• Since 2000, nearly 700 students have participated in the undergraduate student exchange program between MIT and the University of Cambridge.

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Academic life, across the pond

MIT juniors exchange places with students from the University of Cambridge in England

“After less than a week here, I can confidently say everyone with the slightest fancy for the new and who are friendly to change should study or live abroad at some point.”

These are the words of Parker Chambers, one of 19 MIT students across six departments studying abroad in England this academic year via the Cambridge-MIT Exchange (or CME). A mechanical engineering student and an MIT Global Education and Career Development (GECD) featured blogger, Parker says he has launched into his U.K. adventure “quickly with gusto.”

But Chambers has already come to the same conclusion espoused by those other MIT students who are now coming back after their yearlong stay in the other Cambridge: You get something more from going abroad that you simply can’t get on the MIT campus.

Since its inception in 2000, nearly 700 students have participated in the undergraduate student exchange program between MIT and the University of Cambridge. Juniors in 14 MIT departments spend the year living and studying at the 800-year-old institution, which is consistently ranked alongside MIT as one of the best in the world.

In late August, the corresponding cohort of Cambridge students arrived in Boston. One of them, Lee Nissim, soon reported, “the fire hose analogy is starting to make sense” — referring to the fabled quotation equating receiving an MIT education with “drinking from a fire hose.” Indeed, Cambridge students bring a unique perspective to many things MIT students can take for granted — especially the “amazing and diverse range of available courses,” Nissim says.

Across the pond, visiting Cambridge students achieve a depth of understanding that comes from an almost exclusive focus in their own discipline. MIT offers Nissim, for instance, more cross-disciplinary breadth: He can study aeronautics and astronautics to complement of mechanical and civil engineering courses, and still has access to all that the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences has to offer.

Meanwhile, MIT students at Cambridge have the benefit of supervisions, which are focused learning sessions between a faculty supervisor and one or two students, occurring every week or two. “If I could bring one thing from home to MIT,” says Nissim, “it would be supervisions.” Supervisions would offer more regular, intimate access to faculty than is common at MIT, he says.

There are many other differences between the two universities — but Chambers insists “the differences are exactly the point.” MIT students, for example, tend to work with each other on projects and problem sets more than Cambridge students, he says. This means CME participants get the benefit of developing both collaborative skills at MIT and independent learning strategies while at Cambridge.

The secret to success on either campus, Nissim says, is to recognize how much both places have to offer. His advice for students heading to Cambridge rings true for students here at MIT: “Just enjoy as much of it as you can.”

Funding from BP has continued to support and grow CME over the past three years.

To learn more about CME and speak with participants from both sides of the exchange, students are encouraged to attend the CME information session on Oct. 21 at 5:15 p.m. in 4-149. Interested students can also email or stop by GECD (12-189), check out the CME webpage and visit GECD on Facebook.

Topics: Cambridge-MIT Exchange, Education, teaching, academics, Global, Global Education and Career Development, Student life, Students


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