Student perspectives on grad life at MIT
Being a graduate student at MIT is … well, it depends whom you ask. With more than 6,000 grad students enrolled in one of 32 doctoral or 27 master’s programs on campus, the variety of experiences (and opinions about those experiences) ranges wildly.
The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) has launched a new blog written entirely by current graduate students that tries to capture some of this variety. It is an eclectic mix of stories that offers readers a glimpse inside the MIT graduate community.
From inspiring overviews (“MIT is more than Killian Court, chalkboards, and groundbreaking discoveries. It’s the people, the intellectual curiosity, and the relentless passion for all things.”) to in-the-weeds pointers about campus life (“If there is an event, and if I’m on the fence about attending, it will come down to the food. … it can be a bonus on top of a talk by a Nobel laureate.”) to deeply personal revelations (“Honestly, I was scared to ask for help.”) — the blogs are written by students from all five schools at MIT and reflect a deeply varied range of origins, perspectives, and interests.
Modeled on the very popular (and irreverent) MIT undergraduate admissions blog, which features the musings of undergraduate students, the graduate student blog arose out of a partnership between ODGE, the School of Engineering, and the SoE Communications Lab. More than 100 students applied to participate in a one-week Independent Activities Period workshop on blog writing, which featured talks from dean of engineering Professor Ian Waitz, undergraduate admissions guru Chris Peterson, and Knight Science Journalism at MIT Director Deborah Blum. The 40 students the workshop worked in small groups with communications staff from all over MIT, and 30 of them completed the entries that just went live. Like the undergraduate blog, the new one publishes its submissions under a first-name-last-initial byline to inspire candid expression in its contributors.
One blogger, Dishita T., a graduate student in architecture, says she welcomed the opportunity to share a personal story that might resonate with others. Her piece, “To MIT With Love,” tells of falling in love: the first date in India, the cultural obstacles, and the ways in which a shared passion for MIT created a haven for the couple in Cambridge.
In her entry, Dishita asks: “Was it the moment of falling in love with MIT that brought the guy in my life, or falling in love with him that brought me to MIT?” Not only does MIT change the world at large, it also changes the people here in deep and personal ways, she says. And those tales are worth telling. “Whenever I hear those stories, I’m inspired.”
Because this is MIT, the graduate student blog is also a home for the offbeat. As Daniel G., a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, says: “I wanted to give a voice to the light-hearted nerd-culture vibe that infects most aspects of my life here at MIT, and which I quite enjoy.” In his blog post, Daniel describes explaining his chosen field to those outside of it. When he tells people he’s a theoretical computer scientist, he writes, they sometimes ask: “What does that even mean?”
Daniel describes three flavors of computer scientists: cryptographers, algorithmists, and complexity theorists. “There is a drawback to being a cryptographer,” he writes. “I imagine it’s the same sort of drawback the Hulk would experience in an anger management class. Much like the Hulk can’t control his impulse for aggression, the cryptographer can’t help but deal in secrets.”
After similar treatments of algorithmists (“in their pursuit for algorithmic nirvana, they have inadvertently forgotten the English language”) and the complexity theorists (“they are like your drunk uncle telling you that your life will never amount to anything”), Daniel wraps up with: “Shhh. You are now part of a secret academic cabal. Welcome to the great conspiracy.”
In the end, the graduate student blog is about opening minds and drawing readers into a research community that is special in ways impossible to quantify. “A PhD can be wild,” says blogger and computer scientist Irene C. Her piece, “My Road to Yelp Elite,” catalogues her comic quest to dine at 180 restaurants, review them for the online ratings website, and, at a good clip, gain Yelp Elite status. (“Whereas I should be asking: interpretable natural language models talk vs. a mentorship lunch for women in computer science? I find myself asking instead: Do I want free Brazilian BBQ or free Indian curry?” she writes.)
Irene tells readers she chased the Yelp Elite moniker as “an escape from the all-consuming life of a PhD student: If I couldn’t figure out how to model the error of a Bayesian network relating medical diseases and symptoms, at least another Yelper had just complimented me on my review of The Friendly Toast.”
About the Graduate Student Blog, Irene says she is excited to contribute to the range of narratives at MIT. “Part of staying sane is finding what makes you come alive and following that — through research and beyond.”