MIT Faculty NewsletterYou can get a glimpse of what your former professors are thinking about in the MIT Faculty Newsletter. A faculty editorial board runs the MFN, and most articles are written by faculty. Some matters are about MIT’s own governance, others are about global issues that intertwine with the Institute’s community life. Here are some highlights of the most recent issue:

Editorial: Our “Inescapable Network:” Haiti, the Diversity Initiative, and MLK

This editorial calls on the MIT administration to increase their efforts in response to the earthquake in Haiti. Faculty Chair Tom Kochan asks “Are We Doing Enough?” and three related articles address MIT faculty responses to the earthquake.

The Demand for MIT Graduates

Although graduating during the worst economic crisis in recent history, MIT’s class of 2009 still fared better than their peers. How was that accomplished?

Teach Talk: Toward a Personalized Graduate Curriculum

Learn how the grad school experience is changing because of student needs and changing knowledge.

2010 MIT Briefing Book Available Online

This comprehensive overview of MIT, which focuses on research activities, is compiled by Office of the Vice President for Research and the MIT Washington Office.

The PBS Frontline series, “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier,” is using MIT students as a starting point to understand how omnipresent digital media is influencing daily life—perhaps detrimentally—in the 21st century.

The producers call MIT students “some of the most technologically savvy students in the world…digital natives.” And then they ask questions about whether this 24/7 online culture as down sides, such as limited attention spans. The professor who heads the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self thinks that might be the case:

“I teach the most brilliant students in the world,” says MIT professor and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, who describes the challenges of teaching students who are surfing the Internet and texting during class. “But they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with 15 other things.”

Watch a 90-minute segment of Digital Nation to learn why Turkle believes that effective multitasking—even digitally facilitated— is mostly myth. What do you think?

Findings from the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index

Findings from the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. Teachers rank highest, followed by doctors, scientists, military personnel, engineers, and politicians.

If you had to choose, which profession would you say contributes most to society’s well-being? According to the recent Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an annual survey that gauges kids’ perceptions about invention and innovation, teens rate teachers highest, followed by doctors (see graphic). Less than one-fifth of respondents viewed scientists as having the highest impact on society and only 5 percent chose engineers.

One reason might be because students simply aren’t aware what professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) do and don’t have suitable role models. But the good news is that teens are excited to learn. Indeed, 77 percent were interested in pursuing a STEM career, and 85 percent wish they knew more about STEM in order to create or invent something. The most effective way to engage them is through hands-on activities with enthusiastic mentors and teachers. Passion seems to be essential. More than half of respondents (55 percent) would be more interested in STEM simply by having teachers who enjoy the subjects they teach.

The most inspiring training grounds, teens indicated, were field trips to view STEM in action and places outside the classroom where they can build things and conduct experiments (53 percent).

Learn more about the Invention Index’s findings and how you can mentor students in STEM subjects.

This is the first in a series of posts exploring Independent Activities Period (IAP) from students’ perspectives.

Sandra Chen

Sandra mentoring students on their project.

Guest blogger: Sandra Chen ’12

Hello from South Bend, Indiana! My name is Sandra Chen, a sophomore in the mechanical engineering department spending the first week of IAP, Jan 4–8, participating in the MIT Women’s Initiative Program. This is a student-run group whose mission is to encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in engineering starting at the middle-school level. My partner, Elizabeth Kowalski (grad student, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), and I were selected to present about engineering to young girls curious to learn.

South Bend Middle School students having fun building their paper tower

South Bend Middle School students having fun building their paper tower.

Our week consists of visiting seven middle schools, with several presentations in the morning and afternoon. We reached approximately 600 girls to educate them on the following topics:

  • What an engineer does
  • Adjectives to describe an engineer
  • Stereotypes of engineers
  • What engineers design and make
  • Different types of engineering

In addition, we also described our research to the girls to get the students thinking about how engineers contribute to society. In terms of research, Elizabeth works on the U.S.’s contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project focusing on fusion energy. I conduct research on drug delivery and development.

Elizabeth Kowalski

Besides presenting, we also explored the scenic campus of Notre Dame, viewed artwork in the Snite Museum, and had delicious bread bowls at the Chocolate Cafe in downtown South Bend. Pictured, Elizabeth in front of the Notre Dame football stadium.

We incorporated an activity in our presentation where the students were assigned to build the tallest free-standing tower without any other materials besides two pieces of newspaper and imagination. The goal was for the students to gain hands-on knowledge on what an engineer, in this case a civil engineer, might do on a daily basis. The students were very curious and asked a variety of questions pertaining to being an engineer and about our research!

Learn more about the MIT Women’s Initiative.

Academic Earth is one of the top 50 Web sites, according to Time magazine. In fact, they tagged the online learning site as #9 and noted MIT’s pioneering involvement in sharing knowledge with the public for free:

Academic Earth web site“The latest campus revolutionaries are the so-called edupunks—and their mission is to break up the ivory tower so everyone can pile into the classroom. MIT was the first university to heed the edupunk call: it started posting syllabi, course notes, and videotaped lectures on back in 2001. Harvard, Berkeley, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford soon followed suit.…Now Academic Earth aggregates all this material so you can audit classes from the comfort of your computer. “

Of course, MIT is all over the place. The cluster of videos on Media, Education, and the Marketplace includes the an introduction by MIT Linguistics Professor Shigeru Miyagawa and talks such as the Next Big Thing: Video Internet by Robert Metcalfe ’68; Educational Uses of Technology by Steven Lerman ’72, SM ’73, PhD ’75; OCW Executive Director Anne Margulies on using  interactive media in education; and MIT Professor John Belcher on teaching physics using multimedia.

So, in the spirit of IAP, you might want to check out Academic Earth. Anyone for the Morality of Murder by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel, the New Testament as History by Yale Professor Dale B. Martin, or the Blue Planet Oceanography series by UCLA Professor Edwin Schauble? Enjoy!

Divya Jani, Deirdre Hatfield, and Calvin Cheung researched puppy choice

MBA students Divya Jani, Deirdre Hatfield, and Calvin Cheung researched dog choice.

A group of MBA students recently researched the decision-making process involved in selecting a pet dog in Drazen Prelec’s Listening to the Customer class. Calvin Cheung, Deirdre Hatfield, Divya Jani, John Curry, and Lauren Ready, all MBAs set to graduate in June, wanted to understand how households acquire dogs as pets. So they examined  the thought processes behind how families and individuals decide which dogs are best for them.

The team used a method known as the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), an interview process that encourages participants to use images to highlight the subconscious thoughts behind their decisions. Then they asked their interview subjects detailed questions about how they obtained their dogs. A News@MITSloan article describes the results.

The ZMET technique proved valuable, according to Curry. “ZMET allowed us to use images, visualization, and stories to understand dog owners’ underlying choices and behaviors,” he said. “Since dogs are inherently a personal topic, ZMET was ideal for this study. For example, if someone says, ‘I like dogs with powerful looks,’ they likely have deeper feelings that drive that affinity,” he said.

Salman Khan What began as a way to remotely tutor his young cousin and her classmates in algebra has given former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan ’98, MNG ’98 a new career: virtual teacher. Khan, who studied math and electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, starting posting short videos on YouTube as a way to be more efficient with the math help he was offering from Silicon Valley to his cousin in New Orleans, and they took on a life of their own. A little more than three years later, he’s launched the nonprofit Khan Academy virtual school/YouTube channel and created 1,000+ tutorials on everything from basic arithmetic to college-level calculus and physics as well as biology, chemistry, finance, statistics, probability, economics, SAT and GMAT prep, and more. More than 32,000 people subscribe to the YouTube channel, which boasts millions of views worldwide. A chemistry teacher in Uruguay translated one of his videos, and others have volunteered to translate the lessons into Arabic, Polish, Portuguese, and German.

For now, though, Khan is a one-man show, and the short videos, generally eight to 15 minutes long and each focusing on just one concept, take him about thirty minutes to produce and upload. Now that he’s turned his attention full time to the academy, Khan hopes to create some 200 new videos each year, like his recent lectures on Federal Reserve banking generated after he read the Federal Reserve Act following last year’s financial crisis.

Check out an interview from NPR’s All Things Considered and learn more about the Khan Academy, which received the 2009 Microsoft Tech Award in Education, in the video below.

U.S. News & World Report wanted to understand what could help aspiring engineers succeed, an important question since a recent survey indicated that one-third of college freshman plan to major in science and engineering. The good ones will solve big problems.

So, what can help students become the really good engineers? So they asked Edward Crawley ’76, SM ’78, ScD ’81, professor of engineering and director of MIT’s Bernard M. Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, to share the advice he gives to his MIT students.

Ed Crawely presents leadership ideas.

Ed Crawley presents leadership ideas.

Here are a few of Crawley’s tips:

  • Identify the people who inspire you, and find out what makes them tick. If you love Apple products, Steve Jobs may be your idol, or perhaps you love the Segway and its creator, Dean Kamen. You can easily find out a lot of information about Jobs and Kamen—or just about any other prominent person in technology—so use it to look into what’s helped these people and their companies become so successful. Then emulate their good traits in your personal, scholastic, and professional life.
  • Find your flaws—and fix them. As with any skill, leadership needs constant improvement. When you are part of a team, try to create a way to get feedback from team members, group leaders, and professors. When you have concrete feedback on how people view you, you can work to improve your skills, including communication and leadership. Plus, you’ll learn how to accept—and give—constructive criticism. That’s absolutely necessary for your future career.

Read all of Crawley’s 10 Tips for Success for Engineering Students.

Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

Every once in a while, a student group invites me to a free dinner, which pleases me, not only because faculty salaries were frozen last year, but also because I enjoy getting to know students in an informal setting.

This past week, I went to the Hillel Faculty Night Dinner, where the students have a tradition of asking the faculty attending to introduce themselves and answer a surprise question, such as, “What is your favorite building on campus?” This time, it was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I didn’t have a good answer to that question, so I decided to use a trick I learned in humanities classes. I ignored the question asked and answered another one, “What is the strangest incident you have experienced involving a Jewish student?”

“Without a doubt, that would be the amazing case of Louis Lamon,” I said, responding to my own question.

Louis Lamon* was one of my all-time favorite teaching assistants in 6.034, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. One year, when Louis was a teaching assistant, our final examination was on a Monday morning, so on Monday afternoon the staff, about eight or ten of us, were sitting at a big table working away through a stack of 250 examinations. We were just getting started at the time the conflict exam was scheduled over in a distant classroom. We decided to take turns proctoring. I took the first turn.

When I returned from proctoring, I was feeling pretty goofy, it being the end of the term, so I decided to hack the staff.

“Wow, I just had my first experience with quiz rage,” I said as I sat down at the grading table.

“What’s that?” asked Louis.

“It’s a little like road rage, I guess. A student seemed to be having trouble with the exam, and then, about 20 minutes in, he started cursing and swearing loudly. I couldn’t calm him down. I finally had to call the campus police and have him taken away. They told me it happens once or twice each semester.”

“Who was it?” said Louis.

I thought it would add realism to describe one of Louis’s students, an Israeli named Ben Brotsky*, who happened to be taking the conflict exam. “I don’t know,” I pretended, but some of the cursing and swearing was in a language unfamiliar to me, maybe Hebrew.”

“You know,” said Louis. “I think it might be one of mine, is he [physical description]?”

“Yes,” I said “That’s what he looks like.”

Then, a few minutes later, Louis said, “He once told me a scud landed a few doors from where he lived in Israel; maybe it is some form of post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

“Yes, Louis,” I replied, “Maybe it’s post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Then, it came time for Louis to go off to the conflict-exam room for the final shift. About half way through his shift, I decided I should go and make sure he was ok with the hack and not too sore about getting snookered. But, when I arrived, he grabbed my arm and whispered into my ear, “He’s back.”

“Oh my god,” I said, improvising rapidly. “Louis, don’t do anything to upset him. I talked to his advisor, and he has a history of violence. He was a commando in the Israeli army. He could kill you in seconds with a wire…like that power cord attached to his laptop.”

“Ok,” said Louis. “I’ll be careful.”

A little while later, Louis returned to the room where we were all grading, looking highly upset, and said, “I confronted Ben after the exam.”

“Oh, oh,” I thought to myself, “now I’m in trouble.”

So, I started to explain, “Listen, Louis…,” but he interrupted me. “We’ve got to do something,” said Louis with emphasis. “The guy is so psychotic, he didn’t remember a thing about the incident.”


Conducting research with faculty may be a given for current MIT undergraduates, but it was  revolutionary  when it was introduced at MIT 40 years ago. Today 85 percent of graduating seniors have participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). The concept permeates MIT life and has been widely adopted throughout the U.S.

Folkers Rojas ′08 has participated in seven UROP projects. Photo: Len Rubenstein, Spectrum

Folkers Rojas ’08 has participated in seven UROP projects. Photo: Len Rubenstein, Spectrum

A symposium and a UROP 40th Anniversary Website honors the event. Birthday tributes included a Technology Review story, “The Soul of MIT,” that notes that 45 MIT faculty members, former UROP students themselves, are now mentoring today’s undergraduates. “UROP is not just an experience,” says Edward Boyden ’99, MEng ’99, an assistant professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences. “It’s a way to have immediate impact on the lives of millions of people. I see UROP as the soul of MIT.”

Watch a short video about the late MIT Professor Margaret MacVicar ’64, ScD ’67, a legendary educator who founded UROP.

History Highlights

  • 1987: Jennifer Wiseman ’87 discovers the Comet Wiseman-Skiff as a UROP student working with EAPS Professor Jim Elliot ’65, SM ’65, an active UROP mentor.
  • 2000: In April, John M. Grunsfeld ’80, a former UROP student turned NASA astronaut, returns to discuss his space shuttle mission and presents UROP memorabilia he took into space.
  • 2008: The PBS series Design Squad wins the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. MIT community members, including several UROP students, helped develop this series.

For more, read profiles of six UROP students in the summer 2009 issue of Spectrum.

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