The Absentee’s Guide to Visitas

Were it not for recent shootings in Boston, yesterday would have marked the start to Harvard’s annual Visitas, a smorgasbord of events meant to titillate those prospective students not already titillated by the “Intro to Congress” cheating scandal, the faculty email scandal, and HUDS chicken francaise. While it’s unfortunate that the weekend has now been canceled, we can fill you in on some of the details. Prefrosh — what you missed!

The relevant point is that we have everything Yale has, plus science. Perhaps this matters little to you; perhaps you intend to curl up with Plutarch and Wittgenstein. But had you been my prefrosh, I would have advised that you at least sit in on a computer science lecture, maybe a class on abstraction with Greg Morrisett or an algorithms course with Michael Mitzenmacher. So many people realize junior or senior year that they should have studied computer science that it’s best to get the jolt early. Read the rest of this entry »

The End of Courtship, the Rise of Friendship

What does the ideal date look like? According to this New York Times article, it begins with a phone call from a stranger (initiated by the guy). A time is agreed upon (ideally a week or two in advance). The man shows up with roses, and he treats the woman to polite conversation at an expensive French bistro followed by dessert and a movie.

The article equates romance with financial expenditure. It views informality as a sign of indifference. It plays up the importance of gender roles and tradition. If that is courtship, then good riddance.

I suggest that we fill the void, not with the author’s much-maligned hookup culture, but with meaningful friendships. Viewed through the lens of meeting new people and establishing new relationships, a tardy “want to meet up for a drink or whatever” in the early hours of Friday morning, doesn’t seem so incriminating. A “hey, come join me and my bros at the froyo social.” doesn’t seem so dismissive. Spending time with someone in a casual setting (hiking, drinking, volunteering), allows you to learn about their values and how they allocate their time. Meeting their friends allows you to learn about the company they keep, which is one of the best predictors of their own personalities. Read the rest of this entry »

Cold Calling

When I got into colleges, I called a friend of mine from Mathcamp who was completing his first year at Harvard. I asked him for advice. What courses was he taking? What were his peers like? More than my experience visiting campuses, this correspondence painted a picture of collegiate life and informed my decision to attend Harvard. In addition, his recommendations about specific professors and textbooks enabled me to plan for freshman year.

When gearing up for a new experience, the first thing I often do is contact someone who has had that experience, someone who is in a position to help me prepare. For instance, if I want a job at Facebook, I will try to find someone who has worked there and who I can talk to about the company and the interview process. This is straightforward if I have a friend who worked there the summer before, but what if I don’t? Well, there’s a good chance that one of my friends knows someone who did. Or my computer science professor can put me in touch with a former student. The point is, if you can find someone’s name, you can ask for an introduction. Read the rest of this entry »

Freshman Fifteen

A little while ago, I was delighted to receive an email from a friend back home. She had been admitted to Harvard and wanted to ask me a couple questions. Amid mundane worries about the weather in Cambridge and about Harvard’s many course offerings were some more provoking in nature: How happy are you on a day-to-day basis? How often do you compare yourself to those around you? What advice would you give to a freshman entering college?

I want to touch on that last one because while advice is ubiquitous, it is often difficult to apply. “Start a fresh chapter,” people will say, or “be open to new possibilities.” What that means now in hindsight is change your name, cut your hair, and dump your boyfriend.

Life moves in limps and lurches. College, especially the beginning of college, is a sprint. And in the spirit of giving useful advice, here are fifteen actionable tips to help you run faster. Read the rest of this entry »


Over the weekend, a group of my friends had a lengthy and acrimonious discussion about feminism. For the bulk of the conversation, there was no common ground. We disagreed about the merits of feminism. We disagreed about the goals of feminism. But especially, we disagreed about the proponents of feminism. Some of us thought they were touchpad sensitive harpies who would jump on any cautionary statement as “blaming the victim.” Others of us assigned the label more broadly, to average men and women who wanted everyone to be treated fairly. The former group was dismissive; the dismissive group was being called chauvinistic. It was getting ugly.

“The world has real problems – like sex trafficking and forced marriages – why don’t they focus on those?” the first group asked. “Sex trafficking and forced marriages are issues that feminists focus on,” the second group responded. Oh. And as it turned out, that’s what the disagreement was: we all had different images in mind when we talked about feminism and feminists. Once we clarified what we meant by our words, there was nothing left to argue. Such is the situation behind most altercations: people who agree, talking about different things or using different definitions. Read the rest of this entry »

More on Dating

The topic of dating receives a lot of attention. People write books on how to do it. Websites design algorithms for it. Billions of dollars a year (in the form of rose petals and dinner bills) are spent in pursuit of it. All of this is misguided. All of this builds on the idea that dating and flirting and romance are somehow different from our regular everyday interactions, that we can somehow learn to date without learning to interact.

Ren and I have written a bit about flirting and dating, but we’ve spent most of our time reflecting broadly on personal growth and on basic social skills (conversation, honesty, decision making). There is a reason for this. Dating and socializing are the same thing.

For starters, the skill sets are the same. It is difficult to imagine someone who is a chirpy date but a lethargic conversationalist, or a bold flirt but a timid roommate, or a lively stranger but a monotonous friend (admittedly, it is possible to be simultaneously cute and dull). Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Camp

PRISE, Harvard’s undergraduate science research program, is full of smart kids, grant money, and cutting edge experiments. But deep down it’s still summer camp. And summer camp has always been a time-warped, over-sexed, over-scheduled version of real life. So there’s the quiz bowl, the mandatory celebrity lectures, the repetitive dining hall back-and-forths, the awkward allusions to instances of PRISE-cest. Go forth and cross-pollinate!

Summer camp is often a fascinating social skills incubator. You’re forced to meet a hundred supposedly like-minded individuals, socialize with them, and walk away co-authors. If you don’t, you suffer the consequences, which may include sitting alone in the cafeteria or “not having a good time.” Both are fatal.

But seriously. I read an article in The New York Times that reported a recent spate of mothers bringing their 12-year olds in for leg and bikini waxes as preparation for summer camp. I saw it and thought, that’s bullshit. If they need any preparation, it’s this: Read the rest of this entry »