Even before you start an interview, your job application can impress any potential employer if he sees a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on your resume.
That being said, MIT is more than that; it is renowned for its excellent research, exacting curriculum and exceptional faculty. As Jerome Wiesner said, "Getting an education at MIT is like taking a drink from a fire hose."
Today, MIT is affiliated with 98 Nobel laureates and approximately 65 students from Bangladesh are currently studying there.
Mahmudul Islam and Shashata Sawmya, who recently made it into MIT, sat with The Business Standard over a cup of tea at the Buet campus to share their journey from Dhaka to Massachusetts.
Mahmudul studied at Dhaka Residential Model College before getting into Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
Mahmudul, who stood 26th in the Buet admission test, did not take CSE or EEE, usually the most desired subjects for top students. Instead, he chose mechanical engineering as he was passionate about it.
When asked of his interests and dreams, he said, "I plan to stay in academia. Growing up, I wanted to become a scientist even before I understood what the profession is. Apart from that, I love physics."
"I just wanted to study at a reputed university where I could follow my passion and learn what I like. MIT has given me the chance," he explained when asked why he chose MIT.
He applied on 22 November, just a week before the admissions deadline. "When I found out the result was due any day during the last week of January, I could not sleep well and kept waiting for the result. Finally, it was on 29 January when the much awaited email finally popped up in my mailbox and the subject read - 'Congratulations!'" he recalled.
Being a multidisciplinary subject, engineering allows students to opt for a PhD or Master's programme different from their bachelor's discipline. Mahmudul says he is its perfect example, since he will pursue his PhD under the Materials Science and Engineering department, switching from his mechanical engineering concentration.
Shashata Sawmya's journey started off in quite the same manner as Mahmudul. Born and raised in Dhaka, Shashata went to Notre Dame College (NDC) after completing his schooling at Ideal School.
Awarded with an honourable mention for his extraordinary academic and extracurricular activity at NDC, Shashata then stepped into Buet.
After topping Buet's admission test, he enrolled into the Computer Science and Engineering department.
Shashata loves working with computational biology and has expertise in designing efficient and scalable computational models for solving real biological problems.
"Now, I am going to pursue my PhD programme at MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, which matches my subject," he said.
But Shashata is not just about studies, he also loves and has been associated with music besides doing voluntary work.
However, he plans to stick to teaching in the future. "Teaching profession runs in our family. My grandfather, father and mother are all teachers. I tried teaching and figured out that this profession fascinates me," he said.
Shashata started his PhD preparation quite early. "I got my test scores by 2020 and began applying around July and August. I submitted applications to nine big universities," he said.
However, Shashata's application to MIT was uncertain as his father suffered from a heart attack during that time. He completed his application process at the eleventh hour.
"I was not in a state of applying for MIT. Though I already sent all the documents, including my scores and letters of recommendation, I was yet to finish writing the statement of objective." he continued, adding, "however, by the stroke of luck, a wake-up call from a friend pushed me to complete the application."
What does one actually need to get accepted at MIT?
The duo share similar opinions - admission to top universities, including MIT, depends on five parameters - grades, test scores, statement of purpose, letter of recommendation and research.
"You should maintain a good CGPA throughout the bachelor's degree. However, it does not confirm your admission, nor does it kill your chance if your CGPA is not pristine," opined Mahmudul.
Shashata nodded in agreement and added, "Universities want to see a sweet balance among all the parameters, you can lag in one but excel in another."
Then comes your GRE and TOEFL scores. Again, it would be best if you go above certain scores, but that, too, does not guarantee acceptance.
"Your statement of purpose should show your academic strength, research motivation, and contribution in the research you have worked on. Moreover, how you gather ideas for research and envision future research alo play a vital role," detailed Shashata.
Another important element is your letters of recommendation. Mahmudul and Shashata got recommendation letters from some professors they had worked with.
"Your project supervisor has more impact on your letter of recommendation than a famous Harvard professor who does not really know you. Also, you should give them time to write the letter for you, there is no need to hurry," Mahmudul pointed out.
Research, in Mahmudul's eyes, is the most critical factor. "You should have publications and showcase them properly. The more publications you have, the better. Every tiny project you worked on, even a project from your undergrad years can have a big impact," he suggested.
Shashata seconded him and said, "If you do not have any publications yet but did some work, at least write about your motivation for research."
He continued, "If you can play well with your package, you do not need to worry about money because prestigious universities have enormous funding and they have programmes like research assistantship, teaching assistantship and fellowship to cover your expenses."
Mahmudul believes that the whole journey from CGPA to application, from GRE to letter of recommendation, is a part of one's growth.
No one should go to agencies or coaching centres for help. "I absolutely discourage going to any agency or coaching centre. They will rip you off and are certainly not effective," he said.
According to Mahmudul, it does not matter where you study; it matters that you enjoy your study or research.
"If you enjoy your work, you can do it relentlessly. I enjoyed the study that brought me to Buet, I enjoyed my stay here that led me to MIT, and probably if I enjoy working there, it will get me somewhere even bigger, who knows?" added Mahumudul.
Shashata believes it is wiser to start early; the earlier you get your scores, the more time you will have in hand to organise everything.
"Hard work is the ultimate key. I was not the most talented guy among my peers, nor was my problem-solving ability the best, but I made it happen through hard work," he said.
Most of our students cannot make it to renowned universities because they do not dare to dream big and lack proper guidance.
While Sashata preached hard work, Mahmudul suggested dreaming big and following your passion. They both laughed, saying, "Sounds like a cliche, but it certainly works."