The 10-day orientation boot camp for my degree program was over. My future classmates and I were wrapping up the camp with a barbeque party on the MIT sailing pavilion alongside the beautiful Charles River on a windy evening. The sight was magnificent – in the west I could see the sunset amid the ballooning sails of the sailing boats which sported MIT in red. On my right stood the MIT building in front of which hundreds of visitors photographed themselves every day. Jiust inside was the Infinite Corridor, where many found evidence of brilliance from which they drew inspiration. The magnificence of MIT is such that all its knowledge could feel absolute and ultimate, that it cannot be challenged, and that it cannot be better. I came here with the keen enthusiasm for all this place could teach me.
Two weeks later I was deep into student life, studying hard and religiously reading the class material and extra readings before and after class. And then came the day when I received my grade for my first assignment, on the topic of design structure matrix. Woohoo! I had scored 4 out of 5. Sounds great! But what bothered me was why I lost that 1 point, despite doing everything anyone ever could to answer the questions in the assignment. I had done perfect calculations. I had loads of references from research papers and books. I was very curious and decided to meet the professor.
When I showed him my work for the assignment, he flipped the pages and asked “What is your idea about design structure matrix?” I talked about the concept the professor had taught in class, and he said “That’s from the class notes.” I thought he wanted me to talk about the other research, so I told what I had learned from journals and other books. “Well”, he said “what’s your thought?” I was not sure what he was looking for, but he gently repeated “Do you have any thoughts on DSM? Think about how this method could be critiqued, improved, or applied to the application we discussed.” Then came the golden words “The knowledge here would have not grown had I been content with only knowing what was always known about something.”
When I walked out of professor’s office, and passed through the corridors, I had a new perception of everything at the institute. I saw thinkers and creators in people who led the progress of science and technology. I evaluated why my original response to my assignment did not have my own thoughts on DSM, but the thoughts, discoveries, and inventions of other people. It dawned upon me that the education system in which many of us grew up hardly encourages or motivates original thought. Here, I feel empowered and responsible to create new ideas, and enrich a field of knowledge with my perspective or research.
It’s not just about striving for 5 on 5, but thinking originally!