I’ve only interacted with a handful of MIT graduate students and postd-ocs, so I have extremely limited exposure, but I’ve noticed that they all seem to share a couple of odd traits. Each of the four MIT post-docs I’ve seen have manifested the following behavior to some degree:
They’re extremely intent on establishing and following standard procedures. Three of the four PhDs who’ve worked here have included on their syllabi two to four pages of (often absurd) rules mandating in-class behavior for undergraduates. This includes things like “No in-class question may take more than ten seconds to ask, and no question will recieve more than thirty seconds of instructor feedback during lecture”. (the guy who set that rule actually had a stopwatch that he counted off of, out loud, while someone was asking their question.) This also includes weird shit like instructing the TAs to patrol the classroom during lecture and deduct points off of a student’s final participation grade if they’re “Poorly dressed, inattentive, or taking insufficient notes”.
They use really, really complicated grading schemes that take a long time to explain to students and even longer to explain to the TAs who do the grading. These often include bizarre grading criteria; we were once instructed to deduct points for bad handwriting. Not unreadable handwriting, mind you: if the assignment was readable, but the prof thought the handwriting was sloppy, we were actually told to deduct points.
They seem dead-set on making life miserable for anyone who deviates from their spoken (or unspoken) procedures. At one point a postdoc lecturer told the class that assignments could be submitted electronically, provided the student took responsibility for ensuring that the document was readable. Later on somebody sent an assignment in a pdf, but he neglected to embed the font. Now, this wasn’t an issue, because there was only one special symbol used in the whole assignment, it only appeared when the guy quoted data from the assignment and never in his own work, and it was immediately obvious where it was. The instructor’s response to the graders? "If he had been using more specialized symbols we wouldn’t have been capable of deciphering this. We told him it was his responsibility, so treat it as if he’d submitted an unreadable file and deduct 10% of his score for a late submission.
So, what gives? Did we just get the bad luck of landing four really, really weird people (quite likely, considering our field), or have people who studied at MIT seen similiar tendancies across the institution?