I live in East Campus, on the third floor of the west parallel, which we call floorpi. And on floorpi, I live in room H306, which looks like this:
I once wrote of this room saying:
this is a room with a rich history. i can name the past four people who’ve lived in this room. many of the things in this room have been passed down from owner to owner, like the couches, the round table, some of the posters. it’s also right next to the lounge, which is a plus. it’s an extremely nice room and i’m very glad that i live in it.
Not only could I name the past four residents; I knew them even, and they were my friends. But I’ve always wondered who lived in the room before that. Were there more people I knew, but didn’t realize? Could there be someone like Sal Khan, who used to live in the room of bloggers Danny and Allan? Where are they now, what do they do? And how far back could I go?
Tracing the past
The plan: email each past resident, ask who lived in the room before them, email them, and keep going. The method’s inspired from my time as an I have talked about ESP <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/two-thousand-students/">lots of times</a>; we are a student group that runs educational programs for middle and high school students. We have a position called historian whose job it is to do research on ESP history, since ESP is a decades-old organization, and make sure that we leave records of what we currently do. as past ESP historians used the technique to trace previous ESP members. As I’ve noted See any of my posts where I do history research through interviews, like <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/graphic-identity-history/">my MIT graphic design history post</a>. email is an unreasonably effective way to contact people.
My quest to trace the past residents of my room began in early February. The oldest former resident I knew was Jakob W. ’18, whom I messaged asking about who the previous resident was. I got Josh S. ’17, a name I’ve heard before, but not a person I think I’ve met. I looked them up in the MIT Alumni Directory, and sent them an email.
Josh replied after a few days, giving me two more names: Amanda L. ’17 and Joie C. ’17. Joie did not remember, but Amanda did; it was Nathan P. ’15. Nathan gave me Ben Y. ’12, and then Ben didn’t remember who lived before he did. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that several graduates I knew from floorpi lived in my room, but I was kinda sad the trail ran cold so soon.
Then, I reached out to the oldest floorpi graduate I knew, Charles T. ’10. This lead to a sidetrack; Charles didn’t remember anyone who lived in the room, but he remembered two people who lived nearby. Neither of the two remembered who lived in the room proper either, but they each gave me names of three more people to ask. I emailed the six people, but this line felt kinda fruitless, so I dropped it for a while.
With a spark of inspiration, I looked into our Athena locker. Many communities in MIT have an Athena locker, and floorpi’s had some information. Searching for “H306” got me six matches, three which I already knew, and three which were I didn’t. Of the three I didn’t know, one never actually lived on floorpi. They transferred into East Campus, were initially assigned to H306, and got reassigned to live on Fifth West, so never actually lived in the room.
The second was Alex D. ’12, which was a delightful coincidence. I’d seen his name from records of ESP and SIPB, and he’s a club member of Tech Squares, so we knew each other. But I didn’t know that he lived on floorpi! At the next Tech Squares dance, I asked Alex about the room. It turns out Alex only lived in floorpi for a semester, before moving to Epsilon Theta, an Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group, which are living groups outside dormitories. in Brookline. Understandably, he didn’t remember who lived in the room before he did.
The third was Kevin M. PhD ’09. After emailing him, I learned that he didn’t live in H306, but M306. M306 was, and still is, the room of floorpi’s Graduate Resident Advisor, or GRA. Formerly known The T is for Tutor. You can tell that someone is old if they call them GRTs. Well… kinda old, the name was only changed in 2019. the GRA is a graduate student who lives with undergraduates to give support. That explains why the directory listed Kevin as a PhD, and not an undergrad. Kevin gave me two more names, so back I went emailing.
Kevin led me to Jessica K. ’09 and James W. ’06. Jessica also remembered James, but not any further. Now, James didn’t reply for a while. But remember those six people I emailed earlier? It turns out that four of them remembered who lived in H306 around their time, a certain Shankar M. ’04. And when James replied to me, he also remembered Shankar M. ’04. Then Shankar led me to Ed T. ’03 and Josh T. ’02. At this point, the graph of connections was already getting quite complicated.
Josh had several interesting things to tell about the room, but he did not remember who lived before him. Then Ed told me he didn’t actually live in the room, but gave me two more names. One didn’t live in the room, but gave me the name Marisa B. ’00, which Ed also gave me. Then I got MIT-speak for busy, because getting an education from MIT <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/getting-an-education-from-mit/">is like drinking from a firehose</a>. for a few weeks, and kinda forgot about the project for a bit.
A few days later, Josh replied after doing some digging of his own:
I had a breakthrough on the previous occupant of the room. Digging some more through old files on my hard disk, in my wife’s old email (she also lived on Third West), I found the attached email. You will see that this is dated from the spring of 2000, which would be the semester before I started living in the room. H306 is listed as “Jeanne”, who my wife and I are quite sure is Jeanne S. ’01.
I emailed Jeanne S. ’01, who also gave me the name of Marisa B. ’00, along with two more names. I then remembered that I had not actually emailed Marisa yet, so I sent some more emails, and did some more waiting. But it’s with Marisa that the trail ran dry: she didn’t remember who lived before, and neither did anyone else I ask.
Meet the residents
With that, here’s the final list of residents I compiled:
- Fall 2021 to now: CJ Q. ’23. CJ is, well, me. I’m currently living in the room. I’m majoring in math and computer science.
- Spring 2020: Andy T. ’23. Andy lives with Making Andy and Alex both people who lived in this room for a semester before moving to ET. in Brookline, Massachusetts. He’s also majoring in math and computer science.
- Fall 2019: Ixa G. ’22. Ixa lives off-campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s also majoring in computer science.
- Fall 2018 to Spring 2019: Kevin L. ’19, MCP ’20. Kevin lives in Austin, Texas. After graduating with a double major in computer science and urban planning, he got a Per the <a href="https://alum.mit.edu/sites/default/files/2018-04/MITAA_StyleGuide_volunteers_6_20_14.pdf">MIT Alumni Association Editorial Style Guide</a>, and how we sometimes write on the blogs, we write all MIT degrees when referencing alumni. I violate this rule all the time, but sometimes I do it for effect. in urban planning. Now, he works for the Texas Democratic Party.
- Fall 2016 to Spring 2018: Jakob W. ’18. Jakob lives in New York City, New York. They majored in math and computer science and did a master’s in the latter. Now, they are a security engineer at Zoom.
- Fall 2014 to Spring 2016: Josh S. ’17. Josh lives in the South Bay area of California. He works as a hardware formal verification engineer at Apple; that means his job involves proving, using mathematical tools, that the hardware works as intended.
- Fall 2013 to Spring 2014: Amanda L. ’17, MNG ’18; Joie C. ’17. Amanda lives in San Francisco, California, and Joie lives in Los Angeles, California. Amanda graduated with a computer science degree and a master’s, and is a product designer for Twitch; Joie studied architecture and is now an architect. They are both, coincidentally, pivoting out of software into design.
- Fall 2012 to Spring 2013: Nathan P. ’15. Nathan lives in the Bay Area of California. He graduated with a degree in math, and is now a self-employed software engineer. He’s currently working on a video game.
- Spring 2009 to Spring 2012: Ben Y. ’12. Ben lives in the Bay Area of California. He also majored in See a pattern yet? He’s a software engineer who’s, in his words, “temporarily retired”.
- Fall 2008: Alex D. ’12, MNG ’13. Alex lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He majored in math and computer science and did a master’s in the latter. He works as a systems engineer in Akamai, where he’s worked at since graduating.
- Fall 2006 to Spring 2008: Jessica K. ’09. Jessica lives in Medford, Massachusetts, which is still in the Cambridge area. She graduated in biological engineering, did a PhD, and is now a scientist at a biotech company.
- Fall 2004 to Spring 2006: James W. ’06, MNG ’08. James lives in Arlington, Massachusetts. He graduated in electrical engineering and did a master’s. He is now an electrical engineer at Cascodium LLC, an engineering design services firm, where he’s worked at since graduating.
- Fall 2002 to Spring 2004: Shankar M. ’04, PhD ’10. Shankar lives in St. Louis, Missouri (with his wife, who also lived in floorpi). He majored in physics and math, and did a PhD in health science. Now, he’s a professor in Washington University’s Departments of Physics and Cell Biology.
- Fall 2001 to Spring 2002: Josh T. ’02. Josh lives in Fremont, California (with his wife, who also lived in floorpi). He majored in physics, did a PhD, then a postdoc in CERN. He pivoted into data science, and is now a data scientist at Apple.
- Fall 2000 to Spring 2001: Jeanne S. ’01. Jeanne lives in New York City, New York. She graduated with a degree in management and has worked in JP Morgan since. She now leads the Inclusive Investing Team, which focuses on serving diverse wealth management clients.
- …which was before I was even born. Marisa B. ’00. Marisa lives in northern New Jersey. She manages the packaging engineering team at a cosmetics manufacturer.
A storied history
Although my main historical focus was collecting stories about the room, I did learn a few things about floorpi along the way.
Here’s one thing I noticed about graduates talking about floorpi. The younger graduates refer to it as floorpi, sometimes “Floor Pi”, while the older ones say “Third West”. People who graduated after 2010 consistently call it floorpi, and the earlier someone graduated, the likelier they are to refer it Per Jakob, sometimes even "Pi West", as one graduate from 2008 put it. But, per Josh T., it seems to have evolved from Pi West in around 2001. The era shortly before 2010 must’ve been an interesting part of floorpi history.
Where did the name floorpi originate? Jeanne S. ’01 shares a story:
[…I] recently met someone who interviewed to be the GRT on the floor after I had left and asked if I lived on the Simpsons floor (which I did!). At the time, our GRT, Maryann, would open the apartment every Sunday and we would watch Simpsons together. There was usually cookies too. It’s probably the thing I remember most vividly and thought it was so funny this woman I had just met and I had this totally random connection.
East Campus has many murals. On floorpi, there’s a large mural on the wall across the central staircase, depicting Lisa and Bart Simpson. This is a reference to the floor pie scene from season 5 of The Simpsons, which originally aired in, what, 1993? The popularity of The Simpsons in Third West at the time, coupled with the pun of “floor pie” being three and a confluence of nerds, was likely what led to our hall’s name.
It was nice to hear about some things that’ve been passed down through the years. For example, Kevin M. PhD ’09 talked about how, as a GRT, his one rule was “no dying”, which is the origin of the floorpi saying “don’t die on hall”. For an older example, I received a photo from Josh T. ’02, taken by Beth D. ’02, of a “hall feed” with American flag themed cupcakes. A hall feed is an event where people prepare food for the rest of the hall. The phrase dates back to at least 2001, then, when this picture was taken. The term “hall feed” is still used today, in floorpi and other halls in East Campus.
As for H306 itself, the oldest story I got was from Marisa B. ’00:
[…W]hen I first moved into the room there was a huge built-in loft that smelled really strongly of cigarette smoke. It was a pretty cool structure and impressively sized, but it was too much for me. I asked facilities to take it down.
The room didn’t always have black and red walls. Jessica K. ’09 writes:
When I moved in, it was institute white and I decided it would be nice to paint it green, but regretted it almost immediately. I think “pond scum green” might be an accurate description of how it turned out :D
Five years later, Amanda L. ’17 and Joie C. ’17 moved into the room, and they repainted the walls from an “icky green/gray to cream and purple”. The room then got another paint job in Fall 2019, when Ixa G. ’22 painted the room with the black and red walls it has now, but traces of the old paint job still remain. For example, the shelves are painted cream and purple, and so is the mirror above the sink.
While we’re on the topic of painting, Jessica shared a memory about the door: “I really liked the Myst series of games and painted the room number on the door using a numeral system from those games.” A few years later, Joie shares that she “painted the bare door with Amaterasu and Issun from Okami.” And that’s the mural on the door now.
A room tour
Here’s a floor map of my room. I’ll go over everything in a roughly clockwise order from the east wall.
Entrance. The door is on the east wall of the room. To the left of the door are some shelves, which are painted in the cream-and-purple color scheme that Amanda L. ’17 and Joie C. ’17 left behind. Behind the door is a mirror, which seems to have been there since at least 2012. The over door rack is mine.
The furniture to the right of the door is from Jakob W. ’18. The refrigerator was from an upperclassman who graduated. “When she graduated she said she’d gotten [the refrigerator] for free, and I could have it for free, as long as I passed it along for free,” said Jakob. “The hook above the fridge is mine too. It’s the right height for hanging a bicycle using the fridge as a prop to get it up in the air.” They also added the clock above the door, and they acquired an extra dresser to stack on the existing one.
Bed. The bed is nestled along the south wall. When Amanda and Joie moved into this room, there was a bunk bed. “Our room [being a double] was weird, I remember people telling us that too,” Amanda said. Being in the top bunk, she disliked having the white shelves above her bed. That means that the white wire rack shelves have been here James W. '06 writes that the racks were there when he moved in, in 2004. “I remember having a Californian friend that was aghast that I had stuff above where I slept,” he said, “because 'what if an earthquake?' ” but I haven’t been able to track the actual origin.
Above the bed is a map of the MBTA. I love the MBTA a lot, and Alan Z. ’23 and I once visited every station on the T for fun. The map is an old one, from 2018; it still has “Dudley Sq” rather than “Nubian Sq”, for example.
The poster to the right is a I get a lot of questions about this one. It's a great conversation piece. “I went to a career fair event a computational linguistics company at Alewife,” said Kevin L. ’19, “and someone just gave [the poster] away.” It is taped on a piece of wood in the shape of a town, which I’ll talk about later.
Couches and flooring. My favorite part of the room, by far, are the wonderful couches along the west wall. These were left behind by Jakob.
“The small couch I bought from In many dorms, halls, or wings, are abbreviated with their floor number, followed by W or E for West and East. I know that Baker, East Campus, McCormick, and Next all do this. Burton–Conner's floors are based on Burton and Conner, Macgregor's suites are lettered from A to J, New House houses are either named or take NH plus the house number, Simmons names areas based on A, B, or C tower, and I don't know about Maseeh or New Vassar. when I was a frosh,” they said. “The large couch I bought from an alum in MTG who was upgrading her couch. It was from Ikea when she got it, but it was secondhand to me.
“When I arranged the couches, I forgot to account for the width of the radiator in my planning, so I needed to chop off 6 inches somewhere. [T]he most feasible plan was to disassemble the couch and attach one of its leg mounts to the bed.” That leg mount was Thrown away. "Cruft" is also a noun, and a quite versatile one at that: it can be a large piece of trash or an MIT graduate. As a verb, it can mean either thrown away or acquired for free. sometime last fall, sadly.
“Knowledge of the [gray couch]’s storage compartment got passed on right?” asked Jakob.
“Mhm,” I later learned that what is pictured below is <em>not</em> what Jakob referred to as the compartment.
Jakob also provided the flooring. “I bought the blue rug from Home Depot, and the faux wooden flooring from Lowe’s,” they said, “and chopped the [flooring] up on the EC table saw to get the right shape of pieces to fill that room minus couches.” Much of the flooring has detached over the years, but the entrance to the room still has a decent amount of panelling.
Theater props. When Jakob was an undergrad, they were involved with the Shakespeare Ensemble and the Musical Theater Guild working on set design. A decent amount of the room’s decorations come from productions they worked on.
“The round glass table was a prop in the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble’s 2014 production of Othello, in which I was master carpenter,” said Jakob. “I bought it from the [Ensemble], which had bought it on Craigslist for the show. The wooden town backdrop was one-sixth of the backdrop.”
On the gray couch are various throw pillows. One features a shark, which is mine. Two of them are references to the musicals Legally Blonde and Little Shop of Horrors. And the various stuffed animals are also mine.
“The pillows are from the [Musical Theater Guild’s] 2018 IAP production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” said Jakob. “The audience was in part distributed amongst the stage, and we made a bunch of pillows for them to sit on by sewing and stuffing old MTG shirts.”
Window. On the room’s west wall, above the large gray couch, is a window. An LED strip runs along its perimeter. “I bought it on AliExpress,” said Jakob. I’ve never actually seen it work.
Posters decorate either side of the window, spilling into the adjacent wall. Going top-to-bottom, left-to-right:
- A postcard for “The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody”. This one’s from Ixa G. ’22, who says he got it from PAX East.
- A dragon in the colors of the polysexual pride flag, from Ixa.
- A crude drawing of a face, from me. This is the avatar of a friend, I’ve kept the drawing around since 2019 for good luck.
- A map of the US population distribution, from Kevin. “I got it at an ESRI conference in seventh grade,” he said.
- A poster saying “I’ll just change this one line”, from Jakob. “It was from Career Fair 2015,” they said. “There was a company that had a printing API, and they had a demo set up where you could fill out a form and it would print a poster and mail it to an address, all ‘automatedly’. [T]hat was one of their defaults.”
- A poster from The Oatmeal, “How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you”, also from Jakob. They say they got it from Mailing list where people email things they want to give away, see <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/reuse-poetry/">this blog post from Yan</a> or <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/gallavanting_with_gilles/">this blog post from Petey</a>.
- A Dragon Quest Builders 2 poster, from Ixa. “The Dragon Quest poster reminded me,” he said. “There wasn’t an Everhood postcard in the room? I thought I left that there.” There wasn’t, I told him.
- A poster of the Gender Unicorn, from Ixa.
- A drawing of a blue jay, labeled “sea jay”. This was given to me by a friend, making the pun on my name.
The rest of the posters, which are on the north wall, are all mine. There’s a poster of Hollow Knight, two postcards from Specgram, an old map of MIT, a poster with some numbers, a postcard from ESP, a postcard from You Are Welcome Here, and a poster I got from the Admissions Office.
Desk. The desk is a standard Institute desk, with some stickers on it.
On I turned the keyboard drawer upside-down so I didn't have to bend my wrists to type on the keyboard. , from left-to-right:
- a SIPB sticker, whom Jakob W. ’18 claims is “probably” theirs.
- a San Hackipero sticker, maybe Ixa G. ’22’s?
- a floorpi stonehenge sticker. Meghana B. ’17 designed the sticker; Jakob was the one who left this sticker behind. I’ve seen the sticker around other places too.
- a rainbow Ohio sticker, from Jakob.
- a DEF CON sticker, from Jakob.
On the other drawers, from top-to-bottom:
- a RISC-V inside sticker, from me.
- a Lean On Me sticker, from Ixa.
- a “sleep is for the strong” sticker from MIT Medical, from Ixa.
- a HackMIT sticker, maybe Ixa’s?
Scale. Twenty-four years. How long is that? The west parallel of East Campus was constructed in 1931, so the room is theoretically ninety-two years old, assuming that nothing’s changed since initial construction.
At once, it feels like twenty-four years is a lot. It’s longer than I’ve been here, as I’m only twenty-one. Everything I’ve experienced is three years shorter than everything this room has seen over the period covered by this blog post. And yet, in the scale of the room’s age, twenty-four years is only a quarter of its life. The history I’ve uncovered is only the latest part of its existence, and I’m missing so much.
Still, the fact that I’ve managed to go back twenty-four years feels pretty good.
Historiography. Now that I’m at my fifth history project for the blogs, I’m beginning to think about the means by which I do historical research, and how I present this research to readers. I find myself wanting resources about writing histories that aren’t just “how to write a history essay”, as I’m not trying to answer Big Questions about the past, I’m trying to form a coherent story for What Happened. Where’s the guide that’ll teach me how to ask questions that elicit good historical trivia from respondents? I dunno.
For this project, I’ve asked to talk with thirty-six people. My response rate is pretty good, with thirty-three out of the thirty-six responding in some way. One lesson I’ve learned is how responsive people tend to be to email when you ask. Another lesson I’ve learned is that oral history is a fickle thing, with often contradictory information I’ve had to piece together. Also, I wish I took better notes, rather than having to scramble reading emails again.
The sources for this project stand in contrast to my previous history projects, which although most had some interviewing part, were mostly grounded in written sources. Doing historical research through talking with people felt more fun, although it took longer and it was more tiring. I’ll probably try to do My list of history projects to pursue don't currently have anything that seems like a good fit for oral history, though, so if anyone has ideas, I'm listening.
People. The thing I’ll remember the most from this project is all the different people I got to talk to. It was like seeing myself in the many different possible futures I could be in, if I went into formal verification, or academia, or systems design, or whatever. I talked to people who’ve worked in the same place for years, and others who are pivoting from one field to another. People who are working in big companies or startups, or are self-employed or in research groups. It made me wish I had the time to meet and talk with them.
I knew, in some abstract sense, that graduating from college was a thing that people did, and that life after college is a thing that exists. But these felt like things that happened to other people, and not me. It scared me, thinking about the future, because it didn’t feel like something that was real for me.
For this project I interacted with people who, quite literally, were in the same spot I am now. And talking to them, and seeing that they’re all living their lives, gives me hope that maybe my future will end up alright too.
Forward. East Campus is going to get renovated soon, and gods know how the floor plan will look like after that. I don’t even know if H306 will be a dorm room a few years down the line, let alone a room. It makes me sad thinking that all the things left behind in this room won’t get passed down to future residents, and will just be… gone. All the effort put into making this room a nice place to live in, and all these hours of memories and stories, replaced with a plain door and spotless walls.
Maybe once East Campus is finished with renovations and the undergrads move in again, there’ll be a dorm room on the third floor of the west parallel, whose room number is H306. Maybe future residents of the room, some number of years down the line, will read this post.
Maybe one of them will be inspired to paint this room, furnish it, decorate it, and leave something behind.
Maybe then, all the effort would’ve been worth it.
- I have talked about ESP lots of times; we are a student group that runs educational programs for middle and high school students. We have a position called historian whose job it is to do research on ESP history, since ESP is a decades-old organization, and make sure that we leave records of what we currently do. back to text ↑
- See any of my posts where I do history research through interviews, like my MIT graphic design history post. back to text ↑
- Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group, which are living groups outside dormitories. back to text ↑
- The T is for Tutor. You can tell that someone is old if they call them GRTs. Well… kinda old, the name was only changed in 2019. back to text ↑
- MIT-speak for busy, because getting an education from MIT is like drinking from a firehose. back to text ↑
- Making Andy and Alex both people who lived in this room for a semester before moving to ET. back to text ↑
- Per the MIT Alumni Association Editorial Style Guide, and how we sometimes write on the blogs, we write all MIT degrees when referencing alumni. I violate this rule all the time, but sometimes I do it for effect. back to text ↑
- See a pattern yet? back to text ↑
- …which was before I was even born. back to text ↑
- Per Jakob, sometimes even "Pi West", as one graduate from 2008 put it. But, per Josh T., it seems to have evolved from Pi West in around 2001. back to text ↑
- James W. '06 writes that the racks were there when he moved in, in 2004. “I remember having a Californian friend that was aghast that I had stuff above where I slept,” he said, “because 'what if an earthquake?' ” back to text ↑
- I get a lot of questions about this one. It's a great conversation piece. back to text ↑
- In many dorms, halls, or wings, are abbreviated with their floor number, followed by W or E for West and East. I know that Baker, East Campus, McCormick, and Next all do this. Burton–Conner's floors are based on Burton and Conner, Macgregor's suites are lettered from A to J, New House houses are either named or take NH plus the house number, Simmons names areas based on A, B, or C tower, and I don't know about Maseeh or New Vassar. back to text ↑
- Thrown away. "Cruft" is also a noun, and a quite versatile one at that: it can be a large piece of trash or an MIT graduate. As a verb, it can mean either thrown away or acquired for free. back to text ↑
- I later learned that what is pictured below is not what Jakob referred to as the compartment. back to text ↑
- Mailing list where people email things they want to give away, see this blog post from Yan or this blog post from Petey. back to text ↑
- I turned the keyboard drawer upside-down so I didn't have to bend my wrists to type on the keyboard. back to text ↑
- My list of history projects to pursue don't currently have anything that seems like a good fit for oral history, though, so if anyone has ideas, I'm listening. back to text ↑