Pappalardo Lab

Appreciate, learn from, but don’t rely on Pappalardo Lab.

Over your four years in Course 2 you’ll come to love Pappalardo. Out of those years, you’ll likely clock a cumulative total of about one year’s worth of time in Pappalardo alone, and probably another 0.5 to 1 years in your UROP lab or another machine shop (roughly calculated assuming students take 2.007 + 2.009).

Sophomore year it’ll be the reason you wake up early. Senior year it’ll be the last thing you remember when you wake up, and the first place you need to be each morning (and most hours of the day).

And if you buddy up with the shop guys (who are pretty pro), ask questions if you don’t know how to build whatever you’re visualizing, and take the time to try new machines, then you’ll find that with Pappalardo’s tools you can make almost anything.

I’m now a second semester senior and the reality is setting in that in a matter of 5 months I will no longer have access to a lathe, CNC mill, drill press, expert welder, band saw, laser cutter, water jet, etc. whenever I want it.

Actually, it’s even worse than that. It’s not just that I won’t have access whenever I want anymore, but that I feel I could’ve done SO much more with them but now my time is running out AND I’ve got things that I desperately want to build which require such tools.

I’ve got a serious case of youdontknowwhatyouvegotuntilitsgone-eosis.

In the US you can go to membership machine shops, use Misumi and McMaster, and even save up and build a personal workshop in your garage… but it’s not the same as Pappalardo. It won’t be as nice, the equipment will be expensive and maintenance will be a pain, and you can’t buy the shop guys. Plus membership machine shops like the MIT Hobby Shop are actually pretty rare, and if you take a job that requires you to design machinable components then you still won’t necessarily have a machine shop to work with, and you’ll instead be designing at a computer as if you needed to build.

The original point of this post was that you should really take full advantage of Pappalardo lab while at MIT but you’ve got to learn not to depend on it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m involved in starting a company in India. So right now I’m spending my IAP in India, trying to figure out how to build a few new machines to increase production and just make things work. I came up with the designs for the machines at the end of fall semester, with the intention of building everything in country. But then I got here and found that lathe access is really hard to get – Especially with a small one-off part. Small parts will never get priority in a shop and you’ll be hard pressed to find a guy who just has an idle lathe sitting around that’s not in use. The next best thing will be to find a carpenter or machinist who can do the part for you… you’ll need contacts, and even that one magical contact will have a hard time giving your part priority.

You have to look at problems in a new light. How to design anything such that it can be built in [insert your situation here, e.g. a different country], such that the parts can be sourced locally, and how to plan schedules given that the part you could make in Pappalardo after spending 2 minutes on a lathe or CNC, was quoted to take 2 weeks (quoted, but in reality expect this to mean 4 to 6 weeks).

Beyond this, design things well enough that someone else can build them, because chances are you’re not going to be doing all the handiwork yourself no matter what job function you’re in. You’ll need to be able to think about any machining issues they might run into, and be able to optimize your design before you send it to be built/prototyped.

While at MIT, Pappalardo makes every MechE feel like a kid in a candy store. But when you leave you’ll need to learn how to translate all of your machining and theoretical skills into one ability: problem solving. You’ll need to be able to visualize the machining process and make due with the tools you’ve got without necessarily having all resources at your fingertips.

A few ways to take full advantage of Pappalardo while at MIT:

  1. Get in early, the shop opens at 8 and you’ll avoid waiting for tools and get full attention of the shop guys
  2. Always have a personal project going on. If you’re a tinkerer or someone who just likes to build new machines, take advantage of the fact that you’ve got the tools. Everyone should always have a side project theyre working on, but know that if that project requires machining then you might be able to get it done in Pappalardo. Just go in early, make sure it’s not at one of the busiest times of the year (last month of the semester), talk to one of the shop guys and see what you can do.
  3. Know that you can also use the Hobby Shop, Central Machine Shop, or your UROP lab.
  4. Know that everyone who is a part of 2.007, 2.670, 2.009, and the lab in general is a BOSS. They literally are some of the best teachers at MIT, and are pretty overqualified. But they do it because they love it, and it shows. So try to absorb some of that brilliance and be open to learning, even if you’re on a deadline.
  5. Keep a good lab book to keep track of your work and sketches. (ooh, sketches. always sketch any part you need to make before going to machines.)
  6. Which reminds me, try to do as much of the calculating, computer work, coding, CADing, sketching, etc BEFORE going to lab. Maximize your access to machines by doing all the other work the night before while the lab is closed.


Find a mentor or a role model who is another student

At the end of this summer, I realized I had a mentor.  I was taken back a bit.  I told her immediately because we happened to be in the car together. I typically do a lot of thinking when traveling especially when long car rides are involved. I explained to her that she had always made me want to be a better mechanical engineering student and that I really saw myself as “growing up” to be like her. She was smart, knew her stuff, cared about the quality of her work but also cared about the younger generation of engineers. And it hit me that those qualities define her as a role model for me. I include the term “mentor” because she always had great advice for me. So, role model + advice = mentor because there’s this give and take aspect. I think the realization came because she was just finishing her graduate degree and leaving for an exciting new job, but I also think the realization came because I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection since my junior year ended. Call it senior-brain or what have you, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

With some more time to think, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve had several valuable mentors / role models during my time here. Individuals who shaped my understanding of what it meant to work hard and to be successful. Individuals that I’ve kept in touch with.

There’s a multitude of reasons why MIT will always be an institution that offers its students a world-class education. MIT attracts hard-working and brilliant individuals, young and old.  And the network of “MIT people” will always be a formidable network. A powerhouse of intellectual prowess if you will.  The classes, the hands-on work  and the research are all cornerstones of an MIT education but the network you create for yourself (of your peers, of older students, of researchers, of instructors, of professors)  is just as much a cornerstone.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and there’s a lot of positive people in my life that I am thankful for. I am  especially thankful for my role models and mentors. Emily Obert, Matthew Gildner, and Stephanie Whalen – you’ve shaped my MIT experience in a fundamental way. There are so many other people who’ve shaped my time here but I can’t be more thankful to the three of you for all of the advice you’ve given me and your patience when the list of questions can often seem endless.

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As this semester closes, I recommend that you reflect on your time here at MIT. Maybe you’ve had mentors or role models that you didn’t realize were your mentors or role models! Give it some thought over the break or while you’re preparing for finals. It’s a great feeling to realize you have someone to look up to. I also think this would be a great opportunity to drop them a note (via email or snail mail) and thank them for fulfilling this role in your life.

Scholarship Search

Looking for outside scholarships is no easy task but it’s well worth the effort. I’m always on the look-out for money to put towards my tuition. Outside scholarships and loans are something I’ve applied to every year at MIT.

In my experience, November is the best time to start looking for scholarships – some scholarship deadlines are in December/January/February but most deadlines are in April/March. It’s important to start early so that you don’t miss any opportunities.

In addition to finding money to put towards school or gaining recognition from your hard work in college, going through the application process is also a great way to …

  • create a record of your achievements and projects at MIT
  • start thinking about your goals in school and outside of school
  • solidify your ties to a professional society
  • get your name out there
  • get some practice in for the job/graduate school application process

I consider there to be five stages to the application process, which I’ve outlined below.

Stage I: Research. During this stage, you’re focused on identifying potential scholarships, making a table of requirements for each scholarship, and outlining the deadlines. Remember that the deadlines for your application are important but the deadlines for any recommendation letters is even more important. You’ll need to contact recommenders with plenty of advanced notice. Identify a core group of six or seven scholarships that you’ll be applying for. Any more than this may be overwhelming. Feel free to also apply to one or two scholarships, it’s completely up to you.

See section below “Hints & Tips for Findings Scholarships” for help.

Stage II: Put together an activities matrix/expanded resume. You can use your job-searching resume as a basis but this is a document you’ll reference when filling out different applications so you’ll want to make it more comprehensive than the typical resume. You should also pass your activities matrix/expanded resume along to any recommenders so that have a good picture of you as a student and can include details from this document in their recommendation letters. See Stage IV for more information on recommendation letters.

Stage III: Fill out the application and start a draft of any required essays. Get the easy stuff out of the way as soon as possible and get started on those essays. Your recommenders can benefit from seeing your essays so if you get a draft written as soon as possible, you can include that draft in the packet of materials you pass along to your recommenders. This should not be a rough draft – this draft should be refined and should have already gone through several revisions. But it does not need to be the final version of the essay you submit with the scholarship packet.

Stage III: Request recommendation letters and transcripts. For your recommenders, you should make it as easy as possible for them to write you a stellar recommendation letter and send it to the appropriate organizations. This means putting together a recommendation packet. The packet can either be physical or electronic but needs to be comprehensive and give the recommenders a clear picture of the deadlines and requirements.

See section below “Suggested Contents of Recommendation Packet” for hints & tips

This is also a good time to request official transcripts from the Registrar. Find out if the scholarships you are applying to require physical or electronic transcripts and make sure that the appropriate transcript reaches your scholarship organization in a timely manner.

Stage IV: Finalize your essays. Edit your essays and ask your advisor to read over them. You can also reach out to the Career Services Center or the Writing Center for some advice. The Centers offer appointments or walk-in hours. Consider also asking friends or family to read over your essays and give you feedback. You are looking to put forth cohesive statements that directly address the prompt put forth by the scholarship organization. Make sure that you show the prompt to anyone who is looking over your essay and giving you feedback.

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The bottom line is that the more time you put into your essays, the better they will be.

Stage V: Submit. Double check all of the information on your application and make sure that you’re submitting the most-up-to-date version of all the documents in your application. Then submit! Some applications are submitted online while others need to be mailed in.

A note on applying to scholarships via snail mail … Make sure you leave enough time for your application to reach the organization if you’re submitting by mail. If there are extraneous circumstances that prevent your application from going out in the mail, let the scholarships organizations know. They can sometimes make exceptions. I have been one of these exceptions before and while I was scared to speak up, I am glad I did so.

Good luck and happy scholarship searching!

- Jackie

Additional Advice

Now that you’ve been introduced to the five stages that I break my scholarship search into, here are some additional hints and tips for the process.

Suggested Contents of Recommendation Letter Packet

The following will make it easy for your recommenders to write and send out your letters. I suggest including all of these items in your recommendation letter packet. The more organized you are, the easier it will be for them to put your letters together.

  • a table or list of different deadlines and the addresses (email or physical) of the scholarship organizations
  • recommendation letter requirements or forms – if a scholarship mentions that the letter should demonstrate certain qualities, list these qualities for your recommender and if a scholarship requires a specific form to be used for the letter, make sure to give your advisor an electronic or physical copy of this form
  • your activities matrix/expanded resume
  • any scholarship-specific essays or personal statements

Hints and Tips for Finding Scholarships

I knew as a high school student that I would need outside scholarships to support myself at MIT and I started researching scholarships and loans as early as my junior year. I’ve found scholarships and loans in the form of  direct scholarships/loans but also in the form of other support such as a laptop for college. Here are some places I’ve looked at during these five years of scholarship searching

  • Professional societies such as ASME* (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), SWE (Society of Women Engineers), MTS (Marine Technology Society), SNAME (Society Naval Architects & Marine Engineers). You typically have to be a student member of these societies to apply for their scholarships – check to see if they have this requirement and if there is a certain number of months you must have been a member to qualify for the scholarship. This usually costs a small amount of money but is well worth it. There are also numerous other benefits to being a student member.
  • Online scholarship databases or search engines. A word of caution: do not pay to join one of these. There are plenty of free services such as FastWeb! which I have personally used and recommend.
  • Other Groups / Societies with scholarship programs (such as the Masonic Foundation, Key Club, Rotary Clubs, Boy or Girl Scouts, etc)
  • Companies with scholarship programs.** This category includes technical companies, such as Toshiba or Shell, as well as large companies that sponsor scholarships as an outreach/community support effort such as McDonalds or Coca cola or Disney.
  • Local scholarships from your home town, county, or state.
  • Companies that your parents or other immediate relatives work at.
  • Military scholarships if you have relatives in the military.

*ASME is the only professional society I have found so far that offers private loans. I have one of these loans and I highly recommend looking into this as another way to support yourself at MIT. My private loan supplements my federal loans, my MIT scholarship and my outside scholarships.

**If you’re wondering to yourself, How do I identify companies with scholarship programs? During my scholarship searches, I’ve sat down and made a list of companies that work in a field similar to the work I’ve been doing at MIT and then I immediately start googling those companies to find out if they offer scholarships to students. It is a long process but it has been rewarding.


Two Documents that Will Save Your Life

Maybe “Two Documents that Will Save Your Life” is a little dramatic. I feel like it is reasonable to say that these two documents will help keep your sanity in check for the remainder of the semester. Or at least somewhat in check. Did I mention that we’re officially one week out? Congratulations guys, we made it this far. Now, it’ll take some time to prepare these two documents but I can confidently say that they will save you a lot of time down the road. Plus, one of these will even encourage you to take advantage of a valuable, under-utilized resource in the department.

The two documents I speak of are …

  • Master List of Assignments
  • Master List of Office Hours

To prepare either, you’ll need the syllabi from all your Fall semester classes and the stellar sites. I like to work with hard copies of the syllabi but that’s just me. You can do what works best for you.

Master List of Assignments: Go through the syllabi / stellar sites and write down the deadline and name of every assignment from each of your classes. Organize these assignments by date and group assignments that have deadlines on the same date. Extra credit: come up with symbols to indicate priority. Example : big exams should have a higher priority than problem sets.

I add these assignments to my Google Calendar but keeping a list helps me to identify  “Hell Weeks” early on. So I keep an electronic and hard copy of this list. Also, be sure to keep this list updated. Some assignments  can come out of no where.

Some people prefer having a physical calendar with these assignments on it but I feel pretty prepared with a  couple hard copies of the master list (one for keeping on my person and one for the wall space above my desk) and my Google Calendar.

Master List of Office Hours: Again, start with the syllabus and stellar site for each of your fall classes. Write down the times and locations of office hour for the professors and ta’s of each of your classes. Make a general M-F calendar sheet and write down the office hours according to times. Since this is hard to explain, I’ve included my Master List of Office Hours for this semester below.

I am a huge Google Calendar nut and most of my life is documented in my Google Calendar. But I don’t like to keep office hours in there because it makes everything quickly get too crowded. But I print out this general calendar sheet with times and locations and stick it to my wall above my desk. This way, I know when I can go to office hours and it makes it a lot easier to just go. Inertia is difficult but once you’re on your way out the door, you’ll get there. Maybe bring some snacks or a coffee with you.

My Master List of Office Hours for the Fall 2013 semester. Note: HASS classes not included. But 21W.Darwin and WGS.110 have been great so far.

My Master List of Office Hours for the Fall 2013 semester. Note: HASS classes not included. But 21W.Darwin and WGS.110 have been great so far.


Sure, preparing these can eat up some time. But I would argue that you will save time throughout the semester and you won’t be as likely to forget an assignment. This is especially crucial for assignment-heavy classes such as 2.671.

Also, find a calendar software that you like. I highly recommend Google Calendar because it is so mobile and colorful but I have friends who swear by their Outlook Calendars or similar OpenSource programs.

Deciding between 2.009 and 2.750 – the 2.750 perspective

I know that there are a lot of strong opinions out there about 2.009 and there are equally strong opinions about 2.750. Let me just provide my 2.750 perspective as you get ready for Reg Day.

I had an absolutely fantastic experience with 2.750. I loved the class. Of all the course 2 classes that I took, it was probably my favorite. And why not? It was the last project class that I took during my last semester at MIT (I graduated a semester early), and I got a lot of hands-on experience. I got a lot of experience working on a real product with real-life requirements and constraints that well, often can’t be changed too much. You can’t really change the fact that the human trachea is often narrow in small people, or that because it is composed of a series of collagen rings, that natural diameter is pretty much the diameter that you’ll have to work with. And yet, we still have a situation where the need for better technology clearly exists. The question is, how are we as engineers going to tackle that situation and find a solution that still falls within the constraints?

I think in order to really get a lot out of 2.750, you have to go in with a certain set of expectations and attitudes. You have to expect to be stretched. Professor Slocum is a great teacher, and he will teach you material that can help you become a better engineer who knows how to approach problem solving and really tackle tough problems. But you have to be willing to put in the work.  How much you get out of something is probably related to how much you put into it. Watching other students in the class, that is exactly what I saw. People who put in long hours and lots of effort typically got more out of the class, and they also enjoyed it more. Yes, it’s possible that they enjoyed it more because they were interested in the material to begin with, and that brings me to my next point.

You really need to be interested in the content. Personally, I love biology and all things medicine-related. So for me, working on a medical device was a great experience. That’s not to say that you need to love biology and medicine. You could be really passionate about precision machinery. You could also be really passionate about materials science, or electronics, or robotics but the whole point is that you need to engage to enjoy this class.

I’ll agree that just because you enjoy the class doesn’t mean that you won’t spend all of your time on it. 2.009 students live and breathe 2.009. The same is true for 2.750. My floormates saw very little of me for much of the semester. But it’s true of any serious project class. If you want a good product, you need to invest a whole lot of time.

Each team has weekly meetings with our mentors. In order to have those weekly meetings, you need to prepare. Someone may need to prepare a meeting agenda to make sure that you stay on course and cover everything you need to discuss. There are milestones pretty much every week. Organization is key. Someone needs to keep tabs on your progress, making sure that there’s enough of a margin in case there’s a problem with the prototype, or even worse, the design. There are going to be days when you leave your dorm at 11:30 PM and run to lab because some prototyping needs to get done, and it’s just not working with the tools that you have spread out all over your room floor. This is, in my opinion, all great experience. Something that you’ll probably really appreciate once Senior fall is over.

So yes, the hours may be bad. But it’s bad for both 2.009 and 2.750. (Please don’t take a really hard class simultaneously.) However, the positives are that you get good at simplifying complex problems, you learn how to take a systematic approach to problem solving, you get really good experience designing medical devices, and who knows, you may even want to switch your career path as a result. So, if I can just give you one more piece of advice, I’d say make an informed decision. Know what you’re getting into. And after that, just go for it and give it your best effort! It’s worth it.

Feel free to ask if you have specific questions.

Looking for a Job? Resume Tips

So, it’s September 1st. Which means that school is starting up, and Fall Career Fair is in less than a month. Back in mid-August, Jacqueline posted a really awesome post about updating your resume. Here, I’d like to add a few additional resume tips.

  • Make sure the information on your resume is current. What I mean by this is, if you’re a rising senior, make sure you’re not over-emphasizing activities from high school. We all probably have a lot of information that we could include from 3+ years ago, but unless it’s relevant and/or really unique, try to leave it off. For example, if you have a national award (only given to a small group of people) or an international award, feel free to include that in your Honors/Awards section. If you want to mention that you tutored middle school students your freshman year of high school (and have not continued a similar activity since then) it should probably stay off of your resume. You have a lot of cool experience at MIT, particularly as course 2/2A students. Let the recruiters see who you are today and what you have to offer for their company.
  • Format, format, format. Remember that when you submit your resume, you know exactly what’s on there, but a recruiter for a company is going to have to be able to take a 10-20 second look at it and see if anything stands out to him. If your resume consists of a page (or even worse, longer than a page) of solid text that has no clear organization, he’s probably going to miss something. Use headers, use bold text, and use blank space to your advantage. If there’s something you particularly want to emphasize, make it easy to spot.
  • Proofread. Edit. Repeat. I have seen my fair share of resumes. Some of them really look professional. They are succinct, organized, and look nice. The time that you spend on a resume may seem like a waste of time because well, those psets aren’t getting done! In reality, your resume along with your physical appearance on Career Fair Day are the two things that will affect a recruiter’s first impression of you. A first impression that may make a big difference when there are hundreds of students milling about Johnson. You don’t want to have a typo or grammatical errors.
  • If you need to cut information, cut it. The resume must first and foremost present an accurate picture of your skills and experience, and sometimes the project experience for a HASS class from Freshman year isn’t going to make the cut, especially if you need to pick between that and highlighting your 2.007 experience. Don’t delete the information; save it in a separate file. You never know when you’ll want to pull it out. You might just end up talking about it in an interview.
  • Most importantly, as Jacqueline said, it’s time to start now. It’s time to start now because you don’t want to be worrying about editing your resume when you have to finish 3 psets, a lab report, and study for a test the week of Career Fair. It’s time to start now because you might want to consider using slightly nicer paper than what we normally use for assignments. And finally, why make life harder for yourself? The job search process is a drawn-out process. It can’t be condensed into one night. Do yourself a favor and spend an hour a day on prepping for job-related things and you should be well-prepared by September 20th. (Unless you’re interested in consulting, in which case, you may need to be willing to invest slightly more time. More to follow on that.)

FAQ from the academic expo

Hey guys,

So me and Katie Spies ’14 were recently at the academic expo on Tuesday, and I thought I’d compile a list of some of the most frequently asked questions that a lot of freshmen were curious about.  These are just my thoughts on the questions, and I’d love to hear what other people have to say!

1. What kind of jobs are available for mechanical engineers?

Seriously, whatever industry you can think of, chances are they’ll be on the look out for a mechanical engineer.  The great thing about the broadness of course 2 is that it opens up a wealth of opportunities after graduation.  Aerospace, automotive, medical devices, electronics, defense, are just a few of the many sectors that employ mechanical engineers.

2. What should I be doing freshman year to prepare for course 2?

I don’t think it’s necessary to do a whole lot freshman year in preparation for declaring course 2.  There’s plenty of time to fit in all the requirements without having to take course 2 classes freshman year, and your choice of GIRs (which bio, which chemistry, etc) really don’t matter a whole lot in terms of relevance to course 2.  If you have space in the spring, 2.00B or 2.001 (or their 2A equivalents) are both good classes to take.

3. How feasible do you think it would be to do course 2 and also be premed?

I’ve heard of people being premed while majoring in 6, 18, and a host of unrelated majors, so it’s certainly doable.  Having said that, having to take premed classes while also majoring in course 2 will definitely bring added pressure due to the extra course load.  Before deciding on this track, I’d really think carefully about what your reasons are for wanting to do both.

4. I’m thinking about 2, but I’m also interested in 16 and 6 and 20 and all these other majors.  What do I do?!?!

There’s plenty of time to figure out what you want to major in, and many of you will end up declaring a completely different major from whatever you’re considering now.  No need to worry now and everything will be okay.

5.Is it hard for freshmen to find a course 2 UROP?

It’s definitely more difficult to find a UROP as a freshman just because you haven’t had time to actually take any course 2 classes/gain course 2 experience yet, but that shouldn’t deter you from looking!  If you really want to find a UROP as a freshman, check the UROP openings site or the course 2 UROPs site for maybe projects that don’t require as much experience, and have some sort of resume/CV written up that you can send along with your note of interest.

Other course 2ers out there, what’re your thoughts?

Edgerton Clubs & Teams


Today is the Activities Midway! The Edgerton Clubs and Teams will be there recruiting. I’ve written about the Edgerton Clubs and Teams before … and I’ll say it again, the Clubs and Teams are a hot bed of hands-on learning experience. If you’re looking to get some design experience or fabrication experience, the Edgerton Clubs and Teams are the best place to start.

The Edgerton Clubs and Teams are: the Electric Vehicle Team, the MIT Motorsports or Formula SAE Team, the MIT Electronic Research Society (MITERS), the Marine Robotics Team, the RoboCup Team, the Rocket Team, the Solar Car or Solar Electric Vehicle Team, and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Team.

The Clubs and Teams are also hosting a Fall Open House at N52 on September 7th, at 3pm. We are welcoming students of all-ages (freshmen and well, everyone else) to come visit our workspace, talk to team members, look at past projects, etc.

If you’re interested in a specific team, you can reach out to the Team Contacts (listed below) and I’m here to answer any general questions you may have.


Edgerton Clubs & Teams


Today is the Activities Midway! The Edgerton Clubs and Teams will be there recruiting. I’ve written about the Edgerton Clubs and Teams before … and I’ll say it again, the Clubs and Teams are a hot bed of hands-on learning experience. If you’re looking to get some design experience or fabrication experience, the Edgerton Clubs and Teams are the best place to start.

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The Edgerton Clubs and Teams are: the Electric Vehicle Team, the MIT Motorsports or Formula SAE Team, the MIT Electronic Research Society (MITERS), the Marine Robotics Team, the RoboCup Team, the Rocket Team, the Solar Car or Solar Electric Vehicle Team, and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Team.

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The Clubs and Teams are also hosting a Fall Open House at N52 on September 7th, at 3pm. We are welcoming students of all-ages (freshmen and well, everyone else) to come visit our workspace, talk to team members, look at past projects, etc.

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If you’re interested in a specific team, you can reach out to the Team Contacts (listed below) and I’m here to answer any general questions you may have.


The Evolution of 2A and Why Now’s the Time for a Change

Brief History of Course 2:

Since the beginning of time (the inception of the institute), Course 2 has been a popular major, and quite arguably the broadest of the engineering degrees. At the academic fair this week, we were instructed that the best answer to the frequent question of “What is Mechanical Engineering?” was “It’s the basis of all other engineering varieties.” Which is surprisingly easy to debate. Given the enormous breadth of MechE, the large student body, and increasingly the lack of distinct barriers in the working world to separate engineers of various backgrounds, students longed for a program with enough flexibility to allow them to specialize in areas outside the curriculum of the traditional program. To quote nehalita on the Unofficial Course 2A Blog, “We came to the realization that the sharp lines [that] separate one major from the other while we’re at college are much fuzzier in the real world.”

In 1934 the new program was born. A few students (literally, <10), signed on initially. To be fair, the degree was not yet accredited. The flexibility allowed students to gain the necessary foundation in MechE, while tailoring their course load to their interests. We’re all at MIT because we’re unique and talented; a universal prescribed curriculum clearly won’t meet everyone’s demands.

In the mid-90s, Professor Tom Sheridan grew the program and pushed for continual improvement.

In 2000, the administration applied for ABET accreditation, and was granted approval. At this time, 2A students weren’t required to take 2.671 or 2.009 and instead could choose a “design thesis.” In the years following, more changes and improvements were made, 2.671 and 2.009 became requirements, and the accreditation status was elevated to “the same footing as a Course 2 degree.”

Today, a Course 2 degree and a Course 2A degree are different in wording, but be assured that they are equal in footing, and equal from the perspective of employers (data has been collected, and employers have been directly surveyed).

Specifically, a Course 2 degree looks like: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering

While a Course 2A degree will read: B.S. in Engineering, as Recommended by the Department of Mechanical Engineering

A study comparing gender, minority enrollment, GPA, and career tracks found that no significant difference between the two courses exist. Contrary to popular (straight Course 2) belief, many students enrolled in 2A had heavier and/or more difficult course loads than students enrolled in 2.

As occurs with all programs at the institute, the faculty meets yearly to discuss curriculum and potential improvements. Engineering is a continuously evolving discipline as new topics and fields emerge, and the department has the students’ best interests in mind.

Why Now’s the Time for a Change:

Why is now the best time for a New 2A? As mentioned, the program introduced in 1934 attracted a very limited number of students. That proportion has grown aggressively ever since, and in 2009, 46% of Course 2 Undergraduates were 2-A, with the following breakdown:


This was a 24% jump in enrollment from the previous year!

Today, the numbers show something interesting. In 2013, the proportion of students enrolled in Course 2A has surpassed the 50% mark, and we now have more 2A’s than straight 2! Now more than ever students are engineering their own degree, and flexible degree programs are in high demand within top-tier schools. See this article with a shout out to 2A:

In 1934 it would have been foolish to introduce a new program AND all new exclusively 2A classes for those 10 students. But now, we have more than half the department in 2A. It only makes sense to cater the core courses to 2A and ensure that the engineering basis encompasses all that MechEs need to know without taking every 2nd tier course (2.002, .004, .006, .008).

Without personal experience with the new core (I’m on the old 2A), I can’t champion it too much… but I’ve spoken with the administration and faculty, and they only make changes to improve. The curriculum definitions are fluid, they’ve (both MechE, HASS and others) changed since I’ve been at MIT and are bound to change again. There are small changes almost every single year, and the best advice I can give you is to adapt, trust that these are improvements and that change equals progress. As a student, you have a voice, use it! (Just don’t tell them I sent you…) The faculty are here to help you, and everyone wants the students to succeed and the program to improve. If a change threatens your ability to complete a requirement, talk to the administration – there are always substitutions and exceptions, and just because they aren’t widely advertised doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

At the end of the day, this is our program. It was designed to allow us to define what we want to study, and I encourage you to take advantage.


For more information on the new 2A:

And as always, the official MIT MechE Department: