Before coming to MIT, I had this idea in my head that it was a super tech focused, STEM-driven institution. And it is, in many ways. But thinking of it that way scared me a little, because despite being a physics major in undergrad and a mechanical engineering major now that I’m in graduate school, art has been a huge part of my life since I was little. I thought that maybe going to MIT would make it difficult to find people who shared those interests.
I was dead wrong. MIT has a ton of amazing opportunities for those interested in the arts; plus, the Greater Boston area itself is just chock-full of cool art-related things to do. Last semester I was a cellist in CMS (Chamber Music Society) here at MIT. Through this program I was able to play in a piano quartet, which consists of a pianist, cellist, violinist and violist. We practiced twice a week throughout the semester, culminating in a final performance along with the other chamber music groups. Having my other interests scheduled into my semester helped me ensure that I had work-life balance, and I got to know some other girls who love music too. Off-campus opportunities to enjoy live music can be found through the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Chamber Music Society, and others – in fact, MIT offers discounted/free admission to MIT students for some of these places (this is also true of many local art museums and ballet and theater companies).
I’m also a total bookworm. Given a little free time, I’ll most likely be somewhere reading a book, and I usually read on the T (subway) on my way to school. I often read fiction, but I also read nonfiction if it is about people (right now I’m reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, As Told to Alex Haley). The feature I value most in a book is characterization. I love stories that make you empathize with its characters, and see things differently because of them – I find this sort of storytelling powerful and humanizing, and the type of writing that can really make the world a better place. You can find some great opportunities to talk with other booklovers on campus through, for example, the MIT Literary Society chooses a book once a month or so and then meets every couple of weeks to discuss it. While a lot of the clubs on campus are comprised of mostly undergraduate students, I haven’t yet encountered one that doesn’t also welcome graduate students and others as well.
You can find some awesome book-related things off-campus, too. One of my favorite spots is Brookline Booksmith, a bookstore south of Cambridge. It has a wide selection of books, a great staff that always posts thoughtful book recommendations around the store (I’ve found a couple of great books there because of this), and the store even allow dogs, so you’ll see the occasional pooch strolling the store with its owner. A nice plus if you ask me! A few weeks ago, I found a book there called Rabbit Cake which I loved, and then I came to find out that the author herself is a Boston local. This type of neat coincidence is a truly unique and wonderful part of living in a city like Boston.
Besides my own interests, I’ve enjoyed seeing some of the other artsy things people like to do on campus. Last month I went to see MIT’s Asian Dance Team showcase, and I really enjoyed it. I’d never been to a show focused on pop/hip-hop dancing, so it was fun to experience the energy and enthusiasm that not only the dancers but also their audience had. As the dancers took their places in the dark, before the colorful flashing lights and rhythmic music came on, I felt myself surrounded by the audience’s shouts and cheers for the performers (and sometimes a little playful teasing). When a particularly impressive move happened on stage, the crowd erupted in excitement. I was impressed by the dancers’ ability to keep their composure – I know I would have smiled or laughed. Another experience occurred at my Intro to Robotics end-of-semester competition, when an MIT acapella group performed as our “halftime show”, with one of my research group-mates singing a surprise solo. Does it really get any better than that?
In short, if you have hobbies and interests that you feel are diametrically opposed to MIT’s focus on STEM fields and research, don’t worry. There are people interested in just about everything here, and the multitude of clubs and organizations on campus make it easy to find them.