Letters to the Editor

“Bad Boys” calendar is appropriate

I write this in response to Melissa B. Yan ’14’s letter proposing a boycott of the Bad Boys of Boston Calendar.

As a freshman, Ms. Yan may be unaware that the Bad Boys of Boston calendar is hardly without precedent. The Women of the East Side calendar, a calendar featuring the sexy side of East Campus, Bexley, Senior Haus and Random Hall’s female residents, has had three issues (full disclosure: I am a model in the last two), and I daresay they have been a resounding success. In addition, a few years ago, the women of the west side of campus created a similar calendar. None of these four calendars have caused any of the problems Ms. Yan anticipates for the Bad Boys.

Ms. Yan worries about “bad press” for MIT. Neither women’s calendar has caused any sort of media scandal; there is no reason to think that the press will jump on a similar calendar for men. Even if it does, who cares? College students using sex appeal to raise money for charity is nothing new. So long as all the models are over 18 and sign releases — and I assure you, they are and they do — there is nothing illegal or immoral in consenting adults reveling in their own sexuality. Further, it is important to note that both the Bad Boys and Women of the East Side are careful to make it clear they are in no way endorsed by or officially affiliated with MIT. The calendar models simply just so happen to all be MIT students.

Another concern of Ms. Yan’s is that prefrosh might see the calendar and be scared off. The solution is simple: don’t want to look at pictures of gorgeous geeks? Don’t buy a calendar.

Finally, Ms. Yan seems to think that there’s something wrong with selling sexy calendars for charity. Firstly, if the Dream a Dream foundation has a problem with this, I’m sure they can return the money and the Bad Boys will happily find another cause just as worthy that will accept their donation. I can’t speak for how the Dream a Dream foundation feels about sexy calendars, but I can certainly say that the Big Jimmy Scholarship has been very happy to receive the proceeds from the Women of the East Side Calendars. In no small part due to our help, the scholarship now has over $100,000 towards its endowment, and is already helping students with their tuition. There is nothing wrong with voluntarily using one’s natural talents and looks (and hard work to build those lovely, sculpted muscles) to raise money for charity.

In short: ladies and gentlemen of MIT, please, enjoy your sexy naked nerdflesh without guilt. The Bad Boys of Boston calendar comes with my highest recommendation. Naked men with razor-sharp minds not your thing? The East Campus desk is still selling copies of the past few Women of the East Side calendars, featuring women well-endowed in both brains and beauty posed for your visual enjoyment.

Caroline Figgatt ’11

Computational biology needs depth, not just breadth

We were incredibly excited to read in The Tech a few weeks ago that MIT is planning to create an official plan for undergraduate computational biology education. Having graduated from MIT last spring and spent three years in UROPs (with one of us continuing as an MEng) in the Berger Computation and Biology Group, we appreciate the need for increased guidance for undergraduates who are interested in computational biology. When we first came to MIT, we remember many people wondering why we, as math and computer science majors, were taking biology classes and attending biology-related talks. We often felt unsure of which classes to take and how to best prepare ourselves for careers in interdisciplinary research, and without the guidance that we were fortunate to receive from faculty and graduate students, we may not have found our way. The enthusiasm that both Professor Grimson and Professor Kaiser expressed about guiding undergraduates interested in computational biology was wonderful to hear.

However, we are concerned that this new major may not be the best way to prepare students for interdisciplinary research because it does not require students to explore any one field in depth. At group meetings, talks, and conferences, some of the most creative ideas we have heard come from researchers who bring an in-depth knowledge of math, computer science, or biology. Many of the most important advances in this field, such as the algorithms for assembling sequence reads during the Human Genome Project, would not have been possible if there had not been researchers involved who had substantial experience in algorithms, machine learning, or biochemistry. While a broad understanding of the related fields is clearly necessary in order to approach these problems, it seems to us that in order to make a meaningful contribution to the field, depth is extremely important as well and should not be overlooked, even on the undergraduate level.

When we were undergraduates, we asked many graduate students, post-docs, and professors for advice, and almost everyone said the same thing: develop an in-depth knowledge of math, computer science, or biology, and gain a solid foundation in the other two areas. Based on our few years of research in the field, we would give the same advice to incoming undergrads. We think that the computational biology major should require students to pick the side of the field that most interests them and gain an in-depth education in that area, along with some additional foundational classes in the other areas.

For example, students who are more interested in the quantitative side should be required to take probability (18.440/6.041) — the course that we have thus far found the most useful in our research — and statistics (18.443), an additional algorithms or AI-related class (18.433, 6.034, or 6.867), and a couple of proof-based classes. It is clearly also important that these students be required to take several foundational biology classes, but their focus should be to gain a solid background in math and/or computer science that will enable them to develop novel computational methods in this field. As students coming from the quantitative side, we are not sure what additional biology classes would make sense for students coming from that side, but we have gotten the impression from peers that there are additional classes that would be useful. Another possible path is to follow mechanical engineering’s model with the 2A major, allowing students to major in 6 or 18 with a concentration in 7 or 20, or vice versa.

We are thrilled that the MIT EECS and Biology Departments plan to incorporate a computational biology program into undergraduate education. We hope that faculty, students, and alumni will work together to find a way to create a computational biology major or concentration within other majors that enables students to both gain a deep knowledge base in one area and a foundation in the others that they need for innovative research in this field.