Disturbed about new physics/EECS optionTo the Editor:
I was very disturbed when I read about the new physics/EECS option in the April 2 copy of The Tech ["CEP approves physics option."] I was aware it is harmless, since no one is compelled to choose it. So why did I react so strongly? My reaction arises not simply because I believe the program is pointless, but more particularly because its creation relates to the larger issue of career goals and how to achieve them, which is inadequately discussed at MIT.
Who could possibly benefit from such a program? Certainly not prospective EECS majors. Why should they fetter themselves to an excess of physics requirements? Similarly, the program of required classes is unlikely to suit physics majors interested in electrical engineering. Each student has different needs and interests, and should select coursework to satisfy them.
I could only envisage two types of students choosing the VIIIA option: physics majors who independently want to take the specific Course VI classes, or converts from Course VI to Course VIII who have already taken them. In both cases, the existence of the option is irrelevant, since I sincerely doubt having a "letter from each department" would make one ounce of difference in their later lives.
Graduate schools and potential employers are largely indifferent to one's undergraduate major. Their decisions are based on achievements and interests, not the calligraphy on one's diploma. In almost any scientific or technical endeavor, a direction, any degree from MIT, and a few courses and some experience in that area virtually guarantee success. For example, my acquaintances include a philosophy major currently engaged in state-of-the-art AI, and an Urban Studies major who is currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology, though she took one IX subject as an undergraduate. These sorts of paths are not unusual for MIT graduates.
Unfortunately, many students are unaware just how little importance is attached to their major. Even worse, too many never really consider their goals and how to achieve them. The overall atmosphere at MIT distracts one from serious thought about life after graduation; many seniors I know are only now beginning to wonder what they will do next. The traditional attitude dictates they will attend medical or law school, earn a high salary in industry, or continue studies in their fields; this dogma eliminates the need for careful contemplation.
The myth persists even though good counseling and information are available. The Career Planning & Placement Office (CPPO) has an excellent staff and resources, but they are underused -- otherwise, there would be fewer confused seniors. Freshmen and sophomores should be encouraged to explore possibilities. The Deans' Office, undergraduate departments, faculty advisors, CPPO, and student activities could help through individual letters, discussions and seminars, and increased publicity for the CPPO. However, until the community's attitude improves, such measures cannot be wholly effective.
Indicative of the myth is the new physics/EECS program; it reinforces our belief in limited options. There are dozens of ways to major in physics and minor in EECS, and Course VIII-A is only one. In this respect, its success should be measured by how few students enroll in it, compared to the number of physics majors interested in EECS who put together their own, creative curriculum tailored to their individual goals and interests.
Donald S. Kane '85->