Updated: February 2020
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.
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: the Graduate Student Short-term Emergency Fund, designed to assist graduate students by providing financial support when they need help with unexpected and unavoidable emergency expenses; 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.