Last week, high school counselors from across the country came to a conference at MIT. One of the events was a student panel, and I got to participate. We heard some great questions from the audience, worth sharing on the blogs. Note that the answers reflect my personal experiences, and do not represent the views of other students. For diverse personal takes on MIT life, read other bloggers’ posts here.
Name, Year, Major, Place of Birth, Dorm
Hi! I’m Yuliya, a senior majoring in Course 17 - Political Science & Course 24-1 - Philosophy, with a minor in Course 9 - Brain and Cognitive Sciences. I was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, and moved to Central Ohio during my freshman year of high school. I currently live on the First East floor of East Campus.
What are you currently excited about?
After this, I'm heading to 9.46 Neuroscience of Morality. It’s a very “MIT” class, counting for both my Philosophy and Neuroscience requirements. And it’s been pretty amazing so far. This week, we are talking about empathy and compassion, and how they are expressed differently in the brain. Although the science on this is very new (the papers we read are from the past 1-7 years), some experiments have shown that empathizing with others’ pain actually activates our own brains’ pain regions!
I’m also excited about the earrings I’m wearing. Last week, I went to the MIT Museum specifically to buy nerdy earrings (I recently pierced more holes in my ears just to create nerdy ear "scenes”). I’m currently wearing a “pi,” a “square root,” and a chemical structure for the scent of jasmine in my left ear. The jasmine structure earrings are also scented like jasmine!
Lastly, I’m excited about a bunch of things outside of class. My senior year slogan is “do all the things you might regret not doing later.” And that has been a lot of fun.
What is on your shirt?
My shirt is from MIT’s annual production of The Vagina Monologues, which has happened for the past 15 years. The group that puts on VagMo is Stop Our Silence, and I’m the president this year. We’re trying to expand the group to highlight more diverse underrepresented students’ voices, since VagMo is a bit outdated. This year, we want to talk and learn about topics like consent, gender, sexuality, communication, religion etc. 2017 - Not Just For Vaginas Anymore! (though, to be fair, SOS never was)
How did you choose your living community?
East Campus is where I felt most comfortable, and the same goes for my floor, First East. Every year for Freshman Residence Exploration (REX), EC builds a fully-operational wooden roller coaster and fort, and freshmen get to help out. It's a pretty cool way to attract new residents.
EC has an overarching dorm culture, but each floor has a sub-culture as well. Our hall has cats. And we do lots of cool things together. One IAP (January Independent Activities Period), we got together and built an LED disco dance floor. Later, we had a “Mitochondria - Powerhouse of the Cell”-themed party which featured animated mitochondria sliding across the DDF. Our hall also goes out for food and watches TV together (e.g. Netflix shows, Rick and Morty, John Oliver, and GoT). The 1e GRT (Graduate Resident Tutor) makes us waffles with fun toppings every Monday.
How do you make friends? What is your community at MIT?
My hall is where most of my connections are. Regardless of what time it is, I can probably find someone to talk to. Outside of hall, student groups are a really great way to meet people with similar interests. That’s the case for other students as well. Because of MIT’s wonderful choose-your-own-residence plan, people find their local families and support systems. Plus ~60% of MIT men and ~40% of MIT women are affiliated with fraternities/sororities, and many others are in independent living groups.
What surprised you the most about MIT?
How quickly it felt like home! And I’m definitely not unique in that perception. If you look at freshman Admissions bloggers’ first posts, they always contain some variation of the “MIT is home” statement.
What kinds of students would not enjoy MIT?
People who are not passionate about STEM. Although you don’t have to be a STEM major (I’m not), MIT still requires a lot of challenging technical courses, such as GIRs (General Institute Requirements) and REST (Restricted Electives in Science at Technology) classes. And HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) classes often get a technical spin as well, so you’re going to be really sad if you don’t like STEM.
Also, you probably shouldn’t choose to come to MIT solely because you want to make a lot of money.
What are MIT Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences programs like?
HASS classes at MIT are challenging and amazing. We have some of the best programs in the U.S. (Economics is #1, Political Science is #9), and many faculty members are top experts in their field (Junot Díaz in 21W - Writing won a Pulitzer, for example). I usually explain that MIT Political Science is “basically statistics” and MIT Philosophy is “basically logic.” Last spring in my Political Science Laboratory, we learned statistical methods, programming in a new language, and social science research specifics. My Women's and Gender Studies course that semester was on epidemiology and medical research.
I wanted to be a math major originally, and I haven’t moved too far from that. I just applied mathematics to answer fascinating questions about the world. And still got to explore many other fields. As a HASS major, you won’t miss out on job or other opportunities (even though it might feel like that during Career Fair).
What is the biggest change/growth you experienced at MIT?
Starting with the tangible changes: my hair. It has been bleached, rainbow, red, purple and red colors, and is currently blue-black (with a partial side shave). These changes seem superficial, but they really represent my personal growth. At MIT, through my dorm community, VagMo, and other extracurriculars and UROPs, I got to explore and shape my identity, both in major and minor ways. Now I know what I really want to do with my life. And, by the way, a hairdo like this does not preclude you from getting a job at places like Veterans Affairs or Harvard Med School!
What kinds of support services does MIT provide?
MIT offers a lot of resources. The number of support options has been increasing since my freshman year, to the point that it gets confusing to decide where to go. This is why it’s great to live in dorms with upperclassmen, who can tell you which service, or even provider from the service, is best. We have live-in GRTs (Graduate Resident Tutors) in dorms, as well as Heads of House and Assistant Heads of House. Popular non-residential offices are S^3 (Student Support Services), good for academic arrangements and support, and MIT Mental Health, which is free and confidential.
Do students themselves reach out to support peers?
Yes! The number of support services led by students has also been increasing. People here want to support peers. I’ve reached out to freshmen on hall informally, but also through Peer Ears sophomore year, which is a student group loosely affiliated with MIT Mental Health. Peer Ears are available to talk or refer to MIT services during a difficult period. I’m now in PLEASURE @ MIT, which stands for Peers Leading Education about Sexuality and Speaking Up for Relationship Empowerment, and is a student-led effort to promote healthy relationships and reduce sexual violence at MIT (note that the acronym is kind of misleading, because our focus is on relationships and identity). MedLinks are another great residential peer resource. They can provide medical assistance, and, if you’re mildly sick, give you drugs. Lean On Me, started by a group of 2018s, provides anonymous peer support via text.
All of these opportunities are unpaid, but students are excited to participate and willing to go through multiple days of training during the semester. There’s actually some competition for the positions, though MIT has lower barriers to entry than in other schools.
What is your relationship with the alumni community like?
Alumni are usually very happy to talk to current students! As an undergrad, you get access to the Infinite Connection portal, where you can browse through the alumni list and contact former students about potential jobs or just to chat. Over IAP (Independent Activities Period), there's an Externship Program for students to work in alumni’s workplaces. This year, there are 260 externship opportunities to choose from. Informally, dorms and halls host their own events for alums. For example, East Campus has organized Old East Campus Day.
What would you change about MIT?
More HASS majors! ~40% of MIT undergrads are in Course 6 - Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and another large portion is in Course 2 - Mechanical Engineering. I was the only sophomore in Political Science, and we now only have six seniors. Philosophy is also super tiny (six people in all four years, last time I checked). This is great on one hand, as I get access to unique opportunities, but it also gets lonely.
What kinds of career services exist?
In my experience, upperclassmen are the best resource for career advice and inspiration, as well insider tips. Even by just observing them, you can learn a lot about the process. MIT also has an office of Global Education & Career Development (GECD), which can help you edit your resumes and cover letters. The biggest career events are the Fall and Spring Career Fairs. 400+ companies participate (unfortunately, the majority of them are Course 6-related).
What do you do outside of class?
I mentioned Stop Our Silence and PLEASURE @ MIT, which are two wonderful communities for personal growth and learning (and facilitation and public speaking skills are a must in the workplace!). I’m also continuing my UROP in Veterans Affairs and blogging.
Since it’s my senior year, I’m applying to jobs, which is a major extracurricular on its own. The jobs process involves attending a lot of events and networking, preparing for specialized interviews, and writing cover letters and emails. Fortunately, I found fellow “job-seekers” to share information and a calendar. I’m also applying for graduate school.
An essential activity: hanging out with close friends and people on hall in general! As always, we have a fantastic group of resident freshmen, and I’ve been getting to know them.