MIT or GaTech?.....

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I realize that an answer to this question will be biased, but that's
precisely why I'm asking it.

Much to my surprise, I got into the grad program in MechE. Definitely
not at the top of the applicant pool, but not at the bottom
either(hopefully...). So, should I go to MIT just because its MIT?
...allegedly the best engineering school in the nation. I feel like I
need to go, just to prove that I can(to myself I guess...).

You seem like you have a pretty good sense for the benefits of going
to MIT. What does going to MIT get you vs. going to GaTech?

The other issue is research. I've got an assistantship offer at
GaTech, and I think that I will have more leverage in what research I
end up working on. At MIT I have no idea. And heres the other
difficult thing: I have to turn down GaTech before I hear about
assistantship offers at MIT(tech wants to know by april 15, and MIT
gives out assistantships in the summer). Its a total jump into the
unknown. I could be one of the few that doesnt get an RA, or I could
only get offers to work on research that I dont have a strong interest
in(five years doing something that isn't what I want to do seems like
a bad idea).

So, do I put on my game face and just hope for the best outcome at the
best school, or do I go for the known value and still have a
successful career, but not an MIT degree?

-- Angelo Caruso, March 23, 2004


Congratulations on getting into MIT grad school. When the economy is this bad that is quite an achievement.

MIT MechE has plenty of interesting people and projects and a fair amount of research funding. You're not going to starve though you might have to TA a bit if there is a temporary loss of a grant.

A grad school decision shouldn't be based on overall school prestige but rather the specific people with whom you think you might be working.

Here's something I wrote for my students who ask me for grad school recommendations...

"Ideally you want to pick a research group rather than a university. Suppose that you were stuck in the basement of Building 36 for 6 years with a bunch of people that you didn't like, working on a problem that bored you and struck you as unimportant. Would the fact that you were at MIT make that life more appealing? Would you even be aware of the fact that you were on the MIT campus? Even though MIT has many wonderful people and problems and a great reputation, none of that is helping you in any way during an unlucky grad school experience. Think back to the very worst professor that you had during your years at MIT. Imagine spending 6 years in a small room with him or her and having that person totally control your intellectual life. Sound appealing? Well, that's MIT grad school for at least a handful of people. Wouldn't you rather be at University of Massachusetts working for someone more interesting and supportive?"

Come up to Boston and arrange a meeting with Alex Slocum, one of the wild men of MIT Course 2 and you'll probably be sold.

Based on my favorable experiences with MIT MechE profs I would admit to a bias in favor of MIT. That said, if you find someone with whom you'd really enjoy working for 4-6 years at GaTech I don't think you'd be making a mistake going to work with him or her.

-- Philip Greenspun, March 25, 2004

Phil, thanks for fielding my question.

Unfortunately I wont know who I'm going to be working with at MIT before I have to turn down GaTech(MIT gives out the bulk of their RAs in the summer). I have a good idea of who I'd be working with at GaTech right now. So MIT is still a big jump into the unknown.

Lets just assume that MIT is the place I'm going to go(I jump back and forth in my decision daily). Which professors have you had good experiences with? Anyone to look out for?

At this point, I think that it might be worth it to go to MIT for at least a masters. If I hate it for whatever reason, a masters from MIT will probably let me go anywhere else that I want to for a PhD.

Basic point, if I go to MIT it will be for the prestige first and research second, because I just wont know what I'm going to be working on. Kind of a dilemma, huh?

Again thanks for your help.

-- Angelo Caruso, March 25, 2004