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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

This Friday, August 10th, will mark three years to the day since I began working in MIT Admissions.

It will also mark my last. At least, for a little while.

Next week I will begin a leave of absence from MIT. I will not, however, be leaving MIT. I will instead be moving a few buildings east to the Media Lab, where I will spend a year as a graduate student and researcher.

As some of you may remember, before MIT I was a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and before that at the University of Massachusetts, where I wrote my senior thesis about privacy on networked social intermediaries. When I came to MIT Admissions, I frankly thought it would be a short stopover on my way to law school. I was wrong (thank goodness). I’ve loved it here. And I’ve never wanted to leave.

I have, however, wanted to keep learning. So I started taking grad classes in the Comparative Media Studies program. They were really hard. I was put in a room with a small number of very smart grad students and a brilliant professor and forced to think in new, uncomfortable ways. If you’ve ever been to a physical therapist, you know the kind of discomfort I mean: the breaking apart of old adhesions that hurts even as it gives you the freedom to move in new and better ways.

I got hooked. I knew the program wasn’t what I thought I had wanted, but I knew it would push me out of my comfort zone and expose me to new ideas that I could use or discard as I saw fit. So I applied to CMS – grad admissions at MIT are handled entirely by each department – and was admitted a week or two before CPW.

Originally I had planned to just take one class a semester for a really long time while continuing to work in the office. But for a variety of reasons – some academic, some administrative – that wasn’t going to work for me, for the office, or for CMS.

So we did what MIT people always do when faced with this kind of problem: we improvised.

My program is usually two years long, but, because I’d already taken a few classes and started on my thesis, CMS agreed to let me overload and aim to finish in one. The office, meanwhile, agreed to give me a year’s leave of absence – sort of like a sabbatical – to allow me to go and pursue this opportunity.

One of the best parts about grad school here is that most (non-Sloan) students are fully-funded, meaning their tuition, stipend, and health insurance are all covered by MIT in exchange for some research or teaching activities. Last week, I found out that I’ll be spending the next year as a research assistant at the Center for Civic Media, which is hands down my favorite lab at MIT. Civic works with communities to collaboratively create, design, deploy, and assess civic media tools and practices.

I am incredibly fortunate. I’ve got the opportunity to get an MIT grad degree in a really mind-expanding program with a cool thesis topic. I’ll be fully supported by my favorite research lab on the planet. And I can return, at the end, to the job which I love.

That is why this decision was easy to make. But its consequences will still be difficult to live with.

This is not an easy job to leave, even if only for a year. In the three years I have worked in this office I have never been bored. I have always found it fascinating, stimulating, and profoundly meaningful. The opportunities I have had to meet MIT applicants, to read their applications, to see the admits at CPW, to advise them academically once they are here, to see them struggle and succeed and mature and grow and then go off and just blow the lid off the world has been incredible.

But I know this is the right opportunity at the right time. Like Yogi Berra said: when you get to a fork in the road, sometimes you just have to take it.

But what, you ask, of the website, and all of the digital things that I do? Do not be afraid. We have hired on a regent to serve in my stead for the next year. He’s even named Chris to help minimize the confusion! He was selected (from many great applicants) primarily because he can a) speak authentically and honestly to our prospective student audiences, and b) because he’s going to be a great admissions reader.

I’ll let the new Chris introduce himself tomorrow. He’ll be keeping the trains running, bossing around our (new) bloggers, and supervising a few new website tricks we have up our sleeves for rollout later this fall (that’s all I’ll say for now).

With that, I’ll take your leave in order to begin mine. I may nor may not blog over the coming months, but even while my head is in the Lab, my heart will be in Admissions. If you need me, my email is the same, so just drop me a line.

Be well. I’ll see you later.