Opinion editorial

Under Pressure

Remember your strengths as you navigate the Institute

The Institute is a tough place. The classes are hard, the homework is hard, and the tests are hard. It’s difficult to step back and get any perspective, and when things are going bad, competition between peers makes things worse. If you dare lament the amount of work you have, chances are that your neighbor will challenge you and say that he has even more.

Does this competition sound familiar? It should. The “I’m so hosed” game has become a cultural phenomenon at MIT, one that perpetuates the “hardcore” attitude — the attitude that to truly succeed at MIT you must take six classes, do a UROP, lead a club, play a sport, get six hours of sleep a night, and excel academically at the same time. Doing less than this is a quick way to make yourself feel inadequate, and potentially even worthless, at MIT.

But these expectations are unrealistic.

The perception that most MIT students have of each other is false. Our survey results show that a typical student thinks an average MIT student spends 28.9 hours a week on homework, while the reality is that most students spend about 26.2 hours per week. Students report that they believe others take an average of 55 units, while the actual number is 50. We found a variety of similar examples while compiling our survey data.

After putting together this special, The Tech has a few things we wish to remind MIT students as they continue their studies here.

Believe in yourself

We are all incredibly hard-working, intelligent people who have been thrust into a trying environment. Too often, a simple story from a peer is enough to make us feel as if we do nothing. But our survey data shows that MIT students don’t have a realistic perception of one another. Students say that on a scale of 1 to 7 they believe other students work at around a 5.3, but the typical student reports their own work at 4.8.

The “I’m so hosed” game perpetuates this stereotype. The next time it comes up, don’t play. We are all in this together. Everyone is busy — trying to one-up your classmates constantly is unhealthy and drives people to maintain unrealistic goals.

We all work hard — your work is just as meaningful as everyone else’s. Whether you take three classes or seven, you deserve to be at MIT.

Work and life balance

One of the most concerning attitudes around MIT is that students often ignore their health in favor of their work. 43 percent of students will choose friends and work over sleep, and 50 percent of students say they don’t get enough sleep at all. While some degree of sleep-deprivation is normal for an MIT student — try to get those eight hours once in a while. Staying healthy is a critical part of academic success.

It isn’t just physical well-being either: mental health is just as important. It is tempting to bury an emotional problem and instead become invested in work, but this is a dangerous habit. While some degree of emotional compartmentalization is completely understandable during crunch time, it is not a sustainable practice.

Mental health necessarily affects academics. Struggling with an emotional/personal issue can and will affect your academic work. Feeling down about something that has happened to you is normal ­— and having that affect your schoolwork is also normal. Come to terms with whatever is bothering you. Expecting yourself to perform at a high level academically while you are struggling emotionally is unrealistic.

The Tech urges students to reconcile their personal issues so they can better balance their emotional and academic well-being. Ignoring personal problems is sure to take a toll on academic work and mental health. It’s OK to be troubled, and it’s OK to need a break once in a while. Ignoring these issues will affect both your academics and your overall welfare. Your health is important — take care of it.

To that end:

Support one another

It’s cliché. You’ve heard it from your orientation pamphlets, from your housemasters, and from the administration.

But truly, the most important thing you can do to make MIT a more bearable place for everyone is to reach out.

If you’re having a hard time, seek one of the many resources available at MIT. If you see a friend having trouble, be there for them. Lend an ear. Just a few minutes spent listening can make a world of difference and is a small step in making the Institute a better place for everyone.

1 Comment
Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano about 11 years ago

Dear Jessica,

I've just spent all morning reading the Tech articles on pressure on the students. Thanks to you and all the Tech staff for such a poignant, but wonderful kaleidoscope of the collective trials of our students at MIT. The biggest step toward things getting better is to realize that you are not the sole person at MIT feeling this way. Your articles, data, and opinion pieces are a very positive step in spreading the word.


Tali Figueroa

Associate Housemaster, East Campus