Campus Life

How not to get around MIT

Avoiding common freshman pitfalls

The new fall semester approaches, bringing with it new fashions, new television seasons, and new freshmen wearing the latest fashions they saw on television. Having been a freshman recently enough to remember all of the embarrassing missteps I made (except for the ones I can’t remember), it seems appropriate at this juncture to share the golden wisdom I’ve accumulated (both karats of it) with all of you newcomers while reader interest is still running on morbid curiosity.

One of the first surprising things I learned when I first came to MIT was how un-weird it was from day-to-day. Sure, over CPW and, to a lesser extent, orientation, we pull out all the stops, but once we get down to business during the semester, the boffers get put away until the next regularly scheduled brawl, and the proton packs and jumpsuits (for most) are strictly “special-occasion only” wear. For those of you for whom such stifling normalcy is positively unacceptable, we do have student groups just for you to embrace your oddness, but for the most part, it’s best if you resign yourself to the unfortunate fact that there isn’t a new high-profile hack every week — it just isn’t practical.

Bearing that in mind, it’s vital not to act as if you know what MIT is (or should be) like on a normal day. At least for me, it was very tempting to drop statistics from the MIT press kit or reference the one or two most memorable campus locations I saw over CPW to impress people with my utter familiarity with my new home, but it didn’t earn me any brownie points and, when done particularly poorly, was only a recipe for embarrassment. That’s not to say that we don’t appreciate your enthusiasm before it’s inevitably stamped out of you, but if you really want to curry favor, make an effort to look to us for direction. You’re here, and unless you spend all of your time literally under a rock for eight semesters, you will soon understand what it’s really like to live here — better to take the necessary prep time to dive in smoothly, rather than shouting “Cannonball!!” in your first week and making a spectacular but messy splash that only annoys all of the upperclassmen psetting by the pool.

Good example: Campus mailing lists are to be used, not abused. My freshman year, I made the mistake of assuming that the dorm-wide mailing lists were available for mundane use, and started Baby’s First Flame War. I choose to view as a necessary rite of passage, if only to suppress the urge to facepalm myself, significantly more painful now that I’m wearing a brass rat. If you do end up igniting a flame war that explodes unpleasantly, I recommend the “hunker down and let it run its course” approach. Elaborately-elocuted defenses never translate well over e-mail. They just don’t work like they do in movies, probably due to the lack of a John Williams score. Just because one has an opinion on a flame war does not obligate one to share it. Also, be aware that an infrastructure exists to control your own mailing list subscriptions, so the benevolence you receive when e-mailing a mailing list asking to be taken off of it is largely contingent on the specific mailing list. I totally know where to find that infrastructure, but...better that you figure it out yourself. Yeah.