Include Reflection in Your Summer Experience

May 11, 2012

Dear Students:

As we approach the end of the academic year, I want to wish all of you good luck (and good skill!) on your final exams.  While this has been a very challenging year for our community, I hope it has also been a year of growth and accomplishment for each of you.  And as you head off for the summer (or graduate in June and head off to the next stage in your career), I hope you also take some time for reflection and integration.

One of the things we know about MIT is that it is filled with incredibly smart and talented people – everyone here was among the very best in their previous environment.  But sometimes this can lead to skewed perceptions – it is easy to think that you are just an average student, when you are in the midst of so many talented people, and this can erode your self-confidence.  Indeed, we know from survey data that one in six undergraduates does not feel confident in their ability to succeed academically at MIT, yet we know that more than 93% of you will successfully graduate.

So I hope that during your summer activities – whether an internship, a UROP on campus, a start-up venture, or simply some time for relaxation – you will do some reflection and introspection.  If your experience is like most MIT students, you will discover that your colleagues in your summer setting are very interested in and will seek out your views on issues, that they see you as an intellectual leader, and that you bring considerable soft and hard skills to any problem.  Remember that being a very good MIT student means you are a spectacular contributor in almost any other setting, which is why so many companies from so many different fields are so anxious to hire you.

This perspective was wonderfully described to me a few years ago by an alumna, who had an engineering degree from MIT but whose career trajectory had taken her into the entertainment industry where she rose to be CEO of a major entertainment company.  While she was at MIT, she had a serious case of “imposter’s syndrome.” In Los Angeles, her experience was that any time she joined a meeting, everyone in the room assumed she was the smartest person present. As she articulated, one still needs to deliver, but you walk into any setting with a major advantage: you have an extraordinary set of skills, and you just need the confidence to use them.

There are certainly many factors at MIT that contribute to self-confidence, beyond the comparison to an exceptional collection of peers.  MIT is an intense place with high demands and high expectations, both from faculty and from yourself.  But I want to remind you that MIT students, as a cohort, have incredible skills, and I especially hope that your summer experience reinforces this to you.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor