The Graduate Student Council (GSC) set out to consolidate and institutionalize a recently growing array of activities to improve the graduate student experience at MIT. The 2010-11 administration both achieved these goals and along side this consolidated portfolio, branched out into a new set of strategic directions.
This past year has seen many important developments. As a direct result of the work by the GSC and its partners, the graduate student career fair was the largest in MIT’s history, the Fall graduate orientation was the largest in MIT’s history, graduate student research policy moved forward through the GSC’s advising initiative, student safety in the North West corridor was improved, and the GSC’s signature event portfolio significantly expanded into community service and student art. In addition, long-term initiatives were spawned including the GSC Sustainability Task Force.
The academic, professional, and career arms of the GSC included both academic policy work, professional development opportunities for graduate students, as well as institute-wide career events. As in the 2009-10 year, the academic and professional development work of the GSC continues to experience rapid growth.
In the area of academic policy, the GSC’s advising initiative continued to consolidate and build upon last year’s success. Advising policy recommendations were made to approximately a dozen departments, which led to various policy changes such as the inception of a new graduate advising award in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the revamping of the formal reporting structures in the departments of Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering. The advising initiative was awarded the Program of the Year award at the national level, through the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students.
For the fourth 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. Due to continued high demand, the program was significantly expanded this year by increasing participant numbers and by increasing each boot camp’s length to two weeks. Also, in collaboration with the Postdoctoral Advisory Council and the Career Development Center, the GSC held the annual academic careers series as well as the national award-winning professional development series on academic careers, with the latest sessions attracting over a hundred attendees. Furthermore, GSC travel grants continue 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.
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’s legislative action subcommittee—a team only formed one year ago—used this policy and cemented their activity within the Council through strong lobbying tradition in Washington D.C. on issues such as tax exemption of graduate student stipends, open access to federally funded published research, and higher caps on H-1B visas for advanced-degree holders. A push also continued for the state of Massachusetts to recognize a “Graduate Student Appreciation Week.” Last but not least in this space, the GSC hosted NAGPS’s annual conference at MIT, during which over 50 student governments converged onto MIT’s campus to share best practices and set a national agenda for the upcoming year. The conference’s plenary speaker, US Congress representative Capuano, gave a thrilling address to conference attendees and to others in the MIT community. 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 governments.
A new GSC subcommittee, Graduate Women at MIT (GWAMIT),was extremely active this year and created two flag-ship events: the fall woman’s leadership conference, and the spring empowerment conference. Further, the leadership development subcommittee held various institute-wide speaker series and mentored numerous groups through their leadership self-assessment workshops.
The 2010 MIT Career Fair, organized jointly with the Class of 2010 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.
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, consolidated, and strategic new events are now in-flight. The student-life advocacy topics of the GSC significantly expanded in the 2010-11 year, including work on capital projects such as Walker Memorial’s potential repurposing.
The year started off with the largest graduate orientation in MIT’s history, for which three overarching goals or themes were developed: (a) know the institute; (b) know the people; and (c) know the city. In addition, the 2010 orientation added an international development-theme to numerous events, including the annual welcome address with Susan Hockfield.
The GSC funding board awarded $128,548 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 some 550 students enjoy an IAP weekend in the snow at Sunday River in Maine—and the annual 600-student Grad Gala, which sold out for the fourth year in a row, and various other sports and off-campus leisure activities. In addition, the activities committee created both a new outreach subcommittee to work with Massachusetts middle-schools, as well as a new arts subcommittee which showcased MIT student art and held numerous museum and art gallery events in Boston.
The Muddy Charles Pub is a focal point and meeting place for many graduate students and 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.
The GSC Grad Rat subcommittee continued its campaign to reach out to a wide range of both student groups and alumni. A highlight of particular interest was when a Grad Rat was presented to then MIT Chancellor Phil Clay, who is also an MIT graduate alumnus, in conjunction with a joint GSC-UA award for service to the community.
GSC’s annual stipend recommendation to the MIT administration has been a consistently strong example of the council and the administration working collaboratively. Each year’s recommendation is made from a cost-of-living analysis produced from surveys and government inflation statistics. Analysis this year showed that the average graduate student faced at least 1.5% inflation during 2009–2010 and that many still rely on savings, credit card debt, and gifts from relatives to meet their expenses. These findings were presented to the deans group, resulting in a central stipend increase of 2%.
The housing and community affairs (HCA) committee ran a new safety survey amongst graduate residents in MIT’s Northwest corridor. The results gave important insights into the perceived and actual safety of graduate students and over the coming year it is expected that these insights will drive improvements in Northwest corridor safety. The HCA committee also worked with the housing office to develop a new “room flagging” system to give students greater flexibility in their on-campus room choices, and to improve the long-term consistency of on-campus housing.
In the fall the provost’s office announced the potential repurposing of Walker Memorial for use by the Music and Theatre Arts (MTA) department. Such a repurposing could have vast implications for the graduate student community over the coming decade and in response the GSC formed a Walker Memorial Task Force to (a) understand the potential effects of such repurposing; and (b) to work collaboratively with the administration to help unlock win-win scenarios for both MTA and for the graduate community overall. As a result of this work, a unique process was setup in which the Provost’s office, MTA, and students would collaborate on this capital project: The Walker Memorial Assessment Team (WMAT) was setup to craft the long-term plan for Walker, to assess potential impacts on the community, and to help the architects design a revamped Walker Memorial that is both beneficial for MTA as well as for the student body. The WMAT was composed of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty from MTA, Deans, and members of the Provost’s office.
In the area of communications, the GSC’s online web-presence was consolidated and focused over the last year. In particular, the GSC blog, the graduate student news website, and the original GSC website were redesigned and combined to provide a unified web portal and online presence going forward. In addition, our information technology infrastructure and tools were redesigned and modernized, opening the door for future opportunities in the GSC’s communications capabilities and online presence.
Ulric J. Ferner