We do connect!
Recently, one of my very close friends from back home (who is weighing different undergraduate schools right now) shared a post from a popular online forum with me. The post said that MIT professors do not connect with undergraduates very well. For days, it left me pondering and talking with peers and upperclassmen about their experiences. Finally, on April 13, I got to meet the Chancellor, W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, face to face and decided on a definitive answer to this particular concern of my friend.
I shall start with a story from Chancellor Grimson: Just before Susan Hockfield joined the administration as the President of MIT, she met up with all the departmental heads individually. The first question she asked everyone was, “What’s on your mind right now?” Surprisingly enough, each and every head had the same issue on their mind; they all replied, “undergraduates.” That all the departmental heads of this huge research engine think undergraduate studies to be the most important issue on hand, says something about our connection with faculty and staff. The same thing is reflected when freshmen, right on their first semester, get to take classes from Professors Eric S. Lander, Robert A. Weinberg ’64, Arthur P. Mattuck, and many other awesome teachers.
Almost all the students I have talked with on this issue agreed on the wonderful connection between undergraduates and the faculty. Their opinion is that if somebody wants to connect, he or she can definitely connect. First, professors are always available right before and right after lectures. I have never seen them turn students down, and they’re willing to talk about academics or life in general. Professors also have office hours, when a student can easily get to know them. I personally know professors who arrange pizza-forums for their undergraduate students.
The Undergraduate Association (UA) has an amazing faculty dinners program. Undergraduates form a group of 5–6 people, invite a professor to dinner, and get reimbursed by the UA. There are even frequent occasions when various departments have events and fairs where students mingle with professors on a personal level.
Another great way to connect with faculty is UROP-ing. Eighty-five percent of the undergraduate student body participates in active, ground-breaking research work with faculty and that grows a really good bond between both the sides.
A senior at MIT was sharing her experience with me; she wanted a recommendation letter from a professor during her sophomore year. The semester had just begun and the professor really did not know a lot about her. Still the professor did not say “no”; he actually took time to get to know the student and wrote her an amazing recommendation letter (the way she lit up while talking about the letter speaks for its awesomeness).
So, we do connect! All the amazing opportunities are there for us. We just have to go and pick them up.