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MIT student blogger Jessie L. '07

Replying to questions and comments by Jessie L. '07

The first thing I wanted to do for this entry was reply to some comments and questions that I’ve received. I like it when you guys post comments and questions! Please continue to do so…or, if you’re lurking, don’t be afraid to speak up!

Lena says, in reference to my previous entry: “Did you have to do the lab by yourself? no lab groups? Speaking of which, how collaborative is MIT? Do most people do psets w/ others[?]”

That’s a good question! The answer is that, for 6.004, you have to write your own code, circuitry, whatever, up…you’re turning in your lab as an individual, not as part of a group. However, you are allowed to collaborate with TAs, LAs, your friends, etc. Some classes, especially the proper labs (6.004 isn’t really considered a lab class, just an ordinary class with a lab component), have lab groups. Some have a series of smaller lab assignments that you have to do yourself with a huge group project at the end. Some classes heavily discourage or forbid collaboration on work, though they are relatively uncommon. There’s no set policy for all of MIT. On the whole, students are very collaborative if the class permits it. There’s an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition, a “We’re all in this together” feel – this is one of the least cutthroat places I’ve ever seen in that regard.

Brianna also had a comment on that entry:

“i loved the story and i think it’s awesome that you
designed the whole cpu! i hope i can too someday!
but i didn’t get the part about kevin. i’m trying
to connect it to my own experience. so we have two
teachers for ap physics in my hs, mr. faraday (who
teaches my class), and mrs. einstein (who teaches
the other class across the hall from us).

names have been changed! :)

mrs. einstein is my next door neighbor and i’ve known
her since 4th grade. i’m having trouble with my hw
so i stop by her house at night for 3 hours. (this is
all just an example, i didn’t really do it). she
goes over what was covered in class and eventually
i get it and i figure out how to do my hw. but my
friends don’t know mrs. einstein and can’t call her
or anything so i feel kinda bad that i’m the only one
who could. i’m not sure what i did is fair.

i’m just a hs kid and don’t know about mit, so maybe
you can help me out. why is kevin different?”

It’s a very valid point. I mean, from one perspective, I could say that the point of school is to learn the material, and therefore anything that helps you (or me) understand the material is okay, especially in a class like 004 or most high school classes I took that has an absolute rather than a curved grading scale. And I would be correct, at least according to my beliefs about education. But I wouldn’t be addressing your real question, which is “Isn’t it unfair to other students that you got help to which they didn’t have access?”

One of the differences between my situation and your scenario is that in high school, there are relatively few people who know a subject well – the one or two teachers who are supposed to teach it, maybe an exceptional student. And the teachers are not usually accessible to students outside of class hours, and a student who has that sort of access to the help a teacher can provide would be very lucky.

On the other hand, a class like 004 has an entire staff. There’s a professor, a bunch of TAs, and a bunch of LAs. Kevin and I live in a dorm with more than 350 other people, some of whom are taking the class (and some of whom live even closer to him than I do!) and could have also asked him for help. All the TAs and LAs are students, and they presumably live somewhere, and it’s likely that other students in the class live near or with them. There are also star students, and older students who took the class already, who would probably be willing to help their struggling friends (A side note: Most MIT students who know class material well absolutely love to help their friends, because it makes them feel smart and gives them a confidence boost that they might not be getting from their other classes).

This is true for almost any class. Maybe somebody in the class is friends with one or more of the TAs/LAs/tutorial leaders. Or their sibling is a TA/LA/tutorial leader. Maybe somebody’s advisor is the professor. Or somebody’s boyfriend/girlfriend aced the class. Or somebody’s boyfriend/girlfriend is an alum who happens to make their living practicing what is taught in the class. Or somebody’s GRT is doing thesis research on the topic of the class. Or somebody happens to be one of a dozen people on their hall who are all taking the class and can find help amongst each other 24/7.

In case you’re curious, I’ve seen all of the above, or at least very similar, situations in real life. In some classes, I’ve seen several of them going at once. So no, strictly speaking, it’s not “fair”, but it balances out; if you’re the one benefitting in one class, someone else will benefit in another…and what you’re supposed to be doing at school is learning class material, so if you have access to someone who knows the material well, there’s no good reason not to get help from them if you need it (unless the class forbids collaboration, in which case you can get help while studying but you wouldn’t want to do so on the assigments).

Tom Griswold ’68 1E says: “I believe that your Course 6 laboratory experience parallels mine in various courses when I was tooling at the ‘tute’ about 40 years ago — it seems like yesterday — note that much of the jargon has stayed constant – I wonder how long we have ‘tooled’? Is the Institute screw still left handed and gold plated?”

I’m flattered that I have such a wide audience for my blog! I seem to get a number of alum comments in here, and I always appreciate them (which doesn’t mean that prefrosh shouldn’t comment…I’d like to see more prefrosh comments). I’m pretty sure that the Institute Screw is still left-handed, but, despite being in the group that gives it out, which means that I really should know this, I don’t recall whether it’s still gold-plated!

Jungle, who I’m guessing is also an alum, wrote the following comment on my Hacks and Meta-Hacks entry from a while back:

“Have all of the hacks done by Jack Florey and his Grenadeers in the 60’s and 70’s been forgotten?

ANATHEMA!!”

No, they haven’t…well, some of them probably have been. If you remember them, perhaps you should document them. :) Especially since hack-chronicling books such as Nightwork tend to have a lot more on hacks from the ’80s and ’90s than the ’60s and ’70s. The hack on the Infinite map, however, seemed to be focused on hacks from the last two or three years.

Do rest assured, however, that Jack Florey participated in some of those hacks, and is in pretty good shape in general. He, and others like James Tetazoo, are simply a little more collaborative than they were back in the ’60s and ’70s, which is why so many of the hacks I listed got the designation “cross-group”.

That’s all for now…next entry (I hope) will be about my life over Thanksgiving Break!

2 responses to “Replying to questions and comments”

  1. dave glasser says:

    Yeah, it’s one thing if you go up to an LA friend during their paid and scheduled LA hours and insist that they only help you for the whole time and ignore everyone else; but when they’re off duty, there’s nothing wrong with getting the most out of a generous friend!

    (Hell, I’m sad that, in my first term since fall 2003 that I’m not on 6.001 teaching staff, that I haven’t gotten to help anyone much with it…)

  2. riv says:

    Just to add, students who don’t feel like they have access to the kind of resources Jessie’s talking about for help can always talk to their TA/professor, who usually know about tutoring options. This obviously doesn’t help at 3am when you’re working on a lab, but if you need help with a class in general, help is usually out there somewhere if you look for it.