aaronson@mit

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 aaronson@mit.edu. 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, …

63 Responses to “aaronson@mit”

  1. Sean Carroll Says:

    But what would you say if I told you that I think quantum computing is like postmodern literary criticism?

    Congrats to you and to MIT!

  2. Joe Says:

    Congrats Scott! Unfortunately that’s one less reason for me to make the trek to Waterloo (if only my work permit would come through), but my loss is MIT’s gain.

    Best of luck with your new position of authority, from which you can smite the purveyors of doofosity.

    Nice photo by the way!

  3. Scott Says:

    But what would you say if I told you that I think quantum computing is like postmodern literary criticism?

    Well, since you recently argued that postmodernism is a serious intellectual pursuit, how about “thank you very much”? :-)

  4. wolfgang Says:

    Congratulations!

    And I hope you follow from now on the example of Luboš Motl and write blog posts twice a day.

  5. Aggie Says:

    Yay! Congratulations! :)

  6. Chad Orzel Says:

    Congratulations!
    I’ll let you settle in a bit before I start pestering you to come give us a colloquium…

  7. Dave Bacon Says:

    Congrats, of course.

    I hope you teach those MIT students how to pull of better pranks (that’s right pranks, not hacks, silly Engineers). They keep getting schooled by Caltech :)

  8. luke Says:

    Can you and Luboš arrange to have a weekly webcast? I’d pay good money to see it. I’m thinking along these lines. Luboš can even reuse the old SNL dialogue: “The Shah is our friend, he sent us oil during the 70′s re-embargo. He’s a fighter against Communism.”

  9. The Quantum Pontiff » Bridges, Motors, Beveled Gears, MIT Engineer Says:

    [...] MIT, the Caltech of the east coast, get’s optimized. [...]

  10. t Says:

    Congrats, Scott.

  11. Not even right Says:

    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.

    I wonder whether the following will happen: a professor asks a MIT grad student to calculate something, for example, some bounds, or prove a deep theory for quantum computation, they may say: “Oh, I found it interesting and did it a few weeks ago”.

  12. Yarden Says:

    Wohoo!!! MIT wins again! Congrats.

  13. HN Says:

    Congrats, Scott. Well deserved!

  14. Michael Mitzenmacher Says:

    Congratulations, and welcome to the neighborhood!

    I won’t be as laid back as Chad — when in the fall do you want to come by Harvard for a theory seminar?

  15. cody Says:

    congratulations Scott. now i really want to go to MIT for graduate work. i hope i qualify as a ‘superstar’ (though i doubt it). i would ask that you put in a good word for me, but you dont even know me, so disregard that idea.

  16. J Says:

    Err…Vadhan’s at Harvard…

  17. Scott Says:

    Err…Vadhan’s at Harvard…

    Indeed he is, and Harvard is in Cambridge, MA.

    Yet another example where I get taken to task in the comments section for an incorrect thing that I didn’t say… :-)

  18. Scott Says:

    when in the fall do you want to come by Harvard for a theory seminar?

    Whenever you want. You can reimburse me for the T fare, right?

  19. mick Says:

    Congratulations Scott! I hope you really enjoy working there.

  20. nextquant Says:

    Mazel Tov!!!:)

  21. Tom Says:

    My brother, David, had already taken the address aaronson@mit.edu

    Then this is your chance! Why don’t you go for saaro or, more properly capitalised, Saaro (or possibly even SAARO)? Doesn’t that sound just like the proper name for an aspiring evil, galactic overlord (well, assistant overlord)? At least back in those 70s sci-fi flicks when evil, galactic overlords still were evil, galactic overlords it did; oh yes, they knew their names! Saaro, bane of Buck Rogers! Come on, you know you want it!

  22. Chrononautic Log 改 » Blog Archive » Show of hands Says:

    [...] Okay, who else, reading this post, laughed out loud on reaching the last sentence in Scott Aaronson’s paragraph of “considerations”? [...]

  23. Me Says:

    Folks, I would like to announce that I’ll be starting my position as Assistant Professor of Computer Science at MIT next Fall. Oh, wait … I’m living vicariously through Scott again.

  24. Michael Nielsen Says:

    Congratulations Scott!

    “…the most important by far was the high caliber of ice cream available there”

    If only the other places who made offers had known!

  25. grad student Says:

    Congratulations, and welcome to MIT.

    Will you teach QC next year? looking forward to it.

  26. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Congratulations Scott! Isn’t one of the reasons is to be on the east coast where I guess your family is?

  27. Scott Says:

    Hey everyone, can you let me know if you get any more “CPU quota exceeded” errors? As a stopgap measure, I’ve disabled trackbacks (i.e. messages to and from other blogs), which Bluehost claims were the main thing eating up CPU time.

    If you want to see trackbacks, you can still go to my Technorati page.

    Thanks!

  28. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    I just got the message like 2 mins ago and now it’s fine.

  29. aravind Says:

    hearty congrats scott! you left out leighton in the list at the end of your post.

  30. aravind Says:

    of course, my congrats is for you joining mit, not for leaving out tom :)

  31. Matt Says:

    Congrats Scott. We will miss you in Waterloo.

  32. Benjamin Says:

    congrats Scott.

  33. Scott Says:

    Thanks everyone!

  34. Scott Says:

    you left out leighton in the list at the end of your post.

    He’s pretty busy with Akamai these days, but all right, I put him in. :-)

  35. Johan Richter Says:

    Wow! Now that your an expert in electrical engineering you should probaly update your post explaining electricity.

  36. Scott Says:

    Johan: Why do you think I looked up what voltage was in the first place, if not to prepare myself for becoming an EE professor? :-)

  37. anonymous Says:

    CONGRATS !!

  38. joe Says:

    Well done, Scott, and good luck!

  39. Aaron Says:

    Congrats! MIT’s gain is the rest of the world’s loss. I can only hope that MIT students will provide you with good material for more biting vagina posts, rants against doofosity, and jokes about all things sacred.

  40. Sean Carroll Says:

    If you’re smart, you’ll blow off all of the invitations to give talks — there will be many — except perhaps those in that within the range of the T. At least for the first year, you’ll have other things to occupy your time.

  41. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    A belated and wholehearted mazel tov. See you around MIT. Hopefully by the time you arrive, I’ll have something new and nontrivial to share about the complexity of adiabatic QC as fodder for your “quality arguing time” with Eddie. :) [I very much like that phrase "quality arguing time".]

  42. V Says:

    Wow! Good luck to Scott and to MIT !!!

  43. Ran Says:

    Goodluck on the new job, perhaps we shall meet (I guess it mainly depends on whether I continue to PhD after my Master’s). Incidentally, I’ve just met Vadhan this week :)

  44. Ran Says:

    Errr I mean Sudan , all these CS An’s are so confusing :)

  45. shtetl unoptimized Says:

    Scott — when art thou going to update thy homepage with the news on joining MIT EECS? It may be one of the best depts in CS and all, but I can’t think of a worse name than CSAIL: it sounds like CS is suffering from an ailment or sth…

  46. Tyler DiPietro Says:

    A belated congratulations to you on the new job Scott. As a resident of coastal/southern Maine living about two hours driving-time from the Cambridge area, I guess I can at least welcome you to New England!

  47. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Congratulations, Scott! From a graduate of the smaller Institute of Technology with a Beaver as totem, to a new professor at the larger. Not having your blazing record of achievement, I’ve concurrently accepted a much more modest offer. But first, let me flash back to The Big Apple.

    The Science education at Stuyvesant High School, and presumably also at Brooklyn Tech and the Bronx High
    School of Science, was superb in the mid-to-late 1960s. My graduating year, 1968, there were 3 of us from Stuyvesant that were accepted to hypercompetitive Caltech. But the schools that I cited, in New York City, were what are called today “magnet schools.” Public, but merit-based exam-filtered entrance. I do not know what Science teaching was like at average New York high schools. And my data point is 39 years old.

    My wife has taught Science in 4 countries. That it is done well in Great Britain does not surprise me. That it is done better than the USA, on average, in Australia, gives me concern. And that it is done better in Nassau, the Bahamas, than the USA, on average, shows how deep the crisis is.

    There are more high schools in the USA than there are high school Physics teachers.

    Starting 27 June 2007, I am teaching Math (Algebra, Geometry) at a poor high school in Pasadena, California. Most of my students will be Hispanic or African American. Roughly 20% have not yet passed the California High School Exit Exam without which, one doesn’t graduate. In the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), which was considered very good in the 1960s, some 30% of high schoolers drop out for pregnancy, drugs, crime, whatever.

    The administration was (per newspaper articles and lawsuits) amazingly corrupt and inefficient. It took over 10 months for my job application to be processed. They would not look at my CV or letters of recommendation (from the Executive Officer of Math at Caltech, and others). “We have a paperless office.”

    Everything had to be scanned and attached as image files to the automatic output of a user-unfriendly system that they outsourced to a company. There were 2 to 3 spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors on some lines of text on the job application website. The school system only looked at applications one day per month. The school Board member who expedited things for me said that HR and IT were the two most dysfunctional subsystems of a dysfunctional school system. The day of my 2nd round interview at the specific high school, the PUSD system had crashed again. The high school was backing up their
    admissions database from a previous version, cutting and pasting from a copy locally archived.

    I am being evaluated to teach Math and other subjects full-time in the Fall. They say they need help with Science, Chemistry, Astronomy, and Bio-technology. So, I’ll have more data by mid-August, and much more by September.

    The pay? $133/day for the summer school, where I am technically a Substitute. That’s under $17/hour, assuming an 8 hour day, which is not valid — there is homework to grade, meetings to attend, and so forth.

    Needless to say, this is less than I earned as an adjunct professor of Astronomy at one college, or as an adjunct professor of Math at a university. And WAY less than I earned as a software engineer in the corporate and government worlds. More than an 80% pay cut, by hourly rate.

    But this is where the need is acute. I thought it wrong to keep bashing the public school system of the USA, in such startling decline for so long. I thought it time to roll up my sleeves and pitch in to help.

    I was led to apply for various reasons, including:

    (1) In 2 years of search I’ve gotten very few interviews for another University or Community College position in Math or Physics or Astronomy or Computer Science. Granted, at least one of these interviews was for Department Chairman.

    (2) My wife some time ago quit her part-time faculty position (5 years’ seniority) teaching Physics at one college, while also full-time at a private university. Now she has focused on the 3-year contract as Asst Prof of Physics at the university, and so family income has decreased.

    (3) Law school (USC) for our son will be expensive regardless of financial aid.

    (4) A fellow Caltech alum, Scott Phelps, taught in the Pasadena Unified School District, and then ran for and was elected to the Board of Ed. He connected me to the
    charismatic principal of Blair HS.

    (5) Another Caltech alum I know quit a high-paying job as Engineer at Fluke (Portland, OR area) to teach High School, because of the extreme need those students have. He does have his small consulting company on the side: FemtoFirm.

    For a long time it puzzled me that people would take such a cut in pay and prestige to teach High School, but finally the Compassion lobe of my brain outvoted the Capitalist lobe.

    I wish Scott the best of luck with the best of the best, while I sweat in the trenches. It’s all about Truth, either way. And it’s all about human beings.

  48. Kurt Says:

    Belated congratulations, Scott!

    Congratulations to you too, Jonathan. You know, you ought to blog about how things go with your new teaching endeavor. I’ve been thinking about making a career change to teaching (high school math most likely), and there’s nothing like mentioning that fact to people to elicit all kinds of horror stories about how schools are these days. I’d like to believe that it’s not really quite that bad…

  49. rrtucci Says:

    Jonathan, I was an undergraduate at MIT and I am a Hispanic (My father is American, my mother is Puerto Rican, and I was born and raised in PR). My admiration for my high school teachers, especially my math teacher, is…total. I would do absolutely anything for them. I never felt the same gratitude or admiration for any of my MIT teachers. My high school math teacher, el estimado profesor José Garrido, was smarter than many of my MIT teachers, but not self centered like they were. He TRULY worked 90 hours a week, for others rather than for himself. One of the most remarkable men I have ever met. His mark on me is indelible.

  50. Jon Tyson Says:

    Unfortunately, Lubos is leaving Harvard. I hope that doesn’t derail your decision!

  51. Ze Says:

    Jonathan : Why are you surprised and concerned it’s done better in Australia?

    We’ve got a pretty good education system over here and have always valued it highly (however much our current Prime Minister may hate public education).

  52. wolfgang Says:

    > Unfortunately, Lubos is leaving Harvard.
    I have heard such rumors before, is there any truth to it this time?

  53. Nils Runeberg Says:

    Congrats on your job.
    I guess now you’ll have time to make the lecture notes from your Democritus class available on the web :-)

  54. wolfgang Says:

    to answer my own question. there is strong evidence in comments left on the blog of Tomaso Dorigo that Lubos will indeed leave academia in about 2 weeks.

  55. Arindam Says:

    Scott,

    Congratulation for getting into MIT. If you don’t mind, can you please tell us the places that you applied and the places you got selected?

  56. Scott Says:

    Arindam: I applied to most of the “obvious” places; among them, Cornell and Princeton said no.

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  58. Steve Demuth Says:

    J Van Post: I wouldn’t argue that science education is great in the US, but the claim that “There are more high schools in the USA than there are high school Physics teachers” begs emperical justification.

    The AIP reckons that there are 22,000+ physics teachers in the US. There are around 16,000 high schools. Granted, not all those AIP counted teachers are full-time physics teachers (pretty hard to be a full time physics teacher in a district that covers 1000 square miles and enrolls 75 people per cohort, after all), but they do teach physics.

  59. Larry Says:

    Scott, my nephew Jeffrey is an undergrad at MIT. I will warn him of you invasion.

    Larry

  60. mollishka Says:

    Yay, MIT! Remember: it’s Building 32, not the “Stata Center.” And did IS&T warn you that the email addresses don’t typically get cleaned out until mid-January?

  61. Scott H. Says:

    Hey, I was also doubly rejected by MIT before they hired me as faculty! If we ever meet, be sure to ask me about how I used this fact to simultaneously freak out Ed Bertschinger and crack up Alan Guth.

  62. Scott Says:

    Scott H.: Let’s have a beer once I’m in town.

  63. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    High Schoolers Hate Math; Re: Why Math Teachers Get Grumpy

    I asked 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade summer school students at a Pasadena high school to write a paragraph on (their choice) “Why I Love Math” or “Why I Hate Math.”

    Their responses (names removed for privacy, no spelling or grammar corrections)…

    [click on above hotlink to see the complete set of mini-essays]