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Life and culture: The MIT community

Ask anyone at MIT what their favorite thing is about the Institute and they’ll probably say “the people.” The quality of the MIT community is the single biggest reason why admitted students enroll, and why Professor Emeritus Jay Keyser once observed that “MIT is hard to get into, and even harder to leave.”

The people at MIT

The best asset of MIT isn’t the nuclear reactor or the wind tunnel: it’s the people.

We search the world for students who we think will be a good fit at MIT, and try to put together the best team of students to go through MIT together. On your journey, we will surround you with brilliant faculty, helpful graduate students, caring staff, and an idiosyncratic extended family who will inspire and guide you along the way.

What follows is a brief overview of some of the kinds of people you’ll find at MIT. We believe the humans of MIT are truly special, and we hope that among them you will find a sense of home.

Our undergraduates

In any given year there are ~4,500 undergraduates at MIT. They hail from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. The undergraduate population is 54% male and 46% female, and among them there is no majority race or ethnicity. MIT students come from a wide range of economic and educational backgrounds, and has the highest economic mobility index of its peer schools. Long a home for those who felt like they had no other, MIT has one of the oldest LGBTQ+ student groups in the country, as well as several ethnic or cultural affinity houses, and an affirming home for international, undocumented, and trans* students.

We wish we could tell you about how awesome our undergrads are. But anything we could tell you would fail to capture it. The next best thing you can do is read the blogs and see for yourself.

Graduate students

There are more than 11,000 graduate students at MIT. Some of them are MIT alumni, while others come from hundreds of other universities around the nation and the world. Graduate students do not teach undergraduate classes at MIT, but they do serve as academic and social mentors, by leading discussion sections for large classes, or by serving as live-in Graduate Resident Tutors in the residence halls responsible for providing advice, mediating conflict, and managing stress. Most MIT undergraduates will at some point pursue a graduate degree, and benefit from having outstanding graduate students closely involved as advisors in their undergraduate education.

Faculty

MIT has ~1,000 tenured and tenure-track faculty, all of whom teach and conduct research, and ~850 members of the academic instructional staff, who possess training and credentials similar to those of faculty members but who are solely dedicated to teaching. There are 10 Nobel Prize Laureates, 22 MacArthur Genius Grant Winners, and 2 Pulitzer Prize winners among MIT’s instructors, many of whom teach undergraduate classes, such as (to name a few) Eric Lander, who teaches introductory biologyHeidi Williams, who teaches labor economics; and Regina Barzilay, who teaches machine learning.

Jay Keyser, in his book on MIT culture, observed that there is an “incredibly strong bond” between MIT students and faculty, in part, because both students and faculty often realize that they are of like kind, just separated by age and experience. Our faculty see themselves in our students, and our students, in some cases, aspire to become our faculty, or at least to become more like them: smart, hardworking, creative, and accomplished.

Staff

There are over 5,000 non-academic staff at MIT. They administer majors, support activities, protect campusprovide therapy, deliver mail, hand-letter doors, and, yes, read applications. Drawn initially by the work, many are kept here by their love for the Institute and its humans; indeed, an uncommon number of MIT staff are “lifers,” and a select few have even been made honorary members of the MIT Alumni Association for extraordinary, lifelong service to the Institute.

Extended family

MIT operates an open campus. The doors of the Infinite Corridor are never locked, the wifi doesn’t require a password, and its museums and libraries are open to the public. This unusual degree of access to the public has deep cultural roots in MIT’s longstanding commitment to the public interest and general affinity for hackers. So long as people aren’t bothering anyone, they’re generally welcome on the MIT campus.

As such, it’s not uncommon to see people without a formal MIT affiliation spending significant time around campus: not just the usual lecturers or tourists, but also local jugglers and fire spinners who have adopted MIT as their institutional home. We’re very happy to have them, and hope that they take some of the values of MIT with them wherever they go.