Yikes

As course registration for the spring semester began to approach a couple of weeks ago, I realized that yet another semester was coming to a close and I had a true-to-form “yikes” moment.

I’ll save the drama and just say that basically, I wasn’t exactly sure I was fully enjoying everything I’ve been studying, and I still wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do after Hopkins. I think I was so focused on knocking out degree requirements left and right for my majors and graduating in 3 1/2 years, that I hadn’t really taken a second to reflect on these last few years and think hard about the spookily close “future”.

I consulted a bunch of my friends and gave them the low-down and they were all extremely supportive and helpful. One of my housemates recommended that I just sit down, look back at the classes I’ve taken at Hopkins, and break them down. What were my favorite classes? What did I enjoy about them? What would be potential related job opportunities?

So I did just that. I took a look at each semester’s schedule, picked my stand-out favorites, and tried to synthesize some sort of overarching theme that could link them all and hopefully produce an aha moment about the rest of my time at Hopkins and after.

Fall 2014: Discrete Mathematics

Wow, what a throwback. I remember the first homework assignment being a bunch of different math puzzles and games, the goal being to get us used to approaching problems from a logical mindset. This was the basis of the entire class. Throughout the semester, I got my first look at algorithms, learned how to write mathematical proofs, and was introduced to a variety of interesting topics like cryptography and graph theory. Might sound like a weird choice, but definitely one of my favorites of this semester.

Spring 2015: Introduction to Computing

Introduction to Computing was literally my introduction to computing. With zero coding experience, I enrolled in the class to get some hands-on learning and programming knowledge. I found myself really enjoying the homework assignments and learning how to problem solve with code. There was something so, so satisfying about getting my code to work and figuring out the solution to the problem at hand.

Fall 2015: Introduction to Optimization

This class introduced me to the field of optimization and helped me solidify my applied math focus area! You can see similarities between this class and my other favorites: problem solving, coding, analytical thinking. These were the aspects I enjoyed the most about this class. The problem sets and coding were challenging, but I distinctly remember the beautiful feeling of running my simplex method function and it finally working perfectly. Super satisfying.

Spring 2016: Data Visualization for Individualized Health

I’ve already raved about how much I like this class, so I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this class really helped me shape my current path as to what I want to further study and pursue after Hopkins. The class was quantitative and code-heavy, but we also talked about visual theory and how to make numbers aesthetically pleasing and communicable. Ugh.

Fall 2016: Mathematical Modeling and Consulting

I decided to take this class because I was intrigued by the strange, mysterious world of “consulting” as more and more of my friends became newly employed in this field. In class, we learn different topics related to optimization and mathematical modeling, and apply them in consulting-focused group project case-studies. I’ve helped fictitious companies create efficient condominium construction schedules, proposed efficient monorail routes and attractions to improve tourism in a made-up country, and forecasted passenger arrivals and security line wait times at a theoretical airport. The class is heavily focused on presenting our results in a more professional setting, utilizing mathematical topics to solve real-world problems, and building stealthy code that will help solve these problems.

Looking through all of these classes I’ve narrowed down what I really enjoy to a couple of points:

  • I like quantitative, logical thinking. I think just naturally, I like the problem-solution structure of math. I feel accomplished when I finish writing working code, and I would much rather choose long problem sets over massive papers.
  • I like needing to be a bit creative. Whether it’s being creative in how I visualize data, in how I approach a consulting task, or how I tackle my MATLAB code, I need to have some innovation in my life.
  • I like seeing the big picture applications and real-world impact. My class on data visualization was awesome because we worked with clinicians and used real, historical, global health data. My modeling and consulting class is great because we apply what we learn in class to realistic, business case studies and present them as if we are presenting to our clients.

To summarize my final thoughts and the end of my internal crisis: I successfully realized what I enjoy studying, so I will focus on these types of courses throughout the rest of my time at Hopkins, and perhaps they will shed some more light on what exactly I want to do after I graduate. I’ll take some computer science classes, maybe a design class at MICA. Although I’m not entirely sure I want to focus on something in public health after Hopkins, I’ll finish through with my public health degree, taking classes at Bloomberg to learn from brilliant minds and address real-world public health problems.

So, action items:

  • Enroll in computer science courses next semester to gain more programming skills and see if I really like the field. If so, look into a minor in computer science.
  • Apply for internships in data science, operations research, and analytics/visualization.
  • Stay four full years to get the most out of the rest of my time at Hopkins, not rush through anything, and hopefully I’ll find something I enjoy when the time comes!!

 

20 Better Things

Bad days are inevitable. Here’s what I do when they happen:

  1. Stop doing work. I won’t be productive, and I won’t feel any happier when I’m doing it.
  2. Down a bowl of pho. Or ramen, depending on the day. Choose your comfort food. Then eat it.
  3. Watch an episode of The Office. Fire drill episode highly recommended.
  4. Listen to Blonde. Poolside convo ’bout this really bad day that’s almost over soon.
  5. Take a walk. Or a run. Depending on your energy level.
  6. Take a nap. They help.
  7. FaceTime a friend. 
  8. Get a mani/pedi. I’ve never done this, but four of my (male) friends did this. They said it was dope.
  9. Grab a scoop of Mint Mountain. Current favorite flavor from the Charmery. Speaking from personal experience, this is a cure-all.
  10. Clear my desktop. Highly satisfying.
  11. Edit photos. This might be a very Quan-specific favorite pastime.
  12. Play Catan. I haven’t played a game of Catan since the summer, and I could really go for one right now.
  13. Clean my living space. Clear space, clear mind? People say that, right?
  14. Plan a trip. #SB2K17 must live up to #SB2K16.
  15. Watch cooking videos. Or just binge-watch @emmymadeinjapan taste snacks from around the world.
  16. Find new music. There’s a lot of new albums I still need to listen to. Perfect time to go through them!
  17. Cook a meal for myself. Once I finish watching cooking videos, I usually feel the need to attempt something in the kitchen for myself.
  18. Watch some stand-up. I am not a big stand-up guy, but recently my friends have been showing me some fantastic HBO specials. I highly recommend Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K.
  19. Take a long shower. To date, two of my housemates have vouched for showering in the dark? Is that weird? I might have to try it.
  20. Leave if needed. Sometimes, you just need to leave campus. True story.

I think everyone reaches a point in the semester where everything just piles up: school, clubs, life in general. Fall Break seems to come at the perfect time — right when everyone just about needs it. Including me.