Last week, not one, but two people at MIT said that they expected me to be intimidating. The funny thing is that, based on past experience (and by now old and likely inaccurate recollections), I expected to be intimidated — by MIT. The last time I had been invited to MIT was  in ’97.
call from MIT admissionsMIT was the first to contact me about having been admitted. This was ’97, before cellphones, and so I took the call on the hallway phone of my undergrad house at Caltech. In shock, I mumbled something in response. Soon I was off to visit MIT in person.

I happened to have arrived on the evening of a big snow storm.

My student host appeared entirely unfazed by the snow, and was formidable in other ways:

The faculty painted a consistent picture of the work culture:

Just out of curiosity, I recently looked up this faculty member and noted his Nature/Science publications.

That day, even lunch was a bit intimidating. 3 faculty, wearing suit coats, took me  (in jeans and a sweater) to a nice Chinese restaurant, but my 3.5 years of eating dorm food (and ramen and Tommy’s on weekends) had not prepared me adequately for this.

I didn’t end up pursuing a PhD at MIT. The explanation I like to give is that I found Stanford a better fit (more on that in another post), but perhaps I was also a bit intimidated by MIT, just a bit.

This time around, I was visiting EECS rather than physics. Again, people were crazy-smart, and yes, they were working incredibly hard, on very interesting projects. Now, as I did back then, I respect that.

  2 Responses to “revisiting MIT”

  1. Many people seem to find me intimidating for some reason. I never really understood that.

    I also chose not to go to MIT for grad school, but I didn’t feel intimidated when I visited—I just felt the applied math program wasn’t very flexible in many ways and it also didn’t have that many people doing things that interested me. (I wasn’t good at realizing that before submitting my application. I needed to visit the place to see that.) Also, mathematics culture is very different from physics lab culture, and I can certainly see MIT physics having a more intimidating ambiance than MIT mathematics, which exuded an ambiance of dead weight.

  2. Very funny.
    re-post and cite it ^_^

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