June.
From there, I leapt into action. I created a Common App account, wrote essay supplements, and researched schools. It came so naturally.
With the time I had, I knew I could exercise the best practices I had learned online-- polishing my essays, extracurricular descriptions, and finding the best people to write recommendation letters. All I had to to was make it official!
When I called my guidance counselor, I prepared myself for hesitancy. In my school, nobody ever graduates early, no less a STEM kid. It's conventionally known to be suicide for any chance at the elite schools. In the heat of the moment, I didn't care about that. And so, after a few awkward phone calls, I became a senior instead of a junior. Magic!
I took the application process from a very utilitarian perspective. Any schools that provided a great education in computer science were on the table. Already, that dwindled down my options from ~4,000 to 50.
Next, I looked at how well I had a shot at each of those schools. I aimed to choose around 4 I had a good chance of being accepted at, several I could possibly get into, and a few private school moonshots. My list ended up being:
-My 3 flagship state schools (SUNYs)
-University of Colorado- Boulder
-University of Wisconsin- Madison
-University of Maryland- College Park
-University of Michigan
-University of Massachusetts Amherst
-Carnegie Mellon University
-Harvey Mudd College
-Carleton College (never wanted to go, but the application was free!!)
All in all, it was a pretty solid list. Notice how many of the schools initially listed have rather high acceptance rates-- despite excellent CS programs (some in the top 30 in the country!)
When looking at which colleges my classmates apply to, I am unimpressed by how few of these types of schools they give regard to. Instead, they have sole focus for the top-- without even knowing where to go after that. It's perfectly ironic to me that many of these kids exert Herculean efforts to get into schools like Harvard and Caltech, but have no idea what they want to do with their lives. Many of them fail in their effort too. Competition is truly for losers.