We will be featuring different members of the Brilliant community, so that you can get to know them better. For the thirteenth issue, we are featuring Ahaan Rungta, who recently made the news for being a 15 year old MIT student.
1) Tell us more about yourself.
I am a freshman at MIT. I currently do not know exactly what I want to do in university, but I hope to major in something related to math and/or computer science. Luckily, due to MIT's diversity and broad curriculum, I would not have to decide for a while. Apart from classes and PSETs (problem set assignments), I enjoy the clubs I am in, which include MIT's Tae Kwon Do team, the Educational Studies Program, and being an officer of the Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament. Also, I am continuing a few things that I did in high school, including my contest CalcBee. I am also currently a UROP student, researching in biomathematics, thanks to MIT-PRIMES, which I was a part of in high school. I like to let my passions and circumstances take over my destiny. So far, it's worked out wonderfully.
2) Tell us something that the Brilliant community doesn't know about.
I can speak Greek reasonably well, can play the cello and piano reasonably well, can play chess reasonably well, and can play multiple sports reasonably well. Right now, I'm kind of a jack of all trades, master of none.
3) What inspired you to use OCW to learn math and science?
It mainly stemmed from the fact that I was in a part of Florida where the school system was not at all captivating for me. This forced my parents to want to homeschool me, after which my mother found out about OCW. The simple teaching style by the professors and the non-complex curriculum made learning easy for me. Soon enough, I was beginning to love college-level math and science, something a lot of people can't do due to its inaccessibility. OCW did not bridge the gap between high school and college for me -- it removed that gap.
4) What was the process that you used? Did you have to take a course multiple times to understand the material?
When I started on OCW, I used high school highlights, after which I felt I was ready for a lot of the college material, so I learned math, physics, chemistry, and computer science using the courses in OCW, pretty much in order of their course number in MIT. For example, in math, I progressed from 18.01 to 18.02 and then upped to 18.022, then 18.03, etc. I found that the course numbers are a pretty good approximation of the order it is easiest to learn in. Most importantly, I did not rush into moving from one course to another. Rather, to begin with, I spent extra time listening to all the lectures, perhaps sometimes multiple times, and solving all the problems and using all the supplementary materials on each course so as to not rush the learning procedure.
5) What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow your footsteps?
My first advice is to not follow any person's footsteps. I believe that every person was born for a different purpose and that life was designed to make every person unique. The differences in trajectories of every person's life are what make our planet so interesting. Instead of trying to do something someone else did, I think we should all just do what we love the most, without regard to orthodox methods. I was homeschooled because my parents knew that would make me the happiest. I believed in myself in everything I did because I did not think of failure -- I knew, if I were following my dreams, I couldn't regret it. Chase your dreams, no matter what they are.
6) What issues do you face being a 15 year old freshman at MIT?
I actually don't face many challenges at all at MIT. One of the things that make MIT the most awesome place in the world is the welcoming community. At MIT, every one of us are part of a big family, no matter what our interests and backgrounds. In fact, many have told me, after they find out how old I am, that they never realized I was younger than them. I have not had any issues with communication or with the workload at MIT so far. I should probably attribute some of this with the preparation I had in high school -- from making use of college level material with OCW and edX to interacting with some of the brightest minds in my age group in Brilliant, my high school years have transitioned quite nicely into the MIT community, and I look forward to the years I have remaining at MIT.
7) What do you wish for Brilliant?
Brilliant has evolved a lot in multiple fashions since I first joined. While a lot of things have improved, I honestly loved the pure quality-over-quantity version of Brilliant that I started with. I learned a lot mainly from the comments I got from other students and the admins. I remember being very consistent with trying to post solutions for almost all the problems for which I could, which turned out to be a good idea. I always learned from the other community members and Calvin's advice was a big part in making me a good formal mathematics writer. I'm thankful for all the time I spent beyond just trying to solve problems for their answers.
While the community growth on Brilliant has been exciting, I feel that Brilliant has a lot of work to do in terms of getting back to not being overpopulated on places like the forums and problem threads. I hope that, eventually, Brilliant can be much more of a learning pathway that it used to be rather than a mathematical social media. I am thankful to Brilliant for the amount it has made me learn more than anything else - I want that to continue for generations to come.