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Call for the Development of Academic Exploration Subjects

The Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) is prepared to offer curriculum development funds to all departments at MIT who wish to create inspiring opportunities to engage undergraduate students and help them explore different fields of knowledge, academic departments, and possible future careers, particularly during their first year.

These new academic exploration opportunities can be offered in the fall, IAP, or spring (although there is currently a greater need for subjects in IAP and spring because of the many first-year advising seminars that students take).

The Committee on Curricula (CoC) is prepared to expedite the review of these if new proposals are submitted before October 23. The CoC proposals only require a brief description of the new subject. The OVC will also be happy to accept at any time proposals for funding for the development of new subjects that use special subject numbers and therefore do not require CoC review or approval.

Suggested Advice for Academic Exploration

We encourage these subjects and experiences to have the following characteristics:

  • Low time commitment – preferably 1-6 units, preferably graded P/D/F
  • Inspiring – content should focus on applications and highlights of fields, majors, and careers rather than only introductory concepts, and ideally should involve engaging and enthusiastic instructors;
  • Informative – subjects should be taught by faculty or teaching staff who frequently work with undergraduates and who can speak accurately about the major as a whole; the classes also could provide an opportunity for upper-level students in the department to answer questions and offer a current student perspective.

We can imagine many creative and exciting academic exploration opportunities, and we strongly encourage the creation of these. However, we particularly call your attention to the models described below. These have been recommended by the students from the “Designing the First Year at MIT” class. We believe these present low-barrier-for-entry opportunities for all departments.

Specifically, the students recommended subjects which are three or fewer units, graded P/D/F, seminar style, with faculty and alumni or people from organizations that may employ our students being invited to do one session each sharing their exciting work, and/or giving lab tours. Such a class would require a faculty member in charge to comply with CoC guidelines, an organizer (who could be the faculty member in charge or an administrator), several faculty, alumni, and others to talk with the students about their work and what excites them about their field. The subject also could include a session with current upper-level students to answer questions about what it is like to be a student in the department. Providing food and a catchy title for the class are good ideas, too.

These classes could be department-based, like 3.001 Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering, or field-based with multiple departments involved, like 20.S901 Exploring Majors at the Intersection of Engineering, Life Sciences & Medicine (1 or 3 units depending on the level of reflection and career development the students wish to engage in).

We also note that Professor Dennis Freeman’s Mens et Manus first-year seminars have been widely acclaimed and effectively address many of the goals of major exploration in a motivating, hands-on setting. They are collectively taught by a team of professors and instructors and allow first-year students to explore their interests by working on hands-on projects that incorporate what students are learning at MIT in authentic, real-world applications. Students choose two projects during the semester: one for the first half of the semester and one for the second half. The seminar also includes talks and receptions to help students think about major exploration and possible career paths. We have agreement from Professor Freeman to offer these in the spring semesters in 3-unit (single project) offerings. He is enthusiastic about adding additional projects and we encourage departments to contact Professor Freeman if they would like to contribute a project focused on their field.

While we encourage academic exploratory subjects which closely connect faculty and students, we also note that there are some excellent student-run subjects that provide introductions to fields and majors, and we would welcome more of these, too. Examples include 6.148 Web Development, which gives an introduction to design, teamwork, and large-scale software development, all key features of the 6-3 major; or Mechanical Engineering’s Mobile Autonomous Systems Lab, a student-run design class. Both of these are offered during IAP and are 6 units.

In sum, although we already have many excellent exploration opportunities, we hope that departments will consider developing new ones to meet growing student interest. This is especially important for departments without such subjects, as it will provide more ways for students to learn about these fields.

For more information, please contact Ian Waitz and Kate Weishaar (

Guidelines for Proposals (1-3 pages)

  1. A basic description of the course as described by the CoC guidelines here OR a description of a special subject as described here.
  2. A funding plan for course development. Please include the following:
    1. A list of other secured or requested funding sources (e.g. department or School cost-sharing).
    2. A description of resources and staffing required, noting interactions among faculty across departments or schools and/or among faculty and other members of the extended MIT community, such as alumni/ae, close industrial partners, research scientists, and partners at other institutions.
    3. A description of how the department plans to support the class in subsequent years. The OVC is prepared to provide initial curriculum development funds, but does not have the resources to sustain the course long-term.
    4. Funding requests may include faculty and/or TA salaries, materials/books, and equipment related to course development. We welcome plans to hire students to assist with curriculum development.
  3. A more detailed description on how the course will help students explore majors/minors (no more than 1 page), including:
    1. How much time and effort will be required of students?
    2. Will the class focus entirely on exploring opportunities within the department or will there be additional content as well?
    3. How broad of a subject area do you intend to cover? We are trying to encourage diversified opportunities for exploring and therefore welcome proposals for classes addressing multiple related fields of study, one field of study, or one sub-field.
    4. What networking and mentorship opportunities will students receive as part of this class? Possibilities may include close interaction with one or more faculty members, opportunities to ask questions of alumni and/or upper level students, assistance in finding UROPs, etc.
    5. Other related information you wish to include.


Proposals to add subjects to the catalog for IAP or spring 2019 are due to the CoC by Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

If you are submitting the proposal to the CoC, please provide your funding request to the Office of the Vice Chancellor at the same time so that we can review it and make a decision on financial support.

Proposals for funding for special subjects which do not require CoC approval can be turned in to the Office of the Vice Chancellor at any time.