2011-2012 Annual Report

Graduate Student Council

Building upon the strengths and accomplishments of recent years, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) has made significant improvements on a wide range of aspects related to the graduate student experience. Internally, the Council balanced the necessity of immediate action with the need for strategic decision-making. Strong relationships with administrators, faculty, staff and students based on trust and collaboration have allowed the GSC to succeed with regards to a wide array of issues. This summary provides a high level overview of the work of the GSC:

  • Communication with the Student Body
  • Cost of Living & Student Needs
  • First-Year Experience: Orientation & Mentorship
  • Graduate Academic Experience & Professional Development
  • Graduate Student Community Space
  • GSC Internal Structure and Continuity
  • Housing, Safety and Transportation
  • Institute Leadership
  • Regional, National, and International Efforts
  • Student Activities
  • Student Group Collaborations

The Graduate Student Council set out to strengthen the graduate student experience by improving the quality and diversity of its portfolio of advocacy and events. In order to accomplish this goal, the GSC transitioned from a tactical to a more strategic organization, by leveraging near-term opportunities and improvements in graduate student welfare as a means to address long-term (multi-year) issues.  The 2011-12 administration achieved these goals and branched out into a new set of strategic directions.

As a direct result of the work by the GSC and its partners, the graduate student career fair continued to grow and remained the largest in MIT’s history, Fall graduate orientation enabled greater interest and student participation, graduate student research policy moved forward through the GSC’s advising initiative, student safety in the North West corridor was improved, the cost of living increase proposal resulted in the largest student stipend increase in our history, and the GSC’s signature event portfolio significantly expanded into community service, art and cultural events.  In addition, long-term initiatives were developed including the GSC Task Force on Graduate Student Community Space.

 

Communication with the Student Body

The Council addressed the need for clear and effective communication with students on a variety of fronts this year. With the collaboration of ODGE and the financial support, the GSC was able to hire a student fellow and conduct focus groups to provide insight and support on better communication mechanisms within the broader student body.

The regular publication of The Graduate, a GSC graduate student news publication, was reintroduced and re-developed, both in its visual layout, content and distribution method. Also, the GSC website was re-designed for easy access in addition to now allowing for online equipment requests for student groups, online applications for grants, online payment requests, and a new modular event management system was created that allows revenue collection for ticketed events via the CyberSource payment system.

GSC communication was further diversified by providing post-meeting summaries to Council, to be further edited by the representatives and sent to their respective constituencies.  Further, the GSC proactively made use of the Tech to disseminate news and information.

The GSC’s announcement “Anno” email list has remained the primary mechanism of communication for graduate student-related events and information.   This year, the GSC made use of an e-mail list of all graduate students to disseminate graduate community letters and information.  The goal is to have this list used for “State of the GSC” e-mails once per semester, and as needed for important and expedient business of the Council, such as the GSC & UA Joint Student Task Force on the MIT President Search.


Cost of Living & Family Needs

This year, the GSC conducted the cost of living survey (executed once every four years). Though this process has been occurring annually since 2003, recent efforts by the GSC have resulted in a particularly rigorous analysis, in which models, more closely reflect the realistic cost of living of various graduate constituencies around the Institute. The process is also a particularly high-profile example of the value of collaboration as the GSC has partnered with Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, Division of Student Life, Office of the Vice President of Research, and the Office of the Provost.

This year, the GSC advocated for a 5.23% increase to graduate stipends. This number is calculated based on the large amount of data that we obtained from the cost of living survey, registrar & enrollment, and Consumer Product Index (CPI) over the last year.

From the data, we found that the rent CPI number we have been using in the calculation of stipend increase over the last four years was significantly lower than the real increase in the greater Boston-Cambridge-Somerville area. The 5.23% increase is based on a two-year plan to bring the standard of living of graduate students back to the level of 2007.

This number accounted for baseline inflation of 4.73% and had an additional 2-year rental reconciliation plan which attempted to make up for under projections of rent and compounded loss over the last several years. Academic Council set the stipend increase at 4.75%.  This amount represents the largest stipend increase in recent history and amounts to approximately $4.5 to $5 million additional dollars directly into the pockets of graduate students.

As a part of its efforts to advocate on behalf of graduate students with families, the GSC gathered information and data on the childcare needs, and presented the need for increased childcare support to a number of deans and administrators at MIT.  Additionally, the need for a better “childbirth accommodation system” and the need for a paternity care option for graduate students was also addressed. In conjunction with this effort, the Council collected information on its peers for comparison. On a more tangible level, the GSC expanded its support and execution of family-friendly programming, in addition to examining this constituency specifically with respect to housing, off-campus community, healthcare, and campus safety.


First-Year Experience: Orientation & Mentorship

The 2011 Fall Graduate Orientation program was one of the most successful to date, with over 50 events planned in a one-month period, most within the first week of the arrival of new students. The schedule was slightly consolidated from past years, and a greater emphasis was placed on the quality of the events held and the overall cohesion of a large event program.  As a result, the GSC had a significant increase in the demand for events.  The GSC Orientation events provided venues for social interaction, education on resources within the MIT community, and were critical in helping students during their first few weeks at the Institute.

The GSC continued and expanded its successful mentorship programs, in which senior graduate students volunteer to mentor incoming students to assist them in adjusting to MIT. The international student mentorship program benefited over incoming graduate students.

In addition, the GSC continued its India Pre-Orientation program in collaboration with the Rai Foundation and had the largest number of students participating since the programs inception, more than doubling the number of students from last year.

Graduate Academic Experience: Academic & Professional Development

The academic and professional development arm of the GSC included both academic policy work, professional development opportunities for graduate students, as well as institute-wide career events.  As in the 2010-11 year, the academic and professional development work of the GSC continues to experience rapid growth.  Similar to other areas of the GSC, programs were refocused to ensure that its portfolio of events and advocacy properly fulfill its mission.

In the area of academic policy, the GSC’s advising initiative continued to consolidate and build upon success of prior years. Advising policy recommendations continued to be made to departments.  The GSC worked with departments in determining their standard timelines for graduate students to choose advisors, as this varies by department.  Digestible information from the advising initiative was also provided to first-year students to improve their advisor relationship.

For the fifth consecutive year, the GSC teamed up with the Writing and Communication Center and Community Wellness at MIT Medical to offer the Dissertation boot camp to provide students formal support and training whilst writing their dissertation. Also, in collaboration with the Career Development Center, the GSC held the annual academic careers series as well as the national award-winning professional development series.  The latter was expanded to include workshops allowing graduate students to build core transferable skills that are useful in multiple career paths.  A new collaboration with the Alumni Association, provided for an opportunity during the Tech Reunions for current graduate students to discuss their research with graduate alumni during a poster session and reception, similar to those at discipline-specific conferences.

The GSC added a women’s mentoring program and held two flagship events targeted towards women: a fall leadership conference, and spring empowerment conference.  Further, general leadership development was conducted with various institute-wide speakers and mentoring of students through leadership self-assessment workshops.

The 2011 MIT Career Fair, organized jointly with the Class of 2011 and the Society of Women Engineers, was a tremendous success. With over 300 companies and more than 5,000 students attending, the fair was the largest student-run event on campus and one of the largest career fairs in the country. The employer-to-student ratio of the fair is approximately five times higher than that at the career fairs of MIT’s peer institutions such as Harvard and Yale; a testament to the student-run model.

Furthermore, the GSC travel grant process was re-developed and streamlined to provide for a more fair assessment metric.  The travel grant continues to act as a financial safety-net and enable dozens of students to present their work at academic conferences when departments cannot meet these needs.

 

GSC Internal Structure & Operations

The Graduate Student Council made many improvements over the past year to its internal operations.

While for the past few years the number of Council Representatives has been declining, a successful effort was made this year to increase the number of Council Representatives and improve the Council Meetings. The addition of an orientation for Council Representatives, helped promote increased discussion and legislative business conducted by the Council.   Additionally, the GSC modified its funding rules at the request of the General Council to expand funding of capital expenses, and a bylaws amendment was passed to authorize the Funding Board to conduct auditing of student group allocated funding.

 

Based on recommendations of the past year, the GSC implemented sustainability-related practices.  A concerted effort was made to improve the financial well-being of the GSC through increasing the financial security of the GSC by more than doubling the amount of money in the stabilization fund, and increasing the financial solvency of the GSC through the creation of a budget that accurately reflects current costs and operating within budget targets of all committees.
Further, this year the GSC welcomed aboard a new administrative assistant Betsy Granese, who along with Imani Ivery, has enabled much of the work, events, and advocacy of the Council.

Finally, in order to help ensure continuity of the GSC’s efforts, the GSC Archives, which play a very important role as the storage-house for GSC’s electronic records and information, were supplemented by the creation of a secure online wiki.

Graduate Student Community Space

As a result of graduate student concern on spaces available to students, the ongoing work of the Walker Memorial Assessment Team, and the desire for a stronger graduate community, the Council established the GSC Task Force on Graduate Community Space, an ad hoc committee established to:

  • Gain a better understanding of the current state of (graduate) student space at MIT, both quantitatively and qualitatively;
  • Explore what other institutions are doing to provide effective student spaces;
  • Create a coherent vision of an ideal future for MIT in terms of student space;
  • Provide lessons learned and data to CRSP, the Teaching and Learning Spaces WG, and other space-related entities across the Institute; and
  • Advocate for interventions that enhance the quality and quantity of student space across MIT.

The task force was focused on the realms beyond the formal laboratory or office in which students interact, study and satisfy their academic needs. These are the highly important but often neglected territories in which ideas are born and bodies and minds recharged. They range from quiet nooks with a handful of desks to large halls for major events.

The task force gathered information through a series of forums and focus groups with students and the broader community, collected data from visits to community spaces at peer institutions, and remained informed on Institute plans from conversations with the Office of the Executive Vice President, Office of the Provost, City of Cambridge, and Faculty Policy Committee.

The task force established an understanding of the problems and concerns with the community spaces on campus and presented the need to address the quality and quantity to a number of deans and administrators at MIT.  The task force was envisioned to be a starting point in which to begin conversations and expressed to administrators that such space could and should be planned through collaboration with administrators, faculty, and students.

Housing, Safety and Transportation

Significant concern was voice by the Council with regard to MIT 2030 and prior developed plans to move forward without working with graduate students or the broader MIT community in addressing concerns, particularly with regard to housing.  Due to successful advocacy through the Institute and beyond, the GSC is now working with the Office of the Executive Vice President to ensure these concerns are addressed before plans for the Kendall Square renovation move forward.

Safety has remained a pivotal issue within the graduate student community, given many students walk home (off-campus) late and alone.  This year, the GSC led a major study to design, optimize and propose a new shuttle line to the Parking & Transportation Committee.  The GSC conducted a data-driven analysis to quantify the quality of current MIT shuttle lines and modeled off-campus populations to determine a new shuttle line which maximizes the service to off-campus students. In this study, the GSC leveraged residential data to optimize the coverage of the shuttle line so that it can best serve the graduate community. This optimized line has the potential to substantially increase service and safety levels for off-campus graduate students, whose needs are not met by current transportation options.

Mapping residential data indeed showed that current shuttle lines do not serve part of the off-campus community, and that there exists a substantial service gap in current transportation options (including MBTA).

The proposed shuttle line was shown to be less costly, on average, than existing lines, and most importantly, to provide high levels of service to the off-campus graduate community. More generally, the GSC has developed an innovative quantitative approach to optimize shuttle lines to best serve graduate students.

Additionally, the GSC successfully advocated for safety improvements within the Northwest Corridor, including completion of the railway crossing, addition of lights along Albany Street, and the designation of a police officer for this area.

Institute Leadership

This year, the Institute had significant transitions within its upper tier leadership, including the Chancellor, Executive Vice President, Provost, and President.  Accordingly, a greater amount of time has been spent on informing the upper administration about the GSC and current issues within the graduate student community through GSC-conducted orientation sessions and/or special advisory groups and meetings.

The search process for the MIT President provided a great opportunity for the GSC & UA to provide informed and structured input on all aspects of the Institute.  In order to capitalize on this opportunity the GSC & UA formed a joint task force (TFPS) to serve in an advisory capacity to the search process. On this body, ten undergraduates and ten graduate students in total, chaired by six students, represented the MIT student community. They were responsible for soliciting feedback from the student community and producing a report and recommendations to the community.

A number of methods including town hall meetings, focus groups, paper questionnaires, web forms and informal discussions were utilized to define, from the students’ perspective, the values of MIT, the important issues facing MIT, and the qualities and experiences subsequently desired in the next President. Simultaneously, the TFPS researched nearly 300 candidates nominated by students and the task force with respect to the student-determined presidential qualities. Multiple undergraduate and graduate students reviewed each candidate, and a series of group discussions on the top 60 candidate’s background, accomplishments and ideology was held with the full TFPS after being thoroughly researched and discussed by two independent groups consisting of two undergraduate and two graduate students.

The TFPS identified five key areas that students expressed opportunities and challenges for MIT in the future, specifically, MIT values and culture, education, student wellness and balance, campus planning and investment, and external relations.  In accordance with this perspective, students desire the next MIT President to set priorities to address these challenges and opportunities.

The process provided a foundation for strong collaboration between the GSC & UA to address concerns affecting all students and the report provided an informative student perspective that the GSC should continue to use and address beyond the search process.

Regional, National, and International Efforts

The GSC continued its national advocacy policy to align MIT student views and national needs through cooperative lobbying with the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS).  The GSC made continued progress including recruitment of sponsors on desired legislation, development of White House petitions, and OSTP RFI responses in addition to conducting strong lobbying in Washington D.C. on issues such as tax exemption of graduate student stipends, open access to federally funded published research, higher caps on H-1B visas for advanced-degree holders, and funding of education and research. Through the legislative action subcommittee, MIT’s GSC demonstrated its leadership in these efforts and stood out as one of the nation’s most active graduate-professional student governments.

In the fall, with financial assistance from ODGE the GSC hosted the Ivy+ Summit for graduate-professional student governments which was seen a great success.  The Ivy+ Summit is the yearly meeting of the graduate and professional student associations of the nine schools: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Pennsylvania, and Yale.

This summit was designed to facilitate communication and the sharing of ideas between graduate/professional students from the aforementioned institutions. Attendees convened to discuss current issues and initiatives that affect graduate/professional students.

Similar to last year, the GSC sent a representative to participate in the Kremlin Fellow Program.  The Russian Federation’s Federal Agency on Youth Affairs initiated the Kremlin Fellows Program during the fall of 2010 in an effort to directly engage the next generation of American leadership. The Federal Agency on Youth Affairs contacted the Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress to help identify young leaders from the United States to visit Russia.

Student Activities

The GSC’s student life and activities included orientation, social events throughout the year, and advocacy on topics critical to graduate student needs.  Student social activities were reprioritized, diversified, and strategic new events are now in-flight.  The student-life advocacy topics of the GSC significantly expanded in the 2011-12 year.

The GSC funding board awarded approximately $130,000 to over a hundred student groups in the past academic year. Hundreds of events were made possible because of this funding, with an emphasis on on-campus events and clubs that promote interdisciplinary interaction.

Other core GSC activities encouraging work-life balance included the annual GSC ski trip in which approximately 600 students enjoyed an IAP weekend in the snow at Sunday River in Maine, the annual 600-student Grad Gala, which sold out for the fifth year in a row, and various other sports and off-campus leisure activities. In addition, outreach opportunities were expanded through grants made available by the GSC for graduate students and outreach programming to work with Massachusetts middle-schools, as well as further expanding on cultural and arts events which included art and gallery events at MIT and beyond. Finally, the GSC’s off-campus efforts, made possible by funding from the ODGE, grew significantly to include over 30 small-scale events held around the Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville regions. This represented a 300% increase in activity over previous years.

The Muddy Charles Pub is a focal point and meeting place for many graduate students and this year, the pub continued its cultural Muddy Mondays series, offering food and drink from around the world in partnership with student groups from the featured country. Also, the pub renovations continue to give this beloved pub a new and improved look.

Alex J. Evans
President

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