Psetting: An Anthology

Author: Tanay B.

Googling, Netflixing, Zooming, psetting. A noun morphing into a verb is a sign of something significant. So when Katie told me that pset (problem set) can be turned into a verb, I realized how integral to SSP they are.

Simply put, psets are hard (as with virtually everything in SSP). They might not be the most difficult thing in the universe—but they do feel that way when your brain is fried after 5 hours of learning and social blocks, a three-hour “break,” and then three more hours of work-play time.

Psets are probably one of the hardest parts of SSP. They are more than just review questions to test whether or not we understand the material; rather, they are extensions of the material, and this fact became evident early on. On Day 2, we had our first Python learning block. Data types, conditionals, math, print statements—a piece of cake for someone who has been programming for years. And then I saw the problem set: Astronomical coordinate transforms. Granted, the first two problems were a bit more sane, but the coordinate transforms were a complete curveball. There are two equations we need to uniquely determine the azimuth. How can we use inverse trig functions to find the answer?

Thankfully, solving these problems is a communal affair. When we collaborate, we solve problems a lot more effectively than we can alone. We also have the honor of vicariously re-experiencing dopamine hits after passing test cases or completing a proof. And, if I’m honest, collaborating is what makes psetting survivable—even fun.

Of course, difficult pset questions means lots of time spent psetting. Hence, some recent developments in #what-is-ssp:

Long after the sun sets, we pset.

The Process

There’s a lot that goes into a pset. Some good, some bad, some…eh?

The psetting process starts with the assignment. Our holy source of truth, Canvas, typically releases a pset after a learning block, and we usually (read: always) have some assignment due every day.

For my first Astro pset, I made the smart decision (mistake?) of using Vim to typeset my answers in LaTeX (pronounced /ˈlɑːtɛk/ or /ˈleɪtɛk/). Consequently, I had the pleasure of fixing syntax errors and (re)importing figures while everyone else was already onto problem two. I wasn’t exactly left behind, though: While typing away in my terminal, I talked through the last Python pset problem with my SSP brethren (bread-ren). Three and a half hours later, we arrived at a solution. Three and a half hours of psetting, chatting about everything from black holes to astrometric coordinates, ~life~, and psychoanalysis. Also, three and a half hours of listening to Katrina’s puns, including the one below. No comet.

The best trig function

During this time, what amazed me was not only my peers’ enthusiasm for collaboration but also their motivation. We don’t get grades, and the pset solutions release one minute after the deadline. Nevertheless, everyone by nature pushes themselves to learn as much as possible. I watched Chinmay and Franklin work through a vector proof a day after the lesson (a long time by SSP standards), and I felt their genuine interest in the material. Although I had lost motivation to understand that proof, their curiosity pushed me to look at it again. Simply completing the problem set isn’t enough. Everyone wants to deeply understand the solution—or as my physics teacher puts it, “feel it in their spleen.”

To me, psets are one of the best parts of SSP. To be stuck on a problem with no other option but to keep going is a unique feeling. Over these few days, I realized that I am a lot more capable than I thought I was. We are a lot more capable than we thought we were. We chose to be here because SSP is hard—even if it means having our parents criticize us for “not going outside and playing like a normal kid.”

I’m Tanay, a rising senior from San Jose, CA. I’m into computers, cubing, and quantum mechanics. I like to spend my free time playing soccer, building web applications, or just wasting time by configuring the terminal on my computer. I also enjoy learning languages, and listening to Bollywood, K-pop, and C-pop.

1 comment

  1. Riley Kong

    i love this but i’m worried for your sanity

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