Guest blog: “Me, Marvel, and MIT” by Chris Peterson SM '13
Jade's experience working on a SHASS UROP for me
Today I’m hosting a guest post by Jade Durham ’25, who — alongside Cami ’23 and Shayna ’23 — spent the last few years working on a UROP that I supervised about MIT in the Marvel Multiverse. Jade just published an article about her research findings in Technology Review. It’s really good and you should go read it. If you want to learn more about what went into the making of an article like this, and what it’s like to do a SHASS UROP at MIT, read on below!
Phase 1: Being a Marvel Fan & an MIT Student
I have been a big fan of Marvel ever since 2016. I get pretty hyper-fixated on things, and Marvel was an extensive enough franchise that my little gremlin brain was endlessly fascinated by it. I dragged my family to see the movies and collected lots of Marvel knick-knacks. When I applied to MIT, I even wrote about a pair of Spider-Man Shoes I had painted in high school.
When I got to MIT, I found out there were a lot of nerds here. (Who knew?) Some snippets of Marvel things I did in my first semester:
[*] saw filming of Wakanda Forever right on Mass Ave during REX 2021, after watching Iron Man on the lawn of McCormick Hall
[*] saw Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with my friends in a Cambridge theater
[*] dragged my neighbors to see Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage in a Fenway theater
[*] dressed up as Scarlet Witch for Halloween
[*] saw Spider-Man: No Way Home in Boston! (I had just finished finals week, gotten a flu shot, and had a flight home the next morning, so it was truly a fever dream of an experience, but totally worth it to see those MIT references in a Boston theater)
MIT was a great place for me to embrace my interests with others who seemed to be just as invested, which was pretty nice! But I wanted to develop my professional skills more and get some working experience.
Phase 2: Combining MIT & Marvel in a cool way: UROP!
To set the scene: It was my first IAP. I was on campus. I was taking 18.02a and 8.01L. I was cooking for myself and trying to figure out what to do with myself for the upcoming semester and summer. As I stalked the ELX website for spring research opportunities, I stumbled upon an entry for a Comparative Media Studies/Writing UROP that looked like a perfect match for my obsessive fangirl brain: Listed under Comparative Media Studies department as a humanities-based UROP. Needless to say, I was pretty interested in this opportunity. It was the first UROP I had seen that I felt I had any qualification for, considering I had years of Marvel knowledge v.s. only 1 semester of MIT GIRs under my belt. I immediately drafted and sent an email to the supervisor: Petey, aka Director of Special Projects at MIT Admissions + Student Financial Services.
It’s funny looking back on this email now. Back then, I was considering a major in Chemical Engineering. Course 10, but now I am majoring in mechanical engineering (thanks to 2.00B). What were my qualifications for MIT in the Marvel Multiverse research? Watching Studio Ghibli video essays and getting in the top 1% of Joe Hisaishi listeners for my 2021 Spotify Wrapped. I even included the name of my favorite restaurant (Chik-fil-A) in the first line of my email “to demonstrate that I have read and understood this entire listing.”
After sending that email, <em>Petey editorial note: okay look I was reading a lot of applications SORRY JADE.</em> I decided to do some digging on my own, because now I was DETERMINED to have this research opportunity. I had remembered seeing a mention of the Marvel UROP in one of the blogs written by Cami ‘23. So I reached out on Discord and sent a few more emails, eventually getting confirmation that there was no space for a new UROP in the spring semester. Completely understandable. However, it was likely that the research would need someone to continue it over the summer. So after a whirlwind Freshman Spring Semester™ of planning 18 events for McCormick CPW 2022 and 2.00B Toy Product Design (became a mechanical engineering major), and CC.120/21H.343 Bookmaking in the Renaissance & Today (became a TA for the class)! I secured UROP funding for remote summer research for MIT in the Marvel Multiverse.
Phase 3: Profit! (… over a little bit more time than I expected 😅)
So, I got to spend a pretty cool summer delving into Marvel!
When I returned home for the summer, I planned out how I would conduct my research for the project. Fortunately, I had a solid base of research to work off, thanks to the previous UROPs: Shayna ‘23 and the aforementioned Cami ‘23. They had compiled a thorough spreadsheet of several references from their search. I picked up where they left off, watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney+, reading comics on Marvel Unlimited, and checking out materials from my local library system. My strategy varied from chronologically reading the stories of notable MIT-affiliated characters, to scouring the internet for potential new trails to follow. For each reference, I made a new entry in the spreadsheet and described how MIT was portrayed and its accuracy to the real thing.
After meeting frequently with Petey over the summer, in August of 2022 we met with Deborah Douglas and Alice Dragoon (the MIT Museum Director of Collections & Curator, Science & Technology and the senior editor of MIT News at MIT Technology Review, respectively). We discussed the possibility of publishing an article, discussing my findings and tying it back to the origins of MIT becoming synonymous with technological genius. I was eager to take this on, and it sounded like it would be possible to publish my feature near the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which would certainly highlight the MIT/Marvel connection!
However – I definitely bit off more than I could chew for my sophomore fall. I joined new clubs, worked with a second UROP, and took on a TA role; and this was all on top of some pretty intense foundational MechE classes! I’ll be honest, the firehose was hitting pretty hard that semester, and I didn’t think I would be able to meet the initial deadline we had set. I had drafted several outlines by this point, and synthesizing the sheer amount of information I had collected into a single article was more taxing than I expected. Fortunately, my supervisors were completely understanding, telling me to prioritize my studies and working with me to reschedule the deadlines. I knew that my IAP and Spring terms were also looking incredibly busy, so we agreed to push my writing time until the following summer.
Fast forwarding to the end of my sophomore year, I decided to stay in Cambridge for summer 2023. I would be working on a more technical UROP at MIT Sea Grant while keeping the remote SHASS UROP position to continue researching Marvel and MIT and developing the MIT News article. Writing the article was a fun way to spend my evenings, while I kept up with work, friends, and cooking for myself. I had set a hard goal of completing the article before the summer ended, since I didn’t know when I would get another concentrated period of time that I could commit to the Marvel UROP. I will be honest and say that the brunt of the writing happened last August, as I felt the summer slipping away and REX 2023 revving up.
So after submitting several versions for review and fact-checking, in September we finally got an article that we were all happy with. And now the issue is out! The MIT News article, “Superhero U,” is now published online!
reflecting on a shass urop
So in review: this project has spanned over a year of my life, and about half of my total MIT experience. In this blog, I framed my work pretty positively, but that doesn’t mean that it was all smooth sailing. Most of the time, I was constantly worried that I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t a good enough writer, or that I should be working up my technical skills instead. But in return, I learned a lot about myself and how I approach self-managed projects. And with the incredible support of my mentors, friends, and family, I was able to prioritize my life and academics as an MIT student.
I would have never expected to have an opportunity like this, especially not at a technical institute like MIT. But what makes MIT amazing is that research projects can be driven by a student’s passion and energy to explore their interests. And sharing my passion for the intersection of MIT and Marvel with the wider MIT community was certainly a great experience I will always be happy to have.
- Listed under Comparative Media Studies department as a humanities-based UROP. back to text ↑
- Chemical Engineering. back to text ↑
- Petey editorial note: okay look I was reading a lot of applications SORRY JADE. back to text ↑
- 2.00B Toy Product Design (became a mechanical engineering major), and CC.120/21H.343 Bookmaking in the Renaissance & Today (became a TA for the class)! back to text ↑