Tag Archives: mit

Quora: What is it like to be a humanities major at MIT?

Most MIT humanities majors have the humanities major as their secondary degree. If you’re only interested in humanities, I don’t know why you’d go to MIT, and neither will the other students. Other people will probably think you’re not hardcore enough to hack it in a “real” major, and if you are truly interested in only a humanities field then the MIT education is a suboptimal way of achieving expertise in that field because you’ll be spending a lot of time on hard math and science classes that wouldn’t really contribute to your goal. I also question the value of a degree in writing, especially a BS which is what I got (MIT only gives BS’s). You need degrees for hard sciences to pursue many of the goals involved in those fields but MIT people who get degrees in the humanities, unless they’re going into academia, basically do it just because they can. An MIT Bachelors of Science in Writing is meaningless and “ironic” on its own and doesn’t qualify me for anything.

After attending my first session of an MIT writing class, I seriously considered transferring. After the students apathetically struggled to interpret the most basic reading, I was concerned half my brain would starve to death in such an environment and seriously considered leaving. Then I emailed Alan Lightman, a physicist and writing professor, who told me that science was for young people whereas writing often improved with age, so why not study both if I liked both? He asked to read my work, was really supportive, and recommended I avoid the intro classes. For discussion driven humanities classes, the interest and talent of the other students are vital to having a good class experience, and I found this was only true in classes such as small workshops that most students wouldn’t take to simply fulfill a HASS requirement.

After my initial doubt, studying writing at MIT was awesome.
1) As the only writing major of my year, I got lots of attention. I won grants and writing prizes because there wasn’t that much competition. All the professors opened their doors to me and were eager to read my stuff and help me write better.
2) Great faculty. MIT has a lot of money for a world class faculty, even in the humanities departments. Junot Diaz was my main writing teacher, and he ended up winning a Pulitzer.
3) In comparison to the class I took at Harvard, MIT students are in general less well-rounded and well-read, so the discussions will take a pretty different path at MIT than at Harvard. Although Harvard kids know more about literature etc (so I guess are better educated in these areas), I think MIT kids are more direct in their feedback.

What is it like to be a humanities/social science major at MIT?