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Q&A: A graduating student looks back on his MIT experience

Christopher Wang, a senior in EECS, shares his favorite study spaces, how he discovered theater at the Institute, and what he'll miss most.
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A young man wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers scrambles over a rocky ledge atop a high mountain. Clouds, a broad sky, and forested hilltops are visible in the background.
The 6-3 Computer Science and Engineering major, who graduates this spring, reflects on his experience at MIT, what he'll miss, and the new interests he developed as a result of his time in Cambridge.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Wang.

Christopher Wang is a senior graduating from MIT this month. The Course 6-3 (Computer Science and Engineering) major has discovered a love for theater during his time at MIT, developing his playwriting, acting, directing, and even lighting design skills through involvement in student groups. But he nearly didn’t come to MIT at all; a chance conversation with his brother brought him to Cambridge. Here, as he prepares for his next adventure, Wang shares some of his experiences at the Institute.

Q: Describe one conversation that changed the trajectory of your life.

A: I spent the first five semesters of undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, during most of which I was a biology major pursuing medicine. When I switched to computer science at the start of my fifth semester, my brother suggested in passing that I apply for transfer admission to MIT. I did, but honestly, it was mostly to appease him.

By the time the decision came out, I had completely forgotten about it, so I was shocked to see that I'd gotten in! I wasn't even sure I wanted to go — I had already settled in at WashU, academically and socially, so it was tough to give all that up — but one of my professors told me to go and never think twice about it.

It's pretty crazy to think about how different my life would have been if I hadn't applied or gone. I think I would have been happy either way, but looking back, I feel incredibly lucky to have met all the thoughtful, visionary people I know now at MIT.

Q: What’s your favorite place on MIT’s campus to study, and why?

A: One, the lounge on the sixth floor of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning building. It's a small-ish, cozy room with several tables and a nice view of Mass Ave. In particular, I like that it's usually pretty empty, which makes it a great place to pset together or work with teammates on a group project! One caveat is that you need to be a Course 11 major/minor/concentrator to gain access, but thankfully, I have two friends who can let me in.

Two, the third-floor atrium in Building 46, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences building. I often run into friends going to or from their Course 9 classes, and sometimes pastries or snacks are also served. Most of all, it empties out in the evenings, and I just really like studying in wide-open empty spaces!

Q: What’s your favorite food found on, or near, campus?

A: I'm a bit of a health nut, so I'm going to say Life Alive! They have a lot of salads, grain bowls, and wraps that are both healthy and delicious, and the nutrition information is also on the website. My personal favorite items are the teriyaki shiitake wrap or the greens, egg, and cheese breakfast wrap. When I'm not being a health nut, I also really like Toscanini's B3 (brown sugar, brown butter, and brownies) ice cream.

Q: Tell me about one interest or hobby you’ve discovered since you came to MIT.

A: Theater! I didn’t have any theater experience before coming to MIT, but MIT has a vibrant theater scene, including both academics and student groups. I got involved in student groups like Next Act (a musical theater group based in Next House that performs for Campus Preview Weekend every year) and Life On Stage Theater (a group focused on performing contemporary plays) and I completed my HASS [Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences] concentration in Theater Arts as well. I’ve dabbled in many different aspects — ranging from writing plays to playing a Spanish womanizer onstage, from designing lights for dance shows to directing a musical written from scratch. The theater community at MIT is very beginner-friendly, so I’d highly suggest checking it out for anyone who’s interested!

These days, I also frequently seek out plays to watch in the Boston area, and even travel to [New York City] for particular productions from time to time. Of the ones I’ve seen, my favorite musicals are “Beetlejuice” and “Come From Away,” and my favorite plays are “Wolf Play,” “Manahatta,” and “Prayer for the French Republic.”

Q: Tell us about your favorite game — it could be a computer game, a board game, a video game, a game you made up to make long car rides more interesting — anything!

A: Ooh, that's tough. I'm a big fan of video games and don't have one clear favorite, so I'm going to cheat and give several:

Celeste:” A precision 2D platformer with perhaps my favorite game-play mechanics and level design! The physics just feel so smooth and fluid, and the game constantly introduces new mechanisms that allow for some extraordinarily satisfying movement. The difficulty ramps up to insane levels throughout the game, but it's always paced such that each level is just doable enough for you to keep pushing through. It also has some really nice pixel art and music, and a simple yet powerful story about struggling with anxiety and self-acceptance. (It's also surprisingly popular among my friends at MIT!)

A Dance of Fire and Ice:” A precise rhythm game where geometry meets music! Two rotating orbs traverse a track, and you have to tap in rhythm based on the shape of the track. A series of tiles in a straight line (180-degree angles) represents a quarter-note beat, whereas eighth notes are represented by 90 degrees, triplets by 60 or 120, and so on. It makes more sense when you see it, so if this sounds interesting, take a look here!

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim:” Of all the sci-fi stories I've consumed, this game has the most intricate, staggering, mind-blowing one by far. The basic premise is that 13 high school students are tasked with using the Sentinels — giant mechanized robots — to fight off the kaiju (monsters) invading their world — but that description barely scratches the surface. It takes every science fiction element ever known and combines them all into a single narrative in unique and subversive ways. The game includes the intersecting story arcs of 13 different protagonists that you can play in (mostly) any order, resulting in a dizzying amount of complexity, but never so much that you lose interest. Along with the narrative segments, the game also includes several dozen real-time strategy tower defense game-play stages. Did I mention that the music and art are also gorgeous?

Q: What’s your favorite TikTok, Instagram or YouTube video?

A: “me and the boys after watching mary poppins”

Q: What are you looking forward to about life after graduation? What do you think you’ll miss about MIT?

A: I'm looking forward to having free time that's completely mine, without having to worry about whether I should be getting ahead on work, investing more time into my research, etc. Normally I'm good at establishing a sustainable balance even at MIT, but sometimes it's all too easy for me to do too much without realizing how much strain I'm putting on myself. This semester, I didn't realize how exhausted I was until spring break finally hit.

But that flexibility goes both ways, too: I'll miss psetting with friends in the evenings on a problem that's enraptured our brains. I'll miss the freedom to sip tea and read a book on weekday afternoons without worrying about being somewhere. I'll miss the opportunities to organize last-minute food outings and hiking trips, the ease of walking down the hall and knocking on people's doors, the spontaneity of “Smash Bros.” sessions in the dorm lounges.

Most of all, I'll miss the friends I've made here — the friends I play party games with, the friends I go running with, the friends I talk with about the future and our ideals and the kinds of people we want to become. For all of you, I wish nothing but the best, and I hope we still find ways to remember and see each other once we graduate.

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