MIT model explains how the brain can learn novel tasks while still remembering what it has already learned.
Nearly four years ago, during orientation week in September of 1990, Tech Talk randomly selected 12 freshmen for brief interviews as a way of "giving form and substance to the Class of 1994."
We printed their pictures, and we asked them two questions: what they expected their major to be and what they thought they would be doing 10 years later.
Eleven of the 12 are still at MIT. We contacted them and received responses from ten. This time, we asked them six questions:
1) What is your major? Has it changed from when you were a freshman?
2) Do you expect to receive your degree this year?
3) What are your plans after graduation?
4) What do you think you will be doing 10 years from now? Has this changed from four years ago? Why?
5) What advice about MIT would you give to the Class of 1998?
6) Any other thoughts or observations after four years at MIT?
Here are their e-mail, telephone and written responses, sometimes slightly edited, and their photos from 1990 and now. The boldface paragraph at the beginning of each response is the original 1990 entry.
Mary Beth Rhodes, 19, Santa Barbara, CA; chemical engineering. "I'll be perpetually in school. I'll be learning."
1 and 2. I am graduating this year as a chemistry and music joint major.
3. I am going to medical school in California next year and I think my statement about "perpetually learning" has definitely proved to be true, yet the learning certainly isn't as confined to academia as I might have thought it was as a freshman.
4. I have been involved with music since the age of 7, when I began studying the violin. I left the New England Conservatory to come to MIT with the intent of getting as far away from music as possible, yet I clearly had underestimated the vitality of the arts at MIT. Through the MIT Chamber Music Society and an advanced music performance scholarship, I have been afforded the opportunity of being coached by some of Boston's greatest musicians each semester and have been able to study under two great violinists in the Boston area. John Harbison, one of the world's preeminent composers and recent winner of the Killian Award, is an amazing musical presence at MIT, and I've been fortunate to both be coached by him and to study composition with him. As far as my majors complementing each other, they only do so in that I've been able to see art in science and science in art. To not see how one complements the other can be very limiting, both professionally and on a larger scale.
5. I guess the only advice I would give the class of 1998 would be to not get trapped into doing things solely for yourself. Help others and your life here and beyond MIT will have much more meaning.
Coleen M. Kaiser, 18, Barneveld, WI; mechanical engineering. "I don't have a clue. I'd like to wing it, I guess."
1. I majored in mechanical engineering, which was what I intended to do when I was a freshman.
2. I'm planning on finishing my degree this term.
3. I will be working in Boston for Robertson Stephens, a San Francisco-based investment bank.
4. I'm still not really sure. I'll probably move back to Wisconsin in a few years and go back to school. I still can't plan that far ahead.
5. Get involved in something while you are here, whether it's sports, your living group, a Greek organization or anything, for this is where you will meet your best friends. Because it will be a sad day 20 years from now when you can't remember anything about your college years except that you took a lot of classes.
6. At MIT, you can have the best and the worst thing that has ever happened to you, all within the same day.
Jackie C. Chung, 18, Arcadia, CA; biological sciences. "I want to be a pediatrician. in some clinic, or on my own."
2. Yes. Graduating on time: May, 1994!
3. Plans for summer: relax, travel (Taiwan, Hong Kong, maybe China). After summer: go to medical school.
4. Same as what I said before: I still want to be a pediatrician. Well, for sure I am going to be a doctor, since I am going to medical school next year. I still want to be a pediatrician, since my experiences volunteering in the pediatrics deptartment at Cambridge Hospital confirmed that decision. And I still might work in a hospital, but actually, I most likely would work jointly with a couple of other doctors in a smaller practice unit.
5. Enjoy your four years of college. Budget the time well. Get your priorities straight. Don't slack off, because hard work does pay off. And most importantly: study hard, play hard!
6. My life at MIT has certainly been enriching. I learned a lot, more than I have time for. These four years have been very intense in terms of the work load and amount of studying we have to do. I am glad to graduate from MIT and get out of here. I really don't like the guilty feeling I have every time I go out; I always feel as if I should be studying instead of partying. Also, it seems as if in those four years, I have always been playing catch-up and cramming for my classes. Maybe I should have sacrificed more of my socializing time for studying. But, oh well, it's too late now. But overall, I am glad I came to MIT. Although I am glad to get out of MIT, I sure am going to miss Boston.
Kwatsi L. Alibaruho, 18, Atlanta, GA; cybernetics. "I'll be a guitarist in a heavy metal band. I had a band called Pink Yak. [An MIT degree] is something nice to fall back on if you don't get a record deal."
1. My major is avionics. I changed from computer science to avionics my junior year.
2. I will receive my degree in February of next year. I have only one term left. Changing [my major] cost me some time but not as much as it could have.
3. After graduation, I plan to do one of two things: (a) Work for a few months and then go to business school in fall 1995, or (b) Work for a few years, get married, pay off loans, get a life again, and then go to business school. All of this will happen if I don't get accepted to business school for fall 1995.
4. I suspect that I will have started my own business, or I will be working in an upper-middle management position for an aerospace company. That's my best guess. I don't play guitar anymore. MIT has successfully driven most of my dreams away. All I can do now is try to get some sleep and make sure I have the most successful engineering/management career possible. I've sacrificed a lot to try to attain my MIT degree. If I don't make something out of it, I'll feel like I've wasted my time and what used to be my life. When you're at MIT, you often feel like cosmic forces are conspiring against you. I figure being successful will be my ultimate revenge.
5. What advice about MIT would I give to the class of 1998? The first thing I would tell them is that there is a world of difference between freshman and sophmore year. Don't be deceived by the false sense of security freshman classes and freshman attitudes give you. Starting sophmore year, you're in it up to your neck. Second, think very, very carefully about what you really want to do with your education. MIT gives freshmen a pitifully short amount of time to pick a major, and an improper choice can make classes much more difficult. Knowing where you want to go after MIT makes it much easier to get through MIT. My final word of advice, and I think this is the most important: Don't kid yourself. MIT is hell. As long as you remember that, there won't be any unresolvable problems.
6. Any thoughts after 4 years of MIT? Well, after 4 years at MIT, I think I'm ready to take a break.
Carlos I. Duran, 17, Barrington, RI; biology and bio-mechanics. "I hope I'll be working at whatever I've studied for the past eight years."
1. My major is mechanical engineering, Course 2A, which prepares me for medical school, and I have a minor in anthropology. When I was a freshman, I was interested in biomechanics and a professor encouraged me to take the program where I took classes in chemistry, electrical engineering and computer science, and biology. I really enjoyed my humanities classes. I think course 6.022 is the best premed class. I was considering medicine, and my UROP last summer really helped me decide to pursue it.
2. Yes. I just finished my thesis last week. It was a great experience and an extension of my UROP project, which was in a food mechanics lab.
3. This summer I'm going to volunteer at an orthopedics lab in a Rhode Island hospital. Next fall I hope to work in orthopedics at Beth Israel. I'm applying to medical school and it takes a while, so I'm looking for a job for the fall in the medical field where I can use my engineering degree.
4. I hope to be a doctor, maybe with a specialty in orthopedics. After medical school, I'm interested in going to South America to work in the villages for some charitable world organization.
5. I put this in my Senior Survey: if you are prepared to meet the challenge, then this is the place to come to. It may seem that for some people it comes easy, but putting out the effort is what counts. You have to ask yourself if you want to accept the challenge, be disciplined and put in the work. If you always put out your best, you'll never feel unsatisfied.
6. There are too many emotions. I'm relieved and really happy. I've grown a lot. I was always attracted to the opportunities. It's easy here. People are waiting to reach out to you. Opportunities lie here that are unavailable at other places. Sometimes I think there could be more communication between teachers and students, especially in the large classes. I got to know a few professors, but in some classes I never met them. In some ways I have to blame myself for not going to them to talk. I read an article about MIT that said there are two kinds of students at MIT. The first kind sticks to their group, maybe they live in an independent living group and do one sport. The other people, who are the minority, think a social life is important. They get involved in activities. They make the social life at MIT. I appreciate that; I wish I was more involved in activities. I was really committed to my ILG and I was an athlete, but all it takes is to make the extra effort. I'm very happy I came to MIT. It's been a challenge to open yourself to different fields and gain a variety of knowledge. I would do it again.
Vikrant V. (call me Vic) Anand, 16, Alexandria, VA; electrical engineering and computer science. "I'd like to start my own company and do entrepreneurial work, probably defense contracting."
1. I am majoring in mechanical engineering. I was originally majoring in electrical engineering, but I switched after the first semester of my junior year.
2. I will not be graduating with the class of '94. I will graduate one year late, with the class of '95.
3. After graduation, I plan to either get a job or go to graduate school. I will apply to both and then choose the most appealing offer from those I receive.
4. I have no clue as to what I will be doing 10 years from now. Defense contracting is definitely not something which I am still interested in, especially considering the financial cutbacks being made by the Department of Defense. I would like to own my own company, but I have no idea what that company will do.
5. Advice to the Class of 1998: Enjoy your summer. Life only gets harder from here.
Adam B. Feder, 18, Fort Collins, CO; electrical engineering and computer science. "Hopefully, I'll be running my own company, writing software, doing research, something like that."
1. I was planning on studying computer science and I have. I'm 6A [electrical engineering and computer science intern program] with Hewlett-Packard.
2. No. I'll be working at HP Labs in Bristol, England this summer and fall, returning here next spring and graduating with my master's in May 1995.
3. I want to get out of here! I think I will go work in California after I graduate, and I'm still looking forward to starting a software company with my uncle.
4. I have learned that I prefer research to product development, but I would still like to have my own company so that I could direct what we'd be working on.
5. Spend a lot of time in Boston. Go on road trips. Get a UROP and put some effort into it. Don't stress about grades, just be sure to learn and get experience.
6. It's not four years just at MIT. It's also four years in one of the cities of the world-take advantage of that.
Thane B. Gauthier, 18, Opelousas, LA; computer science or materials science. "I'll be doing research, probably for AT&T, because I have an AT&T scholarship."
1. I'll be graduating with a degree in materials science and engineering. I chose Course 3 because I felt it would give me a good general background, just in case I decided I liked something else better.
2. Yes, I'll be finishing.
3. I'll be attending Stanford University for its MS program in materials science.
4. Yes, this has changed drastically. Ten years from now, I hope to be running a business in collaboration with several friends that I've met while I've been here. I plan to go to business school in the near future. MIT has taught me that research is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to be involved in the fundamental decision-making of a company, hopefully my own. I don't think that I have the personality or desire to do research.
5. Lead a balanced life here. Academics is important and should be your primary emphasis, but there is also a great opportunity to grow as a person. The friendships that I have made here are more important than anything that I've learned in a textbook. Learn to be social, learn to utilize all the resources that are available here. you won't have them forever.
Megan C. Jasek, 18, Hinsdale, IL, computer science. "I'll be working. I hope to be leading something. I'll probably be married."
1. I am a computer science major. I was undecided when I was a freshman, so I have finally made up my mind.
2. I will finish my undergraduate studies this year. I will not get my bachelor's degree until June 1995, for I am in the 6-A [electrical engineering and computer science intern] program. In June 1995 I will receive both my master's and bachelor's degrees in computer science.
3. I will be continuing to study next year. I will be starting my thesis work at my sponsoring company, Delco Electronics in Kokomo, IN. I don't know what I will do after that. I think that I might get my PhD.
4. I will probably. be married. However, I am still unclear about what else I will be doing. I have recently been thinking about getting my PhD and becoming a professor and living in the west. I have further developed my leadership skills through my four-year experience on the MIT crew team and I hope to be using them to advance my career.
5. There are two things that one has to learn when she is in college: a) what you like and b) what you are good at. Unfortunately, I have only dipped my toe into both of these pools.
6. This place is intense. I love it here. I would like to stay forever, but people tell me I will eat those words.
Enrique A. Morales, 17, San Juan, PR; aeronautics and astronautics. "I'll be flying a plane. I want to be an airline pilot."
1. My major is still Course 16 [aeronautics and astronautics].
2. Yep! I'm leaving. My whole family and some friends are coming for the commencement ceremony.
3. I'm planning to drive down to Daytona Beach [FL] with some friends and find a house, because I'll be studying at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. I'll be doing my master's degree in aerodynamics and at the same time getting (or attempting to get) my commercial pilot's license.
4. Most definitely. I think I'll be flying a plane for a major airline, preferably trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific.
5. You'll have to excuse my lack of originality, but Mark Twain said about a century ago: "Never let university interfere with your education." These words are so true today, and they always will be. My advice would be to follow this faithfully. Have fun, but most of all, organization is the key. Look at every day as if it was the last one, not to depress you but to make you enjoy each and every one of them fully. and don't think how slowly the days are going by; organize yourself and be optimistic, and four years will be a breeze. You will manage good grades while having the experience of a lifetime. Like the T-shirt says, "College is a party with a $100,000 cover charge."
A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 34).