Editor’s Note: This column original ran on Sept. 20, 2013, the day of the Fall Career Fair.
When I applied to MIT in 2012, I pictured a brilliant haven filled with talented, driven, and passionate young people, striving to learn and apply their knowledge to solve the world’s greatest problems. Across this square mile of Cambridge, I pictured ten thousand minds working toward global improvement, and an institute that wants nothing more than to see its students facilitate change. At the time, being able to join this community seemed like a remote possibility.
As a senior in high school, I hoped to study biology because I genuinely cared about learning how the world works; I was fascinated by the way the human body interacts with its surroundings. I figured that of all places, MIT, this grandiose institution for higher learning, could teach me how to solve the problems associated with this delicate symbiosis.
Two years later, I’ve joined several student groups that are working toward these goals, though they were a challenge to find. During my first semester, I began to grow disheartened because I couldn’t find a single group working seriously on climate change. I was both sad and excited to say that such a group (Fossil Free MIT) was founded during my first semester.
A large part of our outreach occurred during orientation, when freshmen are still enthusiastic and open-minded. At the activities midway, I spoke to an upperclassman about climate change, giving her my somewhat impersonal and dry spiel (as I’ve become jaded after two semesters here). I asked if she was concerned about climate change, to which she replied: “To be honest, not really. I don’t really care about anything outside of my immediate universe.”
What? You don’t care about anything?
How is it possible that at MIT, an institution founded on principles of service and intellectual rigor, there exists a single person who doesn’t care about anything outside of his or her own immediate universe? We have all of the potential and resources necessary to change the way the world works. There are so many problems that we have the brains and the willpower to solve — we just need leadership. We need guidance, and currently we are being guided in the wrong direction.
Three weeks after this encounter, nothing has changed. The career fair is approaching, and students are preparing for a day of “opportunity.” MIT’s Global Education & Career Development center (GECD) is holding extended walk-in hours to help students perfect their résumés and interviewing techniques, their firm handshakes and conversation skills, in order to maximize job offers from companies like BP, Chevron, Quizlet, P&G, Intel, GM, TripAdvisor, and Morgan Stanley. There are daily information sessions with Microsoft, AQR, CRA, and Exxon. MIT’s Society of Women Engineers is holding a career fair banquet with opportunities to network with representatives from L’Oreal, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Shell, and Schlumberger.
I’ve been told by upperclassmen that career fair is an opportunity. Classes are cancelled. There are hundreds of companies. They’re waiting for me to come up and talk to them, waiting for me to drop my résumé, waiting for me to apply for an internship. And I need to impress them.
Really, MIT? We need to impress them?
The career fair serves as an effort to funnel some of the world’s brightest minds into lives of comfort and apathy. When did solving the world’s problems mean drilling for more oil than we can afford to burn, coding the next “original” iPhone application, designing more products for consumers to purchase, or consulting these companies so that they can make even more money than they already do?
MIT, I thank you for the exceptional and objective education I’ve received over the past two semesters. But now I need more. I need guidance; I need empowerment and reassurance that despite the current sentiment that finding a “good” job is the most important return from an education, I can still make a difference. I need to know that we are better than Exxon, than TripAdvisor, than P&G, than Quizlet, than BP, than Facebook, than Yelp, and collectively that we have more of a potential to shape the world. I need to know that we are better than career fair.