In this section, Prof. Jeffrey Grossman discusses the emphasis on hands-on practice that underlies MIT’s motto of mens et manus (“mind and hand”).
It’s great to be at a place where mens et manus is in the blood of the institute itself, and that is in fact how we can most effectively learn and make a difference in the world.
My own background was in theoretical physics, very not hands-on. But every step of the way, I had a chemistry set in my basement that I would play with. It was like I was a theoretical physicist in public, but a chemist in my basement, in private, always mixing things together. I’ve always loved just trying things out with my hands.
That’s why the discipline of materials science and engineering is such a draw and so exciting to me, because it combines scientific discovery and exploration with engineering. It literally is the intersection between these different disciplines. Those sorts of intersections are where we need to look to find creative solutions to some of the hardest challenges that we face in the world.
The intersection between the fundamental knowledge and the hands-on trial-and-error component is really valuable in how we learn. It always has been for me. I tell my students all the time that this is so important. Progress has nothing at all to do with success. Nothing. Progress has to do with what we choose to do with failure. I try to convey that to students. And I have to convey it to myself as well. We have to remind ourselves that we’re all in that same position.