Industrial Relations

Because a crushing courseload is not enough, I have committed myself to chair the "industrial engagement" team of SDM's Industrial Relations Committee. Today I finally found out what I have gotten myself into and it seems better-defined than initially feared. The outreach chair figures out ways for companies to partner with SDM. Some companies sponsor students to attend SDM with full salary, which is a pretty maximal level of engagement. But there are plenty of other ways for a company to benefit from a relationship with the program. Here are a few we have identified:
  • Be speaker. SDM sponsors regular events with real-world speakers reflecting on their experiences. Share your wisdom and make contact with talented students.
  • Be a class project. Most of our class work involves longform team projects in product development, market research, and business strategy. Students like solving real-world problems; put a team to work for you.
  • Be a judge. Many of our projects and presentations are judged by industry experts. See what we have done and evaluate it.
  • Be a visit. Schedule a tour of your facility and show off what you are most proud of. Ask us tough questions about what we see.
  • Hire an SDM. Our business skills, engineering understanding, and industrial experience make us a strong fit for any organization.
  • Sponsor a thesis or a research project. Develop a relationship with an SDM student and solve your toughest problems.
  • Request a research summary. With 20 years of SDM thesis work, chances are that there is already a strong body of research in your area. We can consolidate previous work in a compact, targeted format.
My next trick: find companies who are interested in these relationships. There is much to look forward to in the next few months.


10 Years of Educational Change and Stagnation

I wondered how being a student would be different now from 10 years ago. The basics lecturing are still the same. Good instructors are still good instructors. My approach to education has definitely changed, but that's a topic for a different post. I was more concerned about technology. Would pervasive WiFi kill my ability to concentrate in class? Would I check my RSS feeds every time a lecture got boring?

By and large, not as much as I had feared. I do slip occasionally, but my method for handling a boring lecture is about the same now as it was back then: parallel process by doing problem sets in class. I can get more done in class now because the range of projects I can take on from the chair is larger. But I have so much to do that I can't really imagine firing up google reader just because I can't afford the time hit.

I have developed one technique to ensure focus in class, though. When I need to edit text (either by writing a paper at home or taking notes in class), I use OmmWriter. It's an idiosyncratic little text editor with almost no features. There isn't even search and replace. What it does do very well is to present an unbroken full-screen editing surface with no interface elements. You can't really do anything BUT write. If you try to alt-tab over to Firefox to check email the entire text editor disappears, taking with it any pretense that one is "multitasking". This may be the best program ever for dealing with the pervasive distractions which kill creativity and focus.

When I want to crank the text-editing focus up to 11, I'll disable WiFi. This is hard, but it does extend battery life.

Some professors have a different approach to the problem, which is to ban all laptop use during class. I can see where they are coming from. They want us paying attention and not updating our Twitter status. It's understandable, but also completely barbaric. I type 90WPM and can do it heads-up without even thinking. My written word requires looking at the page, is 4x slower, near-illegible, not searchable, and rather difficult to back up. Which would you rather use for taking notes in class? I find it puzzling that I am forcibly relegated to using pre-Gutenberg technology while simultaneously learning about innovation.

So there it is: less has changed than I imagined.


IAP: Done. Spring: bring it on.

Ask any SDM about January and they'll tell you that it's intense.

Week 1 is dominated by the LEGO design challenge, with only a small amount of homework distracting from robot-building. In the beginning I left school around 11:30 in order to make the last (T). As the competition drew closer, I stayed until the wee hours and then gave up and brought in my sleeping bag for an overnighter. Following the competition, I was feeling pretty worn-out and slept for 14 hours straight.

Weeks 2 and 3 are shared between design challenge 2 and a bevy of homework assignments. Classes and lectures were scheduled from 8:30am until 9:30pm. The hardest part was scheduling all of my teams for our group work assignments. Usually the only time everyone could meet was during meals or after our late-night lectures. With some serious frontloading of problem sets onto the weekends, I managed to avoid staying up too late and usually made it home around 11.

Somewhere in here I organized a dim sum run to introduce my colleagues to chinatown. Consider that a small victory that a dozen SDMs were able to take a morning off right before the DC2 presentations were due.

By week 4, we were done with most of our classes and only working on design challenge 3. Again, heavy frontloading saved me from doing much problem set work here. I was able to relax, enjoy the scavenger hunt, and even make dinner for my wife.

3 weeks of nonstop activity is not too bad. I have a theory that a human being can endure just about anything for 6 weeks. This first drink from the firehose in a decade reminded me how to be a MIT student in a way which will make spring term seem like cake.

I hope.