Mollie and I went to two different MIT's. The suicides, almost of all of which were public, were part of my undergraduate experience--it's not a myth. On the other hand, Mollie was lucky to go there during a downturn in what seems like a cycle. Personally, I have a hard time believing all those people would have done the same thing somewhere else. There may be a copycat factor at work here which exacerbated it, but I think there is something intrinsic.
Concerning Harvard, a Harvard friend of mine told me the suicides there were generally of grad students who were foreign (and may have had assimilation issues, homesickness, etc.). It didn't seem to me the same thing.
Last edited by collegealum314; 10-29-2011 at 05:40 PM.
Piper, how many people do you know well enough that they would tell you if they were crying in their room at night?
I don't know many. Harvard and MIT have a culture that is not accepting of "weakness" and it makes it hard for people to open up.
I know quite a number of people who have gone to MIT mental health, and a few who have been suicidal. I've stayed up with friends who have cried in their room all night.
I seem a bit more adept then most people at encouraging heart-to-heart conversations, but I disagree with your assessment that MIT isn't a place where you can show any sort of weakness. If you're a current student, then maybe you're just with the wrong crowd or need to learn how to get close to people.
Mollie and I went to two different MIT's. The suicides, almost of all of which were public, were part of my undergraduate experience--it's not a myth.
I'm not aware of any stats on MIT's suicide rate being above normal for the age group in older times -- but assuming it was, what do you think was the cause? Suicides tend to be for reasons like family or friend troubles and loneliness, not stress over work.
Jumping back to stevewh's post - I really don't see how the Harvard article applies to MIT, but it has convinced me that they are not nearly as alike as you suggest. While as I said before maybe getting personal with someone is difficult, I very strongly see the "IHTFP" mentality and people will very openly ***** about the workloads/activity loads they choose. I don't see any pressure to, say, not complain because there are so many possibilities -- as the Harvard article suggests is the case at Harvard.
Mollie and I went to two different MIT's. The suicides, almost of all of which were public, were part of my undergraduate experience--it's not a myth. On the other hand, Mollie was lucky to go there during a downturn in what seems like a cycle.
Well, either that, or you were unlucky to go there during an upturn.
Re: Harvard, the undergrad in my lab was very specific about there having been an undergraduate suicide every year she's been at Harvard (she's a senior). The grad student suicide rate at both MIT and Harvard is, as far as I know, fairly high, but goes mostly without notice or public comment, perhaps because the graduate student experience is less unitary, so it's less easy to blame the schools. (And I don't mean to point fingers at MIT and Harvard, either, just because those are the schools I know about about which I've heard the most stories. There's no reason to believe grad student suicide rates are different at other top science programs.)
Last edited by molliebatmit; 10-29-2011 at 08:35 PM.
The first is that mollie is right. The narrative framing is everything (as I discussed in my data post). There are different schools that have different reputations that they need to rebut or enhance. I was joking with a colleague from a prestigious liberal arts school with no core requirements. He said that when our two schools market, "MIT has to take about how fun they are, and my university has to talk about how rigorous it is." And it's true. The frame from which you enter the conversation determines how you interpret the data.
For comparison, the school I went to my freshman year of college is smaller than MIT, has a reputation for being a difficult school, had big beautiful green spaces, and had four suicides (and four rapes) during that year; there was nary a peep about it beyond the student newspapers. But that school had no reputation for that sort of thing, so the data didn't cohere into a trend in the public imagination. That's just one example, but it's a powerful one.
That said, MIT isn't perfect either. MIT is a tough place. It's tough in the workload. And it can be tough in the culture. I always tell applicants that if you want to laze around for four years of college MIT is not the place for you. But beyond that there is certainly a subset of the MIT community that thrives on working harder than anyone else, on pulling more all nighters than anyone else, and so forth. And if you're not a part of that subset but you try to live up to it, or you feel like you have to, MIT can be tough. And if there are underlying mental health factors, plus some family issues, and a whole bunch of other things, then it can become a dangerous situation.
mollie's right that this can happen at any environment and at any school. And I don't think that it's MIT's architecture or space really at all.
But I do think it's also important for MIT to be reflective of what, if anything, it can change to minimize these tragedies. "Minimize" isn't big enough of a word to really evoke what I mean. I'd say "prevent", but the sad truth is - and I say this at someone who has been involved in residence life at three very different institutions - you can never "prevent" these things. You can just take every precaution you can, set up every safety net you can, try to help and to heal as you can, and then rest, if not comforted by, resigned to the knowledge that you have done everything you can. I do think that MIT has done this, and I think that it will now renew and redouble its efforts.
I am not involved with these decisions. They are way, way above my paygrade (thank goodness). But I do think that there is a time for everyone - staff, students, and faculty - to reflect and to ask ourselves: what more, if anything, can we do? And I do think that this is going on right now. I don't know what, if any, changes there will be, because we still don't know very much, and it's foolish to make decisions for PR reasons if you're not going to actually help anything.
I'll close with a note that Chancellor Eric Grimson sent out to all MIT students last week, because I think it really says what needs to be said to students, which is more important, in some ways, at this moment, than what needs to be done:
Dear MIT students,
Earlier this week, we were all shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of our community, the second death of a student on campus this academic year. Such losses stun us as a community; they are unexpected, they are hard to understand, and they remind us that our community depends not only on our academic endeavors, but above all on the people within it and the connections between us.
At times like this, our first thoughts must be with the grieving families, to offer them care, respect and support in such a difficult moment. As a longtime member of the MIT faculty and as a parent myself, I am also keenly aware that the loss of Nicolas Del Castillo and Satto Tonegawa has touched our entire community, including those who may not have known them directly. I want to extend my own personal wish that each of you takes a bit of time away from your academic routine to reflect on your connections to our community and on your sense of personal well-being. Take the time to reach out to your own circle of friends, peers and neighbors – a dormmate who looks distracted, a friend who seems stressed. All of us, at every age, go through periods of doubt, of stress, of feeling alone. But these feelings can be more overwhelming when you’re young and away from home. If you feel this way, please reach out – to a friend, to your housemaster, to a member of the student support staff, to a mentor, to one of the Deans. If you need guidance, support or just a sympathetic ear, MIT faculty and staff are here to help. Remember that you can find links to a wide range of resources at Personal Support & Wellness .
At MIT, supporting our students is of tremendous importance. In recent years, we have supported that commitment by strengthening a wide range of services: in mental health and other wellness services, in student support services, in residential life, in dining, in advising and mentoring and in student activities, among others. We have incredibly devoted staff members, who provide exemplary service both day to day and in times of crisis. However, strengthening MIT also means reflecting on how we provide support services and processes for our students and how we evaluate those services. To this end, I am bringing together a team of advisors to examine all of our current support systems and to think freely about new ways of providing community support, in keeping with the wonderful culture that has always defined the MIT community. I hope that this process will produce some constructive steps forward; in support of this effort, I welcome input from any of you, our students, by sending me an email at [email]
I hope this will be a time when we join in strengthening our MIT community: by reaching out to peers, colleagues, friends, and mentors to renew our sense of connection; by taking advantage of MIT resources for help in dealing with the emotional challenges brought on by these events; and by reflecting on our goals and aspirations, individually and together.
The grad student suicide rate at both MIT and Harvard is, as far as I know, fairly high, but goes mostly without notice or public comment, perhaps because the graduate student experience is less unitary, so it's less easy to blame the schools.
Mollie, the suicide rate at H has been much lower than the national average, while MIT's is higher. But I do agree that when it happens at MIT it seems to receive so much more negative attention and public comment. The endless publicity to these rather rare incidents just encourage copycat behavior.
Why continue to debate on death and who's responsible? It's tragic that someone so talented left us, but rather than dwelling on it, isn't it so much more productive and meaningful to remember him by going out of your room right now to say hi to your neighbors, to someone you haven't talked to in a while, to let them know that they're in your heart and thoughts.
what more, if anything, can we do?
The Harvard Student Mental Health Liaison has been experimenting with depression screenings in residential dining halls, and those had good participation levels. It's also helpful to advocate seeing mental health issues as medical conditions deserving of attention rather than any sort of emotional weakness as it is perceived traditionally. Inviting speakers to campus to talk about their own mental health conditions can also be something to try.
I always tell applicants that if you want to laze around for four years of college MIT is not the place for you. But beyond that there is certainly a subset of the MIT community that thrives on working harder than anyone else, on pulling more all nighters than anyone else, and so forth. And if you're not a part of that subset but you try to live up to it, or you feel like you have to, MIT can be tough.
I don't think anyone can blame MIT for the suicide this year that occurred before the semester even began, and we don't know yet what happened in this latest incident. But they are both tragic deaths and it makes us all wonder how MIT could be a healthier place.
I would suggest that one unhealthy thing about MIT culture is equating staying up all night and "working hard." It is simply poor planning. Any work done in the middle of the night can be done twice as fast and far more accurately during the day. All nighters are not an ideal to live up to. They compromise your health and your judgement. Plenty of students (even MIT students) go through college getting regular sleep, and do as well or better than those with erratic personal schedules.
i absolutely agree with you. i've had a lot of discussions about this. i'm an academic advisor, and i told both of my advisees this year that they should resist the temptation to go out and join any clubs until they've gotten through the first set of exams. the reason is that the most important thing you can do at MIT is learn to manage your time first, then extend outwards second.
it's really tough! most students (like me) really love being involved. it's a hard rule to follow. but there is no reason to make MIT more difficult than it is.
i do think that specific subset of culture - "work = staying up all night" is on a downward trend. mollie, like most of our bloggers, is adamant about time management, not pulling all nighters just to do so, and so forth. like i said, i think it's a subset of students who are perceived to dominate the culture more than they do actually.
ultimately, everyone involved wants MIT to be as healthy a place as possible. and if anyone has good specific suggestions, i'm happy to pass them up the chain.
Mollie, the suicide rate at H has been much lower than the national average, while MIT's is higher.
Are there numbers for grad students somewhere? I didn't think I had seen them -- most stats I've ever seen have been for undergraduates alone. Thinking anecdotally, I know of several cases of MIT and Harvard grad students committing suicide within the last five years.
At any rate, I think it's difficult statistically to say, based on a few years of numbers, whether School X has a suicide rate higher or lower than would be expected. Suicides are such rare events anywhere that a single case can really skew the numbers. By and large, I imagine most universities have suicide rates whose differences from normal are not statistically significant, and that the error bars on those rates are very large.
I'm not sure about her contention that suicides are associated with technical majors and that may skew the statistics. However, if you look at engineering department alone at a big school, for example U. of Michigan (~5500 undergrad students,) I doubt they ever had near the number of undergraduate suicides. I know a lot of people who majored in technical areas at state schools--I never heard of anything like what I saw at MIT.
The data was based on stats for the whole school, both undergrad and grad. The MIT grad rate has been lower than the national average while the undergrad rate has been higher, with some fluctuations between the years. In any case, this is irrelevant, and I'm sorry that I even brought it up.
Last edited by xrCalico23; 10-30-2011 at 04:29 PM.
I would suggest that one unhealthy thing about MIT culture is equating staying up all night and "working hard." It is simply poor planning. Any work done in the middle of the night can be done twice as fast and far more accurately during the day.
just to clarify, staying up all night is not always poor planning, people with ADD often find this very productive. They can get twice the amount accomplished during the night vs what they could spacing out their time. It is a strategy they use to compensate for their lack of ability to focus when not under stress. Not ideal, but not something they do because it is promoted. Everyone is different in their approach and I think MIT students have figured out what works for them.
From the amount of references to all nighters, being overwhelmed, being hosed, etc. on this forum, I get the impression that, no, MIT students have not figured out what works for them. People, even smart people often herd toward poor decisions. The glorification of sleep deprivation at MIT is probably an instance of that.
I understand about the adaptations you make for ADD. Still, I invite you to track your productivity at different times of day (in similar low-stimulus environments) and to verify for yourself that your nights are truly more productive.
There's a mode at MIT where people complain about hosed they are and how little sleep they got. It's some weird handicap-principle thing, but don't confuse a loud subset of a population for the entire population. As someone who gets 7.5+ hours of sleep a night, manages schoolwork, has time for activities, and hangs out with my friends and boyfriend, I find life manageable with appropriate planning. But I don't broadcast my wonderful full night's sleep like people will broadcast their harder nights. This gives a skewed view of the average MIT student's life.