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Selling Point by Krystal L. '17

How to tell the difference between MIT and an infomercial

Growing up, I admit that I watched a decent amount of television. I wasn’t a couch potato by any means; I loved to go fishing with my neighbor, take walks in the shaded walkways behind my house, or build oddly shaped sculptures in the sandbox with my friends. The magic of television lay in its ability to transport me to another world, another story, and another life. So I indulged in the visual fantasies, especially when I came down with a case of the sniffles and the best place to curl up and nap was the sofa in front of the TV.

A side effect of television was the exposure to the infamous world of infomercials. Early morning and late night viewings were fraught with empty promises and enticing offers for magical stain cleaning liquid, blankets (with sleeves!), and convenient kitchenware that would help you slap your troubles away. But after a while, even the low, low price of $19.95 wasn’t enough to convince me that those products were worth buying. I’d finally developed a healthy dose of marketing skepticism.

While contemplating my collegiate future, I read my fair share of pamphlets, hand-outs, and websites, all expounding on their respective college’s advantages and benefits. I half expected the next pamphlet to offer me free shipping and handling if I called right away.

Maybe I had a little bit more than a healthy dose of skepticism, but the point still remained that without experiencing the college firsthand, there was no way for me to know what they really meant by “rigorous curriculum” or “unparalleled opportunities”.

As decision time approaches, many of you are probably facing the same dilemma.

On MIT’s admissions website, we claim that “MIT is one of the best places in the world to be a student” and the top two reasons listed are the “incredible faculty” and the “strong culture of student collaboration”.

Bold words.

I’d just like to put my two cents out there and let any prospective students know that sometimes, even catchy promotional phrases can ring true.

Incredible Faculty:

As you all probably know, MIT is known for having some famous faculty. Professor Eric Lander, perhaps best known for his contribution to the Human Genome Project, teaches 7.012 Introductory Biology (which I took last semester) along with Professor Robert Weinberg who discovered the first human oncogene Ras. Of course, many universities have their own famous and accomplished faculty members.

But from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that the faculty members here really seem to care about the students and they are willing to do more than just stand in front of the lecture hall and teach. Last semester, a group of six students and I took Professor Weinberg out to dinner via the UA Student-Faculty Dinner program. He didn’t treat the invitation as an obligation, but rather seemed genuinely happy to spend a night talking to his students. We spent hours at the restaurant, talking and laughing about research, MIT, and life in general. One digression led to a conversation on the nature of lactose intolerance and the extent to which each of us enjoyed dairy products (I, for one, am a great proponent of cheese consumption). This semester, ClubChem hosted a faculty dinner with Professor Danheiser, the professor for my 5.12 Organic Chemistry course. While devouring plates of deliciously free Thai food, we all sat in a circle of desks as the professor recounted his own life story and answered any student questions. His experiences as an undergraduate researcher were hilariously relatable and he wasn’t afraid to laugh along with us.

The professors here are people too and they want to get to know the students they are teaching. Needless to say, in the classroom, they do their job well. My 18.03 Differential Equations professor always shows up to class with a huge smile on his face and a bounce to his step, eager to begin the lesson.

He’s also a pro at erasing the boards.
Sure some of the material can be a struggle, but open office hours are a great opportunity to get questions answered by the professors themselves who are more than happy to help out.
Student Collaboration:
Pset parties are a common occurrence here, assuming you hold a loose definition of the word “party”. Finishing my 8.02 Electricity and Magnetism and 5.12 psets on the weekend with friends has become a weekly event during which we settle into comfy chairs, sometimes sit by whiteboards where we can spew out our half-baked theories, and attempt to finish all of the problems in (hopefully) one sitting. Collaboration is encouraged and we are asked to acknowledge our collaborators on top of the page each time we turn something in.

Unfortunately, I make the mistake, sometimes, of leaving my 18.02 Multivariable Calculus pset until the night before it’s due.


** Do not, I repeat, do not leave your psets until the night before they are due. Bad things will happen. Horses will start eating each other and Voldemort might return. Also you might not get any sleep, which is probably even worse than those other things. Ok. Thank you. That is all. **

On this particular Wednesday evening, I was sitting by myself, slogging through mathematical proofs by the dim glow of my desk lamp. A glance towards my warm bed only solidified the regret I had of starting so late. I was all by my lonesome self now.

The problems on our psets are designed to test problem solving skills, not just a student’s ability to regurgitate the formulas and equations. Working with others allows us to bounce ideas around and compare methods. In the real world, you aren’t alone; there are usually people around you who can help. The homework at MIT taps into this mindset and the professors encourage us to work together as we will when we leave the shelter of a college campus and enter into another phase of our lives.

Of course, there are people who breeze through the psets on their own with no problem. But for the most part, as you stroll through the student center, or the basement of Maseeh, you will see clusters of students at every other table and chair, working together to finish a pset or a project. Student collaboration isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the norm and it’s something I appreciate about MIT’s culture.

But wait, there’s more!:

To be completely honest (and that’s all I’m trying to be here, for the benefit of my fellow skeptics out there), I can’t say whether or not MIT is unique in its incredible faculty or culture of student collaboration. Never having experienced other colleges firsthand, there’s no way for me to know whether or not they too live up to their brochure and pamphlet standards. But no one is making me write this. I just wanted to share my own perspective.

That’s the best we can really do: provide our own snapshot of MIT. It’s like a collage. No one photo can truly encompass everything that MIT is and represents, but each opinion adds something to the conversation. So if you have any questions, I’d love to answer them!

And if you email right now, I’ll throw in a free doodle! Yes, that’s right, I’ll answer your question, and send you a free doodle of whatever you want!*

*Terms and conditions may apply.