UW: year one in review

This page is the review of my first year at University of Washington (which I attend as of October 2015 as an undergraduate student). To see separate reviews for each quarter during the year, check out my quarterly reviews, which in turn point to my course reviews:

The overall emotional tone for me for the first year was extremely negative. No doubt this is partly due to some ongoing personal problems, but two possibly more significant factors were the general disappointment of the university experience and stress from coursework. My first year was spent essentially completing prerequisites for admission to the computer science major, and as such I did not learn much academically (e.g. introductory programming, mechanics, and proof-based single-variable calculus were all topics I had explored previously). That isn’t to say I didn’t learn anything academically: I still learned a fair amount in math courses I took in the latter two quarters, namely differential equations in MATH 135 and rigorous linear algebra in MATH 136; I also knew close to nothing about climate modelling so everything in ATM S 559 was new.

As for disappointment with the university experience, this was mostly due to college being essentially identical to high school. I still found homework tedious and unrewarding, and myself unable to connect with all but a few people1. To be sure, there was greater freedom—but to do what, exactly? For someone not interested in partying and drinking, college freedom isn’t too useful, except to skip lectures (but even here, many classes force attendance through “class participation” grades or clickers).

I’d also like to note that during this year I felt increasingly alienated by academic work. During high school, although I could not tolerate the tedious work in classes, I still wished to excel academically by self-studying outside of school (this is how I learned e.g. the rudiments of set theory and real analysis). However, this was the first year in which my impatience with academics overwhelmed my curiosity. In other words, I wanted greatly to do something instead of just learning. My greater involvement in various online communities, combined with starting the Cause Prioritization Wiki (with guidance from Vipul Naik) made me realize that I could in fact “learn by doing” to a greater extent than I had anticipated. (Until this year I had mostly been trying to “build myself up” by becoming competent academically, putting off actually doing much until later.)


  1. I have mostly given up on making friends in real life. If real-life interactions lead to friendships, then that is great, but I find online interaction to be much more rewarding in large part.