“It never hurts to be the only Nuclear Engineer from MIT in the room!”
I knew I was going to declare Course 22 before I ever even stepped foot on campus (in fact, the #1 ranked Nuclear Science and Engineering program was the primary reason I ended up at MIT) – my interest in nuclear science was first piqued by a physics class I had taken early in high school and since then I had been fascinated with exploring the world of alternative energy specifically as it related to nuclear power as a potential long-term solution to the energy crisis and the economic and social policies that affected it. I realized after I came to MIT that I was one of a select few freshmen who had already decided to do Course 22 from day one, but I also have a unique view on the department as I ended up being one of its few graduates that entered a career not even remotely tied to the major – I joined Wall Street as an investment banking analyst immediately after graduation and have since moved on to the buy-side in private equity, an industry I plan to be in for the foreseeable future.
I decided midway through my junior year that while I found the field of nuclear science to be intellectually stimulating, I would pursue a career in finance. However, the thought of dropping Course 22 as my major never entered my mind and if I had to describe my reasoning in one word, it would be: community. In the professional world, an MIT degree opens a lot of doors even those that are not directly associated with the major. The purpose of four years at MIT then is to maximize the experience, whether it is to learn, to be a part of exciting and ground-breaking research, to build networks and friendships, or to be an integral part of a group, and in all of these respects, NSE accomplished that for me.
The depth and breadth of the classes that I took as a part of my degree introduced me to a diverse range of scientific and engineering concepts. The department accommodated UROP programs to indulge my curiosity in both fission (on a Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor project) and fusion (at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center) research, and unfettered access to faculty who personally know, and are invested in, the undergraduate body satisfied my desire for individual and hands-on learning. Having a small undergraduate body also meant going through core classes with the same group of peers, which in turn fostered a collaborative atmosphere and helped build a tremendous support network. One of my favorite academic memories was being in 22.033 (that’s the senior design project class, to the uninitiated), where the whole class teams up to apply all that we learned to-date to a practical problem in nuclear applications over the course of a semester. Working as a group with the same people you have spent the last two-plus years in classes with and using the knowledge you have acquired over that period of time to solve a real-world challenge ranks right up there as one of the most satisfying academic experiences in my life.
In terms of non-academic student life, due to its size compared to other departments at MIT, NSE cultivates a very familial environment. Participating or mentoring in the Discover Nuclear Science and Engineering (DNSE) pre-orientation program, attending NSE barbeques, study breaks and end-of-semester banquets, or playing intra-mural sports on the department’s teams all provide golden opportunities to interact and form relationships with not only other undergraduates but with the department’s faculty, staff and graduate students, who are friendly and accessible and can be valuable resources both during and after MIT.
And finally, if you do end up entering the business world as I have, trust me that it never hurts to be the only Nuclear Engineer from MIT in the room!