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A slightly snarkier guide to visitors by Mollie B. '06

How to not be the kind of MIT visitor who drives me up the wall.

Since it’s summer tour season and my path to work keeps getting interrupted by herdlike groups of tourists each morning, I thought it would be a nice time to talk about MIT’s campus organization. My goal is to teach you enough of the basics that you don’t look like a total tourist when you visit. All in good fun, of course. :)

Step one of the “don’t look like a tourist” guide is not to stand around like a moo cow in front of 77 Mass Ave. It may be the summer, but we students have places to be and things to discover, so kindly refrain from clogging up our path!

Step two: This is our campus.
campus map
You may notice that the buildings on this map have numbers on them. This is not an accident, nor is it just convenient map shorthand. We actually call buildings by their numbers here, and refer to rooms within buildings by their numbers. It’s kind of bewildering at the outset, but it makes tons of sense once you understand the system.

The room numbers make the most immediate sense, so I’ll start there. At MIT, we refer to rooms in a format like this: 10-100 (the Admissions Reception Center). This means that the room is in building 10, on the first floor, room 00. The Admissions Office is in 3-108, which is in building 3, on the first floor, room 08.

Main campus is considered to be the irregular pentagon of land bordered by Ames Street on the east, Memorial Drive on the south, Massachusetts Avenue (Mass Ave to the natives) on the west, the railroad tracks on the northwest, and Main Street on the northeast. Buildings outside this pentagon have a letter in front of their building number — the medical building is E25, the student center is W20.

Buildings on main campus are numbered in a more or less logical system. Generally speaking, numbers are odd on the west side of building 10 and even on the east side of building 10. Numbers are small near the river and get larger as one heads north. There are some oddities, but that’s a good general rule.

Step three: Start with the Infinite.
The Infinite Corridor is the hallway which passes through several of MIT’s main academic buildings. It’s a great thing for lost visitors in the summer and frozen students in the winter — once you get to the Infinite in the winter, you very rarely have to go outside again until you need to go home. Most of the time, Boston’s weather is lovely and/or tolerable, but there are certain days in January when the connectedness of the Infinite just seems like a gift from the god of poor frozen college kids.

The main part of the Infinite runs from building 7 through buildings 3, 10, and 4 to building 8. At this point, you can take a jag left, then right, and find yourself walking through buildings 16, 56, and 66; this route isn’t really considered the Infinite, but is still a long straight line of interconnected buildings with helpful signs.

Step four: Know the natives, and don’t be a shallow jerk.
I heard a visitor say once that the people at MIT looked unhappy and busy, which struck me as a) infuriating, and b) as a ridiculous generalization. See, when you visit, there will be a lot of people roaming MIT’s campus. MIT is kind of a miniature city — there are about 4000 undergrads (only about a third to a half of whom are here for the summer, mostly doing research or interning at Boston companies), about 6000 grad students, about about 10000 faculty and staff members. Most of the people that you see in the halls aren’t undergrads, so don’t base your perceptions of MIT on the people you see in the halls — base them on the people that you meet. If you see somebody who looks like an undergrad, stop him or her and ask a few questions about MIT life. If he or she is an undergrad, I’m sure s/he’ll be happy to oblige.

Part two of not being a shallow jerk is to realize that the campus architecture will (really) have zero impact on your happiness as a student. MIT’s campus is in the middle of the city, and a lot of it is made out of concrete. This does not mean you can’t find secluded green spots where you can sit and enjoy life. You shouldn’t be picking your school based on something as silly as architecture. Program quality, yes. Personality of the student body, yes. Weather, if you’re a wuss. But campus architecture? Weird.

Step five: Putting it all together.
So when you visit, you’re going to get out of my way when I’m heading to the lab, know the numbering system, start with the Infinite Corridor, know who’s an undergrad and who’s a bitter grad student, and take in the sights without being shallow.


10 responses to “A slightly snarkier guide to visitors”

  1. Jon says:

    I really hope the above anonymous person is being sarcastic….she’s not being rude. She’s trying to give helpful advice for people visitng campus so they don’t look like complete tourists, and thus, probably looked down upon by everyone there.

  2. meg says:

    i’m an incoming freshman and i can possibly fulfill my GIR calc requirement w/o having to take any calc courses at mit. i’m also thinking about going into bio or brain and cognitive sciences so what do you think is best: use all my transfer credits and not take any math classes at mit or use some credit or none at all and take a few math classes here? i just wonder because how many more math classes do i have to take, beyond the GIRS, to get my degree in bio or brain/cogn.sci? if there are some math classes required beyond the GIRs, would it be wise to jump into those more advanced classes right away w/o knowing how math classes are taught at MIT?

  3. Christine says:

    You should totally add in step 1.5: “Don’t stand in the middle of the bike lane taking pictures of the Stata Center.”

    I almost ran over someone doing this the other day. Though the State Center is… unique. To say the least. The camera still shouts “tourist!”

  4. Anonymous says:

    what a rude entry!

  5. faye says:

    You’re cool. 8-)

  6. Anonymous says:

    “To thine own self be true”. It’s OK to look like a tourist if you are a tourist. They’ll know anyway. Go ahead, hang a camera around your neck, have maps sticking out of your pockets. If lost, look lost. Gawk. I draw the line at Bermuda shorts and and knee socks.

  7. Drew says:

    Some of my friends were just talking about the architecture too. I’ll definitely have to show this to them to explain my perspective.

  8. Christina says:

    I would have to agree that choosing a college based on the freaking architecture is NOT A GOOD PLAN.

    Evident by the fact that I haven’t set foot on MIT’s campus yet and um, I’m going there! :-D

  9. Zaira says:

    I’m in MIT for the summer, and I really love the campus architecture. Nowhere else in the world will I find buildings as unique as the Stata Center, Simmons Hall, and Kresge Auditorium or as beautiful as Killian Court all in one place. It is a great experience to live in or walk by these places on my way to class. Everytime I walk by Killian Court I just can’t supress a smile. It’s beautiful.

  10. Aaron says:

    Well I have to say architecture was very important to me because my elementary school was falling apart-rebuilt the yeari left, my middle school was falling apart (a termite even flew in my ear I swear termites can fly and besides they made us go to classrooms infested with them and they were in the lockers and I could go on and on) and now here I am in high school and the school is really falling apart (huge trash barrels to catch leaks in the hallways, etc) and its soon to be renovated or rebuilt.

    So it’s a trauma of mine.