Opinion guest column

A love letter to MIT

The Institute affects its immediate community too

I received my bachelor’s from Wellesley College (‘06), master’s from Boston University (‘08), master’s from Harvard University (‘08), and will be receiving my doctorate from Harvard; but it’s you, MIT, that has made the biggest impact on my life — academically, socially, and personally. And for that, I love you. You have succeeded in making a positive impact not just on your immediate family members, but you have touched the lives of people who are only a mere part of your extended network.

You made yourself an open playground. Literally, your buildings are always open. You can easily find an open classroom for students and friends to gather to brainstorm startup ideas. This is quite different from Harvard where even if you are a student, you are often met with locked doors. You allowed me to conduct my senior thesis research through UROPs (the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) at what is now the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and take courses at MIT without any hassle. By being a cross-registered student of even just one course, you gave me access to everything at MIT. I could ride on the SafeRide, print for free, and access all your buildings and libraries.

By you making it possible for me to be an efficient learner (not having to worry about gaining access to buildings and classrooms, paying for printing, getting around), you made me a more successful person academically. I was able to spend my time thinking about more meaningful things than logistical hurdles to overcome. At Boston University, only one computer lab allowed free printing, and you would have to stand in line to pick up your printouts. At Harvard, I couldn’t ride the shuttle because only select schools within Harvard could use them. Yes, I don’t get it either. And that’s why I love you. You get us. You get your students. You get people.

Even now, being at Harvard, I am still benefiting from MIT. Your professors open their arms to all students regardless of whether they are getting a degree from MIT. My doctoral research at Harvard entailed interviewing scientists at the forefront of 21st century science, and your most notable professors were there for me. Robert Langer replies to emails on his Blackberry with an average response time of one minute. And yes, I mean Bob Langer, the PI of the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world and winner of the Nobel Prize-equivalent for engineers (Charles Stark Draper Prize). Philip Sharp agreed to a sit-down conversation without any hesitation, a Nobel Prize winner. I am always so amazed at how the people at MIT are so humble given their brilliance, a rare trait among the elite schools; I know this from being at a school where people wear double pop collars and white pants with pearls. I even have MIT professors sitting on my Harvard dissertation committee. None of them have any obligation to me as I am not an official student at MIT, but they do it because they care about their contributions beyond the walls of the institution. This is the energy you foster at MIT. Thank you.

Besides enriching my academic and research life, you enriched my social life during college. By allowing Wellesley shuttles to drop off students at various MIT locations, you’ve enriched the love lives of many Wellesley and MIT students. From MIT, I’ve dated the right and wrong guys, and ended up with my current husband (MIT ‘06; the right guy). Trust me, there are a lot of happily married Wellesley-MIT husbands and wives, thanks to you. I got to experience the fraternity life, being a “rush” girl, throwing rush week events, and taking childish jabs at other fraternities. I even lived at an MIT fraternity over a summer, as they become co-ed over the summer, and lived unofficially as a resident girlfriend during other times. You gave me the best times of my life at MIT. I got to party with people that were uncannily witty, jovially sarcastic, and all the while had substance and big goals for their lives. It was through seeing your students working together from two o’clock a.m. to sunrise on problem sets that were almost always impossible to solve that I learned the bigger purpose in life. It’s not all about getting A’s, which is surprisingly a more random process than you might want to believe, but being able to unselfishly collaborate, share information, and come out of the experience with a memorable story to tell and a band of friends that will be secretly thinking about all the people you’ve dated while you’re saying your wedding vows.

I love you MIT for making your constituents’ lives easier and more efficient, which consequently enable us to lead a more meaningful life. I love you for hosting numerous contests to support your students in becoming innovators and entrepreneurs; this is what makes your students so attractive and why I fell in love with one of them. I love you for being an open university, literally and figuratively, providing free access to knowledge like OpenCourseWare and now edX. I love you for being out-of-the-box fun by turning a blind eye to the ingenious hacks by MIT students. Yes, I was there when a group of MIT students moved the 1.7 ton Fleming Cannon from Caltech across the country to MIT and adorned it with a MIT Brass Rat ring over the cannon as if a finger; it was only after MIT notified Caltech did they realize the cannon was missing and it took them weeks to figure out how to move it back. I love you, MIT, for valuing creativity over titles or degrees. For example, hiring Joi Ito to be the director of Media Lab, who has never graduated from college, but is a recognized cyber-elite. Now, that’s bold!

These are but a sampling of the myriad of reasons for my deep-seated love for you. If you only remember one thing, just know that you have touched more lives than you recognize. I love you with all my heart.

Debbie Liu is a graduate student at Harvard University.

valart over 10 years ago

I love you too MIT, for all that you stand for and everything I've read about you on the blogs over the last 4 years. Youre an extraordinary institution with the most amazing intelligent people who also happen to be creative, have a sense of humor and are down to earth. As my son applies to colleges this year it's from you MIT that I hope he will receive an acceptance. I want him to learn not only what you teach in the classroom but what you teach by example in the world.

drkambojrk over 10 years ago

I wish to be there to see my daughter there one day. She applied but her appli. was not accepted for the reason unknown. I tried to advise her to modify her application but she thought she could write better because this was her own story. She got admitted in IIT Delhi and she assured me to show work ethic to receive masters from MIT.

Julia over 10 years ago

Yes! Totally agree! Thank you, MIT!!! Makes me proud everyday to be an alumnus.

JasonPKS2006 over 10 years ago

#1: I'm mad that she put down people that wear double popped collars

#2: I once heard ray charles say the following "Your lovin gives me such a

thrill, but your lovin wont pay my bills. I want money."

A Harvard grad. over 10 years ago

So, why didn't you go to MIT then? You utilized all their facilities and took advantage of everything they offered. What did you give back to MIT, besides this sappy blog post?

Lydia over 10 years ago

I got 3 degrees from MIT and I love it intensely. I'm so happy to hear that it's not just the people that went to Tech that love it, but that it's openness and love of knowledge, world-discovery and self-discovery are accessible more broadly.

An MIT alumnus over 10 years ago

A Harvard grad.

She has an MIT husband! She made a guy happy!

Isn't that enough?

MIT daughter over 10 years ago

Sweet. My dad ('58) will love this. He didn't necessarily want his kids going to MIT because he thought there were more well-rounded schools out there (tho he did want us all to be engineers). But he's still a huge supporter of the institution, in large part due to the substancestyle way of things.

Sorry, dad, I was an English major (so Debbie, I must point out: it's Nobel, not Noble).

Also, I learned to swim at the MIT pool. Good times.

DCMer over 10 years ago

That cynical Harvard grad:

Why bother?

We enjoy sharing. This is the MIT way.

wellesley grad over 10 years ago

Voice of most Wellesley grads, especially those that took advantage of the cross-registration program.. we all know it's ostensibly a exchange program, but we were really the one getting the benefit of the Institute. I was not a big partier on the MIT campus all four years, but your generous offering of courses has shaped my life. To name one: As a senior going into finance, whether to eventually get a MBA was always on my mind. What other way to figure out whether the 200k cost would be worth the investment..than enrolling in a class at Sloan WITH MBA students?? Thank you MIT... I don't think any other top MBA program would ever allow that, especially for a mere exchange student. Love you too, MIT

MIT Doctoral Candidate over 10 years ago


Anonymous over 10 years ago

I came college in the US in 1991 from Bangladesh. In winter, at least back then, most US college dorms (including mine) shut down leaving us, international students, homeless (trip home was too expensive for such a short break). The one exception was MIT.

I spent every winter of my college years crashing with a Bangladeshi friend attending MIT. A number of other friends in same situation from all over the country also joined. I am sure us staying there broke some house rule or other, but people (including house masters) turned a blind eye. Those were very memorable times for all of us - New house and Next house were homes.

Years later, I returned to MIT as a grad student, so I now have formal claims to a connection. That almost doesn't matter though - for all of us who spent those winters at MIT, it was a warm home away from home, away from cold winters, and the culture shock of an unfamiliar country. Those memories are a connection that will last a lifetime.

MIT \'11 over 10 years ago

Lovely piece, thanks for sharing. Makes me miss the Institvte.

MIT \'81 over 10 years ago

I tried to convince my daughter to apply to Wellesley for this one reason -- alas to no avail! I'm going to send her this post to show her what she missed!

future MIT mom over 10 years ago

I would truly love for my daughter to go to MIT! What a great place to find out what you really want to do!

Anonymous over 10 years ago

"A Harvard Grad":

Not everyone can get into MIT ;)

Anonymous over 10 years ago

I discovered this difference between Harvard and MIT pretty early on, sadly.

I was MIT '01, and as a 1st semester freshman, i'd ventured over to Harvard's grand library one day, hoping to check out the resources it had to offer. NOPE not allowed in if you're not a Harvard student. MIT ID will not do.

In contrast, you see Harvard Wellesley students alike populating all of the many MIT libraries.

In a relatively small and petty issue, it's a reflection of a bigger theme and frame of mind. Openmindedness, collaboration, and growth (MIT) vs exclusivity, closed society, and ultimately inevitable stagnation (Harvard).

MIT \'83, Harvard Ph.D \'89 over 10 years ago

I was an MIT undergraduate, and did my Ph.D. at Harvard. I've seen both. Harvard seemed to care more about educating their undergraduates to be good at cocktail party chatter. MIT trained us to be professionals - harder, tougher, and better. MIT professors cared more in general about their students. MIT is more open and inclusive. If the world was destroyed, 20 people from MIT could rebuild it. 20 people from Harvard would sit around and discuss it to death. Institute Professor Sharp was my adviser at MIT, and he is one of the finest men and scientists I've ever had the privilege to know. After I graduated, and had a personality conflict with my adviser at Harvard, he was ready to help me in any way possible. I did have a wonderful adviser for my thesis at Harvard - who postdoc'd at MIT. Do you want to be the closest thing to a Jedi knight on the planet? :) Up there with the best of the best, the elite? Choose MIT. "And any Harvard man/who thinks he's in our class/ can pucker up his rosy lips/and kiss the beaver's ass!" Glad this gentleman could enjoy the hospitality of the MIT Community. Thank you for posting, as we don't usually get kind words from Upchuck River (cf. post 5 above).

Renetta Kimbal over 10 years ago

Yawn. I have never seen a more self-promotional article.

Daniel over 10 years ago

MIT '05

Man this brings back memories... so glad you had fun. I dated a Wellesley girl for a year, it didn't work out but I loved the experience of being there. Thanks for the note, cheers!

PS you did you walk him around the lake?

Anonymous over 10 years ago

I visited MIT briefly for a few days. At no other place I felt such an open atmosphere---the air was suffused with activity, and somehow it seemed like a natural place to be productive and creative, without having to worry about nonsense. By "natural" I mean, that it seemed just second nature to be productive, without feeling killed by stupid things like stress, etc.; I wish I had gone to MIT---I would have been 10times more productive!

Also the greatest of all things at MIT is the freedom it offers you. This was palpable even as an outsider. So much so, that I view MIT as a bastion of free thought, not only in the US but worldwide.

Anonymous over 10 years ago

Please change "Noble Prize" to "Nobel Prize". It sits incongruously with the rest of a very nice article. Thanks.

Saro M (SB \'04, course 9) over 10 years ago

Makes me miss the 'tute. IHTFP. I do think MIT can do a better job of advertising this, and the financial reality of attending. I work at a large (HUGE) public University, and too many times I hear from undergrads who didn't apply to MIT because they either "couldn't afford it", or "didn't want to become an elitist snob". So sad.

PS It's "Nobel".

Anonymous over 10 years ago

While it's lovely to hear that many people appreciate the open and genuine personality of MIT, I can't help myself but ask... What do MIT students - accepted and paying students - receive in return for having their campus and classes open to external students at schools such as Wellesley?

You're thankful that you printed your work for fee. Didn't MIT students' tuition dollars effectively pay for your printing? When you were sitting in the library for free, did you take the seat of an MIT student paying tuition for the upkeep of that building and for the staff's wages? When you applied for and were offered a UROP opportunity, did you not take the place of an MIT student - - who perhaps accepted their offer to the University largely because of these UROP opportunities?

No where in this letter do you say how you gave back to MIT. Cynical or not, it seems that MIT, while sometimes appreciated, is all too often "used."

MIT is a special place, and very different form other schools. It's great to see that people appreciate this. But what does MIT gain from this? MIT does not charge cross-registered Wellesley students, nor do Wellesley students have to be accepted to MIT to enroll in classes. MIT students never use Wellesley facilities and they very, very, rarely attend Wellesley classes, especially given Harvard's humanities program much closer by.

Sadly, this letter make it further evident that MIT's relationship with some other schools is nothing close to symbiotic.

Harvard student over 10 years ago

Actually, MIT fails to understand the basic student requirements. Not only is their housing system anti-social, but also their dining services is close to pathetic. Their academics are great, but you have to work harder just to get your basic needs right. Not frat.

Anonymous over 10 years ago

Fuck all you bitches.

MTI and Havarti are no better than processed American cheese.

techgeek over 10 years ago

She gave back to MIT more than you know. This letter has been going viral among recent MIT graduates and rekindled a lot of pride and nostalgia. She reminded us that we should be proud of our openness, and showed outsiders what the institute is really about (beyond being a good engineering school). I had dinner tonight with an uncle (MIT '58), and he said that he will be donating more money to MIT this year because of this touching letter. Sad that you can't see how powerful a simple letter can be.

MIT is giving away little to gain a lot. For the price of a few prints and few ounces of gas, the institute gains the contribution of a bright mind who is not from our little bubble. It's called diversity. A group of people with perfect SAT math scores can only think so much outside the box. I personally like having Wellesley students in my classes because MIT students usually aren't passionate about "softer" topics and just don't like to voice opinions in general. I enjoy having a chat with "outsiders" (Wellesley, exchange, high school, or Sloan students) in the Athena clusters when I occasionally bump into them.

I have a job on the side to pay my own tuition, and I don't mind "sharing" what I paid for with non-MITers. The few extra pages printed for free is nothing compared to so many things the institute and current students waste money on. It's a very small price to pay for gaining diversity of thought and building a stronger brand. My buddies and I sleep through half our classes anyway (if we even bother to go) -- which is a bigger waste.

She made me realize that, at MIT, we share because we can. We share because we care. We're thought leaders of the world and can generate more good ideas that we know what to do with. Innovation is not always a zero-sum (I win, you lose) game.

mitstudent over 10 years ago

ditto comment #27, especially about the brand building.

we're not paying 200k to get access to printers and seats in a lecture hall. it's for the freakin M.I.T. brand! this letter just made my brand stronger. thank you

Undergrad Alum over 10 years ago

I'm very glad that you've had such good experiences surrounding MIT. However, readers of this article should be aware that some (definitely not all) of us MIT kids found the environment far more restrictive than it is described here.

It's not as though the Institute isn't committed to intellectual openness, but in practice the rigorous work requirements leave many students little time or energy for exploration outside their majors, let alone for socialization. This can result in a narrowly focused environment, unlike the broader type of learning one would expect from universities of a similar caliber.

The multiplicity of meanings given to IHTFP more accurately reflects the love, hate, and love-hate relationships students have with this school. I have no doubt that MIT is deserving of this particular tribute, but a broader description of the Institute would give a significantly more balanced perspective.

Anonymous over 10 years ago

As a BU grad and former MIT employee, I chuckled, smiled, and agreed with perspectives offered about both places. I would however like to come to my alma mater's defense and perhaps cast the comments about BU in a more glowing light. Being taught to provide for my own necessities (BU) came in pretty handy in "the real world". Both experiences (BU and MIT) served me very well, thank you both.

Sincerely, The Mother of Invention

Max R over 10 years ago

This letter thanking MIT was beautiful. Comments about its students and profs [my uncle was one] match my own experiences.

Though from Boston, I did not apply to Harvard [back in the '50's], but to a self congratulatory and more northern Ivy school. My only Harvard link came later in its MBA program.

Max R over 10 years ago

This letter thanking MIT was beautiful. Comments about its students and profs [my uncle was one] match my own experiences.

Though from Boston, I did not apply to Harvard [back in the '50's], but to a self congratulatory and more northern Ivy school. My only Harvard link came later in its MBA program.

Sascha over 10 years ago

I love you too, MIT! I've dreamt about coming here for 20 years, and now, after many years on the job, and an education from a totally different field, I have finally arrived in the engineering systems division. There is no other place this open, flexible, accommodating and inspiring for others to strive and become the same.

Joanne \'76 over 10 years ago

Makes me proud of MIT yet again.

I applied to MIT, but not Harvard, back in the 60's because Cliffies were treated as second-class citizens. (They didn't have full library privileges!) What a great experience I had, drinking from the fire hose. Thank you, Debbie, for producing such a lucid and touching testimonial.

John M \'73 over 10 years ago

A great summary of what makes MIT so unique and special...and you don't realize how special it is until you teach or work somewhere else!

Bruce A over 10 years ago

I attended MIT ('75, Course 7), and took 3 biology classes at Wellesley that were not offered at MIT. Married a Wellesley woman. Only good things to say about the exchange program, in the other direction.