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Dear Ask A TA,

How do I tell if my TA thinks I’m cute?

—Yearning to Know

Dear Yearning,

The reliable criteria for determining if a TA thinks you are cute are as follows. First determine if the TA in question is in fact your TA. If yes, then determine if your gender is compatible with your TA’s sexual orientation. If yes again, congratulations! Your TA thinks you are cute.

Why is this method so robust? Remember who your TAs are. Your TA is either a graduate_student@mit.edu, or an overachieving_undergraduate@mit.edu (which is saying a lot). When not TAing you, your TAs are either writing software, studying in preparation for the writing of software, or eating ramen noodles. This is not a lifestyle that facilitates the meeting of potential mates.

Now, consider your recitation section — a room full of young coeds, their eyes and ears fixed on your TA. This is the most attention your TA has gotten in quite a while. It’s flattering. And tremendously exciting. And some of these coeds are even so interested in spending time with the TA that they’ll seek out the TA outside of class. Sometimes this just means going to specified “office hours,” but at times it almost reaches the level of full-fledged stalking, with students constantly e-mailing, calling, and stopping by the TA’s place of work or home unannounced. For most people, this would be disturbing. But for your lonely hearted TA, this is probably the most exciting turn their social life has ever taken.

So, if your TA thinks that you are so cute, why doesn’t he make a move? Again, he isn’t just a TA, he is a TA@mit.edu. Why would you expect him to act any differently than anybody_else@mit.edu? Just like the rest of the MIT populace, he is shy and socially awkward. In fact, when talking about relationships, he’ll probably get nervous enough simply elaborating the relationship between impedance and frequency. A discussion about a real romantic relationship might make his poor little TAing heart explode. And then you’d definitely never find out what kind of questions will be on the final.

More importantly just like the rest of the MIT student body, he’s probably Course VI. As such, he’s most likely had this important TAing specification beaten into his skull — DO NOT hit on your students. It’s the cardinal rule of TAing and is specified as a user requirement of the TAship interface.

Now in regards to this forbidden attraction between you and your TA, the TA is presented with an interesting logical dilemma: the reason that you are interested in him is the same as the reason that your romance is forbidden. The classical solution to this game theory challenge is for both of you to wait until the semester is over to hook up. However, the logical basis of this solution is clearly flawed, and both you and your TA know it. Will he still be attractive when he no longer knows what is going to be on the final ahead of time? Seriously? I thought not. There is a very limited window of time in which you will find your TA cute. Your TA, though, will still find you cute long after he has marked off points for not showing work on the last problem of your final. So give it time. Wait until the end of the semester. Then, years later, if you are in dire relationship straits, send your ex-TA an e-mail and say you need to brush up on impedance over a romantic candle lit dinner. I guarantee that he will come down from the Athena cluster to join you. That is unless he is TAing another bunch of cuties that semester.

—Dr. James Graham Ruby G