[college] the trials and tips when applying to jobs.

The years have passed by quickly, and I soon became a senior in college looking for employment. I had numerous friends who had worked in investment banking over the summer and returned triumphantly with full-time offers. As fall semester quickly ran past, I went to dozens of interviews, watching in despair as my fellow classmates were offered the second-round interviews and finally, an offer. Without an exaggeration, I would say close to 70% of my mathematics-economics circle were already gainfully employed, and I felt incredibly inadequate in an environment that prizes the ambitious.

January arrived, and I was unprepared to meet it. January signaled the end of the recruiting season for most large companies I wanted to enter– economic consulting firms, investment banks, equity research firms. However, after much scrutiny, I discovered another recruiting season that had just started: economics research assistants (RA). I sent off shamelessly many applications to think-tanks, top universities and economic institutions, and anything that had “STATA” in the job description. I knew a PhD could be in my future, so becoming an RA could be an incredible asset when it came time to apply to graduate school.

The year started off slow, despite my renewed resolution to apply to RA jobs. I was rejected or never heard back from UPenn, Yale, American Enterprise Institute, Columbia Business School, MIT’s J-PAL, Brookings, and the list goes on. However, the ball started rolling inexplicably in March. I received numerous interviews from the Federal Reserve– Philadelphia, Richmond, Boston, Washington DC (I did have a prior one in December at Kansas City). After a whirlwind two weeks, I am extremely grateful to say that I landed an dream offer with one of these locations and have accepted.

There is a fair bit of irony in how the world works, because this position is probably the most prestigious one I could hope for– ever. No other job I interviewed for can compete, though perhaps Goldman Sachs would be a distant second. I won my dream job after almost nine months of uncertainty, agony and grueling work applying and interviewing.

I hope by sharing my experience, others who are in the job market for the first time as a college senior, or will be in the job market soon, will find some helpful pointers. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me via email, or using anonymous ask.fm.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

a pretty flower arrangement in the lobby of the Boston Fed.

Don’t give up. This sounds stupid, I know. Everyone will say this to you. However, rejection is hard. It is so difficult to read “We have decided to pursue other candidates” or “We did not feel you were a good fit” and not feel depressed that you are just not good enough. Let’s also be honest– very likely you will have classmates who receive the job offer instead of you and you think, “why did they get an offer? Aren’t I as qualified as they are?” In my case, I had these bad thoughts especially often since on paper, I have impressive grades. It is incredibly hard to remain optimistic and continue applying because you fear the rejection and you think that it is not worth it because you will be rejected anyway. Some of my friends have missed out on great opportunities because they got discouraged too early and decided to “focus” on school instead. Right up until March, I was applying to at least 2-3 jobs per week; in busier weeks I applied to as many as 10.  Continue reading

[college] finally! you got accepted. now which one?

Admissions season is over, and now waiting-list season has begun and the frenetic spring visits to campuses. Here are some questions to consider to help you decide which college to finally choose!

(1) Do you want to go into finance or consulting? Or, basically, anything that has a rigorous recruiting process. Going to the right school can make or break your finance or consulting career. These companies only recruit at specific schools– you probably can guess which “ivy”-covered ones– and if you are trying to enter from Michelle Community College, Middle of Nowhere, Iowa, tough luck. You are going to have to slave 10x more on top of the people who are already in Harvard slaving 24/7 for a finance or consulting career. If finance or consulting is something you are potentially interested in (more than 70%), you simply must attend a target school. If you have not gotten into a target school, go to the best public college that you were accepted to or the college that is closest to a major metropolitan area. Then proceed to never sleep again starting in your junior year of college. If you are super hardcore, freshman year it is.

I wish someone had told me about this question earlier on– though I am going to a target school– being aware of this would better inform how I spent my past semesters at college.

(2) Do you have a diverse set of interests? Curious about simply everything? Just undecided? Or are you pretty set on what you want to do? If you are undecided or curious about many things, it would be best to go to a school which is strong in all areas that you are interested in; if you’re set on pre-med, you would do better to go to a school that is geared towards getting pre-meds into medical school.

One of the best things about my school is that despite we are around 2400 students, we have over 1000 courses offered per year, and in most departments, my school is very strong.

(3) What do you want to do after college? Of course, you needn’t have a plan already, but just some hazy idea. You have to realize that most college education is going to mean absolutely zilch in the workplace. It is nice to learn some real analysis, but I am never going to be a mathematics researcher, so I probably will never touch delta-epsilon proofs ever again after this class. Same goes for that class you really want to take on Anna Karenina. The opportunities for you to bring up Tolstoy are limited.

If you really want to enter the job force, maybe it is practical to consider taking some accounting or business classes. My college does not offer those classes at all, and we often have to cross-register at other colleges to take them. Factor this into your consideration.

one of my real analysis study sessions.

one of my real analysis study sessions.

(4) How much money am I getting? This is a common dilemma: public university for full scholarship, or private prestigious college for no scholarship? Money matters.

Take finance for instance– if you seriously want to do finance, you could make enough money to pay off your loans in less than five years– so perhaps a prestigious target school is worth it.

However, if you want to do public service and become a social worker, given the substantially lower salaries, you might think twice before signing up for $50,000 a year. I know that it’s romantic to go a small liberal arts’ college and study with that obscure poetry professor that you love, but $200,000 loan is just enough to quash all that romance. Do your research, for there are many great public universities with amazing faculty.

(5) How large is the average class? The professor knowing your name– it matters to me. The professor teaching the bulk of class– it matters to me. I took a class at MIT last semester, and the professor did not even know our names at the end of the semester; we were a class of 15. Pathetic. This is not to say that all large universities are like that, but that was one negative experience that I had, and it is generally true that you have less contact with professors in large universities– it’s just a game of constrained optimization, where the constraints deal with the number of professors and their time. They simply do not have enough for the hundreds they see everyday.

At my college, every single professor will know your name, even if you never talk in class. The only exceptions are the large lectures with rotating professors, which I believe is only one class– however, you then split up into recitation sections with the actual professors who lecture, not a teaching assistant (TA).

If you need the personal attention, especially for motivation, you must place the smaller colleges at the top of your list. In large colleges, generally, the introduction lectures are huge, but it gets better as you move into the higher levels and specialize within your major. If you are fine with that, then a big university might suit your needs.

(6) How is student life? This is especially important if the college is not located near a major metropolitan area. If you really do go to the middle of nowhere like Dartmouth, you should make sure that the community within the college is vibrant enough so you do not pine away for other places.

My college, again, despite being small, has an amazingly vibrant community outside of academics. There is always something happening– a lecture, a party, free food for the sake of free food, concerts, etc. Visiting other similar-sized colleges makes me feel so grateful that our students are so dedicated in bringing so many events to our college campus (read and weep: for Spring Week, Macklemore is coming).

so much going on.

so much going on.

Nonetheless, you should check out the list of extracurricular clubs and activities in the colleges and if you want to join about five of the activities, then that school’s student life will probably be a good fit for you. Of course, you won’t actually do all five, but there is definitely enough to keep you interested.

Of course, there are many other factors, but from my experience so far, it boils down to quality of teaching, student life, scholarships, and what you want to do later on and how that specific college helps you toward that goal. Speaking frankly, especially if you are paying an exorbitant amount for college, quality of teaching and resources should be first-rate. While college is for meeting people, college is also for learning. Truthfully, in pretty much any college, you will meet amazing people, but not in any college will there be amazing professors who can research and teach well. Therefore, I prioritize quality of academics.

Just one more handy trick– make a spreadsheet of all of the things that are important to you, and go through your accepted colleges and try to do some research and make some notes on your list where each school stands. After you are done, you have a visual representation of what the strengths and weaknesses of each school is, right next to each other.

Another great resource is interacting with current students– go to the open campus, contact the admissions office to ask for a contact, ask your high school alums, or even, ask a nice blogger or two. I generally refrain from mentioning my college’s name and will delete any comment that says it, but I’ll give a hint– our logo is a huge W (copyrighted for several million) and our most famous alumna was the Secretary of State in President Obama’s first term. If you have any questions about my college, please fill in my form, and we can have an email correspondence!

I used to live and breathe the college game and did counselling for a year on college applications, so if you have any further questions or just want to know my opinion, like ‘what would you choose?’, please leave a comment or (anonymously) stop by ask.fm.

[tech] how to decrypt your encrypted iPhone backup with a known password

Use Elcomsoft’s Phone Password Breaker. I googled just about into every dark crevice of the internet, and Elcomsoft is the only commercial, legitimate program that I found that can be used for this purpose. Even though it has a high price tag of $79 for the home edition, I have used it and it works; it first broke my encryption’s password and then it successfully restored everything. Some things cannot be valued at prices; such as my life if my mother found out I wiped out all of her photos.

Nonetheless, I am a poor student. That is all.

[lifestyle/musings] the amifat and howdoiloseweight post

I have finally finished my crusade to answer every comment left since around April. In the process, I answered a lot of comments on my compilation of SHINee’s physical stats, and I was disturbed by a lot of weight comparisons going on, especially comments like, “I’m ashamed I’m heavier than Taemin.”

No way. Stop right there.

I realize my way of thinking and my body is not similar to most people’s, but I would like to tell you how I approach these two questions, “Am I fat?” and “How do I lose weight?” Perhaps it can help you view your weight and health in a different perspective. Please note that I am not out to offend anyone nor am I someone who has a medical degree.

For a serious answer to this question, do not ask yourself this question. Do not ask your friends this question. Do not ask your parents this question. Do not ask your relatives. Do not ask strangers. If they tell you even if you do not ask, do not believe them. Ask a doctor who has accurately measured your weight, taken your blood pressure and other routine check-up procedures, and has your medical history.

If the doctor says you are overweight or obese, at this point, you have confirmation that you are indeed fat. Doctors have little incentive to lie to you, and are trained to be objective.

three plus-size models on the cover of Vogue Italia, June 2011. Translation of cover: “True Beauties”.

If the doctor says you are perfectly fine, but you still feel uncomfortable about your weight, please ask the doctor if it would be healthy for you to lose weight. Some people are naturally a little more plump than others, so it may end up being detrimental to your health by losing more weight. If you are concerned with how you look in clothes because of your chubbiness, I hate to say it but I have to– you are not dressing yourself correctly. There are plenty of plus-size women who look amazing (like this one!). Spend a rainy day Googling tips and watching makeover shows, and another rainy day to head to the mall and try on clothes. I do the same; even though I may be at a lighter weight, I cannot try on every piece of clothing and have it look passable.

If you seek to lose around 0-5lbs (0-2kg), then generally I would not be so stringent about asking the doctor about losing weight.

Bottom line: just ask the doctor. There will always be someone skinnier and taller than you.

Again, please keep in mind, these are just general tips. I am not a professional dietitian, nor do I have a medical degree, as I said above. If you truly are obese, I encourage you to reach out for professional help. It can be dangerous losing weight in obesity, as ironic as that sounds. These sets of tips are more for the people who are looking to lose that 0-5lbs (0-2kg).

(1) stop eating so much salt. This is really silly and embarrassing, but I bloat a lot. One day, I will see a five pound increase and in the next few days, I will see a five pound decrease. It is because I inhale potato chips and other salty things in abundance when I am not supposed to and that increases my water retention. If you notice this too, you can decrease your average weight if you watch how much salt you ingest. Believe me, being bloated and having a closet full of only skinny leg pants is not that great. Even if this is regulating ‘water’ weight, this will still help you decrease your weight overall, and is probably the easiest and quickest way for you to ‘lose’ weight.
(2) exercise every day for thirty continuous minutes. This does not have to be intense, but at least it must be speed-walking. Some people say thirty minutes three or four times a week is enough. Yes, it may be enough, but in my experience, if you skip days, you start saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Find a buddy to exercise with you. If you cannot find a buddy, perhaps try finding a DVD you can follow. Experiment with different sports and exercises until you find one you like and that you can be engaged in for thirty minutes. Make exercise something you can at least partially enjoy.
(3) eat moderately. For good portion sizes, please check this website. However, “eat moderately” does not mean “do not eat cupcakes”. It means eat a cupcake once in a while, and when you eat the cupcake, do not eat three more. If you want some chocolate, do not buy a whole bag of Hershey’s Kisses. Buy some expensive German chocolate bar, and eat around three pieces.
(4) eat slowly. If you eat slowly and stop once in a while, it gives time for your brain to process the stomach’s information and your brain can receive the signal that you are full. When you go to a restaurant for dinner, do not just order a salad (totally lame). If you want a steak, order the steak. If you eat slowly and find you cannot finish it, simply do not finish it. Put the rest in a doggy bag and use it to garnish your bento for lunch.

Aji Ichiban has the best dried mangoes I have ever eaten. Way expensive though, my wallet cries but stomach rejoices.

(5) hide snacks from sight. For the unhealthy snacks and soda, put them above or below eye level, so you are less tempted to eat them. I recently hid a huge bag of dried mangoes behind my laptop case and forgot about it for a week even though they were just an arm’s reach away. Do not leave your snacks on the table or on the sofa, by the time it is midnight, they are begging you to eat them. As a college student, I can say this is a true story. Chip bags start dancing like sugar plums.
(6) MICHELLE~~~ BUT ALL HEALTHY FOODS TASTE BAD. You have been eating the wrong food. Go eat some other food. Stay away from the processed healthy foods; stick to the basics like fresh fruits, vegetables and leaner meat. Try some new recipes. Or maybe it is just that you are a bad cook. Generally, if you are used to processed foods (overly salty, overly sweet, overly whatever), ‘healthy’ food will taste a bit ‘plain’ at first, but as you eat more of it, you will realize a lot more subtle flavor. There is nothing quite like fresh veggies seasoned with a bit of oil and salt.

Bottom line: just be responsible. The choices are simple; the only difficulty is being responsible!

I’m curious! If you have tried to lose weight before, what are things that have worked or have not worked for you?

[musings] music lessons; plumbing the depths of the inner soul

I recently started taking piano lessons again, and after every lesson, I would come out, clutching my heart, furiously thinking about what was said to me in my lesson. Accusations that I had no substance, no tension, no aggression, no confidence, nothing. Faults that I knew subconsciously existed, but were brought to the surface even as I touched the piano, that my piano instructor could see into the depths of my soul so clearly that it was excruciating.

One lesson, I got told that I was a good student simply because I did not take everything “personally.” I was a little surprised. I took everything very personally, piano would sometimes consume my thoughts more than every other class put together.

Perhaps it was the way I channeled to these personal affronts. Instead of moping, I worked to improve, I wanted to banish these comments. I never felt like these faults were something that I could never overcome. At one point, I was absolutely terrified of lessons, but still, I forced myself to practice. I forced myself to accept the fact that my piano instructor would always see these sides of me I never showed anyone, sometimes not even to my family. This petulant, uneven-tempered person who screams whenever she makes a mistake when practicing alone. This person who loves aggressive, brooding atmospheres with very decided opinions against Mozart and Chopin. In lessons, I am a flurry of sighs, but I force myself after a mistake or comment is tendered, to immediately attempt to correct it– no brooding, just pretend that everything is all right, that all that matters is the physical touch between the piano and me. My soul has nothing to do with it. Rationality of mind can fix everything.

Yet, where is the place for emotion and where is the place for rationality? When do I lose myself in emotion and when I do calmly check myself and say that I need to continue the line and not accent the downbeat? Where does my soul belong in the mechanical transaction between the keyboard and my fingers?

my repertoire I prepared this past semester:

Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude and Fugue, E major, Book I
*I am sorry I  could not find a better version, I like Maurizio Pollini’s the best, if you ever chance by it.

Johann Brahms, Hungarian Dances (one piano, four hands), no. 4 and no. 15
Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky play a tad slower in the beginning than I do.

[school] AP exams, tips, and tomfoolery

Besides killing myself over the SAT, I also worked to death over the APs, eventually earning AP Scholar with Distinction. I’m still not quite sure I totally survived, and I’m not some grades-obsessed, always over-prepared zombie now.

it still doesn't look like an acorn to me, more like an evil acorn

Following is the list of exams that I took, and general notes on them.

Before I begin, I want to point out something very important if you are aiming for a school that accepts less than 40% of applicants: self-studying for AP exams. These schools are extremely competitive, and the people who get into them are extremely competitive. I know a few students to take 8-9 APs their junior year and end up with all 5’s. They’re all now in Yale, UPenn Wharton, Cambridge, etc. And no, they are not all ‘Asian’.  You may not get credit for these scores in these universities, but what you will get is a leg up over some applicants in the pool. If you have the resources and discipline, it is definitely worth considering some self-studying, especially junior year. If you are not aiming for a competitive program, look into the AP exams and credits that your prospective schools will accept, and just take those exams; you can also self-study, but there is less of an impetus to.

General tips

  • Study for every test as if you were studying for the AP test. Break out those AP review books! w00t. Buy or borrow them at the beginning of the year. Ask upperclassmen if they have any; I received a bunch of free ones, so I only bought a few AP review books.
  • Complete every open-ended and answer the multiple choice that Collegeboard has provided, relevant to what your class is learning at that time. What I usually did was print every set at the beginning of the year and shuffle through it as the year went by.
  • Be persistent if you don’t understand something at first. A lot of the subjects build on previous knowledge, so work hard now to avoid working even harder or being hopelessly screwed later.
  • Start comprehensively studying for each exam at least one month before the actual AP exam. The main reason for this is that we all have a lot of other things going on already– sports, SATs, clubs, etc.– so just saving it all for a week beforehand isn’t enough, and difficult to balance. It’s better to study in small sessions spread over a longer period of time than a huge cram session. You won’t be as bored, and you’ll be able to cover topics more in-depth.
  • For every question you get wrong, mark it down. Always return to it and return and return until you can answer the question with no hesitation or trouble.
  • I don’t have a strategy to deal with multiple choice. I always read the passage before looking at the questions. If the question permits, I first cross out the obviously wrong answers. If no right answer immediately jumps out at me, I circle it and quickly go to the next question. I really hate multiple choice, I always feel like I will run out of time.

In sum, my mantra is work hard early on, work less and relax later.

Calculus BC

My teacher was legendary within our school, and for good reason. He was extremely adept at the subject, putting us through the paces early on. Tests would be AP style, and they would be ‘work until the bell’, not ‘be done with 10 minutes left over’. We would fly through chapters, and even though we start school in September (others start in August), we still ended up with 2 weeks left to review. He was so good that I felt a little cheated when I took BC, which seemed absurdly easy compared to the exams my teacher had us do.

However, a lot of students don’t have the luxury of a capable teacher. There is one significant practice you can do to replicate our over-preparedness. We used Larson/Edwards; any similar college-level textbook will do. Though this may run some people into debt, invest in an answer book (I got a completely new one for $20. Original value: $120), or become very chummy with your teacher. Do a lot of the harder problems in the back of sections– mark the ones that gave you trouble, and come back to them until you can do the problem without having any trouble. Textbook problems tend to be harder than anything you’ll find on the AP exam.


Our textbook was Zumdahl (which is used in college as well). Again, practice is key; complete the harder practice problems in your textbook. We also did monthly exercises from this amazing workbook (on which I submitted a review) that focused on equilibrium; AP Chemistry open-ended will always include an EQ problem.

English (Language & Literature, since shortened to Literature)

I remember I wrote an essay on Jane Eyre.. a book that I did not prepare to write about. Check out this list of the books that most frequently appear on the AP exam, and look through your own repertoire. Generally, if you like the book and it is a major classic, like Jane Eyre, I recommend you prep for it– whether you read it in-class or out-of-class. Always include a major Shakespeare work, like Hamlet or Macbeth. For all AP graders, time is of the essence, so it’s important that everything is as clear as possible. To this end, I suggest putting the thesis at the end of the introductory paragraph, typical high school fashion. Everything should be highly structured: topic sentence, quote, analysis, etc. Though I know this mandate is stifling to most people, AP graders aren’t going to sit there and ponder your superstructure and wonderful syntax.


For any foreign language, speak as much as possible. I was forced to take this test one year early (they cancelled Italian the following year), so the result wasn’t as good as I wanted, mostly because I hadn’t had enough conversational practice. Also, read in your respective language (translated Harry Potters, daily news) and write (I mostly ranted, my poor prof.) in the language extensively– when you write, sit down with your instructor and go over the corrections in minutia. Watch movies without subtitles, or with the subtitles in the target language. Force yourself to think in the language, not English and subsequent translation.

Languages are always hard to master, because you need to put in more time into it, not just homework and class time. I find that memorizing a bunch of arbitrary rules is extremely difficult compared to having an extensive reading and writing knowledge and knowing when something ‘feels right’, what language fluency should be. I don’t spend my days thinking about partitives and gerunds in English or Italian, for that matter.

Music Theory

Don’t take this unless you have some musical talent. Cough. The dictation part is killer. I mean it. Stay away!

US History

Continue reading

[tech] $h!rtl3ssTAEMIn. yes. that was my password.

the Lulz boat

Lulzsec has been taking the technology world by storm now, hacking into Sony, the Senate, the CIA, etc. However, I’m sad to say, it has not received much general media coverage, except for little mentions on ‘hacking’ which do not even say the name of ‘Lulzsec’.

How to pronounce Lulzsec:
loooolz (a variation on lol, denoting laughing at a victim of a prank) + sec (like how you say the beginning of “security”, where it derives from)

Now that we have that name barrier out of the way, why should you care about these renegade hackers? Well, they’ve publicly released e-mails and passwords from sites they’ve hacked, exposing internet users to fraud and malicious acts. This action is especially damaging since most users just use one or two passwords for every single account they have. If you want to see if any of your details were released, visit here.

Lulzsec has declared that it wants to take on the “fat cats”, which generally points toward one direction: banks. Er.. so.. though Lulzsec says it’s not in it for the monies, but other people like monies a lot. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like my monies getting stolen..

The simplest way to provide a preliminary barrier and protect yourself against this hacking is to use different passwords for every account. So if one account is compromised, everything else won’t fall like dominoes.

Yes, I know, that means I have more than 20 passwords. It’s not impossible. $h!rtl3ssTAEMIn was incredibly easy to remember, and according to howsecureismypassword.net, it would take a trillion years for that password to crack. The strength of my newest WordPress password? Let’s say in the neighborhood of nine quadrillion years.

The trick is to settle on a theme you like and you’ll remember easily. For example, your favorite books. A sample set of passwords could be:

  1. D3@thly01H@llowS
  2. Am3r!c@n02P@stor@L
  3. M@d@m303Bov@rY
  4. P3rfum304Murd3R
  5. Th305Hobb!T
  6. S3p@r@t306P3@cE

Things to note:

  • I replaced e with 3, a with @, i with !
  • In the middle of each title, I put numbers: 01, 02, 03…
  • I capitalized the first letter of each word
  • I capitalized the last letter of the password
If that patterning is too taxing on your brains, you can create a base password, such as: D3@thly01H@llowS, and then for each site you visit, you’ll add something unique–
  1. Facebook: D3@thly01H@llowSF@CEbook
  2. Twitter: D3@thly01H@llowSTW!Tt3r
  3. WordPress: D3@thly01H@llowSWORDpr3ss
Do whatever makes sense for you, but always make sure that your passwords:
  • are at least eight characters long.
  • include at least one symbol, one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number.
  • do not have whole words in it. What I mean is, don’t use “dancing”; “d@nc!ng” would be better, because last I checked, “nc” and “ng” aren’t words in the dictionary–dictionary words are easily run through by password-breaking programs.

However, I bet some of you are still thinking, “All I have is a dinky mail and Facebook account. I really don’t need this 15 character password, Michelle! You dinky blogger nerd!”

Unless you really profess to live under a rock, you will have online dealings with sensitive information someday. The way the internet is moving, it’s toward greater transparency towards your identity– you can see this in the new commenting system Techcrunch implemented to stem the flow of trolls, and the new system WordPress has started, both letting users comment via Facebook, the ultimate destroyer of anonymity. It’s better to start strong now than to regret it later. Possibly one day, stealing your Facebook account details will be akin to stealing your passport (that is, if Google Wallet concept ever takes off).

Oh, one more thing.

Completely change your passwords every six months.

I’m due for a revamp soon. Fun.