Monday, September 27, 2004

Is The Institute becoming a kinder, gentler place ?

Two data points make me wonder whether MIT is moving away a bit from its notoriously hard-edged attitude towards education:

1. The class I'm picking up after dropping graduate biochemistry has its first problem set due Oct 5th, a month after classes started. That's pretty much unheard of. And it's not even a difficult problem set -- in an hour, I've already managed to get about 50% of it done. That also seems unusual for a graduate class. I almost feel disappointed ;-)

2. One of the mandated classes for the Bioengineering PhD students is BE.430 ["Fields, Forces and Flows in Biological Systems"], which basically attempts to cram everything a bioengineer might find relevant about electromagnetism, fluid mechanics and heat and mass transport into a single semester. Given that each of these areas is normally a full course [or more] in its own right, that's obviously a tall order, and I'd heard that it was a pretty rough course. The people taking the class got their first problem set a couple of weeks ago and it basically kicked their asses. Now, I would have guessed that the professor's response to their complaints would have been "Life is hard, wear a helmet" [ie "deal with it"]. However, he apparently responded by telling people that he'd heard the previous problem set was difficult, so he was going to make the next one easy [and actually did so]. Maybe the next problem set is going to be a real bear again, but the mere fact that the professor relented, even a little bit, is surprising to me.

Maybe MIT is becoming a kinder, gentler place, just like Microsoft ;-)


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