[college] orientation for introverts

In just a few weeks, orientation will begin for college freshmen. At most colleges, especially small ones, orientation can be an intense bonding experience, and a positive experience that makes your friend circle for all four years. Yet, for introverts like me, orientation was torture. Having to go to mass events teeming with overeager first years, then being encouraged to spill my secrets to strangers, and everywhere, people plastered with sweet smiles. I know they were all very nice people, but the relentless onslaught of cheeriness made me feel even more depressed.

the kind of people I typically get along with understand this joke.

the kind of people I typically get along with understand this joke.

At my college, we did most things in our pre-assigned “first year mentor” groups. Being an introvert, you can usually immediately pick out who you do not get along with well; in this case, this was my roommate and my entire first year mentor group. For the first week, I tried so, so hard, despite that. I felt even more alone after that, as I realized time and time again, our thoughts did not align.

Some people have asked me on ask.fm some advice for college, and my number one advice is always “do everything”, which seems like a contradiction on the surface. It’s not. Try everything that you’re interested in at least once– at those activities, make an effort to talk to others.

I wish someone was there to tell me that I did not have to sit through the onslaught that was orientation. It is perfectly all right to shun and skip out on orientation events– there are plenty of ways to make friends, through classes, through extracurricular activities, and even through work. All of my good friends at college have been made that way; I knew none of them during orientation. Everyone has their own pace of finding and making friends, and do not let it bother you that perhaps you may not have a huge circle of friends by the time school starts. Tend to your own interests and your garden of friends will naturally grow.


hey, you. especially you female persons. study math.

From Wikipedia:

An event in George Dantzig’s life became the origin of a famous story in 1939 while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Near the beginning of a class for which Dantzig was late, professor Jerzy Neyman wrote two examples of famously unsolved statistics problems on the blackboard. When Dantzig arrived, he assumed that the two problems were a homework assignment and wrote them down. According to Dantzig, the problems “seemed to be a little harder than usual”, but a few days later he handed in completed solutions for the two problems, still believing that they were an assignment that was overdue.

Six weeks later, Dantzig received a visit from an excited professor Neyman, eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics. He had prepared one of Dantzig’s solutions for publication in a mathematical journal. As Dantzig told it in a 1986 interview in the College Mathematics Journal:

A year later, when I began to worry about a thesis topic, Neyman just shrugged and told me to wrap the two problems in a binder and he would accept them as my thesis.

Years later another researcher, Abraham Wald, was preparing to publish a paper which arrived at a conclusion for the second problem, and included Dantzig as its co-author when he learned of the earlier solution.

In 2009, about 32% of PhDs awarded in mathematics were to women, compared to evolutionary biology, in which 48% of women were awarded PhDs. Women likewise are relatively equal in biochemistry, statistics, neuroscience, and molecular biology.

But why are we behind in the hardest of the ‘hard sciences’? Mathematics, physics, astrophysics, computer science, engineering? Less than 20% of physics PhDs were awarded to women in 2009.

That statistic is almost hard to believe because I come from a women’s school where a great majority of students I know personally are math and science majors. You’re looking at one of them– an economics and mathematics double major. At my college, 51% of tenured faculty are women, when you’re looking at a nationwide average of only 31%; research suggests that in the sciences, the more females there are on the faculty, the more likely their female students will pursue the sciences. I am surrounded by smart, driven women, 80% of which make it to graduate school in the next 10 years after graduation. Additionally, after MIT, my college was the home of the second established undergraduate physics lab in the United States.

But these are anomalies, by and by. This does not happen in other schools, not even in some Ivy Leagues and other top-notch schools. In general, women simply do not dive for physics, mathematics, and engineering. In an era where we say that a woman can do anything a man can, we are still far behind in matching men in the hard sciences. I will not go into the details why, but you can read these following articles if interested:

Maybe not all of us females can be like Mr. George Dantzig and solve ‘unsolved’ conjectures for homework, but we can still shoot for those physics, mathematics, engineering PhDs and excel. I am begging you, if you have any interest in the sciences, especially the hard sciences, please continue to explore that in college.

Perhaps we all do not need to study pure mathematics and go to math grad school, but females can all certainly branch out to biomedical engineering, pharmacy, and computer science, all high-paying disciplines that require higher than average mathematical skills and reasoning. From the way the world economy is going, the majority of jobs will be located in a sector that utilizes science and technology. Mathematics cannot be overlooked. Even for women who would like to head out into the service sector– being savvy in mathematics and economics would help lead to an even cushier retirement.


I came into college looking to major in history, but I ended up with mathematics. However, many of my female friends from high school are the opposite, at the onset, they proclaim allegiance to engineering, but some (not all) find the environment too daunting and difficult that they gravitate towards cinema studies, and god forbid, biology. Not all of us have the good fortune to be inspired and surrounded by so many women who are driven in the hard sciences, but just know, you can do it. Even if you are not the brightest banana in the bunch, but you like mathematics a hell of a lot better than reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles in English, just go for it. Please do not fall into the “I’m too pretty to do math” trap. Weather through middle school and high school, and trust me, you will find many females like you in college.

If you love it, you will always be able to find a way.

[nerd] math major memes!

To celebrate my return from hiatus, I was busy (wasting time and) looking up math memes. Set theory, I will conquer you this fall, just so I finally understand 90% of the math memes out there. That’s actually the only reason I’m considering a mathematics major. Right.  Continue reading

[school] How to get a 2400 on your SATs, Michelle-kindergarten-style

Or rather, not only how to get a 2400, but how to improve your SAT score overall. You caught me– the Pirandello-reader, Julie-Mehretu-appreciator, grades-obsessed, glasses-wearer-because-she-wakes-up-too-late-to-put-in-contacts, libertarian, Asian child in one of the best liberal arts college in the United States got a 2400. Typical, right?

Not really. I was only No. 3 in my graduating class of 286, and if anyone was going to bet money who was going to get a 2400, it would have been my best friend, the perfectionist and valedictorian, who never got anything but A’s (that means no A minuses). She eked out a 2360. Also, the first time I took it, I got a 2150. Yep, that’s right, I had a 250 point jump. So that one groggy morning in June when SAT scores were released, I was sitting in the school library, trying to make sense of the three identical numbers: “WHAT!!!! I GOT A 2100?!! THAT’S LOWER THAN MY PREVIOUS SCORE!” Then I was thinking, maybe I should check Google Calculator to make sure 800 x 3 was 2100 (and to think I got an 800 on Math). It came up as 2400. The rest is history, and now I get treated by my family in China like I’m a Messiah. Though I’m not sure I’m as legendary in my old high school as that girl who skipped senior year and went to Harvard instead.

Collegeboard: "How to Improve your Scores" VERY FUNNY!!

Since I’m Asian, obviously all of the Asian parents flock to my mom now for advice, in fact, an Asian mom called home today to ask my mom what to do with her honors student daughter who only scored an 1800. I told my mom to tell her these three points:

  1. Set a target score.
    This should be based on your own ability and the schools you want to apply to. This also must be realistic. For example, I regularly scored over 2000, so a 2200 was my goal. Having a target score will help you focus on what you need to work on. For me, I needed to raise my math over the 700 threshold.
  2. Practice regularly.
    One to two months before the test, do practice questions. This can be as short as 20-30 minutes every day. This is crucial because the SAT is not a measure of how smart you are, but rather how well you can take a test. The more you get used to the type of questions through practice, the better you will do. I would recommend a variety of practice materials, like Princeton Review, McGraw Hill, and Barron’s (I always found Kaplan to be easier than the SATs).
  3. Relax.
    Don’t kill yourself with preparation. Psyching yourself up and killing yourself over it always opens up a huge avenue for disappointment, no matter how well you do. I’ll let you in on a secret: the day before the SATs, I always stayed home from school and watched some TV, read some Harry Potter, got lots of sleep. So, when I walked into the school at 8AM the next morning, I was reasonably happy and relaxed. Trust me, when you’re happy, your test results tend to be happier.

Of course, I know this advice is very simplistic and vague. Ultimately, it really depends on the individual to assess their abilities accurately—-these guidelines will help you shape a good routine.

I submitted several reviews on Amazon.com for practice books, and if you are considering any practice book at all, please look into Barron’s Writing Workbook, which saved my life. My general advice for prep classes is that if you are already scoring over +2000, these classes will not be a help, and you would be better off studying individually (save your money for a celebration after you get your 2400, obviously). Also, I would advise not to take the SAT more than twice; take the first SAT in January or December and then the second one either in May or June, if necessary. That will give you time to recoup.

Currently, I am also a CR/W SAT coach for the non-profit, Let’s Get Ready. If you have any other questions about the SAT or the college process, as a parent or student, I would be happy to answer.