An MIT Alumni Association Publication

At 2019 MIT Tech Reunions, the MIT Alumni Association asked dozens of alumni to finish the phrase: “The most useful thing I learned at MIT was...”  

Their responses ranged from the esoteric (the economic order quantity model), to foundational life skills (knowing when to ask for help). And some are distinctly MIT, like this lesson gleaned from iconic engineering class 2.009: “If you haven’t tested it, it doesn’t work.”

Watch the video to see how alumni answered, then share your own response to the question in the comments field below.

Want to keep learning with MIT and the MIT Alumni Association? Whether through MITx, the MIT Faculty Forum Online webinar series, or the MIT Alumni Travel Program, alumni have many opportunities to continue their learning with the campus community and fellow graduates of the Institute. Find out more.


Lloyd Sutfin

Sat, 02/22/2020 1:53pm

Best: Music Appreciation with Gregory Tucker.

Worst: Don't trust MIT middle management.

Frank Ansuini

Sat, 02/22/2020 3:49pm

The most useful thing I learned was how to solve problems, especially big ones: break the problem down into smaller manageable ones, solve those, and then reassemble the small solutions into the larger one. The second most important thing was the importance of keeping an open mind.

Richard Swenson

Sat, 02/22/2020 6:01pm

I learned that it is important to have a small group of professional companions whom you trust. Also, listen carefuly. '59 XVIII

William Taylor

Sat, 02/22/2020 6:19pm

1) I met some REALLY smart peole at MIT. If I sued the word for them, I could not use it for me.

2) VERY FEW at MIT, even the very smartest, could do anyting significant alone. Thus, the ability to work well with colleagues was in most cases more important than pure smarts.

Although there are many politically-based decisions made at MIT, the institute overall reinforces the fundamental observation that facts really are stubborn things and that it's hard to operate for the long term in a manner which is inconsistent with the underlying facts.

Robert Newell

Sat, 02/22/2020 6:49pm

Something that has lasted me a lifetime --- to not be afraid of doing hard stuff, but to embrace it and love it.

Michael Thiel

Sat, 02/22/2020 10:51pm

Take this with a "grain of salt." I really liked the recent newsletter article about MIT research on knot tying. Finally, I learned how to tie a bow for my shoes that is less likely to come loose. Seriously, that's an important life lesson :)!

OK, at a higher level, it taught me I learned adaptability, also an important life lesson, and that there is more than one path to success.

Kenneth Rosato

Sun, 02/23/2020 8:14pm

The most useful thing I learned at MIT is that I can do quite a bit more than I thought I could, and I also learned that I can't do it all -- no one can -- but working with others can get me closer. The most satisfying thing I learned at MIT is how to play guitar, and how to improve my harmonica playing (no faculty were involved in in these musical pursuits).

Frank Geisel

Mon, 02/24/2020 3:13pm

1. Don't take yourself too seriously
2. What are you measuring and why?
3. Trust, and then verify
4. Black fingernail engineering

Gints Berzins

Mon, 02/24/2020 5:14pm

The two things I learned at MIT that were the most valuable came from a course in Managerial Psychology. 1. That people over-estimate their knowledge about everything. If you ask 1% / 99% confidence limits on any question, the correct answer inevitably lands in the the -1% or +99% range at least 10% of the time. 2. People under-estimate change. As Bill Gates has said (paraphrased) things change much less in one year than people expect BUT much MORE over ten years.

Pauravi Shah

Wed, 02/26/2020 1:13am

One of the most useful things I learned at MIT was to evaluate the limits of a problem at a high level to help define the range of where the actual answer may be.

Joanna James

Wed, 02/26/2020 8:16pm

The most useful thing I learned at MIT was how to be a self-taught learner.