Culture Goes Beyond Your Lab
Appreciating the quirks and stories that makes MIT special
When I started grad school, I met the other graduate students in the lab – most of whom, unlike me, had not gone to MIT for undergrad. We had conversations about hobbies, research, families, etc. Nothing about meeting them seemed any different to me than meeting students during undergrad, but I slowly started noticing one thing in particular: my lab mates didn’t know much about the history and culture of MIT as an institution. Looking back, very little was said during the admit weekend (and again, during orientation week) about the decades of MIT lore that undergrads identify with or, at the very least, are aware of.
This baffled me. I thoroughly identify as an MIT student and take pride in the quirks that make this school my home. How could someone spend so much time at this school and not be aware of hacking or Oliver Smoot? These are traditions and secrets that alumni so fondly remember, and my labmates were going to end up leaving MIT without learning about any of them.
I brought up the tradition of piano drop during lunch one day and, unsurprisingly, no one had heard about it. However, lab members did surprise me with their own stories of traditions from their undergraduate schools. They weren’t oblivious to their surroundings here; they simply weren’t the target audience for many of these traditions (Pass/No Record is a good case in point).
I truly believe that MIT is a very special place, and I don’t think you have to be an undergrad to realize it. One tradition in particular holds a very special place in my heart – playing games on the Green Building. On the last day of Campus Preview Weekend, two friends and I walked around campus at 4 am, unable and unwilling to bring our trip to an end. We stumbled onto the courtyard in front of the Green Building and found a box that let you play 2048 on the side of the I.M. Pei original. I don’t know how long we stood there, but we knew that we were experiencing a place like none other.
So, this is my challenge to all the new graduate students starting this fall (and current ones too): try to learn a bit about the place you’ll be calling home for the next few years. You will have a wonderful time learning about your lab and your department, but don’t forget that MIT has been around for over 150 years. Read the Wikipedia page about MIT’s Traditions , talk to your UROPs about their favorite aspects of student life, or visit the MIT museum.
The best way to appreciate MIT, however, is by making memories here that you couldn’t make anywhere else. With that, I implore you to keep your eyes peeled for what’s going on around you. Walk around at night, try something new, and explore the legend that is MIT. Who knows? You might fall even more in love with this place that you call home.
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