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MIT Connect uses algorithm to pair grad students for lunch

MIT Connect is a new initiative aimed at strengthening the sense of community among graduate students. Each week, the program pairs graduate students for one-on-one platonic lunches and provides each student with a $10 TechCash deposit they can redeem at local restaurants or on-campus dining halls.

The matching is done by an algorithm that takes students’ interests, food preferences, and preferred lunch times into account. An introductory email is sent to matched pairs with some potential starting points for the conversation, as well as a link to an experience survey to take after the meetup.

The Connect program saw 80 graduate students sign up within 24 hours after Mohammad Ghassemi G and Tuka Waddah Al Hanai G started it last spring. A report they submitted to the Graduate Student Life Grants said that 70 percent of the students who filled out the program’s final survey expressed interest in rejoining the program, while 52 percent planned to stay in touch with their buddies.

Ghassemi insists that this is not a dating service, but is intended as an opportunity to meet new people who you wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet.

“We do allow people to specify gender preferences, but most people choose the Don’t care option in our signup form,” Ghassemi said.

This fall, the program already has more than 130 people signed up, including the dean of graduate education, Christine Ortiz.

—Henry Nassif