Admissions > Graduate
Graduate Admissions: How to apply for the Masters and PhD programs in
the Software Agents Group at the MIT Media Lab
Most importantly, the deadline is in
mid-December for the following year's September admission for MS
and PhD applications. First, see the official information for all
applications to the MIT
Now, here are a few words of additional, unofficial advice for
applicants to the Software Agents Group.
What We Are Looking
We are looking for people with diverse backgrounds. Software Agents is
an interdisciplinary topic, and we are not limiting our admissions to
straight-A computer scientists. Expertise in computer science is a plus,
of course, but we also encourage people with unconventional backgrounds
or relevant knowledge and experience in other fields to apply. The two
core competencies are Human-Computer Interaction Design and Artificial
Intelligence. People who have broad backgrounds, including other fields
such as graphics and visualization, cognitive science, artificial life,
psychology, mathematics, economics, library science, educational
applications and the arts are welcome.
The term "Software Agents" is used differently in different communities.
At the MIT Media Lab's Software Agents group, we focus on the sense of
"agent" as being a helpful assistant in the user interface, like a
travel agent or real estate agent (but hopefully, NOT like the Microsoft
Paper Clip!). The term "agent" is also used in the fields of Distributed
Artificial Intelligence and Multi-Agent Systems to mean a software
entity that can be autonomous, have goals and intentions, and
communicate with other such agents to perform cooperative problem
solving. These kinds of agents do not necessarily appear in the user
interface. These two senses of agents are related, and we are interested
in the second sense as well, but our focus is primarily on agents which
provide assistance to a user directly in the user interface, via
learning, proactive anticipation of the user's needs, adaptation and
Above all, we are looking for people who are creative, who can think
'out-of-the-box' about the future and envision new possibilities, then
work hard to create them. We like people who can competently address
every aspect of a project, from the fundamental principles that motivate
a project, to the craft of actually building concrete prototypes that
demonstrate the ideas.
We are looking for people who can be self-motivated and take
responsibility for your own work on long-term projects without the need
for day-by-day, step-by-step direction. A faculty advisor is just that
-- an advisor, not a boss. You should also be able to collaborate well
with professors, your fellow students, visitors from industry and
It is absolutely essential to have good presentation and writing skills.
You probably do need to have good programming skills by the time you
embark seriously on a project. We do not have programmers who can work
for you. If your background doesn't demonstrate good programming skills,
you should be prepared to work very hard to acquire them rapidly. Best
is if you can program in both a language that is suited to AI or rapid
prototyping applications [Lisp, Prolog, Smalltalk] and also a more
conventional procedural language [Java, C, C++,C#].
If you would like to introduce yourself or ask questions, you may
send a short e-mail message to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Please DON'T send your resume, CV, or
any other e-mail attachments (you don't know how many files I've
got on my disk called "resume.doc"!). If you would like
us to look at any material, put it on your own Web server,
and send us the URL. I will try to look at it, but I can't guarantee
a quick response. In fairness to all applicants, we can't give you
any advance notice of your "chances of getting in" before
the official applications process.
The Media Lab
admissions office will give you detailed instructions on preparing
The most important parts of the application are the Statement of
Interests [the short essay in the front of the application], and the
Portfolio [samples of your work such as articles you've written,
software demos, tapes of your rock band, or any other tangible
representation of your work]. The Statement of Interests tells us who
you are, why you want to be here, and what your vision for your work is.
It also gives us a sample of your writing and self-expression.
Don't neglect the Portfolio. Include anything you are especially
proud of and you think represents you well, regardless of whether you
think the subject is 'relevant'. We are trying to see how you think and
what you think about, rather than match it narrowly to our interests.
Especially welcome is to show us projects that you've pursued
passionately from your own motivation, rather than something that
someone told you to do for work or school [although if you're proud of
your coursework or job work, we want to see that as well].
Of course, we like to see good grades and good recommendations, but
we're not making choices based on who has the highest grade average or
the most flowery recommendations.
Interviews are not required, but if you are in the Boston area and
available and would like to visit the lab, please let us know.
If you have specific questions about graduate student life at the Media
Lab, please contact us via e-mail. However, please do not phone or
e-mail simply to 'check the progress of your application'.
The Media Lab is fortunate in that all Media Lab graduate students are
supported by Research Assistantships. This pays tuition and a modest
stipend for living expenses. You do not need outside scholarships.
The Research Assistantships include the obligation to participate in
research and educational activities of the Media Lab, including sponsor
relations and teaching. A big part of the Media Lab's role is providing
education and presentations on the Media Lab's research to the companies
and organizations which support us. You will become an active part of
those activities. In other words, as we say at the lab, 'Demo or die'
Note to PhD
Please be aware that even if you already have a Masters [MS] degree
at another university, you must normally complete a MS degree at
the Media Lab before being accepted to the Media Lab PhD
program. You must reapply for the PhD at the conclusion of the MS,
and completion of the Media Lab MS does not guarantee acceptance
into the Media Lab PhD. It is usually two years for the MS, followed
by four years for the PhD.