Workaholics at Stanford

Opinion by Josh Cho
Oct. 24, 2016, 12:01 a.m.

Workaholics at Stanford tend to be the least interesting bunch.

They kill themselves with 20 units. 21 units. 22 units. And they boast, “I am going to die this quarter. I am not getting enough sleep. I have too many p-sets.”

They are proud of these facts. In reality, they should be mortified.

Why are you “killing yourself”? Why are you suffering so much? Is there a reason for all this suffering?

I was sitting in CS 221 (a time-intensive AI class) a couple of days ago. After a bit of lecturing, our professor asked the class, “How many of you are taking both CS 229” – another time-intensive AI class – “and 221?”

Half the hands went up.

I cringed. Visibly. Audibly.

I know some quite clever CS students and they regret taking both 221 and 229 in the same quarter. The feasibility of this combination was not a matter of brilliance, but a matter of time.

These kids were hopeful out of their minds. Over-committing themselves. Expecting their brilliance and hard work to take over. Ignoring their human limits.

Basically, pride was written all over their minds.

Perhaps this sadistic self-harm is a means of belonging. Superiority. Safety.

A couple of months back, I asked my advisor, “what are the greatest mistakes CS majors make?”

He replied with the following (and I paraphrase):

  1. Most CS majors should be minors, not majors.
  2. People just take way too many classes.

Classes are safe. They confirm what you know. They confirm that you are smart. But if you genuinely wish to learn, then condescend yourself to the newbie status. Be the novice in the room.

Classes are also an easy thing to default to if you don’t know what you want. You can hide behind the wall of 20 units. But perhaps those classes aren’t the best space to learn. A CS nerd will learn more from Rejection Therapy, or the art of doing something social that gets you out of your comfort zone, than from taking another class. Social skills are not set in stone.  It’s tough, but social growth is doable. That’s why it proves invaluable.

I have a growing theory, grounded part in jest and part in reality.

The Nerd-Jock Learning Theory: Nerds should hang out with Jocks, and Jocks should hang out with Nerds.

Learn from those dissimilar to you, those with different skill sets. It’s uncomfortable, but thoroughly worthwhile. Exchange perspectives, not knowledge.

If you are taking 20+ units at Stanford, you are not making the most out of a Stanford education. The value of Stanford lies within people, not classes. We all know you can take most classes at Stanford 5,000 or more miles away. MOOCs abound, self-study prevails.

Take 12 units, and spend eight units meeting people. Get out of your comfort zone. Pick the brains of award-winning professors, go to workshops, go to conferences. Learn actively. Invest in the most valuable merchandise: yourself.

Those who do this will be a force to reckon with.


Contact Josh Cho at joshcho ‘at’

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