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MIT student blogger Mollie B. '06

The good advice by Mollie B. '06

The many different flavors of advising at MIT.

So in case anybody’s unaware, I finished my project at the lab at the end of July so I could spend the month of August working on Ben‘s couch. True story. I’m going through and tagging all of the bloggers’ entries with subjects so that people can easily find blog entries on certain topics when Ben opens up the super new site.

Sidenote: You, too, should go back and read all of the old entries. There’s some good stuff in the archives, plus it would probably save you the trouble of asking poor Matt some question that’s already been answered twenty zillion times. And don’t be a wuss and say “But there are fourteen hundred entrieeeees in the archives!” Boo hoo. I’ve read and tagged them all in four days. Don’t be a weenie.

So since some of the categories don’t have many entries at the moment, I am dedicating myself to writing entries on a couple of under-discussed topics.

Hence, today: Undergraduate Advising at MIT.

Freshman advising
Freshman advising is separate from upperclassman advising; upperclassmen are advised by faculty members in their declared department, but freshmen are all officially undeclared until the end of the year.

Freshmen have a variety of advising choices:

    • Traditional advising. In traditional advising, the freshman is assigned to an MIT faculty member or staffperson, who holds meetings on or near registration day to discuss potential classes with the student and sign the student’s registration card. A traditional advisor is also available for one-on-one meetings any time during the year.


    • Seminar advising. A freshman seminar is a weekly class which students attend; they’re on a wide variety of topics (friends of mine have explored Boston’s museums, discussed the ethical implications of the Human Genome Project, and built personal electronic devices in their seminars) and are open only to freshmen. The seminars offered this year are here and here. Seminars have very few students, so freshmen get a lot of one-on-one attention from their advisors, who are MIT faculty or staffpersons.


  • Residence-based advising. In RBA, students are advised and placed in seminars based on the dorms in which they choose to live. RBA is available only in Next House and McCormick Hall.

There’s no one best advising choice for every incoming freshman. Freshman seminars are usually quite enjoyable (and no, they don’t take up a lot of time — but you do get 6 units of academic credit for them!), but not everybody wants to add a seminar to his or her schedule. Personally, I did traditional advising, and I turned out just fine.

In a more practical sense, freshman advisors are great for advice on careers and that sort of thing, but most MIT students rely more on the upperclassmen with whom they live to give advice on which classes to take. This works out pretty well, since most MIT students spend freshman year taking the General Institute Requirements and perhaps the introductory class(es) in their majors, so upperclassmen are really experts on which courses are best. Plus, it’s easier to get advice from an upperclassman next door than an advisor all the way across campus, especially at 2 AM.

All types of freshman advising, I ought to mention, are copious sources of free food.

Advising for upperclassmen
All upperclassmen are advised by a professor in their major department. (I’m not sure who advises students who remain undecided after freshman year.) Some departments assign students to their advisors, some allow students to pick their own advisors, and some take into account a combination of student preference and advisor availability. In Brain and Cognitive Sciences, I was allowed to list four or five professors as potential advisors, and the final decision was made by Jason, the (awesome) undergraduate administrator, probably based on how many other advisees each of my choices already had. In Biology, I just picked my UROP supervisor as my advisor. (Yeah multiple birds with minimal stones.)

In case it’s not obvious by what I just said, students who declare two majors get two advisors. Double the fun for everyone — and double the number of people who can sign your papers!

Different departments have different policies on the advisor/advisee relationship. Some departments only require that advisors meet with students on Registration Day, but others require that the advisors and advisees meet at other times too. (My Biology advisor, for example, was required to meet with me on Registration Day to discuss my plans for the term and during the week before Drop Date to discuss how well those plans were working for me.) Of course, you’re welcome to drop in on your advisor at any time to discuss classes, grad school/employment plans, or just life in general. Sometimes you have to make an appointment.

Some people have a great relationship with their advisors, and some only see their advisors when they need something signed. I was very close with my biology advisor, since I worked in his lab for three years and could drop into his office any time I had a stupid grad school freakout question, but I only ever saw my other advisor on Registration Day. Adam is best buddies with his advisor (they fly remote controlled airplanes together), and is even still close with his ex-advisor, who had to move south for health reasons — Adam’s going down to Georgia in a few weeks to help him with an experiment. Adam and I also both have trusted professor friends who aren’t our advisors.

As with freshman advising, upperclassmen are still often the best resource when deciding which classes to take — professors are great with the life advice and all, but sometimes they’re not exactly with it on the classes needed to get there.

Students who are interested in medical school, law school, or dental school are also assigned a preprofessional advisor through the MIT Careers Office; this advisor offers guidance for class selection and the professional school application process specifically.


1. Anonymous asked,

Is it recommended for biology/premed students to use the ap credit for 7.01x or take the class to have more of a solid foundation? If we use the credit, what upper level biology class should we take?

It’s really a personal choice whether to use the AP credit for biology or not to do so. Particularly, you should check the requirements of any medical schools to which you plan to apply — many won’t accept AP credit, but require that premed classes be taken at a university. Personally, I’m glad I took into biology at MIT, because I learned the way that professors tend to ask problem set and test questions without having to deal with new material at the same time.

If you choose to take AP credit, typically you wouldn’t take any upper-level biology course in your freshman year; you’d take 5.12 (organic chemistry) in the spring to prepare for 5.13 (organic chemistry II) in your sophomore fall. You could also take 18.03 (differential equations), which is required by some medical schools. The first upper-division biology class students take is usually 7.03 (genetics), which is generally taken during fall of the sophomore year.

2. Hattie asked,

I’m pondering whether I should apply to MIT early or not. I’ve heard that people who are accepted early are exceptionals (like winners of international math/science competitions, etc), so I’m not sure if an average person like me should apply early. Do you know what a normal early-admitted person is like? Thanks!

Honestly, if you have your application done by the EA deadline, you might as well send it in. You’ll never be at a disadvantage applying EA — you’re not, after all, being compared to all the other applicants, just to yourself and your opportunities, so it shouldn’t matter whether the applicant pool is stronger during EA or RD. I obviously don’t have any sort of systematic data, but my friends who were admitted EA don’t seem to be stronger students in general than my friends who were admitted RD. :)

3. Ying Wei wrote,

i wonder that if i manage to get into MIT one day, do u mind me paying u a visit?

I love visitors! (And I should note, for the ’10s among you, that I plan to have fresh cookies, and possibly pie, during Orientation. Not that I’m trying to bribe you to visit me or anything.)

4. Matthew asked,

You mentioned one of Adam’s supervisor asked him to work on a project for his Aero/Astro master’s degree? What’s the project?

Oh lord, I’m going to make an idiot out of myself trying to explain this. So Adam works with UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) right now, and his group is transitioning from using large UAVs which can only track objects using GPS to using small UAVs which can track objects using a different system (he says it’s similar to the motion-capture system that they used to animate Gollum in the Lord of the Rings?). The big advantage of the smaller UAVs is that they can be flight-tested indoors — it’s tough to get good outdoor flying weather in New England on a consistent basis. The motion-capture system is absurdly expensive, but Boeing is footing the bill. ;) He has a video of his prototype plane-tracking thingy in his Athena locker, which I will link to after I find it.

The eventual goal is to track objects better than they’re tracked right now, and presumably with the intent to blow things up, et cetera. (That’s usually the goal in applied aerospace research.)

5. Joe asked,

If one is accepted to any dorm, each floor is said to have its own culture. Can you kind of give an overview of that in MacGregor? Thanks! Congrats on the engagement :)

I think if I try to stereotype, I’m just going to get myself in trouble, so I’ll merely say that yes, the entries in MacGregor are pretty different, and hopefully everyone who’s interested in MacGregor will explore the different entries both before and during in-house rush. I’m hesitant to stereotype, because a) stereotypes are inevitably too broad, and b) entry culture can often change dramatically over a year or two, so anything I say might not be accurate for this year.

6. Andrew asked,

I was just perusing some Macgregor related sites and found some conflicting information. You said that all the entries are co-ed, but on the F-entry homepage, it says that they are all-male (perhaps this is just old, and hasn’t been updated recently…). So, what’s the truth?

Keri’s right — F-Entry just went coed last school year (2005-2006). They probably just haven’t updated their webpage yet.

9 responses to “The good advice”

  1. thekeri says:

    “And I should note, for the ’10s among you, that I plan to have fresh cookies, and possibly pie, during Orientation. Not that I’m trying to bribe you to visit me or anything.”

    Something tells me you understand just what part of that had me laughing until I nearly fell out of my chair.

  2. Colin says:

    I read your blog all the time, even though I’m usually too shy to leave comments, but I totally understand why Christina looks up to you, because it’s always an enjoyable read. Maybe she and I will come and steal some of that pie, if Keri hasn’t eaten all of it first. wink

    Anyway, I’m commenting now because I have a question (big surprise, eh?). First of all, I completely don’t understand HASS(-D) and CI requirements even a LITTLE BIT, but I’m not going to ask you to explain those because from what I gather, they’re pretty convoluted. So I’ll just stick to this:

    You mentioned in an earlier entry that lotteries at MIT are not exactly as mandatory as one might think. As is typical of me, I was positive what courses I wanted to take in the fall, so I didn’t enter the HASS-D lottery. And now, of course, I’ve changed my mind, and I have an opening. So I was wondering — is there a good chance that I’ll be able to get the HASS-D course I want if I go on the first day? Are there any notoriously popular HASS-D courses? Specifically, I’m thinking I want to take 21M.011 (Intro to Western Music), but I know music is a popular interest among MIT students. Of course I’ll try to find a backup, but do I have a shot?

  3. Christina says:

    Okay, Colin just made me a little embarrassed. :X

    I’ll probably just live @ West Gate with you and Adam, for the record. Screw visiting; we’re too tight for that now. wink

  4. Christina says:

    Now that I’ve read the rest of Colin’s comment – aside from the part that mentions my name – I will give him the response Mollie gave me when I asked about this before:

    You can basically sign up for any HASS-D class on or after the first day, because a bunch of kids always drop classes and there’s usually room left over. At least I think that’s what she said. Also, Colin, I’ve heard Intro to Western music is a pretty easy class and therefore probably not the best choice for pass/no record first semester.

    Lastly, to clarify why I said I was embarrassed (because now that I read it, it makes little sense) – Mollie’s not allowed to know how much I look up to her. Duh. grin

  5. Are professors rated by students? Is there a way to see the ratings before choosing classes? Do MIT students use

  6. Sam says:

    MIT is by far my first choice university, so much so that I haven’t really considered any others. I know this is not a good plan because the acceptance rate is so low for international applicants, but I don’t really know of any other schools with good math/science reputations (besides Caltech). I am primarily interested in theoretical physics and computer science or maybe aeronautics, and I was wondering if you would mind giving me a list of other schools with good programs in these areas. I donТƒфt really have any preference about location (anywhere in North America is fine) and I am not too concerned with financial aid (I donТƒфt need to find a school that is need blind or that guarantees to meet financial requirements). Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance, I know how great you are at answering questions!

  7. JE says:

    I hope this doesn’t come across as too personal of a question (this is on grad schools, and I’m also in course 7) but for a research career in undergrad to be considered valuable and worthwhile, is publication a must? Ex. is there an X number of times you should be published to have a good shot at a top grad school? Like I worked at a lab this summer at NIH and I think my time there was too short to really do that much of the important publishable work (it was an animal lab and we had to wait for the animals to breed and etc), but we weren’t certainly doing “useless” tasks like washing glassware (doing genetics and stuff).


  8. Sarab says:

    Any one know if the Earth’s North Magentic and Geographic poles are in the same hemisphere or not?

    My teacher says they are and that the field lines run from South to North for this one, but i seem to remember they were opposite.

    University Physics wasn’t too clear about that. Help???


    [email protected]

  9. Laura says:

    Mollie’s such a good worker. We do have the ability to tag our own posts with categories, but I’m really bad at remembering to do that. =P