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Ask Nutty B!

By Bruce Wu

Nutty B is currently a graduate student at MIT who tries to give his two cents worth to his readers’ questions regarding anything and everything. Please e-mail him with whatever question you would like someone to listen to, and help him have an excuse to procrastinate at 3:00 a.m. Please send all questions to

Dear Nutty B,

I am a new graduate student here at MIT, and I started my research back in June. I’ve heard about you and thought I’d give you a shot. My question is about advisor-advisee etiquette.

I bumped into my advisor on my way to the airport three hours ago. He stopped me and asked me about my research for three hours. My flight will leave in 30 minutes, and I am still in Building 5. Should I have told him that I had a flight to catch? Would that have offended him and jeopardized our relationship, thereby ruining my chances of becoming a post-doc at a prestigious institution and eventually a tenured professor here in a few years?

— Worried about Future

Dear Worried about Future,

If your flight leaves in 30 minutes, what on earth are you doing writing me this email? It seems it’s not advisor-advisee etiquette you should be worrying about, but rather your ability to choose what’s important at the moment! You sent me this email three weeks ago. Have you been at your computer waiting for my reply ever since?

I am sure your advisor didn’t stop you on purpose to test your “loyalty” or work ethic when you saw him. Yes, perhaps you were pulling a huge suitcase behind you, but with the common lack of fashion sense here, he might have thought it was simply your backpack. You should have told him you had a flight to catch. No one would have considered you “impolite” if you had, and you could always talk to him once you returned. If it’s really something urgent (and if so, why didn’t he talk to you earlier?!) you could always have offered to communicate via email. There are lots of ways to be a good graduate student without losing yourself!

And as to your chances of becoming a post-doc in some great place and all that blah, the only thing I can suggest is that you figure out how to be a good graduate student first. Baby steps, my friend, baby steps!

Dear Nutty B,

As a tourist in the US I happened to pick up a copy of the May 16th issue of The Tech while on a recent visit to the beautiful Museum at MIT in Cambridge, MA. I read with interest your sound advice to one ‘Getting Blue’ (see with his PhD program, which according to him is still not getting anywhere eons after starting. I was dumbfounded seeing (in the Museum) the amazing display of achievements of the many scientists who brought glory to their Alma Mater through dedicated work, and pride to their country through international recognition and Nobel prizes.

It seemed to me that the scientists worked simply for the joy of working, driven by the scientific spirit of inquiry alone and not at all for rewards of recognition. This is a great lesson for all aspiring researchers everywhere. Of course it is too much to expect every scholar to produce results of such colossal magnitude, but anyone can put in his bit and it will only add to the glory of the Institution. I would like to read The Tech regularly from now on - maybe I’ll try the electronic edition on the MIT Website when I am back home.

— Prabhakaran

Dear Prabhakaran,

Thank you very much for your kind note, and on behalf of everyone working here at The Tech, I’d like to welcome you to this great community of writers and readers. (Hey, Chairman of The Tech, do I get paid to say this?) Indeed, every issue of The Tech is online, and the web address is Remember also to sign up for the Nutty B fan club!

I am glad you enjoyed the MIT museum. There is no point in denying that the scholarship at this Institute is world-class, but there is also no reason to hide the unfortunate fact that for the whole Institute to maintain that prestige, some people also lose their happiness here. The silver lining, though, is that there are lots of resources available (like Nutty B, for instance) for those who seek help to make their lives more enjoyable. There are bright people here, but what makes MIT great is, as you say, every bit of contribution from every single individual on this campus.

Once again, thank you for sending me this message from across the oceans. Keep reading and e-mailing me!