Reif announces death of Phoebe Wang, sophomore in mechanical engineering

Phoebe Wang ’17, an undergraduate student residing in MacGregor House, has died, President L. Rafael Reif said in an email to members of the MIT community on Tuesday evening.

According to the letter, Wang was a student in the department of mechanical engineering. Wang, who hailed from Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania, was also an active member of her dormitory and played the flute in the MIT Symphony Orchestra. Reif commented that her friends valued her humor, passion for music, and curiosity.

Wang worked at MIT’s Lewis Music Library and conducted research at the MIT Energy Initiative, according to her Facebook profile.

“In recent months we have lost too many of our cherished students and dear friends,” Reif said. Within the past month, Reif also reported the death of Austin Travis, a graduate student in the chemistry department at MIT.

Reif’s email did not specify the cause of Wang’s death.

Reif listed the following resources for support for undergraduates: Student Support Services at 617-253-4861 and members of their house team and advisors. For graduate students, Reif mentioned the following resources for support: the Graduate Personal Support staff in the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education and graduate students’ housemasters. MIT’s student support and mental health services resources can also be reached at, or via phone at 617-253-2916 during the day or 617-253-4481 during nights and weekends.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I am a parent of MIT student and very concerned about this incident. We must find out the root cause of this and recent incidents and take strong and extra measures to safeguard the student safety. I'd like to see the detail and actual investigation report of this tragic incident and the school takes extra security check to make sure all the students are absolute safe on campus.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I did not know this MIT student personally, but according to her Quora page, she was already "burned out" in such a high pressure environment and interested in heroin addicts. These are serious warning signs and people in her social circle needed to be more alert and proactive to avoid such a serious and irreversible tragedy like this. Parents and administrators overseeing MIT students should be very concerned.

helen over 8 years ago

I'm the parent of the resident of MacGregor House. The incident shocked us. I would like to see more safeguard measures implemented in campus and in the dorm buildings. I would like to know the cause of the the incident.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

RE Comment 2:

I can't read the entire quote on quora without logging in, but what I did read about being burned out was not particularly alarming. Any MIT student could have said that.

Also, she upvoted someone's answer to a question about heroin use on the website. I think it's completely irresponsible to make any conclusions from that.

Certainly, I agree that in a high pressure environment friends should look for warning signs of people on the edge (although to-date the cause of death has not been announced.)

Anonymous over 8 years ago

If they don't tell you the cause of death is natural, you have to figure it's suicide or drug overdose.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

It is very irresponsible to be assuming cause of death prior to the autopsy. While college and MIT is a very intense school, this could easily have been something as simple as an aneurism or blood clot, or something as complex as suicide. The point one will know until the autopsy is completed. Students and staff are in mourning over this loss and to assume that there are no resources in place for students is false. MIT actually does have a heightened awareness of the stress it's students are under and they provide a lot in the way of resources, incl MITs student support and mental health services resources at, or via phone at 617-253-2916 during the day or 617-253-4481 during nights and weekends, as President Reif indicated. The staff and advisors have also contacted students under their individual responsibility to check in on them since this has happened to make sure that they know they have these resources and staff in each department who are in charge of fielding student concerns and problems.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

This is such a Tragedy. Hopefully we as parents can all maintain a close relationship with our children and be their strongest support when they are in crisis. Also seems like the incidents happened often at the beginning of the school year, maybe new dorm? new Classes? new issues?

Anonymous over 8 years ago

6 - It's not irresponsible, it's realistic. Suicide at MIT is far more common than a random blood clot.

7 - Hopefully parents can teach their children to navigate the world on their own.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I am a parent of an MIT student. Please be sensitive and supportive. Please DO NOT draw conclusion--especially if your conclusion is drug overdose.

I'd like to ask parents of MIT students to join me to plead with MIT administrator to re-evaluate the policy/practice by faculty to over-stress the students. Your grade A should not be derived from Gaussian distribution curve, rather could be bench marked against national standard. Most, if NOT all of MIT students would be A students if they are placed in many other institutions. So what's the point to make them C- students?

Let them have a solid foundation, and teach them to be creative, follow their passion to do whatever they love to do in their lives.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

It's not appropriate to speculate in the comments of an official forum such as this. Yes, suicide is more common at MIT than a random blood clot, but at this point, we don't know what happened. Family members and/or friends may be reading the comments; we shouldn't be spreading rumors at a time which is already painful for them.

By the way, the comment about stress at MIT on the deceased Quora's page was not even her own. She merely upvoted or "liked" the comment. If we looked at what random things a person googled or looked up on wikipedia, we could come up with strange and inaccurate conclusions on what their interests were and what they were about.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

#9: I'm an MIT student. I've never had a class that was graded on a bell curve, and I've never heard of one that was graded that way. The bell curve is definitely on its way out in education, and fortunately MIT is at the leading edge of that movement. I won't assert that no MIT class works that way, but to blame the grade structure here for this tragedy is ill-informed. Professors give you the grade they think you deserve, not the grade national benchmarks or a bell curve say you deserve.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I'm an MIT alumna and, out of 4 years, was in precisely one class that was graded on a bell curve. Most of the low tail of the curve (on Exam 1) was wise enough to drop the course early. (Of course this would make the mean of the bell curve shift upwards, enforcing higher standards. This didn't seem to bother anyone. The remaining students seemed to be more interested in the subject matter and in studying under a famous Russian than in details about letter grades.)

While, Boston University School of Engineering used to have (1970s-1980s) an official policy that every engineering course had to be graded on a strict Gaussian curve: everyone within 1 SD of the mean had to get a C, and only the top 2.5 (2 SDs up) could get an A. I never heard of any rash of BU suicides....

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I'm a current MIT student. The majority of my technical courses in my major have been graded on a bell curve. Usually it is centered on a B, but sometimes the center of an exam is made to be a C. I imagine it varies depending on the department, but it definitely still happens here.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

(Sorry, C plus, not C. The comments for some reason aren't allowing pluses.)


MIT GS '14 over 8 years ago

This is very sad news - condolences to her family and friends.

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I am an alumnus and also an EC. What I have observed is that high school kids are now so stressed that I think I cannot in good faith recommend that they go to MIT. So I resigned as an EC. I did that work for over twenty years. And in the 1970s, MIT graded on a curve. I can remember that clearly, getting Cs for very very low grades in freshman classes. We had pass fail for an entire year back then, and I had a C average and pulled that up to a B by the end of 4years. I could not get As at MIT and I still earned a PhD and had a good career.