Something Needs to Give

This has been the most turbulent start to a semester in my two years at Olin. I started with 18 credits of classes and OCO, for a total of 19 credits. I was taking UOCD, PDEs, MechSolids, and the special topics course Paradigms, Predictions and Joules. Within a couple weeks, it became clear to me that PDEs required a different level of understanding of math than I had, or at least a different way of thinking that would require more time to grasp than I had to give. After a late night discussion with a close friend, I decided, on the last day of Add/Drop, to drop PDEs and pick up Thermo. This decision was a lifesaver for me, and is one I wholeheartedly stand behind. Thermo is more closely and concretely connected to my interests of energy, sustainability, and systems thinking than PDEs.

This brings me forward to the first Candidate’s Weekend. On Wednesday of that week (an Olin Monday), the narrative running through my head, of feeling like I’m drowning in work and commitments and feeling like I wasn’t cut out for Olin but didn’t want to leave, caused me to step out of class. It was the closest to a mental breakdown that I’ve come in my life, and it was scary. I was trying to hide my turbulent emotions, to maintain the fa├žade that everything was okay, that I could handle everything. But I knew that something had to give. I wasn’t able to put the time or effort into any of my classes, meaning that I was struggling to varying degrees in all of them, feeling like a poor teammate in UOCD and PPJ, and that I was putting in the minimum effort but the maximum that my time allowed on problem sets in Thermo and MechSolids. I kept thinking, something has to give.

My realization now is that the thing that needs to give is bigger than my personal decision to drop MechSolids in favor of the other three classes that more closely correlate to and support my interests, because I know I’m not the only one who has felt inadequate and experienced this level of stress. The thing that needs to give is the feeling among students at Olin, propagated and fueled by students at Olin, that everyone needs to do everything, and needs to do everything well. These are two things that do not always go together. Some people are able to take 20 credits and be the leader of a project team and hold down an on-campus job. I have no idea how they do it, but they can, and more power to them. But what is important, if not necessary, to realize is that not everyone can do that, and that’s OK. As a community, we need to take a step back and consider why we are doing what we’re doing, both on an individual level and a community level, and what effects it might be having on the health of the Olin system and the students that compose it.

By stepping back, I realized that I am not a Mech:E. When I think of Mech:Es, I think of someone spending a lot of time using SolidWorks and devoting themselves to vehicle teams and working in the machine shop. I can think of many people who embody what a Mech:E is (and I’m guessing you’re thinking of some right now). But that’s not me. What really excites me, however, is sustainability, renewable energy, and green building. That is why I am in love with PPJ and Thermo. For me, being a Mech:E doesn’t help me accomplish my learning goals. I was learning in MechSolids, true, but at the cost of not learning as much as I want to in PPJ and Thermo and UOCD.

My point in sharing this story is that as a community, we need to be more cognizant of how other people learn, what they want to learn, and why they make their decisions, and then let them do that. I have a feeling that some people reading this article will think that I am quitting, that I could have continued with all four courses and passed, maybe even gotten A’s. And maybe that’s true, but what you’re not considering is that, at least for me, doing so would have come at the expense of my happiness, my duties as an R2 and a friend, and my learning. And those three things are not worth living up to the Olin status quo.

Let’s change the status quo to be doing what YOU are capable of and what YOU want to do, instead of what it SEEMS you should be capable of and what it SEEMS you should want to do. Because then we can all get back to what we came here for: learning, growth, and enjoying our time at Olin.