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Chancellor Eric Grimson

Professors Are Human Too (Really!) by Chancellor Eric Grimson

My name is Eric Grimson, and I am a professor at MIT.

I am delighted to join the impressive cadre of admissions office bloggers – a source of insight into MIT that I hope is of value as you consider applying to or attending the Institute. Since this is my initial post, I’d like to briefly introduce myself, and then talk about how to succeed at MIT.

My name is Eric Grimson, and I am a professor at MIT. I have the honor of holding the Bernard Gordon Chair of Medical Engineering in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department (known as EECS – pronounced “eeks” – or Course VI to everyone at MIT). I also have the privilege of serving as the Department Head for EECS. EECS is the largest department at MIT, with roughly 130 faculty members, 900 graduate students (over 100 of whom work with the faculty as teaching assistants each term), and 700 undergraduate majors. Don’t let the size scare you! – you deal with the faculty and fellow students a few at a time, in your classes and in research groups you may end up working with. We are a very friendly department (like most of MIT), and our size lets us provide an amazing range of opportunities for our students. The mantra of the department is “EECS is everywhere,” because for almost every area of modern life and technical area of research, electrical engineering or computer science plays a key role – a topic for a subsequent posting.

I arrived at MIT more than 30 years ago (I know – that probably makes me older than your parents!) as a graduate student. I came from a small city in Saskatchewan (that may be redundant, since every city in Saskatchewan by definition is small), having graduated from a completely unknown university. I spent the first few months at MIT convinced that admissions had made a mistake, that my folder accidentally got put into the “admit” pile. I was terrified about saying anything for fear I would expose the fact that everyone else was smarter, better educated, more experienced than me. You may have the same worries when you get here. Relax! Yes, everyone around you may be incredibly smart and full of great ideas, but so are you. The key is to be willing to participate; if you engage yourself in the vibrant exchange of ideas that takes place in the labs, the classrooms, the dining halls, and the student lounges, you will find the experience exhilarating. MIT people are quick to offer critiques, but they are equally quick to applaud great ideas and to facilitate or support individual initiatives and efforts – the point is that you have to be willing to engage.

I have taught more than 8,000 students at MIT over the past 25 years, more than half of them freshmen. A recurring observation is that many students somewhere during a term will face a stage of self-doubt: they don’t understand some concept, they are struggling to keep up with the workload, they didn’t do as well as they wanted on a quiz, they are dealing with personal issues that are chewing up time and mental energy. Too often, students assume that faculty won’t understand, so they don’t seek out help or advice. Contrary to expectations, faculty (well, most of them) are human too. They too have self-doubts. They have seen many students work through these challenges. So don’t give up at the first bump in the road – speak up, connect, ask for help, and you’ll find your path through MIT is much smoother!

22 responses to “Professors Are Human Too (Really!)”

  1. Utkarsh says:

    First post!!!!
    I would love to be at MIT and especially a student of such a cooperative seeming teacher.I am fond of programming i eat sleep dine computers. I can’t live without it.I have designed a software in C++ that performs integration operations.

    Wish to be your student.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi, how involved are you in the admissions process? How much input does the faculty have on the general guidelines and the weights to place on various criteria?

  3. Daniel says:

    Thank you for your post, Prof. Grimson! I’m an aspiring EECS major, and it’s good to hear from someone in the department (especially the DH). I look forward to your future posts!

  4. Meagan says:

    Thanks for the post, it makes me just want to go to MIT that much more. Anyway, I was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. Its pretty cool that the best prairie province is represented at MIT.

  5. Amjad says:

    that was amazing. I mean to here from a Prof. at MIT (and especially at the EECS department). thank you.
    and by the way I’m really fond of electronics, computers and everything that’s digital smile.
    you will notice that if you ever read my application. but I guess you won’t read.
    and I’m fond of EECS department as well.
    I hope I will get admitted.

  6. Yufei says:

    wow, MIT professor actually talks in my language! I can actually understand you! This is unbelievable!

    on topic: Love EECS and thank you for the post, learned a lot.

  7. Melissa '11 says:

    Thank you for your post, professor! It really helped ease my nerves. I have similar worries right now to what you experienced – I was admitted EA, when I was 95% sure I’d be rejected, 4.5% sure that I’d be rolled over, and .5% sure that I’d be admitted. I’m worried about everyone around me being a genius, and I’m pretty much convinced my folder fell into the admit pile by accident =) In any case, I’ll be seeing you next year – while hopefully not being too far behind the rest!

  8. Wow! Definitely an interesting post! I, too, am an aspiring EECS and I had a question for you. I’m interested in studying electrical engineering as it relates to the media and specifically audio and recording engineering. Are there certain classes in the EECS department that would allow me to explore this field? I’m sure there are, but I have not heard anything about them! Thanks and I am very excited for your next post!!

  9. Solomon says:

    Thanks Professor Grimson we here in Africa sometimes do not get much opportunities. Taking advantage of the very little you have is what really matters. I hope I have done that and I hope the adcom will see it and admit me so that may be someday I can also be a professor at MIT.

  10. Sarab says:

    Nice post! You know, that’s something that I had realised a couple of semesters ago when my Chem teacher asked me why my performance was going down. When I told him that I was applying to the US as well as for the Indian enterance exams, eh smiled like he understood and told me in class a couple of classes later the names of some books he said would help clear up my fundamentals! Now, for an Indian teacher, (Notorious for their bad tempers and their belief in their own subject being the only one worth studying) was amazing!

  11. Yuki says:

    Thanks, Professor Grimson! It’s good to see some insight from a teacher’s perspective! I look forward to hopefully taking your classes next year and in the years to come, you sound like a really fun person to learn under.

  12. Ying Wei says:

    The only MIT-affiliated professor i have met and chatted with before is Professor Sylvia Ceyer. She is a great professor who makes me determined to apply MIT as a freshman, and if not admitted, apply again as a graduate.
    And you make me determined to apply MIT as a freshman, and if not admitted, apply again as a graduate, and if not admitted again, work hard to become an MIT professor. smile

  13. I’m a high school student who loves mathematics and science(especially Physics). I’m surprised that a professor of the best college is so friendly. I reallt want to be a MIT man, and I’ve just had another reason to be a MIT man. Since best students around the world apply MIT, I’m worried, but I will follow my dream, and, be one of the best physicists. Thank you, Professor Grimson! I hope I see you two years later!

  14. I’m a high school student who loves mathematics and science(especially Physics). I’m surprised that a professor of the best college is so friendly. I reallt want to be a MIT man, and I’ve just had another reason to be a MIT man. Since best students around the world apply MIT, I’m worried, but I will follow my dream, and, be one of the best physicists. Thank you, Professor Grimson! I hope I see you two years later!

  15. Always valuable to read something from an MIT professor. Thanks!

  16. viky says:

    hi, i am an undergraduate in elec. eng. and i hope to do my graduate in MIT. it might be a far-fetched dream but i will try my best my best after the inspirational blog of the professor.

  17. Pradeep says:

    Your blog is just AMAZING professor!!! Its just like reading my mind out.Till date, i was like why isnt any professor bloggng out here…mmmm may be they are too busy with their routines. But now i understand, how good teacher-student relationship at MIT is. thanks for that sir, and looking forward to hear more from you.

  18. Vishaque says:

    I spent the first few months at MIT convinced that admissions had made a mistake, that my folder accidentally got put into the “admit” pile. I was terrified about saying anything for fear I would expose the fact that everyone else was smarter, better educated, more experienced than me.

    MIT people are quick to offer critiques, but they are equally quick to applaud great ideas and to facilitate or support individual initiatives and efforts – the point is that you have to be willing to engage.

    ————————————————
    Professor Grimson, you are amazing!

  19. Eric Grimson says:

    I want to thank those who posted responses. Several of you raised questions to which I would like to briefly respond. Some of these issues I’ll touch upon in a separate blog soon.

    Anonymous (and also Amjad) raised questions about faculty involvement in admissions, especially in setting guidelines. While MIT (like most strong schools) uses a great professional staff to handle the bulk of the admissions process, faculty are involved in reading folders and providing input to the final decisions. Perhaps more importantly, while the faculty very much trust the staff to do a great job, the faculty does monitor the overall process. There is a faculty committee to which the Admissions staff reports, and which sets policy. And there have certainly been times in the past few decades when the faculty as a whole has decided to adjust the template of what we are seeking in MIT students. This is true of most of what happens at MIT, where the faculty are actively involved in setting standards.

    Melissa posted a nice note that very much resonates with the picture I was painting. Relax — you will do fine here, and I know you won’t be “too far behind the rest”.

    Christina asked a more specific question about audio and recording engineering. I’ll try to do a specific post in the near future on the general issue of breadth of opportunities at MIT. On this specific question, the answer is a simple yes. There are a range of courses (and research opportunities for undergraduates) in audio processing, both in EECS and in other departments. These courses include fundamentals in signal processing, techniques for encoding, new materials for data capture and storage, principles of audio perception and processing, digital and analog labs in which you can build devices to do audio processing, and a lot more. You may not know this, but one of the great professors in EECS, until he retired, was Amar Bose — the founder of Bose Corporation, who make (in my view) the best speakers in the world.

  20. Vishaque says:

    Professor, the 4th Paragraph… umm… can’t we change it??

  21. Amjad says:

    I love MIT……

  22. Umit says:

    I am an undergraduate student in Turkey. Sometimes I stop and think about universities in my country. Theres 4 – 5 really good universities here , but im not studying at one of them. Im at average one.
    And for now MIT is only a dream for me.
    I only listen legends and read blogs about MIT.(Plus I download OCW smile
    But this is a really inspirational blog Mr. Professor. I wish all of teachers would think like you.. But only a little percent of them do…
    That makes me away from my only goal in this life:
    Doing science until I die.
    I hope I’ll be a student of a teacher like you…