Michael FuMIT 2015, Chemical Engineering and Management Science

Michael Fu, RSI 2010, Counselor 2012

Hi there! I attended RSI 2010 and was a Counselor for RSI 2012. In an attempt to be somewhat thorough, I think the best way to answer this is to segment it into 4 parts:

  • •  The Setting
  • •  The People
  • •  The Research
  • •  The “Other Stuff”


1. The Setting

Okay, this one’s pretty easy. The Research Science Institute (RSI) takes place every summer from approximately June 23 - August 3. That’s a little over 5 weeks.

RSI takes place largely at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA. Since 2004, the students and staff have lived in Simmons Hall (MIT Dormitory). The majority of the students’ mentorships (see 3. The Research) also take place at MIT, though some can be as far away as Harvard Medical School or Massachusetts General Hospital.

Typically, students are discouraged from wandering too far off of MIT’s campus otherwise, though there are certainly many opportunities for them to get to know Cambridge and Boston through planned events (such as trips to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Harbor Islands, and the Esplanade for the 4th of July celebration).


2. The People

In general, you can think of RSI as being composed of 3 groups of people: the students (a.k.a. “Rickoids”), the staff, and the lecturers.

The Students are almost exclusively high school students between their 3nd and 4rd year of study. However, there are exceptions every year, particularly for internationals (my year, there was even a 12-year-old!). A total of 80 students are chosen (50 domestic + 30 international), all of which have exceptional backgrounds in STEM-related fields. It is not unusual to have several Rickoids each year who have participated in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), the International Science Olympiads, or have published significant research/perfect SATs, just to name a few. You get the idea - these kids are pretty bright, and competition to get in is high (I think the acceptance rate hovers around 1-3% each year). Domestically, almost every state is represented at RSI. Internationally, participants are somewhat less homogenously distributed - traditionally, a handful of countries have had strong representation at RSI (Saudi Arabia, China, and Singapore send a handful each year), with one or two from a list of other countries, ranging from Poland to Mexico. Generally, the students have a high rate of matriculation to elite universities (from RSI 2012, 14 to Harvard, 17 to MIT, 14 to Stanford, 2 to Princeton, 2 to Yale, and so on).

The Staff (that are consistently around) consists of the Director/Assistant Director, the Counselors, the TAs, and the Tutors. The Director and Assistant Director are essentially the head honchos to whom the rest of the staff answer. They are the main disciplinarians, money-handlers, and have the final say on the scheduling of events. The Counselors consist of 4 or 5 Rickoid alums who participated in RSI one or two years prior to the present session. Each is assigned his or her group of Rickoids and is generally responsible for making sure the Rickoids are adjusting to life at RSI well. Counselors also are responsible for organizing external jaunts (such as trips to museums, tours of Boston, movie premiers, etc.). The TAs and Tutors are generally professionals (who may or may not have participated in RSI) who help out with the academic part of RSI. Their main responsibility is helping the Rickoids compose and edit their research papers (see 3. The Research). Also worth mentioning are Joann DiGennaro and Maite Ballestero, two extremely dedicated people who head the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE) and work behind the scenes to make RSI work from an administrative and financial standpoint.

The Lecturers are professionals who give 1-2 hours talks to the Rickoids several times every week. They are an extremely accomplished and eclectic group of people, including but not limited to several Nobel Laureates, deans of universities, and CEOs of multinational companies. Their “lectures” are just as diverse, with topics ranging from financial engineering to particle physics to college applications.


3. The Research

Ah, the research. The research is crux of RSI and really the primary reason that the students are brought from around the world to MIT’s campus, free of charge. Each student is matched with a mentor with whom they will conduct STEM research over the course of RSI. Most mentorships are matched reasonably well with the particular field the Rickoid indicated they wanted to concentrate on at MIT. On a typical weekday, the Rickoids will spend around 8 hours at their mentorship conducting research, so it’s really a pretty immersive experience.

The majority of mentors are university faculty, and their research fields can be extremely diverse. Past projects have included topics such as graph theory, visual psychology, biotechnology, astrophysics, etc. Personally, I worked in MIT’s Space Systems Lab (SSL), designing the reaction wheels and torque coils for their nanosatellite - basically, so that the physical orientation of the satellite can be precisely controlled in a zero-gravity environment. Pretty awesome stuff all around.

At the end of RSI, each Rickoid composes and submits for publication a research paper outlining their project over course of the summer. I’m not going to sugarcoat it - the paper-writing process is pretty grueling. The last week, affectionally known as “Hell Week”, is largely spent in the student center’s computer lab writing and editing the paper (with little contact with the outside world). I remember bringing my blanket and pillow to the lab, along with a case of RedBulls that essentially served as my sustenance during the last week. Not the healthiest choice, but effective nonetheless.

Each Rickoid also prepares an oral presentation in which they present their research to the entire program and a panel of judges. The top 10 presentations, selected by the judges, secure a coveted position in the Final Presentation, attended by industry leaders, Nobel Laureates, and the like. Yep, that final week is pretty intense, but it’s incredibly fun and rewarding as well.


4. The “Other Stuff”

I saved the best for last. The “other stuff” is arguably the most memorable part of RSI. It comprises the day-to-day activities of Rickoids as well as organized jaunts led by the counselors. They include (to name a few):

Trip to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)

Tours of Boston and Harvard

Trip to Harbor Island beaches

Exploring “unusual” sites at MIT

Table tennis tournaments

The annual ultimate frisbee match against Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS)

Mongolian BBQ

Toscanini‘s Ice Cream

Many other things of awesomeness.


Yep, that’s my (not very brief) answer. Wait, what was the original question again? Oh yeah - “What is it like to attend RSI?” Well, stated somewhat more briefly, pretty awesome.