Nicole R. asked: “What have been some of your favorite classes at MIT, and in general how have you experiences been with the classes at MIT?”
Good question! First part first. Some of my favorite classes at MIT, from a variety of departments, have been…
9.00 Intro to Psychology (Fall ’04, Wolfe) – There are a lot of requirement-filling “perks” to this class. It’s a HASS-D, it’s a CI-H, and if you’re Course 9, it’s required. Even if none of these things were true, I would recommend that everyone at MIT take this class. The textbook is fascinating; it’s something I would actually read for pleasure as well as work. The material is interesting. And Prof. Wolfe is…wow. I miss his lectures. I wish all professors at MIT could lecture as well as Prof. Wolfe.
6.001 Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (Fall ’04, Grimson) – You’d never know from my grade in the class, or my bitching about all-nighters, that I thought this was a really wonderful class. But seriously, this isn’t just for Course 6 people. I have friends in Courses 2 (MechE), 3 (Materials), 6 (EECS), 7 (Biology), 8 (Physics), 9 (BCS), 12 (Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sci), 15 (Management), 18 (Math) and 21 (Humanities), and probably others that I don’t realize too, who have taken this class and enjoyed it. It’s a huge time committment, but it gets into some pretty high-level, intriguing stuff – unlike just about everyone else in the class, I loved the Meta-Circular Evaluator (practically the only project where I beat class average)! And Ben Vandiver, my TA for the class, is terrific.
9.02 Brain Lab (Spring ’05, DiCarlo, Moore et al.) – One of three lab options for Course 9 majors, with a heavy systems neuroscience focus. You get to play with EE-type equipment like oscilloscopes and piezoelectrics, slice up brains and look at the neurons, study the resonance frequency of whiskers, perform minor neurosurgery on rats, write movies in Matlab code that you then use to test individual fly neurons, and design algorithms for counting action potential spikes. Among other things.
21W.735 Writing and Reading the Essay (Spring ’04, Manning) – A rarity in that it’s both HASS-D/CI-H and a small, advanced class. It is not an easy class, and Manning is difficult to please, grades hard, and keeps the class on their toes. When I took it, half the class dropped by the third class meeting. The other half agreed unanimously that it was one of the best classes they’d taken at MIT. It covers all sorts of essays – memoirs, opinion pieces, film reviews and more. Note: I think Manning only teaches it in the spring; I can’t speak for the fall.
17.40 US Foreign Policy (Fall ’03, Van Evera) – Admittedly, I’m a politics junkie, so this HASS-D/CI-H was right up my alley. But I heartily recommend Van Evera as a professor. The name of the class describes the content pretty well.
In general, I’ve enjoyed classes at MIT. First term freshman year was less enjoyable because three of my four classes were required. Some professors are better than others, and neither their expertise nor their friendliness is necessarily indicative of their teaching ability. In many big classes, a lot of the learing comes through recitations (or tutorials, in a class that has them). Pretty much any department has a mixture of good and bad professors, or well-run and poorly-run class. Once you get beyond the science core GIRs, the material is usually interesting (and for some, some of the requirements are interesting too). Both science/engineering and HASS classes can be good classes that make you think.