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Education Idle News

MIT's Charm School For Geeks Turns 20 217

Posted by samzenpus
from the wash-your-shirt-and-comb-your-hair dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "It's been said that social graces may be just as important as intelligence and engineering prowess to success as an astrophysicist or computer engineer. But how do you take someone who's grown up in the world of pocket protectors and get them thinking about suits, bow ties and the proper way to hold a wine glass. Now Jennifer Lawinski reports that MIT's Charm School just celebrated its 20th birthday with classes in alcohol and gym etiquette, how to dress for work and how to visit a contemporary art museum. 'We're giving our students the tools to be productive members of society, to be the whole package,' says Alana Hamlett. 'It gets them thinking about who they are and what their impact and effect is, whether they're working on a team in an engineering company, or in a small group on a project, or interviewing for a job.' At this year's Charm School students were free to drop in and participate in any of the 20-minute mini-courses being offered that day and students who participated in 10 of the mini-courses were awarded doctorates of charm. Computational biology graduate student Asa Adadey said the free meal was a draw and said he learned in one mini-course not to cut up all his meat at once before eating it. 'Who knows? Down the line I may find myself at a formal dinner.'"
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MIT's Charm School For Geeks Turns 20

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    They pay money for this. A lot of it.

  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:50AM (#43101785)

    What always fascinated me about MIT is the seeming lack of a "university neighborhood." It was like MIT people never left campus and had no social lives to speak of. I think it went out of business, but one of the few bars close to campus was themed like a laboratory, where you drank beer out of beakers. During the day, people would scurry out of the buildings to the food trucks, awkwardly scarf down their lunches, and then scurry back. I used to love watching them try to play Frisbie when the sun came out, which I can can only describe with a direct quote from Dodgeball: "It's like watching a bunch of retards trying to hump a doorknob out there." I had always thought the jokes about just how nerdy MIT was were exaggerations, but that has to be the highest concentration of nerd-stereotypes that I have ever seen; super-smart, interesting people, but I can certainly see how the Charm School has lasted 20 years.

    • by definate (876684) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @12:58AM (#43101833)

      Thanks for the review. Everything you've written makes MIT sound like an excellent school. One where you go to do some serious learnings, instead of just fuck around.

      What other universities are like this?

      • They still fuck around, but with nerd panache [youtube.com]

      • by elucido (870205)

        Thanks for the review. Everything you've written makes MIT sound like an excellent school. One where you go to do some serious learnings, instead of just fuck around.

        What other universities are like this?

        MIT had and has one of the best social scenes. Don't believe him.

        • by jc42 (318812)

          MIT had and has one of the best social scenes. Don't believe him.

          Hey, Shhh! You aren't supposed to let the rest of the world know that. You're trying to mess up one of the best-cultivated stereotypes that we have going.

          Of course, here on /. people are supposed to be part of the "nerd" crowd, so it such occasional slipups might be ok. But we should remember that there are also "normal" people who read the discussions here, not to mention all the corporate sockpuppets who hang around to post their thinly-disguised marketing stuff. So we really should keep up the ima

      • What other universities are like this?

        Well, Caltech, for one, but being in California, the bright lights outside make it hard to see through the glare when the students try to play Frisbee.

    • by sribe (304414) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @02:10AM (#43102151)

      What always fascinated me about MIT is the seeming lack of a "university neighborhood." It was like MIT people never left campus and had no social lives to speak of. I think it went out of business, but one of the few bars close to campus was themed like a laboratory, where you drank beer out of beakers. During the day, people would scurry out of the buildings to the food trucks, awkwardly scarf down their lunches, and then scurry back. I used to love watching them try to play Frisbie when the sun came out, which I can can only describe with a direct quote from Dodgeball: "It's like watching a bunch of retards trying to hump a doorknob out there." I had always thought the jokes about just how nerdy MIT was were exaggerations, but that has to be the highest concentration of nerd-stereotypes that I have ever seen; super-smart, interesting people, but I can certainly see how the Charm School has lasted 20 years.

      I spent 4.25 years there, and you're full of shit.

    • by hazem (472289)

      I was only there for 2 weeks for a special session held on the MIT campus in January. However, almost every time I went to the Mead Hall or the Cambridge Brewing Company, they were busy and had a long wait for a table. The exception was late one Sunday evening.

      Several of the people I talked to were MIT students (or at least claimed to be - I didn't ask to see IDs), so there are some of them who are getting out. But I suppose a student who doesn't go out much wouldn't see the people who did, and would onl

    • by paiute (550198)

      It was like MIT people never left campus and had no social lives to speak of.

      Outside of Boston, it is not widely known that MIT has a large and active fraternity system.

      From Wikipedia: "MIT has a very active Greek and co-op housing system which includes 36 fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. In 2009, 92% of all undergraduates lived on MIT-affiliated housing, 50 percent of the men in fraternities and 34% of the women in sororities."

      So half of all MIT men live in a frat and many frats are off the campus.

      • For those that don't know Boston, the frats at MIT are famous for their stunts, including inventing a unit of measure "the Smoot" for the Harvard bridge (which, oddly, links MIT to Boston) by flipping a pledge end-to-end over the entire length of the bridge. But that is exactly what makes MIT so weird; everyone lives in "off campus" housing, much of which is a stone's throw from campus. It's as if they only interact with each other. Maybe I'm biased because I was up the river a bit, but I feel like I ran in

  • by Solarhands (1279802) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @01:02AM (#43101857)
    The typical nature of nerds is such that we generally behave oddly in public perception in cases where expected behavior does not match optimal behavior. The example of cutting up a whole piece of meat therefore makes no sense, because it is not optimal behavior.

    If you were to cut the meat into little pieces prior to eating, the meat would be cold by the time you were eating the final pieces, which is clearly an unacceptable outcome. On top of this the piece of meat makes logical sense to nerds as some sort of stack or queue. Cutting up the meat is akin to converting the stack into an array before operating on the data. Since you are intending to not sort but eat the pieces, an operation which can be run on either a stack or an array, this clearly makes no sense.

    Also I have never heard of this so called "American Style" of eating, whereby the fork is tossed from hand to hand. We do not do that here in Ohio, so I don't know just how "American" it can be. Sounds more like something they would do in Texas.
    • I cut my meat all at once, so that I can let go of my knife. The meat doesn't get cold because it doesn't take me so long to eat that meat becomes unpleasant -- how long does it take people to eat? Or are people just super sensitive to that one degree difference?

      When I'm trying to be formal I do what they call European style (or if I'm just so hungry I don't want to finish cutting the meat before having my first few bites), but I'd rather do my cutting at once and have done with it.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      Most Americans I have ever seen have tried to eat with just their fork in their right hand after cutting the food up with a knife and fork first. It's one of the things that makes them easy to spot as tourists if you're in anything other than McFuckingDonalds.
    • by Megane (129182)
      It's much more efficient to have your steak pre-cut when served [wikipedia.org] anyhow. Prefereably on a sizzling skillet, which keeps it at high temperature for a longer time.
      • by takshaka (15297)

        That's great if you don't eat any better cut than skirt steak.

        The last thing I want my rare ribeye to do is sit on a hot skillet where it will overcook and dry out as I eat.

    • On top of this the piece of meat makes logical sense to nerds as some sort of stack or queue. Cutting up the meat is akin to converting the stack into an array before operating on the data. Since you are intending to not sort but eat the pieces, an operation which can be run on either a stack or an array, this clearly makes no sense.

      No, you got it wrong. Basically, what you're doing while eating a piece of meat is 1) to cut in into an ordered sequence of little pieces and 2) eat each little piece in the ordered sequence of little pieces (expressed as dine = (map eat . cut) meat. Now, there are languages evaluating expressions in the applicative order and languages evaluating expressions in the normal order. A programmer in a normal-order language, such as Haskell, lazily executes each step when necessary, therefore cutting each nibble

    • by DriveDog (822962)

      That sounds as if all your pieces of meat are equivalent. That only happens when you eat McRibs, something that I've heard Ohioans do. McD's sells some of those around the Carolinas, too—to visiting Ohioans. Sorry, I just had to rib you a bit.

      I agree about the meat getting cold, but if you wish to eat the best bites first and possibly leave the rest, there's some logic to not nibbling the steak from one edge but cutting large pieces away first. What's more, around here we can't afford a separate knife

      • around here we can't afford a separate knife for every diner, so you have to cut everything you'll need and then pass the knife along.

        Wow. In America, it's not unusual for people to have more than one knife per person! Maybe Americans really are spoiled. I can't imagine everyone having to pass around the knife every dinner.

    • by Wraithlyn (133796)

      Well I'm just going to have to disagree.

      Cutting up all your meat at once (and subsequently scarfing it all down at once, sans pauses) allows for greater batch processing efficiency. Switching back and forth between cutting and eating is analogous to excessive context switching.

      This practice also allows one to drop the knife when the cutting phase is complete, and then switch the fork over to the primary hand for optimal input rate.

      I am a skilled practitioner of this technique, and I can assure you that its

      • by Daetrin (576516)
        I sure hope you're joking. At least i'm totally boggled by the idea that increasing the throughput on shoveling food into your mouth could be the highest priority. I already eat too fast as it is, and i don't really need to focus on having _more_ time to sit and watch the other people at the table eat after having finished all my own food.

        That said though, cutting a piece at a time is definitely more time efficient. (So perhaps i should switch to your method to slow myself down?) When cutting all at once
  • From the last link, about dining etiquette:

    10. Licking Your Fingers/Using Fingers to Push Food Onto Your Fork.

    Always use a napkin to remove food from your fingers, and a knife to push food onto your fork. If the situation were reversed, would you want to shake hands with, or take a dinner roll from, someone after their fingers have been in their mouth or on their plate?

    I agree on the point but not their rationalization. Considering the number of men who don't wash their hands after using the urinal, shaking hands with someone who might have had food on their fingers before they wiped clean is the least of my concerns.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Okay, how about this: Because you failed to wash your hands after going to the potty, licking your fingers is just lick sucking a dick.
      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Okay, how about this: Because you failed to wash your hands after going to the potty, licking your fingers is just lick sucking a dick.

        I'll have to get my GF to do that for me then

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I agree on the point but not their rationalization. Considering the number of men who don't wash their hands after using the urinal, shaking hands with someone who might have had food on their fingers before they wiped clean is the least of my concerns.

      So because shaking hands with someone whose fingers are covered in gravy isn't as bad as shaking hands with someone who has just wiped their arse with their fingers, it's OK to leave your hands covered with gravy after a meal?

      Nice.

      • I agree on the point but not their rationalization. Considering the number of men who don't wash their hands after using the urinal, shaking hands with someone who might have had food on their fingers before they wiped clean is the least of my concerns.

        So because shaking hands with someone whose fingers are covered in gravy isn't as bad as shaking hands with someone who has just wiped their arse with their fingers, it's OK to leave your hands covered with gravy after a meal?

        Nice.

        Do you deliberately misinterpret things people say, or do you just enjoy building straw men to knock down?

        And you take think urinals are a place to take dumps? I think the sarcastic "nice" properly goes to you.

  • If you are smart enough for MIT then perhaps that can be your charm. Whether or not you can wear a suit and tie is irrelevant in 2013.

    • by bytesex (112972)

      Obviously, it's off the Charm class for you!

  • by Thomasje (709120) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @01:57AM (#43102095)
    We've managed to get to the point where it's no longer mandatory for women to wear dresses and high heels everywhere. Can we please move on and also stop requiring men to wear suits and ties? If you're looking for an engineer, look for an engineering degree. If you want to hire a model, look for someone who looks good in a suit. Confusing the two is just unprofessional.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Everyone looks good in a suit that fits. That's the entire point of the suit. It's the culmination of hundreds of years of mens' clothing traditions. If you choose to wear something other than a suit, you're choosing to make your appearance suboptimal. Which is often okay, but why would you do it when it actually matters what you look like?

      I don't understand the nerd hatred of suits and ties at all. Learn to nerd out about fabrics and patterns and all the little details that distinguish a good suit from a b

      • Clothing does not require lapels, a tie or a collar to 'look good'. These aesthetic details are conditioned, not natural.
        Clothing can be cut well, match and enhance the aesthetics of one's form, and not be a suit (ie probably be more comfortable and a better medium of personal expression as well).
        Suits also carry a legacy of corporate identity, a state which many of us are automatically suspicious of... especially those of us who have to deal with corporate bureaucracy on a regular basis.
        Ultimately
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 07, 2013 @02:44AM (#43102257)

          You're going to have a hard time putting together an outfit that looks as good as your bog standard suit. Why bother when you don't even have to think about it? Suit, shoes that are black or brown and not horrible, shirt that's lighter than the suit and doesn't clash, tie that's darker than the shirt and doesn't clash. Done. Ten seconds of thought and you're all but guaranteed to be the best-looking guy in the room, and that matters. It's a wonderful tool for men, you should be grateful for it. Imagine being a woman and wanting to dress up, it would be an absolute nightmare.

          Corporate identity is nonsense. Maybe it shouldn't matter what you look like, but it does. Dressing appropriately shows that you recognise those realities even if you don't necessarily approve of them. And seriously why would you not want to look like hot shit in a sharp suit??

          • by Rinikusu (28164)

            I don't think anyone looks good in a suit. It looks and smells of conservative conformity. Your opinions may differ, but frankly, I have other things I'd rather do than worry about dressing like a salesman.

        • by qc_dk (734452)

          You are one of those evil handsome men, aren't you?

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66c7el1E11o [youtube.com]

      • by Krishnoid (984597) *

        ... you're choosing to make your [x] suboptimal.

        When there's a clearly described and readily available more-optimal alternative, that alone could be a sufficient nerd reason to at least learn the underlying principles behind [x], for any [x].

      • Because it's not a single axis. There is smart vs sloppy, but there's also formal vs informal. If you dress too formally for an occasion, then you risk making other people feel uncomfortable.
      • Everyone looks good in a suit that fits.

        That is a matter of opinion. While that might be the consensus it is not a universally held opinion. And in my opinion they often look quite silly. An attractive person will look attractive in casual or formal clothes. An unattractive person will be made at most marginally better looking with nice clothes but it is demonstrably true that not everyone looks good in a suit no matter how well it is tailored. 20 seconds on google images will reveal lots of ugly people in nice fitting suits.

        I don't understand the nerd hatred of suits and ties at all.

        Partly because a

      • by fredrated (639554)

        If you choose to wear something other than a suit, you're choosing to make your appearance suboptimal.

        One of the dumbest statements I have ever read on slashdot.

    • by sribe (304414)

      Confusing the two is just unprofessional.

      Zing! You rock!

      I speak as someone who's (a long damn time ago) worked as a marketing/engineering liaison and worn custom-made shirts and really nice suits. Your point reminds me of the fury I felt when I read those moronic comments about Mark Zuckerberg not respecting investors by wearing his hoodie to Wall Street meetings. Ahem. He created something huge which the investment bankers wanted a piece of. Shouldn't they have been obligated to show respect to him? Why the fuck was it supposed to be the other w

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Alex Belits (437) *

        To be fair, Mark Zuckerberg and his investors are exactly the same kind of assholes, therefore it's arrogant of him to act as if he is a productive member of society while they are not.

      • At that point, they had something he needed: money. To get it, he had to play their game by their rules, and wearing a hoodie wasn't one of them. All he did was make it harder for himself than it had to be because he wasn't willing to play the game.
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Hell, I don't even like Facebook, but the idea that MZ owed respect to the investment bankers was absurd and offensive.

        Oh fuck off. When Facebook starts its inevitable slide into obscurity (as soon as investment bankers start realising it's never actually going to make them much money) MZ will be there on his hands and knees in the sharpest suit he can still afford, begging for the chance to show he is a proper CEO.

      • by edremy (36408)
        Reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) story about one of the initial meetings between Apple and IBM engineers back when they started work on the PowerPC. The IBM folks were aware that Apple had a very laid back atmosphere and so they made sure to ditch the 3 piece suits in favor of polo shirts and chinos. Of course, the Apple guys had the same realization about corporate culture and showed up in 3 piece suits.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      We've managed to get to the point where it's no longer mandatory for women to wear dresses and high heels everywhere.

      Except at work, if you're a professional woman. Oh look, just like men have to wear suits and ties.

      If you can't recognise the difference between a smart professional and a student, you are destined never to be taken seriously in the adult world.

      • you are destined never to be taken seriously in the adult world.

        I reject your adult world and substitute my own.

        I haven't been a student in a long time, and yet I honestly cannot remember the last time I wore a suit for work. Funny thing is that when I meet my clients they're not generally weaing suits either.

        They have a business to run, and I have a business to run. As long as the person you're trying to do business with is not dressed an a really inappropriate manner (e.g. filthy, smelly, naked) we can ju

      • by Builder (103701)

        Really? I see women in summer dresses and flip flops in summer in fortune 100 firms while the men have to wear smart shirts, jackets and trousers in those same firms.

    • by Solandri (704621) on Thursday March 07, 2013 @06:19AM (#43102897)
      Ah, a perfect candidate for charm school. It started as an IAP course the year before I arrived at MIT. It's meant for people exactly like you and me - those who see no redeeming value in the web of social customs, rituals, and taboos which 95% of society adheres to. While it's certainly possible to reject these social norms (Hughes, Zuckerberg, Elvis in the years before he died, Liberace, etc), you usually have to be important, rich, or famous to get away with it. For most people, even MIT grads, not conforming to these norms will get people thinking you're eccentric or weird at best, a misfit or an outcast at worst. Even if they treat you like a peer to your face, they'll still be saying that about you behind your back.

      The examples cited in TFA were a bit toward the officious end. Most of it is pretty mundane stuff, like the importance of daily hygiene, what's expected on a date, when you're expected to wear a tie, etc. Stuff that "normal" folks all picked up during K-12, but people like you and me always considered unimportant so never bothered learning in our 18 years before arriving at college.

      Because most of this stuff is learned from interacting with other people as you're growing up, it's difficult to find it all consolidated into one place for quick and easy consumption. That's what charm school does - it's a crash course in everything we ignored our friends gossiping about while we were growing up. We may think these social rules are silly and pointless, but we are the exception. The vast majority of the population thinks it's important for some reason. So you can either reject it and be an outcast, or you can learn to emulate the less annoying parts of it and fit in better.
  • by Alex Belits (437) * on Thursday March 07, 2013 @02:29AM (#43102209) Homepage

    Computational biology graduate student Asa Adadey said the free meal was a draw and said he learned in one mini-course not to cut up all his meat at once before eating it.

    Anyone with a brain capable of dealing with science, engineering and math would know that cutting all food before eating it increases the surface area while keeping the total mass and volume unchanged, thus causing the food to cool and dry faster, relative to its original, supposedly optimal for consumption, state. Anyone who is surprised by this, is probably not good at recognizing reasons behind other decisions and rules. He may be is a "trade school" kind of student that collects assorted morsels of prescriptive knowledge and expects it to provide him an easy, comfortable job. Real geeks hate those people, because they pass themselves as competent, cause enormous messes, and a real engineer has to clean up after them instead of doing actual work.

    • by hazem (472289)

      The problem here is that optimality is not an absolute condition, and a good engineer should know that.

      If you're trying to optimize how much time you spend cutting up your meat so you can spend more time doing other things, then cutting it up all at once is the optimal choice. But to talk about any option being an optimal one, you have to also factor in all the conditions and constraints.

      Maybe in a European or American setting, it's optimal for avoiding the derision of your peers to cut your meat one bite

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Maybe in a European or American setting, it's optimal for avoiding the derision of your peers to cut your meat one bite at a time. But if you're in Japan, you should generally serve your guests food that is already cut up and able to be eaten with chopsticks (or soft enough to cut with chopsticks).

        Yes, but presumably if you're teaching etiquette at MIT, you're teaching the etiquette that applies to the Eastern US. I don't think anyone would disagree that there are cultural differences between human beings in the US, Japan and Afghanistan.

      • THANK YOU. Regardless of the specific subject at hand, GP has completely overlooked that fact that optimization is dependent upon constraints.

        Maybe I don't give a good goddamn about the temperature or tenderness of my food: I just want to forget about cutting it.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Anyone with a brain capable of dealing with science, engineering and math would know that cutting all food before eating it increases the surface area while keeping the total mass and volume unchanged, thus causing the food to cool and dry faster, relative to its original, supposedly optimal for consumption, state.

      A True Geek would, however, not assume that food is served at an optimal state that demands instant consumption, on the basis that food takes a certain time to eat, which would be factored into the serving temperature.

    • Perhaps he is just unconcerned with the minutia involved in fields in which he is not an expert, kind of like the loose syntax displayed in your post (extraneous comma, maybe, s/that/who/, mixed construction.) No one thinks that you're "dumb" because of this.

      Maybe he's overweight, and would rather consume his food cold in order to burn more calories.

      Maybe he has some degree of Autism, which hinders his ability to distinguish between the taste of cold steak and warm steak.

      It is possible to ride your bike to

  • That has as big of an effect as charm school. The guys have more opportunities to socialize than when I attended at 90% male.
  • The ability to socialize and represent oneself well in social situations is important, but it's not that important. If it is that important to you, your intelligence or engineering prowess may not be as great as you'd like to think.

    Fact is, falling somewhere in between Social Retard and Master of Etiquette is just fine for most people.

    Etiquette is silly anyway. I care what kind of stories you tell and how you view the world around you, not how you hold your fucking fork.
  • It is infinitely more important to be an interesting person than it is to be a well-mannered person.

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