Professor accessibility by Mollie B. '06
Mentor, n. A trusted counselor or guide. Or perhaps a really famous biologist who lets you barge into his office anytime you have grad school anxiety.
People often seem to think that going to an elite school, particularly one with a large population of graduate students, means that undergrads are destined to get short shrift. Apparently undergrads are less fun than grad students, or something (I don’t know why; I work half as much as the grad students in my lab for probably a tenth of the salary).
Well, as far as MIT goes, I don’t think that’s true. For one thing, we’re not herded into giant classes like so many moo cows. According to the common data set, over 60% of the classes at MIT have 19 people or fewer. This figure doesn’t include recitations — a recitation is a discussion/explanation/clarification section which meets outside lecture, and often the person teaching the recitation is not the person lecturing. For instance, I have 5.60 lecture three times a week in the Stata Center, taught by Professor Bawendi; my 5.60 recitation meets twice a week in a different classroom and is taught by a graduate student in physical chemistry. It’s good to get different perspectives on the lecture material. (And, ahem, graduate students are more likely to have sympathy and give really good homework hints than faculty are.)
Anyway, the point of all this is that I had a really good meeting today with one of my favorite professors, Carlos Lois. (The good thing about professors you’re close to is that they make you call them by their first names. Very cool.) Carlos is writing one of my recommendations for graduate school, so I wanted to pick his brain about applications and the like. (He told me it’s September and that I’m way too hyper about the applications. And he told me to relax. Boo, I’m not anal-retentive…? Okay, yes I am.)
One thing I love about the rapport I have with Carlos and with Morgan, my UROP supervisor, is that I can go bother them anytime I want. I didn’t make an appointment to meet with Carlos, I just waltzed up to his office this afternoon and knocked on the door. And after I was done meeting with Carlos, I walked over to building 16 to lend a book I had just finished to Professor James, my anthropology professor (I thought she might like to read it… although I don’t think she’ll like it!).
With only 4000 undergrads in 30 degree-granting programs, MIT is a small world. It’s especially small if you seek out connections with faculty; the faculty I’m close with have been more than willing to be mentors to me.
Plus, Carlos told me that he thinks I’ll get into my top-choice PhD program (which is an extremely elite cell biology program, I might add)… who wouldn’t feel warm and fuzzy about MIT faculty after hearing that?