Updated: October 2021
The nearly 7,000 graduate students at MIT are one of the most talented scholarly cohorts in the world. Their educational experiences on campus go beyond just research.
To help us meet our charge of improving the quality of graduate student life and learning at MIT, we have been listening and responding to the ideas and concerns of MIT’s graduate students, and we have started to build stronger connections between members of the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC), the Division of Student Life (DSL), and the Graduate Student Council (GSC).
Based upon meetings with graduate students in small and large groups, we have identified shared goals:
- strengthening the support network for graduate students and their families;
- expanding housing options (on-campus and off) ; and
- enhancing diversity and inclusion, advising, and professional development programs and services.
The Road Ahead
To achieve our goals, we have launched a series of initiatives, known collectively as the Graduate Student Roadmap, as part of a strategic effort to improve the graduate student experience at MIT.
As pictured above, the Graduate Student Roadmap consists of the following initiatives: Onboarding and Orientation; Diversity and Inclusion; Professional Development and Advising; Financial Stability; Housing and Food Security; Community; Support and Wellness; and Business Practices.
As we work to bring these initiatives to fruition, we are committed to leveraging transparency, community ideas, and resources from across campus to make, track, and report on enhancements in these critical areas.
Working closely with the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and Institutional Research, we assessed the prevalence of, and reasons for, acute financial insecurity faced by some doctoral students. The following multipronged approach for student financial hardship support has been developed and implemented in collaboration with the Assistant School Deans, OGE and OVC.
- Endowment re-investment. Announced in October 2021, the increase in MIT’s endowment will enable greater support for undergraduate and graduate students, and a stronger MIT, including:
- 3% increase in pay for faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students starting on December 1, 2021.
- This increase is in addition to the 3.25% students received this year
- For the ~55% who are on RA appointments, this will be balanced by changing the GIB tuition subsidy going forward from 50% to 53% to maintain research competitiveness
- Noting that stipend*(1 + F&A) ≈ tuition
Funding approach for TA and Fellowship appointments will be determined through discussion with the Provost based on units’ resource capabilities (considering GIB, increased Pool A payout, etc.)
- 3% increase in pay for faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students starting on December 1, 2021.
- Graduate Stipend Rates for 2022. We have continued to enhance our support for graduate students for the 2021-2022 academic year (AY2022). In brief…
- We have provided a 3.25% increase, exceeding the GSC’s Stipend Working Group estimate of the change in cost-of-living by more than 1%. An increase above the cost-of-living adjustment responds to unique competitive pressures some graduate programs are experiencing this year, and similar increases in future years may not be appropriate when balancing many different considerations.
- We have also removed the option to set stipends at 10% below the approved baseline rate.
- MIT Housing rates will remain unchanged (i.e., no increases).
- MIT Medical health insurance rates (see below) have decreased.
- We have significantly increased our baseline support levels for graduate students with dependent children (from $2K to $5K).
- Need-Blind Grants for Graduate Students with Children. We are enhancing our commitment, as recommended by the GSC, to the need-blind Grants for Graduate Students Children. The base-level of the awards will be increased to $5,000. As a result, the award levels will move from $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 for 1,2, and 3 or more dependent children to $5,000, $6,000, and $7,000. Students can apply beginning August 1 and awards will be disbursed in October.
- Short-Term Emergency Funds. We have an ongoing fund for students who are experiencing one-time, non-recurring financial emergencies, and we want to remind those in need that the Graduate Student Short-Term Emergency Fund is a resource they can turn to right now. More information is available here. Covid-19 response – Students were directed to apply for short-term emergency funding during the onset of the pandemic if they were experiencing hardships including loss of summer funding opportunities, help with housing, moving costs and other basic living expenses like food and utilities. Additionally, cost of attendance information has been developed to help with student budgeting.
- Doctoral Long-Term Financial Hardship Funding. The School deans are keeping their commitments to putting policies and practices in place to address the long-term financial challenges that doctoral students who are not on full stipends may experience.
- Review of nonresidential status. OGE will no longer accept or approve students going on non residential status due to lack of funding. For students who are going on nonresidential status, the Committee on Graduate Programs approved a change in policy that now allows the ability for students to receive short-term financial hardship and the Grant for Graduate Students with Children while on nonresidential status.
- Covid funding extensions. Commitment from Provost to work with School/College Deans to fund extensions for PhD students who, due to COVID-19, require an additional year to complete their degrees.
- Yellow Ribbon Program expansion. Expanded participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program at the graduate level for student Veterans or designated transferees, who qualify under the Post-9/11 GI bill; for information on this program and others for graduate Veterans benefits, visit SFS.
- Food Security Action Team
The charge of the Food Security Action team is to ensure we are taking action, carefully tracking, and regularly updating key stakeholders on food security efforts with the goal of creating a food secure campus. We aim to have a well-organized and coordinated effort around food security that we implement reliably year-after-year. Topics that will be covered regularly include communications and marketing, dining, assessment, graduate students, special populations, and innovative projects. The group will meet once or twice a month and report out four times per year to Vice President and Dean for Student Life, Suzy Nelson.
Support and Wellness
- Additions to OGE staffing. OGE was able to increase support for graduate students by hiring two additional team members to support the student living and learning as well as wellbeing experience. The GradSupport team hired a new Assistant Dean for GradSupport and a Program Administrator for Graduate Student Families was hired as a result of the Grad Families Working Group recommendations
- Additional mental health benefits. Telehealth services and teletherapy groups launched to support students virtually.
- Implementing Everfi for Student Mental Health and Well-being. An online module for Mental Well-being for Graduate Students, developed last year, was launched in partnership with Everfi. The graduate student content was designed with partners from DSL’s Student Wellness and Support team and MIT Medical to resonate with and engage the graduate audience, and address the essential skills and information needed to navigate some of the primary stressors and emotional challenges associated with graduate school.
- MIT and Harvard lawsuit on behalf of international students. In July 2020, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it would not permit international students on F-1 visas to take a full online course load this fall while studying in the United States, MIT and Harvard jointly filed suit against ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security in federal court in Massachusetts. In the lawsuit, we ask the court to prevent ICE and DHS from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful.
- Online resource to easily ask for help about anything: Ask.mit.edu
- Online resource for support and wellbeing: Doingwell.mit.edu
Professional Development and Advising
- Transitional support program for graduate students. Holding true to MIT’s deep commitment to supporting graduate students through the entirety of their academic development and degree, and in response to recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report, MIT’s NASEM Academic and Organizational Relationship (AOR) working group report, and concerns raised by the Graduate Student Council and the RISE campaign, we have created a transitional support program for graduate students at MIT who wish to change research advisors or groups.
- School of Engineering mentoring training program for MIT junior faculty. This first step in offering an evidence-based program focused on helping research advisors improve their skills for engaging in productive, culturally responsive, research mentoring relationships was led by Dean – and Institute Professor Paula Hammond in collaboration with The Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER).
- Graduate Advising Playbook, or framework of best practices as related to advising and mentoring, was developed in partnership with OVC, OGE, MHH and the GSC. This resource was shared with the Deans Group, Graduate Officers and Administrators, and the Committee on Graduate Programs (CGP).
- Ad Hoc Committee On Graduate Advising and Mentoring. This Ad Hoc Committee was launced in summer 2021 and it’s primary aim is to deliver a strategic plan to guide policies and programs to be implemented at MIT.
- Additions to CAPD staff. Associate Director of Graduate Student Professional Development, Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Services, and a Communications Specialist to support both CAPD and the Office of Graduate Education were added to strengthen our support for dedicated graduate student career advising and professional development.
- Recommendations for an institutional-wide requirement. The Graduate Professional Development Working Group made a recommendation to adopt a unified effort to convey the importance of professional development at the school, department and institute level. The Career Exploration Committee also made a recommendation to adopt a career and professional development requirement for all graduate students. Meetings with the CGP showed an interest in moving an institute requirement forward, while also expanding curricular experiential opportunities. Additionally, OVC encouraged departments to include experiential education requirements within programs, similar to the Professional Perspective model that EECS implemented last year.
Orientation and Onboarding
- Virtualizing Orientation. In partnership with the Graduate Student Council (GSC), the Orientation team including members from OGE and DSL were able to move important orientation information to Canvas, our new Learning Management System. The OGE took the lead in collaborating with the Graduate Student Council to offer a series of welcoming webinars that started in May and spanned the entire summer to help prepare graduate students for their arrival to campus and the greater Boston area.
- Student Success Coaching. The Student Success Coaching Program matched MIT community members with students as an additional way to help students stay connected to the Infinite and to serve as an additional resource for making sure they had what they needed to successfully transition to an online learning environment last spring. 14 graduate programs opted in to the initiative, with just over 1,100 graduate students assigned coaches.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Six new assistant deans for diversity, equity, and inclusion hired (June 2021). As an important step forward in MIT’s ongoing efforts to create a more welcoming and inclusive community, the Institute has hired six new assistant deans, one in each school and in the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, to serve as diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals. Set to be in place by the fall of 2021, these new positions are a result of the February 2020 recommendations of the MIT working groups charged with implementing the findings of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM) report on sexual and gender harassment of women in academia.
Past Progress (2018-2020)
Onboarding and Orientation
- Onboarding via Atlas. Following a successful pilot in spring 2018, all incoming graduate students were granted access to Atlas for Grads, an online portal for administrative systems, resources, and information.
- Orientation programming. New and improved orientation programming (including summer pre-orientation e-letters created in collaboration with the GSC including topics such as settling in to MIT and Cambridge, academic support, and health and wellness), as well as expanding orientation programming into the fall semester to engage a larger group of students.
Diversity & Inclusion
- Assessment of all programs. OVC has undertaken an assessment of programs that support diversity & inclusion to ensure they are best meeting student needs.
- Grad Students of Color Advisory Council. The Graduate Students of Color Advisory Council (GSOC-AC) is a broadly representative group convening underrepresented graduate students of color to provide space for more honest, open, and direct action centering on diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and social justice.
- Response to the Report of NASEM’s Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine. President Reif has established a presidential advisory board of senior leaders and four working groups who are engaging the Institute community in order to respond to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) report’s specific recommendations, including on the power dynamic in higher education. Specific plans include introducing a revised policy for handling complaints of discriminatory or harassing behavior by faculty or staff, and committing to reporting anonymized information about these complaints; and the creation of central hub – the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office – where anyone in the community can go for help if they observe or encounter discriminatory treatment at MIT. Additional information is available on the Chancellor’s website.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training.
In partnership with the learning company EverFi, OVC created a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion module, required for all incoming students and recommended for all current ones. In addition, OVC is striving to make diversity, equity, and inclusion more fundamental, continuing to collect and share department-level data on recruitment, admissions and yield; adopting new policies and practices for fellowships; and holding regular meetings with the newly formed Graduate Students of Color Advisory Group and the GSC Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Professional Development and Advising
- Understanding the advising landscape. Recent advising meta-analysis conducted by Institutional Research revealed that the graduate student/advisor relationship is the biggest single factor that correlates with student satisfaction. It is also connected to mental health and optimism about career prospects. OVC launched a department questionnaire generally focused on the advisor selection process, resources for students, feedback to advisors, and training in advising/mentoring to document existing graduate advising practices across the Institute and identify needs.
- Partnering to improve advising. The OVC, Office of Graduate Education, Teaching and Learning Laboratory, MindHandHeart and GradSAGE is working with Prof. Hammond to develop and run a series of workshops aimed to help faculty on how to enhance their advising skills, with the goal of scaling up to the entire Institute. GradSAGE is conducting an Advisor Philosophy Statement pilot with the support of SoE and OVC, requesting faculty develop and post their statements to make the advisor selection process more transparent.
- Careers exploration. A Career Explorations Committee of students, faculty, and staff is developing proposals on career exploration and services.
- Professional development. The Graduate Student Professional Development Working Group recently created professional development competencies which graduate programs adopted into their learning goals, and is currently assessing current programs and gaps to be addressed.
- Schools’ commitment to alleviating financial insecurity. A commitment from each School to implement new policies and practices, and to potentially identify new funding resources, in order to help alleviate the financial insecurity of doctoral students with 9-month stipends or who have non-resident status. Specific efforts include: Doctoral Student Financial Hardship Funding, designed to assist PhD students who find themselves in financial hardships arising from special circumstances that may impact their long-term academic progress.
- Strengthening the support network for graduate students and their children. After gathering input from students, Graduate Officers, Graduate Administrators, and the Committee on Graduate Programs, the Graduate Families Support Working Group has finalized their report. Recommendations underway include: Hiring a designated staff person who will focus on and coordinate communication, outreach, and programs that assist graduate students with children; offering a need-blind grant for PhD and Master’s students in eligible programs, including programs that award the Master of Science, Master of Architecture, or Master in City Planning; a 2020-2021 pilot, Grant for Graduate Students with Children to cover expenses such as child and health care and housing, and capturing data on graduate students with children administratively and centrally.
- New parental leave policies. As part of the broader strategic effort, Vice Chancellor Ian A. Waitz announced a new Parental Leave policy for all graduate students, along with a set of Frequently Asked Questions.
- Graduate stipends. The Graduate Stipends Committee, comprised of students, faculty, and staff, established a 3% increase in 2019-20 stipend rates.
Housing and Food Security
- Graduate Housing Working Group. In fall 2017, in response to the findings of the Graduate Student Housing Working Group’s interim report, MIT committed to add at least 950 beds to he 2016-17 graduate housing stock and to conduct a rigorous assessment of needs every three years, and an annual review of progress. MIT is now embarking on a project to design and construct new graduate housing at the west end of campus on the site of the West Lot parking area and Building W89 (MIT Police).
- ARM (Accessing Resources at MIT) Coalition. The ARM Coalition was commissioned by Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson and Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart in fall 2018 in response to work being done by CASE (Class Awareness Support and Equality) and aims to connect students with campus resources when they are struggling with financial issues.
- Swipe Share. Hundreds of students have donated guest meals to SwipeShare to support students in need. If you need immediate assistance with food—either a few meals or some groceries—or financial help due to an unforeseen or emergency expense, please contact DSL Associate Dean Naomi Carton for discreet help.
- Department Support Project. The MindHandHeart Department Support Project is working to make MIT’s academic environments more welcoming, inclusive, and respectful.
- New e-letters for graduate students. In 2019, OVC launched a quarterly e-letter to share progress on various grad initiatives, highlight useful resources, and enhance transparency and open communication between OVC and our graduate students. In parallel the GSC has launched new efforts such as the Grad Resource Update and begun a topical GSC Presidential memo.
- Grad blogs. Now in its third year, the Grad Blogs now hosts two workshops per year and published new posts each month.
Support and Wellness
- Expanding support for the graduate student population. Addition of new staff member to the Graduate Support team; building stronger networks with departments; and creating training for graduate students.
Resource for Students
Short-Term Emergency Fund (non-recurring financial hardship)
Doctoral Long-term Financial Hardship Funding
Grant for Graduate Students with Children
Guaranteed Transitional Support
Nonresident Doctoral Thesis Research Status