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MIT student blogger Jessie L. '07

Questions and answers by Jessie L. '07

Yay, you guys asked me questions! And now, I will try to answer them.

Timur Sahin asks, “Forget admissions, housing, et al. Where do you see your MIT education taking you? What opportunities have been available to you that you feel get you closer to your goal in life?

So I guess what I am asking is, specifically, how has MIT helped you come closer to where you want to be? How much of this was unique to MIT as opposed to what can be found in most universities?”

Wow, that’s quite a question. It’s a bit of a tough one because my goals have changed substantially since I came to MIT. When I arrived as a freshman, I thought I was going to med school. There wasn’t any particular reason for this…I had expressed some interest in it when I was about ten, and after that my family sort of assumed it, and so did I. By the end of my freshman year, I decided that a lot of my interests and personality traits didn’t really fit a medical career that well. Now I want to go to grad school and become a research or industrial scientist or engineer, preferably in some sort of interdisciplinary field (neuroscience, for the record, is pretty interdisciplinary, which is one reason it appeals to me). I think that at another school, I would have been less likely to figure this out – I would have cruised through and gone to med school without ever really questioning myself. Instead, I was able and encouraged to take classes that I wouldn’t have taken anywhere else, exposed to scientists and engineers, and able to talk to alums who had gone into science and engineering fields. It helped me see things more clearly.

MIT is unique in the incredible variety of science and engineering courses it offers, and the fact that most of them are open to any student who takes the prerequisites. My classes this term sample half a dozen different departments. I may be a neuroscientist, but I’m getting a team together to take the Mobile Autonomous Systems Lab (a vision-based robotics class/competition) over IAP, and there’s an electrical engineering class in micro- and nano-fabrication technology that I want to take at some point…the more different things I learn (as long as I’m learning something in depth), the more options I have in science and engineering, and the more useful I am to a research lab or corporation.

MIT will challenge you more than just about any other university, which, believe me, has a long-term impact on your life. It is much more hands-on than most other universities – you work in labs, build roller coasters and water slides in the courtyard, use power tools, construct hacks. It is intense, and you live it and breathe it. You spend 24 hours a day immersed in science and technology, and wander barefoot at night through the halls of a giant interconnected research complex, because unlike many universities, campus is more or less open. If you’re interested in MIT, you already know that the academic opportunities are substantial, but what you may not realize is how the culture can change your outlook, and that it can be as crucial educationally, if not more so, as the fact that you’re at a “top university”.

Leftcoast mom, whom I met during Family Weekend because her son, Greg ’09, is one of my hallmates, asks, “We know a lot now about how it works for incoming freshmen, but… what happens in terms of a housing lottery after your first year? If you want to stay put, is that guaranteed? What’s the procedure for staying in your same room, or moving to another room on your hall/entry or within your building… or moving to a different building? I assume that’s all decided before the pre-frosh get their I3 (Interactive Introduction to the Institute) housing DVD and do their preference ranking for their lottery, but when and how do next year’s non-freshmen do it?”

This question has a few parts, so I’ll answer them one at a time.

Moving to a different building: A student who wants to move to a different dorm can enter a transfer lottery with ranked preferences, similar to the freshman housing lottery. A student who wants to move from a dorm to an FSILG can just do so as long as the FSILG has a bed for them and wants them.

Moving to a different hall or entry: A student who wants to move to a different hall or entry should contact the Room Assignment Chair (RAC) for their dorm to see if a transfer can be arranged. The RAC is a resident in the dorm, chosen according to dorm policy – in East Campus, for instance, the Vice-President, an elected position, is also the RAC, while in Random Hall the RAC is its own position and is appointed by the previous RAC.

If you want to stay put/Moving to another room on your floor: Unless a student is in a room designated specifically for freshmen (there are maybe two or three such rooms on 5th East), I think he or she is always allowed to stay in his or her current room. This is true at East Campus; if it’s not at other dorms, someone correct me. Many students wish to move to larger/nicer/less crowded rooms. Halls/entries usually have some sort of “room wars” system (on 5th East, the most senior class of students draw cards together to assign preference within class, then the next most, and onto the freshmen, with new transfers drawing with the class below them) to determine priority in choosing rooms and allocate rooms among returning students.

Mollie didn’t have a question, but she had a comment:

“(Comment that probably nobody but Jessie will understand, upon reading leftcoast mom’s comment above)

For a second after I read that question, I was like “oh no, a housing lottery after the first year!” but then I remembered that particular piece of Potter report nonsense was not actually implemented. And I breathed a sigh of relief.”

Actually, Mollie, I’m not the only one who would understand it. You should hear Matt and me yak about this sort of thing in his office. Believe me, he’s quite familiar with the Potter report – we were talking about it last week.

Anna Park asks, “Anyways, how conducive an environment does MIT students and faculty members create for science majors? Do engineering activities dominate science activities? Or are they more intertwined than mutually exclusive?”

I think they are definitely intertwined. Science is just as much a part of MIT as engineering (there are currently no engineering General Institute Requirements, except maybe your Institute Lab if you’re an engineering major, but there are a number of science requirements), and there are only about twice as many engineering as science majors, according to Registrar’s Office enrollment data.

There’s plenty of good-natured discussion about the way scientists approach learning vs. the way engineers do, but most people I know are some of both. After all, where would an electrical or mechanical engineer be without physics knowledge? Where would a computer scientist be without mathematics? A chemical engineer without some chemistry background? And many science-y people, including myself, develop an engineering side through being immersed in it. I’ve learned, in and out of the classroom, to use various software packages, use tools, design a reasonable-sized project, play with mechanical devices, wire a circuit, and so on. My UROP is in a joint science/engineering lab (Brain & Cognitive Science and Nuclear Engineering).

By the way, thanks everyone for your kind comments about my Tech column. :)

7 responses to “Questions and answers”

  1. Anna Park says:

    Thanks, Jessie! MIT becomes, yet again, more attractive.

  2. dave glasser says:

    jessie, totally do MASLab, it is the best.

  3. I kinda think that scientists are more theoretical and engineers are more practical. Scientists tend to do the research in RnD, while engineers do the development part of RnD.

    Let’s make a list. What else can you think of?

  4. riv says:

    Hey, do you still need teammates for this MASlab scheming of yours? I may be interested… smile

  5. Timur Sahin says:

    Wow! Great answer. smile.

  6. MITmom says:

    “A student who wants to move to a different dorm can enter a transfer lottery with ranked preferences, similar to the freshman housing lottery.”

    So if a dorm has, say, 10 slots for next year, and 10 current students want to move there from other dorms, do all 10 get to move there, or are some of the slots held back for freshmen?

    “the most senior class of students draw cards together to assign preference within class, then the next most, and onto the freshmen, with new transfers drawing with the class below them) to determine priority in choosing rooms and allocate rooms among returning students.”

    do you mean new transfers into the dorm, or new transfers into the university? If a current freshman wants to change dorms next year, are they lumped in with next year’s freshmen for choosing a room? That kind of seems like double jeopardy – the unfortunate 5% of current freshman who ended up in dorms way down on their list would get penalized again next year on room assignments. Does this vary from dorm to dorm?

  7. MITmom, I’m willing to bet this part of Jessie’s answer to me is part of the answer to your first question:

    “Unless a student is in a room designated specifically for freshmen (there are maybe two or three such rooms on 5th East)…”

    I think three are some specific number of freshman-reserved rooms in most dorms, so if there were 10 rooms open, not all of them would be availble for 10 waiting-list waiters. At least that’s my guess: how did I do, Jessie? grin