I’m a first year graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering, or "Course 3" to anyone who’s familiar with MIT’s classification system for majors (more on this later). I’m on my way to a PhD (or as my good friend calls it – Permanent Head Damage, Piled Higher and Deeper, Pretty Huge Diploma, etc.). For undergrad, I went to a small school near LA called Caltech (not to be confused with its seemingly more popular cousin Cal Poly). It’s sunny there, the weather is beautiful, the City of Angels is right around the corner… but wait, this is an MIT blog.
This entry is meant for anyone who has ever felt exhilarated before moving to a new place, but eventually became homesick after realizing how much they missed their old home. For me, Caltech = old home, and MIT = new place, which is an interesting juxtaposition for anyone who likes to reminisce about the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) 2006 Fleming cannon heist. The similarities and differences between Caltech and MIT are countless, but for the sake of space, I’ll only highlight the major things I observed.
One of the biggest differences is the cliché weather remark. If you live in a perpetually sunny area like Southern California it gets easy to take wonderful weather for granted. This may result in an unwanted case of seasonal depression in Boston — but on the bright side, you’ll learn to appreciate any beautiful day.
A similarity I have observed is in the undergraduate culture. I’m not an expert on MIT undergraduates since I’m a graduate student, but based on my interactions with them, MIT has a culture quite like Caltech’s. The cacophony of screwdrivers and saws whirring away to build intricate structures, celebrating Halloween by dropping pumpkins frozen in liquid nitrogen from 10 stories high, and going on long winding paths at 4 AM to explore the highest of buildings and the darkest of tunnels are some aspects of this fun and unique culture.
One huge difference between Caltech and MIT is that MIT has this unnecessary numbering system to categorize what you’re studying. The course numbering system can be very confusing. Why, for example, is Mechanical Engineering called Course 2, but Civil and Environmental Engineering is Course 1? I understand that this makes MIT unique, but why not just state what major you’re in instead of stating a number and then having your brain perform unnecessary calculations to interpret your meaning? Having to explain how each number represents a different major to every stranger I encounter is tedious.
Another thing at MIT I find difficult to grasp is what I like to call “MIT time.” Essentially, all classes at MIT start 5 minutes past the hour or half hour. If you take this system to heart then what may happen is that you’ll always be 5 minutes late to everything because unfortunately “MIT time” seems to lag behind real time by 5 minutes.
After hearing me rant, you might be wondering why I decided to come to MIT instead of staying on the west coast. Despite my predisposition toward the west coast, I honestly believe it’s worth taking a leap of faith and exploring different environments. If you’re in your early 20s, my belief is that becoming content will stagnate self-growth. Exploration and risk are keys to self-discovery, which will create more desirable opportunities for the future.
So if you’re choosing a grad school, don’t choose certain programs just because they have good weather or their locations may not be ideal. Really think about what you want from a graduate program and choose the option that caters to your growth and goals the best.