Marc Teyssier, second year Master’s student in Virtual Reality & Design, is carrying out his final internship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. He gives us his first impressions.
How long will you stay at MIT? When did you arrive?
At the end of our course at L’École de design we have to do a final internship of at least 13 weeks, but to get the most out of this experience I wanted to stay as long as possible in Boston. My job as Visiting Research Assistant will last 6 months. I started my work at MIT two weeks ago.
What do you find most striking about MIT?
I was surprised by the size of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This university hosts researchers from all scientific fields: physics, medicine, robotics, new technologies, etc. The campus takes up an entire neighborhood of Cambridge - it’s really huge, with its own infrastructures, transport system and local police. Over 20 000 people work here. The Media Lab itself is a huge 6-storey building which houses Master’s students, doctoral students, numerous partners who regularly visit the site and finally the assistants, like me, who help all these people in their projects.
What kind of welcome does a little “frenchy” get at the MIT Media Lab?
I’ve had a very warm welcome. I had only just arrived and people were coming to ask me about my expectations for these six months and the skills I had to offer them. The research community doesn’t have a good reputation and I was quite anxious about working in this field… The major difference is that in the technological field there are so many things to do and so many different projects to develop that people are open and interested in any new point of view. Besides, MIT is a really cosmopolitan place. People come from all over the world to work here and develop their research. Out of the 20 people in my group, only 2 are American! Having a double degree really helped me settle in to the team. My multiple skills mean that I can very easily talk to the doctoral students either to challenge their projects or to contribute to them.
What kind of projects are you working on?
The research carried out here isn’t really confidential. All projects are destined to be conducted functionally and presented publicly. The Media Lab is a doctoral university so the aim is to publish technical papers on new technologies which can help drive innovation. I work mainly on human-machine interactions, exploring projects of all kinds. They deal mainly with virtual reality or connected objects, two fields which are going to skyrocket in the coming years. In addition, I’ve met some people here who are working on similar subjects to the ones I developed for my final degree project, which is a great motivation to continue my work.
How do you work in your team?
It’s completely different from the way they operate in a company. You can choose your hours and also your working methods: all that matters is the final result. Working on design projects at MIT or at L’École de design involves pretty much the same foundations – the methodological approach developed here is very close to the approach taught at the school. We discuss an idea, challenging its relevance then determining the technological levers it may unlock. Then comes the design phase which, after a prototyping phase, leads to a functional project. The students and researchers work independently during the entire project phase. Here, no distinction is made based on your role (student, researcher, visitor, etc.) – all that counts are your skills and creativity and the successful completion of a product. This is going to be a very different experience from the missions I carried out during my previous internships in companies.
What have you found the most surprising? What are your first impressions?
I was amazed by the amount of material there is here: they’ve got all the latest devices and as soon as you need anything, you just have to ask. Money is no longer a limiting factor for expanding research, and that is probably the reason for the quality of the projects which come out of the Media Lab. Although the projects aren’t developed for companies, the latter are nevertheless present and work in partnership with the lab. There’s a strong link between the labs and companies: directors of multinationals come here in person to see what their money has helped develop. Their interest in research is really inspiring.
I’ve been here for two weeks and I already feel totally free to explore anything I find pertinent. What’s brilliant here is that I can work on personal projects. I just have to mention an idea and people will be motivated to help me realize the project. The fact that the working practices here and at school are similar means that I’ve already got my bearings in my work. I see this experience as a continuation of the work I’ve carried out over the past 5 years at L’École de design: I’m really enthusiastic about these early days at the MIT Media Lab and I can’t wait to discover what I’ll get out of the projects!