MIT Essays

uni

17 Mar 2022

11 minute read

Disclaimer: Don’t make comparisons or base yourself on these essays as inspiration. They’re my own subjective experience, and could honestly be quite improved. DO NOT TRY TO USE THEM TO GAME THE SYSTEM

I got into MIT recently, class of ‘26. I’m thinking of majoring in Math and Computer Science or Computation and Cognition. Some people asked, so here are my MIT essays. Hit me up if you’re also attending and are interested in this stuff, either by email or @halcyon on discord. I feel these essays open a specific but revealing look into who I am.

Highlights:

Main Essays #

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it. #

I use poetry as an outlet for my feelings and creativity. This passion stems from a deep appreciation for literature and fiction I’ve had my entire life. Where I used to marvel at the creative imagination of science fiction authors like Asimov and Pullman, I now dive into the intricate worlds of authors like Kazuo Ishiguro or Balzac, and enjoy the subtle beauty of French poets like Baudelaire.

Inspired by these works, I started to write poems myself. Poetry allows me to indulge in my passion for writing and linguistics while reflecting on my emotions and transforming them into a form I find beautiful. In dissecting and rearranging the structure of words, I can create my own personal and imaginary landscape.

Although my poetry is an introspective process, it’s also an activity I share with friends and family. I delight in capturing feelings or experiences that my loved ones can relate to, like in my poem on the lockdown.

Poetry means much more to me, however, as the fascination with the beauty of language that it inspired led me to discover Natural Language Processing. NLP then opened my eyes to computer science in general and an entire world of scientific ideas and concepts, parallel to the realm of literature.

Science, emotion; Poetry pierces with flair And lucid beauty.

Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc.* #

I was taking the train on my daily commute when I noticed a woman unabashedly ignoring the requirement to wear a mask. Another passenger confronted her, and she suddenly assaulted the whole subway car with a stream of conspiracies about COVID. This vivid example of misunderstanding of the pandemic reflects a general attitude of many people worldwide. Scientific misunderstanding is aggravating the situation, and social media now pulls more and more people into echo chambers of fallacies. These beliefs can harm the very structure of society and ultimately kill people, especially in a global pandemic.

In May 2020 I tackled this issue by joining a team of international scientists producing illustrated and accessible articles answering key questions about COVID. Our organization, AdiosCorona, reviews and popularizes recent academic literature to limit the spread of misinformation. As the sole developer, I built the Adios Corona website and engineered an accessible interface for both the external visitors and the scientists who were responsible for releasing new content. We now serve millions of visitors and answer their abundant questions on how to cope with the pandemic. AdiosCorona embodies the open, collaborative spirit I fell in love with working on open source software projects.

This was a formative experience, highlighting how with minimal resources but strong motivation and hard work, we could directly contribute to the fight against a global pandemic by addressing scientific ignorance.

Cultural Heritage #

My father is Turkish-American, and my mother is French! I’m proud of my cultural heritage and try to preserve my link to it. Indeed, I’m bilingual in French-English with a second-language level in Turkish.

My time in California is a nostalgic part of my childhood, as it represents both my American origins and my first cognizant exploration of the world. I moved to France at 5 and developed another part of my identity as my family introduced me to Paris and its tremendous culture.

Entrenched between these two identities, my link to Turkey has not waned. I regularly go to (omitted), a small Turkish town on the Aegean coast, to see family. The time I spend there is idyllic, and I enjoy just talking with my grandparents in their native tongue.

This international perspective has given me an appreciation for cultural diversity that I want to share at MIT.

Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you.* #

I first began programming to see how I could optimize the way I did my English homework, by writing programs to analyze text. I quickly fell in love with Natural Language Processing — the study of algorithms to process text. NLP bridged my love for literature, computer science and mathematics. My interests quickly expanded to subjects like cybersecurity and cryptography. Computer science has given me an endless amount of subjects to dive into and the power to build my own software, like Archivy, thereby uniting my curiosity for STEM with my motivation to contribute something useful to the world.

Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?* #

I woke up early one morning in February 2020 to frantically reload my email. I was searching for a message with the subject “Google Code-In”. Finally, I saw it and was so moved that I started crying as I told my whole family: “I got selected as a Grand Prize Winner !”

I discovered Google Code-in (GCI), an international software development competition where teenagers worked for non-profit projects. GCI changed my life by igniting my passion for computer science and open collaboration.

During GCI, I worked with the climate science organization Publiclab, which builds environmental mapping software as well as online activist platforms. I improved its websites’ security and design, and wrote about the organization’s shared belief in knowledge as a universal right, aided by collaboration.

At the end, I was selected as a Grand Prize winner and gained access to a stimulating GCI winner community. It introduced me to open source and a plethora of subjects like functional programming, classical mechanics, and competitive cybersecurity. Where I had once viewed my learning and programming as a solitary endeavor, I was now building in the open and with friends.

GCI was a personal revolution, opening my eyes to a boundless field of ideas in STEM, but also reshaping my social values by highlighting the genius in community — how it can expand our vision and empower us to turn that vision into reality.

My goal is to foster collaborative learning and collective ingenuity through software and research, both at and beyond college.

If you think that additional information about your family will give us a more thorough impression of your background, please include it here. #

My parents have wildly different backgrounds, but their families share these common traits: curiosity and an aspiration to scientific research and problem solving. This curiosity and desire to uncover truths about the natural world has been passed on to me. Chatting with my parents about their passion for science, and collectively brainstorming solutions to STEM problems has given me an appreciation for critical reasoning and stoked excitement for tackling open-ended challenges.

My grandfather grew up in poor conditions in Turkey, at the time a developing country where access to opportunity and quality education was sparse. He managed to excel in his studies and overcome the financial obstacles that hindered him, coming to the US to research physics. His inspiring example fills me with respect and admiration for the effort that has gone into providing me the opportunities and education I enjoy.

My legacy drives me, as a student with access to high-quality classes in a Parisian high-school, to constantly be curious and take advantage of the opportunities available to me, such as extracurricular math and computer science competitions. However, this part of my heritage also pushes me to question my own privilege and give back to my community as much as possible, through open source development and my involvement in initiatives like AdiosCorona.

Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced or something that didn’t go according to plan that you feel comfortable sharing. How did you manage the situation?* #

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Maker PORTFOLIO #

Briefly describe your portfolio of work. #

I’ve been programming for years now, and have built many projects, almost all united by a central theme: how can we learn, share and collaborate efficiently, using the internet to our advantage? Whether it be through my personal blog, the informational website I developed on COVID, or my knowledge management programs Archivy & Espial, I’ve been striving towards the goal of facilitating learning and the sharing of ideas. My strategy is to explore ideas and projects in the vast field of computer science which combine my vivid interest for linguistics with programming. Natural Language Processing is one such topic which has recently captured my imagination.

How do you make? #

I’ve typed all my software on the same old HP laptop, now covered with STEM and open source stickers. My software is open source to make it accessible and encourage cooperation. Open collaboration has become an intrinsic part of the way I build and learn. I started programming on my own through CodeAcademy and The Odin Project courses. Now I mostly discover new ideas and projects through Hacker News, GitHub and various blogs. Whenever I have an idea or become curious about a new paradigm, I turn to books and online courses, such as Get Programming with Haskell or Speech and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Most of my main projects are built in expressive programming languages like Python or Ruby. For newer projects, I tend to use more efficient, typed languages like Crystal. My favorite libraries are Rails for web development and Spacy for NLP.

Why do you make? #

Programming is a way for me to turn my creativity into something accessible and potentially useful for anyone in the world. As I build out my own vision, I share it with a welcoming open source community. Every project is a venture into an unknown world of complexity. Brainstorming on my whiteboard with friends or writing the first line of code are amazing feelings – almost as satisfying as fixing an issue I’ve spent all night debugging. I’m continuously reliving a feeling of wonder on my journey to learn STEM subjects like web development, functional programming, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Every challenge is a new opportunity for me to evolve and discover intriguing ideas. More than this, my software now has a direction — improving the way we learn and collaborate online. I want to harness the untapped potential of the internet and computer science to aid everyone’s personal development.

What’s the most meaningful thing you’ve made? * #

Describe for us the single most significant (to you) thing you’ve made and why it holds such importance. You might tell us about what challenges you encountered while making this, and how you went about solving these issues. The volume of useful information online makes many resources hard to use and organize efficiently.

My open source project Archivy solves this problem by enabling organization of knowledge into “personal knowledge bases”. Archivy allows you to download articles into your knowledge base, and then combine these with your notes, as a support on which to explore your thoughts.

I’ve always loved to learn and grow online, and Archivy empowers thousands to do this better. The most challenging obstacle in my work in this place has been organization — it takes time to structure knowledge so that you can extract new insights and links. Since July 2020, I’ve been researching how Natural Language Processing can improve organization and help us generate new ideas. I’ve had to research and create my own AI algorithms for this task, forming a new project named Espial I am ready to launch.

For more info, you can also take a look at my MIT Maker portfolio projects overview and my portfolio video.

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