Traditionally, the MAS921 “Proseminar in Media Arts and Sciences” course informs and guides the new PhD cohort through all the steps in the doctoral process, from formulating research questions to the formal requirements of the general exam, thesis proposal, and PhD defense. We discuss potential research topics and committee members with each other, as well as inviting recent Media Lab alumni and subsets of Media Lab faculty to a set of panel discussions to share their experience and wisdom. Although nobody denies the benefit of getting the fresh PhD students oriented into the process of obtaining their doctorate, the typical class structure felt like a missed opportunity to both the current instructor (Prof. Joe Paradiso), TA (Irmandy Wicaksono), as well as most of the students who had taken the class in past years. Having so many bright and talented students from across the Lab together for a term is an opportunity that won’t naturally repeat. Inspired by a recent visit to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where Joe saw their "A-Team" in session (a workshop that cloisters participants from very different backgrounds in an intense multi-day session to flesh out the details of candidate planetary missions), we started the 2020 Prosem with the idea of bringing an activity like this into the class.
Hence, this year, we added a new element to the Prosem syllabus. As one of the major strengths of the Media Lab is its high level of intellectual diversity, we introduced a final Prosem project activity that would encourage students to collaborate in an interdisciplinary way, to reinforce cohesion, familiarity, and mutual respect across Media Lab groups that are built around different intellectual domains.
"We wanted to leverage this close-knit opportunity to reflect and imagine, to look forward, to envision and design future possibilities. We set out to amplify the timely and timeless research rigor and boldness that continuously evolve in the Media Lab."
Even though we were convoluted by a stream of unpredictable events last year, culminating in pandemic-induced isolation, we thought that it was even more important to build innovative group activity into the Prosem, thinking broadly about how to come out of quarantine with an even better Media Lab. Therefore, we wanted to leverage this close-knit opportunity to reflect and imagine, to look forward, to envision and design future possibilities. We set out to amplify the timely and timeless research rigor and boldness that continuously evolve in the Media Lab. Inspired by Stewart Brand and his book The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT, we found that extrapolating and envisioning the future based on our current research, and putting this into a piece of writing or storytelling could be a powerful approach that could inspire and spark discussions within our community and the world around us. These vignettes, although often fun and playful, are full of inspirations as we mused across possible futures, and serve as a memoir that will be there to reflect back upon as time collectively passes. In our first exercise, we questioned what the Media Lab itself could look like in 10, 30, or even 50 years? How could we convey this Media Lab X.0 as a group project? After a set of brainstorming sessions, we decided to work in teams (with members coming from different backgrounds) to create a collection of Media Lab scientific publications, sci-fi articles inspired by future Media Lab projects, and mixed media that would exist in the years of 2030 and 2050 as the output of our 2020-cohort Final Prosem project.