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What’s tradition (at MIT)?


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A peek into MIT HASS lessons via a pattern essay written for an anthropology class

The next was written as a response to the task “What’s tradition?” from 21A.504 (Cultures of Computing). My buddy is taking the category, and I assumed the immediate was so curiously broad. As an alumnus with an excessive amount of free time, I made a decision to look at MIT and a few of its cultures on this brief essay.

The phrase “tradition,” mixed with a classroom setting, usually brings to thoughts summary ideas of fabric and immaterial symbols, the event of societies, and the sector of linguistics. Whereas all the above has been integral to the event of understanding our historical past and our civilizations, “tradition” for me ties to the tradition conflict of rising up as an Americanized little one of a Chinese language immigrant. From the meals, language, and holidays to the superstitions, expectations, and biases, I’ve spent my complete life observing variations between Japanese and Western tradition. Within the current day, “tradition” is utilized in many diverging contexts and on various scales. Narrowing the main target to solely MIT’s campus, “cultures” can be utilized to group comparable people collectively or outline a piece or residing atmosphere. 

At MIT, practically everyone seems to be peripherally linked to Course 6. My introductory enjoyable truth is often that I by no means even took 6.0001, when practically everybody I do know has, no matter their course. With the popularity of the division’s analysis, school, and alumni, why wouldn’t anybody soar on the probability to review pc science right here? Course 6 tradition is most strongly related to “promoting out”: prioritizing monetary acquire over pursuing a profession pushed by ardour. This assumption blurs the nuances of every scholar’s monetary and cultural scenario, as most generalizations do. Different parts of Course 6 tradition embrace coming to phrases with 42 factors being the A cutoff, promoting your soul to HackMIT, and spending hours debugging a lab or LeetCoding. This definition of tradition combines the present struggling of Course 6 college students with their anticipated future success and is similar to the extra common “tech bro” tradition. 

Outdoors of teachers, one cornerstone of the MIT expertise is the UROP expertise. Having been in a lab that built-in many new graduate college students and postdocs over the previous few years, I heard quite a lot of questions and discussions about “lab tradition.” I used to be fortunate to be in a lab the place it held a optimistic connotation: we congregated (pre-pandemic) for enjoyable actions exterior of the lab, our PI was an incredible chief and buddy, and so they even let me make a meme channel within the lab Slack. I’ve additionally heard about lab cultures that aren’t so rosy, which featured immense strain to supply outcomes, absent PIs, and cutthroat reasonably than collaborative lab members. On this case, the tradition is much less of a set definition of what the lab is and extra of a common impression of the way it feels to be a part of that group. It’s troublesome to explain and must be skilled firsthand.

Lastly, dorms are one of many first locations the place we as college students be part of a group and infrequently play a big half in our expertise of MIT typically. Every dorm is fiercely happy with its tradition, down to every particular person corridor, wing, flooring, or home. I’ll all the time inform folks New Home and Desmond are the very best dorm and home to select. Dorm tradition principally revolves round how shut persons are in a residing group, whether or not the lounge boasts quiet finding out, clamorous shouts over Smash, or group excursions into Boston. With the renovation of Burton-Conner and the opening of New Vassar — particularly after a pandemic that prevented us from cultivating relationships with the underclassmen — anxiousness over the demise of sure dorm cultures is at an all-time excessive. Generally, although, there isn’t any analysis of “good” or “unhealthy” dorm cultures, solely whether or not an individual matches with the tradition of the dorm. 

We see many threads between these three makes use of of “tradition,” like widespread behaviors, mindsets, and experiences. Nevertheless, these traits have generally been used to shortly stereotype those that belong or could seem to belong to a sure group of individuals. It appears to be one other reiteration of our human tendency to categorize what we see on the planet, for higher or for worse.

This text is a part of the column Class Highlight, which is able to focus on or advocate attention-grabbing, but not popularly identified, lessons at MIT. College students or professors who hope to submit additional entries or lessons for consideration to this column could e-mail [email protected].


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