Because he graduated from both college and his PhD program early, Nash is only 23 when he becomes an instructor at MIT: he is nicknamed “the Kid Professor.” Nash finds teaching tiresome, since it interferes with his research interests, and he is known to the undergraduates he teaches as an aimless lecturer and tough grader. He often puts trick questions on his exams, including famously unsolved problems, which earns him the ire of his students—save for the few he regards as intellectually exceptional.
Nash’s teaching style reflects his troublesome personality: his intense arrogance and penchant for turning interactions with others into competitions or games.
The common room for math students at MIT is a “brasher, rougher crowd” than the common room at Princeton, but this atmosphere is more suited to Nash’s temperament: like him, the other mathematicians are eccentric, narcissistic, and often “exhibitionistic.” Nash begins to play up his own eccentric affects—often calling other people “humanoids”—and avoids small talk and social conventions. He expresses a cynical, often politically conservative view of the world but also dresses flamboyantly and reads about illicit drugs. This strange admixture of interests can be seen as the first signs of his “growing alienation from convention and society.”
Though Nash’s strange personality quirks do not make him an outsider at MIT, where others share his eccentricities, certain aspects of his person seem to show that he is losing touch with “convention” and “society”—moving toward the mental illness that will eventually consume him.
At MIT, Nash’s strangeness earns him the respect of his students and peers. Whereas at Princeton, Nash was somewhat of an outcast, he is regarded as an “interesting” genius at MIT and “a bad boy, but a great one.” Nash’s “closest equal” is D.J. Newman, also considered a genius with a flair for the eccentric: “a big, brash, blond swaggerer.” Nash makes friends with Newman and garners respect from Newman’s friends; for the first time in his life, he has found something like a social circle.
Nash’s social life improves dramatically at MIT, where he meets other like-minded mathematicians. Unfortunately, this new social circle is ill-fated: in a few years, after he is diagnosed with schizophrenia, Nash will lose touch with many of his friends and colleagues.
Nash is determined to constantly demonstrate “his own uniqueness, superiority, and self-sufficiency” to his new friends at MIT, and often acts in punishing or supercilious ways. At parties, he enjoys “performing”—attempting to solve difficult math puzzles—and flaunting his “social snobbery” and upper-class status.
Though Nash is accepted for his quirks at MIT, he continues to act in competitive, outlandish, and often aggressive ways, alienating some of his new friends in the process.