My journey at the MIT Media Lab
‘Deploy or Die’ - With that motto and the history of MIT Media Lab producing impactful innovations and technologies deployable to a greater audience, my inner self was just too excited to experience it first-hand and be a significant part of it. I joined the Fluid Interfaces Group as a visiting student in June 2018. Coming from India and the first time in Massachusetts, it was just too overwhelming for the first couple of weeks. The architecture is an absolute eye-candy and the work environment as fun as it can get. I barely checked the rest of MIT during my first month as the Media Lab just offered so much to absorb.
There was a group meeting the first day I joined in, wherein I met Prof. Pattie Maes, my supervisor Mina Khan and other Fluidians who I was to share my next 7.5 months with. I started with the project ‘PAL’ I came for the following day. Given it was summer time, the campus was less occupied and I explored gradually. While I designed hardware and electronics for embedded computer vision in the summer months, Mina always highlighted the broader goal of the project. That helped me start with Physiology and lead it with her. Meanwhile Nataliya Kosmyna, a postdoctoral scientist, approached me to work on project ‘AttentivU’. So, I curbed my leisure time while I was devising a novel Physiology Pipeline for PAL and also designing custom electronics and hardware for wearable glasses of AttentivU. In November, another Research assistant Arnav Kapur, offered me to work on project ‘AlterEgo’.
While the Media Lab was way more better than what I expected if it, the entire research attitude here is what stands it out! It is a unique atelier of science, engineering, design and art, harboring a boundless environment where researchers from a wide array of disciplines - neuroscientists to biochemists to visual artists to architects - celebrate the liberty to follow their passions and tap bold risks to pursue high impact research. Given the interdisciplinary work and the people around, I got to explore vividly different disciplines that helped me render creative ideas while perching at the center of fragmented fields. It is really admirable how people break down the formal disciplines, mix them all and see what pops up, without following ‘set rules’. What’s most fascinating to me is that you don’t just do fundamental research but actually deploy projects to general public - move them from desks of a research to hands of a layman!
While I obviously learnt a plethora of skills and acquired a vast variety of knowledge, what’s the most dearest to me about this journey is how I matured with my thoughts and actions. I built a fully functional Physiology pipeline without having done scientific computing before, I made a fully functional Android app without having coded in Java before, all my projects here revolve around Human Computer Interaction (HCI) while I have never had any hands-on experience with HCI before - something that made me realize that nothing is impossible. All I need to do is believe in myself and do the hard work to which there exists no escape. I also learnt time management to the best while working on 2 or 3 projects together without compromising on any. I realized how 86400 seconds are deposited to my daily account everyday. Just like I wouldn’t burn through any cash given $86400 a day but spend on myself or friends and family, or invest it for later, same holds for time.
I have been working day in day out while also enjoying a lot making wonderful projects. Indeed, work doesn’t seem like ‘work’ anymore. To me, the Media Lab is a heavenly paradise to relish. I am really happy I got to work with the best minds and befriend the best souls. I did find a family away from family!