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 »

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

If I only did things that I knew I would be good at, I never would have started swimming with the club team. I never would have taken an acting class. I never would have gone on a date. And I certainly never would have started a blog.

Trying new things and embarrassing ourselves as a consequence is so easy when we’re young. As a child, such “failures” are practically the status quo. In sixth grade, walking around the schoolyard during lunch, I came across a boy juggling. I had never juggled before, but I knew I wanted to learn. I approached him, and he began coaching me. It didn’t matter that I was standing in the middle of the playground dropping beanbags left and right. Over the subsequent months, I learned to juggle, first with two balls, then with three, then under the leg, then behind the back, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

Drinks Conversation

Last night, a friend and I were discussing the oft-hilarious results of non-science people talking about science: in particular, a newspaper article referring to the different sizes of infinity. “There are an infinite number of multiples of 3, and an infinite number of multiples of 9,” the article goes on to say, “but there are more multiples of 3.” My friend found this highly amusing.

At the time, I laughed along. We were at a party; it was drinks conversation. But the more I thought about it, the less shocking it seemed. The idea of countable and uncountable infinities is not exactly intuitive. The idea that there exists a one-to-one correspondence between the multiples of 3 and the multiples of 9, and somehow that means they’re the same size, is also not intuitive. There’s no reason to expect that someone without a math background would be able to get it right, just like there’s no reason to expect someone who’s never had sex to make love like a porn star (although there is reason to expect a newspaper to hire a competent fact-checker). Read the rest of this entry »

Judging Carefully

I took a computer science class a while back which involved some amount of audience participation. Naturally a few people dominated. The most conspicuous was a guy in pastel shorts and twice-conditioned hair who would always make comments like “that doesn’t work in the edge case.” He was clearly bright. And he clearly knew it. I thought he was a douche-bag.

At the end of the semester, we ended up on the T together to the airport. We formally introduced ourselves. Referring to our mutual class, he said “Not the best social scene. I probably sounded like an asshole.” I made some non-committal noise in response. But I appreciate self-awareness, and right then and there, I liked him a lot more.

The moment we meet people, we make instant judgements of their character, appearance, and coolness. This is neither avoidable nor undesirable, so long as we recognize that we need not stick to our initial judgements. It is acceptable, indeed expected, that your perception of a person evolve as you get to know him better. That he seemed like an asshole in the beginning doesn’t mean he actually is one; it also doesn’t obligate you to forever think so. Read the rest of this entry »

Not My Best Moment

Embarrassing episodes are an inevitable part of social interaction, but given the right attitude, they can be transformed from a source of humiliation to a source of humor. There are two messages that I want to convey about embarrassing moments. The first is that when you embarrass yourself, other people don’t care that much. The second is that much can be gained by embracing these moments.

On the first point, even things that feel devastating in the moment are often forgotten ten minutes later. Sophomore year, newly placed in Adams House and eager to make friends, I made it a point to share meals with as many people as possible. One time sitting down at a full table of unfamiliar faces, I knocked over my glass of milk, spilling it all over the table. Mortified, I picked up my tray and left. It wasn’t my best moment, but ten minutes later, I was three tables over joking about the incident with some newly made friends. Read the rest of this entry »