The SSP Roller Coaster

It’s been just over a week since SSP started. Last night, while I and several other of my fellow SSPers worked together on yet another challenging Pset, we took a break to chat and reflect on our experience thus far being in SSP. Everyone had their own unique perspective to share, and so I explained to the group that from my perspective, being in SSP in many ways was analogous to going on a fast amusement park or roller coaster ride. The SSP experience is imbued with an unmistakable feeling composed of anticipation, excitement, enjoyment, and fear of the unknown. The constant velocity with which we move through material is tiring and yet simultaneously exhilarating; the consistent 24-hour loops involve 5 hours of what is often brand new material, followed by collaboration with our team on our unique asteroid orbit determination projects, along with long and challenging problem sets which often leave just a few hours for sleep before the problem set is due and the next lecture begins. This constant push forward takes away any opportunity for deceleration to occur and for momentum to be lost, and it is something which I really appreciate for reasons which I will expand on below.

But first, we need to talk a bit about transformation matrices, a concept we covered a few days ago. What are they, you may ask? A transformation matrix is essentially a form of notation which represents the mapping between vector spaces in such a way as to preserve key properties of vector addition and scalar multiplication. When they are multiplied by a vector, the vector can change direction and magnitude. Rotation matrices specifically are a type of transformation matrix involving rotation about some axis. Throughout the first week at SSP, I have felt as though I’ve been a vector undergoing continuous rotational transformations about different axes (astronomy, math, and python programming), with each transformation taking me farther away from the origin and inculcating within me a deeper understanding of the material and its applications. Additionally, I think about the displacement of the position vector of our progress with respect to time, comparing where we began and where we are currently in terms of progression through our project and our material. We have completed more in a week than what we might have imagined we could complete in a month. And while not every single problem in every single Pset has been perfect, the feeling of surpassing your own expectations as to what you could accomplish within a week to such a great extent which SSP has granted us is incredibly visceral, and it changes your perspective regarding what is possible for us to achieve outside SSP as well.

If you would have asked me after the first day of SSP how I would have felt after the first week was over, I might have guessed that I would have been exhausted from lack of sleep and demotivated by the demoralizing Pset problems. However, this could not have been further from the truth. When I recount the first week, and I think about the sheer quantity of deep, serious work we covered in just 5 days, I feel a sense of incredulity and amazement, pertaining to both myself and all of the other SSPers around me. Looking back at what we’ve accomplished in the first week, seeing the “Well done!” comments from professors on the Psets I worked really hard on and the lightbulb moments that come with those Psets when we suddenly realize how to get the right answer has just made me more excited for the upcoming week. While none of us got much sleep, I feel energized and motivated to keep going, to keep learning new material, to keep learning from my mistakes, and to challenge myself even more. And so as I look to the week ahead, after recounting the past week of SSP and all that I have gained, I feel not only incredibly grateful to continue having such an amazing experience with so many other brilliant students, but also incredibly impassioned and excited to partake in the terrifying and amazing rollercoaster ride that is SSP.