They rejected me for undergrad. They rejected me for grad school. And for reasons best known to them, in July they’re going to let me loose on their campus as an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
This decision was one of the hardest I’ve ever made. I was lucky to have a half-dozen fantastic offers (apparently, larding your job talk with jokes actually works). I asked myself: can I really see myself as an “MIT person”? Can I deal with the pressure, the competitiveness, the non-rectangular Stata Center offices, the winters said to be even worse than Waterloo’s? Wouldn’t I prefer (for example) to return to my alma mater, and bask in the familiar sunshine of the People’s Republic of Berkeley — a place whose politics make Cambridge, Massachusetts look like Oklahoma City?
In the end, though, MIT simply refused to cooperate in giving me a good reason to turn it down. Among the considerations that tilted me toward Cambridge, the most important by far was the high caliber of ice cream available there. Other factors included the chance to get in some quality arguing time with Ed Farhi; students who solve your open problems before you’ve even finished stating them; the urge to spread the Gospel of Vazirani I imbibed at Berkeley in relatively virgin territory; and MIT’s role as a publicly-visible platform from which to pursue my central ambition in life, fighting doofosity wherever and whenever I find it. And, of course, a strong desire to be closer to Luboš Motl.
But just as I was getting ready to sign the contract, a sticking point emerged that threatened to derail the entire decision. My brother, David, had already taken the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Luckily for me, though, David graduated just last week with a bachelor’s in math, and Srini Devadas, MIT’s Associate Head for Computer Science, has assured me in writing that I can have David’s address as soon as it lapses. As a new faculty member, I was even formally able to present David’s degree to him:
Let me end this post with a plea to any superstar undergrads who (when you’re not procrastinating by reading this blog) are considering applying to grad school in theoretical computer science. Sure, your decision might seem like an obvious one, but please give the “unBerkeley” a chance. If you do decide come to Cambridge, MA, there will now be someone around who you can work with — I mean, y’know, besides Demaine, Goemans, Goldwasser, Indyk, Karger, Kelner, Kleitman, Leighton, Lynch, Micali, Mitzenmacher, Rivest, Rubinfeld, Shor, Sipser, Sudan, Vadhan, Valiant, …