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Ask HN:How to get into MIT Media Lab?
15 points by razorsharp on Dec 6, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments
I applied to MIT Media Lab last year, application was rejected. I've solid projects on Fluid Dynamics, Image processing, and some of them align with their interests too. Any inputs on what it takes to make the chances of application really stand out? -is it the GPA? -is it ability to publish? -is it the recommendations?

A fundamental misconception about the Media Lab is that it is an engineering lab. Yes, the technologies that are developed are forward-thinking enough that most students and professors there must be at least moderately skilled engineers. However, the primary goal of the media lab is to birth new ideas, not new implementations.

This may sound a bit blasé, but a well-faked demo of a totally original 2040 technology is going to be more well received than a well-designed product with 2011 technologies.

This varies depending on the particular group at the lab, of course--some groups, such as Biomechatronics (http://biomech.media.mit.edu/) are more grounded in reality, whereas others, such as Lifelong Kindergarten (http://llk.media.mit.edu/) are more experimental.

My advice: READ THE PAPERS that Media Lab groups are publishing. Especially recent Phd theses, and papers at the high-profile conferences (SIGGRAPH, SIGCHI). Think about them. Write about them. Figure out how you'd build upon them. Then talk to the authors of the ones that excite you the most.

NOTE: This is based upon my own experience, and my views do not represent those of the Media Lab. I've worked at the Media Lab in the past, but I'm not speaking from any official capacity here.

Do you have a link for reading the published papers from the varying groups. I'm interested in this also, thank you btw.

is it true that knowing someone there helps? i notice the difference bw media lab and other schools. so someone who knows how to show off might have a better chance than someone really good at it?

Yes, it's definitely true that knowing someone there helps, but more specifically, having a dialogue about intriguing ideas with someone there helps.

I don't think knowing how to show off is necessarily more important than being a good artist/innovator/engineer, but it's at least as important. The Media Lab wants to show off too, after all, and they need people who are good at it.

I'm not sure how you see the Media Lab as different than other art/design schools in that respect. It's definitely different than engineering schools, yes, but it's not an engineering school.

I have a friend who works there.

According to him, word of mouth is paramount. Who do you know there?

As he put it...treat this as a the interview. If you can't befriend someone who works there they you aren't qualified.

Best of luck. I'm feeling the same brand of anxiety.

Prof. Raskar has a good set of advice on the Camera Culture page http://cameraculture.media.mit.edu/join

I'd recommend reading all of the pages relevant to the groups you want to be a part of. I second Storborg's advice to read some recent graduate papers.

I'd also recommend working on your site specifically for the eyes of MIT professors. Highlight your work and how it applies to the world outside the field in which it was made. Talk about what inspires you and what you want to pursue in your own work. Think of it as an ad campaign with your professors as your target audience. You need to sell them on why you are right for that lab. Ask yourself the question "why should I be at Media Lab versus anyone else" and then answer it through your portfolio.

When are you applying to ML? I saw you've worked at Eyebeam! Awesome, how's the place?

I'm applying this round.

Eyebeam is amazing. Or, that is to say, the group I worked with was an amazing group of people. There were lots of creative people making the shops hum, teaching classes, and sharing ideas. Though, the group of people using it as a work/research facility changes almost entirely every six months. It's possible that the personality of the group changes substantially with it.

It's universally guaranteed to be brilliant. There are also a lot of dramatic transformations the whole place goes through as different people change the gallery spaces to suit their projects. While I was there working on Fairytale Fashion it changed from a formal art gallery, to a small faux bookstore, to a museum, to a fashion runway. It was sometimes like watching mushrooms grow in fast motion.

Like any competitive program, you need to be among the best of the best across the board. The MIT Media Lab has relatively few openings each year ( http://admissions.media.mit.edu/admissions/facts-figures/stu... ) and I'm sure they receive a staggering number of applications for those few positions.

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