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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

Professor quotes by Mollie B. '06

The spurious wisdom and even more spurious wit of MIT professors.

Well, we’ve already been over the fact that I like recording minutiae, and that this is going to make me either a good scientist or a raving crazy person. Maybe both. Come on, many brilliant people are crazy. Ergo, if I am crazy, I must be brilliant, right? (Shhh.)

My friend Stephen ’05 (now a first-year grad student in bioengineering at Stanford) always used to keep track of the funny and/or ridiculous things our group of friends said on a daily basis (note: I was going to link to it, but then I realized 1) it is entirely inappropriate for innocent eyes, and 2) I said some really stupid stuff my freshman year). I picked up this trait and adapted it, and now I have a detailed record of the funny and idiotic things that my MIT professors have said. Actually, some of the things are more dorky than anything else, which I take as proof that even MIT professors are not above a little glee at the magic of science.

  • 18.01, Calculus, fall 2002. Instructor Steven Devlin:”Once, when Gauss was in elementary school, his teacher was hung over or something and made them sum the first one hundred numbers before they could go out to recess.”
  • 18.02, Multivariable Calculus, spring 2003. Professor Michael Sipser: “I have found in my previous experience teaching this course that students tend to forget this minus sign. Please do not do this unless you wish to find minus signs on your exams.”
  • 8.02x, Physics E&M, spring 2003. Professor Gunther Roland: “”I firmly believe this value [for the mass of a quark] is correct, because the guy who measured it has his office two doors down from me.”
  • 5.12, Organic Chemistry, fall 2003. Professor Timothy Swager: “The solvent cage effect is like when you’re at a party, and you’re talking to someone, and they’re desperately trying to get away from you, but they can’t because of the crowd. Does that ever happen to you? [Class mumbles in the negative.] Oh. Well, it happens to me.”
  • 9.30/9.301/7.98, Neural Plasticity, spring 2004. Professor Matt Wilson: “The information from this neuron is delayed by about ten milliseconds. It has a layover in Chicago or something.”
  • 9.09/7.29, Cellular Neurobiology, spring 2004. Professor Chip Quinn: “Neurobiology has been hugely advanced by deranged chemists and drug dealers. The motto of this class is ‘Say yes to drugs.'”
  • 7.05, Biochemistry, spring 2004. Professor Michael Yaffe: “Linus Pauling was laying in bed thinking about things I’m sure you all think about in bed — structural chemistry! [Class groans.] Come on, what else is there to do in bed?”
  • 9.04, Neural Basis of Vision and Audition, fall 2004. Professor M. Christian Brown: “I will now demonstrate a frequency. This is 440 Hz. [Whistles a tone.] This is, in fact, the only frequency I can demonstrate.”
  • 7.23, Immunology, fall 2004. Professor Jianzhu Chen: “How do you identify which peptides are bound? [Class stares blankly. Whispers loudly,] It’s on the handout!”

Ohhh, good times.

More priceless quotes can be found at my archive.

14 responses to “Professor quotes”

  1. Anonymous says:

    the good old days….

    i remember the time we had a new physics teacher who had a horribly funny accent. he pronounced “section” as “sexon”, “joule” as “joole” and “focus” as “pocus”,the first class was more “decipher the unknown words” than physics…really funny

  2. zoogies says:

    My Algebra 2 teacher once said by way of course, “…and 7^8 comes out to…oh, I don’t know, 5,764,801?”

  3. Clark Poland says:

    My calculus teacher just makes dumb math jokes, like “What’s the definite integral of one over ‘cabin’? A natural log cabin!”. Oh boy.

    Another teacher has a “Quote board” in his room. Basically, someone several years back had the idea of writing down all the dumb things he says. Well, he keeps each board (just a thing of butcher paper) and has them hanging. It’s fun to read when class gets boring.

  4. Robb Carr says:

    Those are so great Mollie, however I already found them all in your MIT directory a few weeks ago anyway still funny.

  5. Dave says:

    Oh man, at least my calculus teacher realizes humor is a lost cause to her and does not attempt to break the Geneva Convention and torture my class with such witticisms as poor Clark Poland.

    You have my support and those of Calculus students everywhere. haha

  6. Bryan says:

    Here’s one of my favorites from my favorite math professor ever, Arthur Mattuck.

    “I can see it now. You’re going to go home and your parents will say ‘So, what is this 18.02 you’re studying?’ and you say ‘Well, it’s about ants. Infinitesimal ants on a hot plate.'”

  7. Robb Carr says:

    You know Mollie the mentioned quotes can be found rather easily on google….

    so I leave you with one of the two? appropriate quotes:

    Mollie’s best work yet:

    Stephen: *Quack quack quack*

    Mollie: You should have that on your catch phrase list!

    Stephen: I do. It’s there.

    *Mollie checks website. Catch phrase list has Quack Quack.*

    Mollie: But it should be in alphabetical order!

    Stephen: It is!!

    Mollie, flustered: Q should be…at the bottom of the list!

    Stephen: I’m glad you just lost this entire argument on all levels. There wasn’t a single thing you got right!


    *Stephen shows quote to Mollie.*

    Mollie, screaming down the hall: Don’t forget to put the part where I say it should be in alphabetical order.

    Tulasi: It is!!!!)

  8. Jared says:

    My Trig and Pre-Cal teacher used to introduce the factorial (such as 5! = 120) by showing us:

    “5 times 4 times 3 times 2 times 1 equals 120. Now, there is a much simpler way to write this…

    [screams] FIVE!

    [class jumps, along with the adjoining class]”

    Another memorable one was my Chem teacher. He was teaching us about formula units, and told us:

    “So you approach your principal and ask her, “QUICK! What do you call a combination of sodium and chlorine?! Then, when she asks for an answer, you can yell at the top of your lungs in the hallway, “F. U.!!!!!!” and then run off. She’ll LOVE IT!”

    Good memories, I’ve got a bunch more, but I can’t remember them all.


  9. Witty jokes! That’s just so cool for lecture humor.

    Here’s my favorite.

    In Sec 3 (that’s grade 9), my Physics teacher consistently pronounced “Pythagoras” as “pi:tha:gOras”, and he said it as if there was nothing wrong.

    In JC1 (that’s grade 11), my Physics tutor (yes, physics tutor again) teaching Ideal Gases and their laws cracked up when somebody let off gas during a lecture, and asked, “Now, who let off some ideal gases?”

    Then, there’s our Biology tutor, who, in my JC2 year (that’s Grade 12), set off the entire lecture hall when she showed us our preliminary examination score distribution. The entire graph had a scale from A to B… to E, O and F (from left to right), and a great proportion of grades fell in the DEO area. She told us, “It’s a very normal distribution, okay. It’s a very normal distribution.” And that was for the prelims. Following that, she then said this, “I expect everybody from here (points finger at O) to here (points finger at A) to get an A at the A level exams.” Hell, I fell in that range, lucky me.

  10. Christina says:

    OH MY GOD.

    These prof. quotes (as well as the one’s I am currently reading in your archives) are the funniest things in the freaking world.


  11. My math teacher told us today that he could finally tell us one of his four jokes. He said, “What’s the offspring of an eigensheep?” Waited for us to mostly not figure it out. and finished: “A lamb, duh.” I shudder to think what the other three might be.

  12. Jessie says:

    Prof. Gilbert Strang, 18.06 (Spring 2005):

    *makes some sort of joke*

    *class giggles*

    “Oh…I don’t think I’ve ever made that one before!”

    (Strang has been here a long time – he taught my dad, as did Mattuck. Also, he’s priceless.)

  13. Dig this.

    [Just before Physics A level paper 3.]

    Jackie Ang (one of my friends): Eric, I just put my hand on your head, and my god, I felt static.

    Eric: Don’t get you, Jackie…

    Jackie: You know, when a *hollow* sphere has charges distributed evenly over it……

    Eric: Jackie, I choose not to take this scientifically. Empty vessels make the most noise.

    *Jackie whines*

    Eric: By the way, (I put my hand on his shoulder) you have zero potential. wink

  14. Banedon says:

    It shows the Professors have a sense of humour smile Though it’s something I’ve never quite had, I still appreciate it.