“You know,” my wife said, “For our kids, MIT won’t be this abstract place they hear about sometimes in the news. It’ll be home: where they learned to ride their bikes and to read. They’ll think of it as the place where they grew up.”
Ping – a new email in my inbox. It was a reminder that I had signed up for the “MIT Can Talk” Oratory Competition, taking place tomorrow. The email window stayed open for a while, waiting patiently while I was deciding whether I still wanted to participate. I had just submitted a paper for a conference (the deadline was the day before the competition), and I was exhausted. However, I had been so excited to practice my public speaking skills!.. When I saw that this year’s theme was “Taking Risks”, I knew exactly what the topic of my speech should be.
Unlike many of my fellow graduate students in computer science who have been doing programming and math competitions since high school (or potentially earlier), I spent six years in middle and high school in policy debate.
In the third year of my PhD, two things happened that dramatically changed the way I see the world: I took MIT's 40-hour conflict management course in my training to become an MIT REF, and Donald Trump was elected president. In their own ways, both opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world.
I have been a visiting PhD student at MIT since February, coming from a PhD program called MIT Portugal. This is a collaboration between several Portuguese universities and MIT. Some of the courses back home were taught by MIT faculty, so that is how I met my current advisor here. From interacting with other students, I came to learn the differences between the grad school system in Portugal (and more broadly in Europe) and the USA.
Every Monday night, I shuffle down Mass Ave, past the towering columns of MIT’s entrance to a small unassuming building almost directly across the street. Inside I meet with a group of about ten students. We continue our discussion of something that can make people uncomfortable, something that isn’t commonly associated with MIT: religion. We don’t only consider the age-old question: does God – or god, goddess, gods – exist? We discuss how faith has enriched, altered, and ruined our lives; its history and relevance today; its traditions, foods, and texts.
When the movie Arrival came out in 2016, I was overjoyed: for the first time, a woman linguist was the main character in a Hollywood movie, not to mention the fact that the linguistic consultant of this film – Jessica Coon – is an MIT Linguistics alumna herself.