Sep 5, 2011
Q&A: Food on campus, UROPs, decisions
The four questions I'm going to address:
1) "It seems like the food availability on campus is a little scarce. Do you have time to cook, even if it's just once every two weeks as part of a co-op? Or do most kids just end up eating whatever is quickly made?"
2) "If you (or anyone you know) has a UROP, does that become your primary extracurricular activity? Or do you have time to pursue other things as well as research?
3) "Do you know if [the Koch Cancer center] takes people on for UROPs?"
4) "If you had to make the choice to go to MIT again, would you? I'm a little embarrassed asking this, because work has never scared me off before, but sometimes it seems like MIT students are overwhelmed because the workload is impossible, not simply difficult."
In my opinion, there are four aspects to eating on campus. 1) dorm dining halls, 2) convenience stores, 3) cooking, 4) eating out
THE DORM DINING OPTION
Depending on where you live, you either have:
1) A mandatory dining plan (Maseeh, Next, McCormick, Simmons, Baker)
2) The option of signing up for a dining plan (everywhere else)
You're free to eat at any dining hall: the meal plans are not dorm-specific. If, for example, you lived at Simmons, you could eat breakfast there, have lunch somewhere closer to campus (like Baker or Maseeh), and then eat dinner at Next House. Even if you're not on a meal plan, you can still eat at a dining hall: they accept cash and TechCash.
From what I hear, the food is pretty decent, but I can't speak from experience. The biggest problem with this option is probably cost, and flexibility: to get what you paid for, you'll have to eat a certain number of meals in the dining hall.
LaVerde's is a supermarket/convenience store on the first floor of the Student Center. It tends to be quite pricey, so most students opt for shopping at Shaw's (about a 10-minute walk down Mass Ave from the Student Center) or Trader Joe's/Whole Food's (further away, but a shuttle runs on weekends). However, it's a good option when you just need to pick up a carton of milk or orange juice and don't feel like trekking all the way off campus. Also, it's worth mentioning (although this doesn't have anything to do with food availability on campus) that Shaw's gives a discount to MIT students: you get 5% off with your ID.
MacGregor (the dorm) also has a convenience store, which sells snack foods and things like ramen and microwaveable meals. And toothbrushes.
Most students who opt out of the dining plan cook for themselves, in some form or another. I live in French House, which has its own system. We cook dinner in teams of four, which means that I cook once a week and have a three- to four-course dinner cooked for me all other nights of the week. Our dinners cost about $3 on average, since we buy everything in bulk (which comes out pretty cheap when scaled for 27 people.) It's a pretty sweet deal - and, to be honest, I think that I would have to be on a dining plan otherwise, because I would find it very difficult (and totally exhausting) to cook for myself every night. I had to do that over the summer (when I was living in MacGregor) and got really sick of cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, and pasta*.
*As sick as one can get of those things, anyway. Let's be honest: Cheerios, peanut butter, and tomato sauce are all pretty fantastic.
I do know some people in non-dining residences who end up ordering out most nights or microwaving frozen meals, but I'm not sure I could function like that. I would imagine that some of them set up mini cooking systems.
The Student Center has a bunch of food options, like Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Cambridge Grill (salad, hamburgers, pizza, that kind of thing), Anna's (Mexican - extremely popular with some, extremely unpopular with others), and a couple of fast food Japanese, Mediterranean, and Indian places. If you're coming from class at the other end of the Infinite, the Stata Center has a big cafeteria that I like quite a lot, as does the Whitehead Institute. Most of these places (in fact, all of them, as far as I know) also have options for breakfast and dinner. People also venture off-campus, to Central and Kendall Square (though this takes longer) or to the food trucks, which park near Kendall.
Depends on the UROP. I know some people who spend all their non-class waking hours in lab, and some people who just spend a couple hours every other day on the project. I think that the minimum amount of time required for a UROP is six hours per week, which would definitely allow for another extracurricular activity, assuming you don't overload on coursework and manage your time well. Something else to take into consideration is what you want to get out of the UROP, and this is something that you will discuss with your supervisor (most likely during your interview) - if you want to be seriously involved in the project, and get your name on a paper, then it will almost certainly have to be one of your, if not your only, primary extracurricular activity.
Excerpt from the Koch Center site:
"Undergraduate students from across the campus have the opportunity to collaborate with Koch Institute faculty through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). The program allows students to gain hands-on experience in a laboratory setting while pursuing their research projects."
Honestly, I don't know of any centers here that don't take UROPs.
Yes. That's not to say, though, that I wouldn't have been happy elsewhere. I think that, in the end, once you make your decision, your happiness level is a function of how well you've taken advantage of being wherever you are.
It's true that MIT students sometimes make life nearly impossible for themselves, either by taking too many classes or trying to juggle too many extracurricular activities (I'm definitely guilty of the latter.) It's in our nature. There's no shame in acknowledging that you've broken the difficult-impossible boundary, and dropping a class or an extracurricular activity. I don't think that the workload is inherently impossible: most of the horror stories I hear seem to come from the MIT kid tendency to push ourselves to our limits - and beyond.
More questions? Send them my way. email@example.com.