Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Advice for MIT Undergraduates

This advice is based on my own experiences as an undergraduate at MIT from 2001-2005, majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Course 6-2). I had a wonderful time during those four years, and I wouldn't trade my experiences and memories for anything. The experiences of my peers differ widely, so this advice is obviously not directly applicable to everyone. Please email me if you have questions or comments.

  1. Be very thoughtful and careful when selecting your living group. Do not take this decision lightly. Your choice of living group is probably one of the most influential factors in determining the character and quality of your MIT experience.

  2. Resist the urge to take too many classes too soon. You will likely get discouraged and burned-out early. Don't rush. You can definitely graduate in 4 years while progressing at a comfortable pace. (That being said, I do know people who have taken heavy courseloads, excelled at them, and felt happy about their decisions.)

  3. Try many different things here, especially in your first year or two, in order to get a sense of what excites you both personally and professionally. Don't worry if you come in undeclared or unsure of your interests. However, once you decide on your likely plans for life after MIT (e.g., industry job, grad. school, professional school), focus intensely on your goal and direct all your efforts towards achieving it.

  4. Don't get bitter about your workload and complain that your friends in other colleges don't ever have to work at all. Don't enter into the downward spiral of the "victim mentality" where you feel like you are suffering through psets at MIT while your friends at Harvard, Stanford, etc... are partying every day. Maybe they work less than you, maybe they work more than you, who cares?

  5. Don't whine (too much), even if everyone else around you is whining. Don't try to out-whine others by describing all of your 10 assignments due next week after they complain about their 3 psets and 2 labs that are due. Whining is contagious and leads to this aura of negative energy that turns reasonably happy people into grumpy grumps.

  6. Acknowledge right now that there will be some time during your years at MIT when you will be consumed by some sort of emotional darkness. You will likely become discouraged, frustrated, exhausted, and maybe even depressed. Don't be ashamed of that inevitability that comes for most people here. Acknowledge it and do your best to get through it. Good emotional health starts at acknowledging your own limitations and not denying your weaknesses.

  7. Learn how to get into the rhythm of classes and pick up the discipline and study skills required to do well in them. Know what work you need to do, how much you need to prepare, and spread out your work throughout the week so that you don't end up cramming too much near the due dates. You do not need to be a genius to get good grades in your classes (conversely, getting good grades does not mean that you are a genius, either, so don't get cocky).

  8. Base your criteria for success on your own standards and future goals, not on preset standards like GPA, awards, or number of high-profile internship or job offers. For example, getting good grades is more important for some goals (e.g., getting into medical school) than others (e.g., being an entrepreneur). Determine for yourself how much grades really matter for what you want to achieve in the future. Perform the same assessment for other aspects of your life at MIT and prioritize appropriately.

  9. Always try to be working on a UROP project or some academic activity outside of simply taking classes. UROPs are a great way to gain work experience during the school year and allow you to gain technical skills that cannot be obtained in the classroom. When trying to decide between taking one extra class (above and beyond your normal courseload) or doing a UROP, always opt for the UROP. If you graduate without any UROP (or summer internship) experience, then you will have a much harder time adjusting to working in the real world where problems are not confined to canned psets and lab projects with pre-determined solutions.

  10. Make a clear distinction between work time and play time. Don't get distracted during work time and don't think about work during play time. When it was work time, I almost always worked like a machine with little to no distractions and got my stuff done. However, when it came time to socialize or go out or have fun, I never thought twice about ditching my friends just to do more homework. If you have a good work ethic and you are not taking too many classes, then you should rarely have to sacrifice play time to catch up on work because you will rarely be behind.

Created: 2006-01-12
Last modified: 2006-06-02