A love letter to MIT
The Institute affects its immediate community too
I received my bachelor’s from Wellesley College (‘06), master’s from Boston University (‘08), master’s from Harvard University (‘08), and will be receiving my doctorate from Harvard; but it’s you, MIT, that has made the biggest impact on my life — academically, socially, and personally. And for that, I love you. You have succeeded in making a positive impact not just on your immediate family members, but you have touched the lives of people who are only a mere part of your extended network.
You made yourself an open playground. Literally, your buildings are always open. You can easily find an open classroom for students and friends to gather to brainstorm startup ideas. This is quite different from Harvard where even if you are a student, you are often met with locked doors. You allowed me to conduct my senior thesis research through UROPs (the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) at what is now the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and take courses at MIT without any hassle. By being a cross-registered student of even just one course, you gave me access to everything at MIT. I could ride on the SafeRide, print for free, and access all your buildings and libraries.
By you making it possible for me to be an efficient learner (not having to worry about gaining access to buildings and classrooms, paying for printing, getting around), you made me a more successful person academically. I was able to spend my time thinking about more meaningful things than logistical hurdles to overcome. At Boston University, only one computer lab allowed free printing, and you would have to stand in line to pick up your printouts. At Harvard, I couldn’t ride the shuttle because only select schools within Harvard could use them. Yes, I don’t get it either. And that’s why I love you. You get us. You get your students. You get people.
Even now, being at Harvard, I am still benefiting from MIT. Your professors open their arms to all students regardless of whether they are getting a degree from MIT. My doctoral research at Harvard entailed interviewing scientists at the forefront of 21st century science, and your most notable professors were there for me. Robert Langer replies to emails on his Blackberry with an average response time of one minute. And yes, I mean Bob Langer, the PI of the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world and winner of the Nobel Prize-equivalent for engineers (Charles Stark Draper Prize). Philip Sharp agreed to a sit-down conversation without any hesitation, a Nobel Prize winner. I am always so amazed at how the people at MIT are so humble given their brilliance, a rare trait among the elite schools; I know this from being at a school where people wear double pop collars and white pants with pearls. I even have MIT professors sitting on my Harvard dissertation committee. None of them have any obligation to me as I am not an official student at MIT, but they do it because they care about their contributions beyond the walls of the institution. This is the energy you foster at MIT. Thank you.
Besides enriching my academic and research life, you enriched my social life during college. By allowing Wellesley shuttles to drop off students at various MIT locations, you’ve enriched the love lives of many Wellesley and MIT students. From MIT, I’ve dated the right and wrong guys, and ended up with my current husband (MIT ‘06; the right guy). Trust me, there are a lot of happily married Wellesley-MIT husbands and wives, thanks to you. I got to experience the fraternity life, being a “rush” girl, throwing rush week events, and taking childish jabs at other fraternities. I even lived at an MIT fraternity over a summer, as they become co-ed over the summer, and lived unofficially as a resident girlfriend during other times. You gave me the best times of my life at MIT. I got to party with people that were uncannily witty, jovially sarcastic, and all the while had substance and big goals for their lives. It was through seeing your students working together from two o’clock a.m. to sunrise on problem sets that were almost always impossible to solve that I learned the bigger purpose in life. It’s not all about getting A’s, which is surprisingly a more random process than you might want to believe, but being able to unselfishly collaborate, share information, and come out of the experience with a memorable story to tell and a band of friends that will be secretly thinking about all the people you’ve dated while you’re saying your wedding vows.
I love you MIT for making your constituents’ lives easier and more efficient, which consequently enable us to lead a more meaningful life. I love you for hosting numerous contests to support your students in becoming innovators and entrepreneurs; this is what makes your students so attractive and why I fell in love with one of them. I love you for being an open university, literally and figuratively, providing free access to knowledge like OpenCourseWare and now edX. I love you for being out-of-the-box fun by turning a blind eye to the ingenious hacks by MIT students. Yes, I was there when a group of MIT students moved the 1.7 ton Fleming Cannon from Caltech across the country to MIT and adorned it with a MIT Brass Rat ring over the cannon as if a finger; it was only after MIT notified Caltech did they realize the cannon was missing and it took them weeks to figure out how to move it back. I love you, MIT, for valuing creativity over titles or degrees. For example, hiring Joi Ito to be the director of Media Lab, who has never graduated from college, but is a recognized cyber-elite. Now, that’s bold!
These are but a sampling of the myriad of reasons for my deep-seated love for you. If you only remember one thing, just know that you have touched more lives than you recognize. I love you with all my heart.
Debbie Liu is a graduate student at Harvard University.