Letter from the Dean: Three Reports from Ad-Hoc Graduate Education Committees


October 2, 2013

To the Graduate Community:

 I hope you had a wonderful start to the new semester. I am writing to inform you that three ODGE (Office of the Dean for Graduate Education)-sponsored ad-hoc committees have recently released reports – which are now available for review at the bottom of each committee’s website:

1. The Task Force on Graduate Student Professional Development (TFPRO)

 A recent survey indicates that MIT graduate alumni are pursuing diverse career paths (e.g.industry, academia, business, and community and social organizations), experiencing dynamic career trajectories, are extensively engaged in innovation and entrepreneurship, and have identified professional skills as critical to their success (http://web.mit.edu/ir/surveys/grad_alum.htmlhttp://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/254/ortiz.html).

It is clear that today’s graduate students are in need of an increasingly sophisticated, diverse, and evolving professional skillset. This topic has been highlighted nationally in a number of recent reports; the National Academies of Sciences “Research Universities and the Future of America,” the Biomedical Research Workforce Group report sponsored by the Director of the National Institutes of Health, the American Chemical Society’s “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences,” and the Council for Graduate Schools “Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers.”

The charge of this task force included collecting, reviewing, and summarizing desirable professional skillsets and core competency areas, considering disciplinary versus transferable categories; mapping current MIT professional development offerings to these skillsets and core competency areas; identifying best practices within and outside of MIT in the area of professional development; and providing recommendations to enhance professional development opportunities for graduate students at MIT. The task force reviewed graduate student and alumni survey data, professional development initiatives at other universities and within MIT (through outreach to departments and online research), information from national and international forums and reports on this topic, as well as reflected on their own extensive experience on this topic and discussions within their own departments and with graduate students.

Based on their findings and discussions, the task force proposes a framework for professional development entailing six domains (i.e. ethics, communication, teaching/coaching/mentoring, critical thinking, personal development, leading and working with others) – each with finite, prescribed goals or aspirations for our graduate students. The task force’s report details specific skills or outcomes graduate students can achieve from their activities in each of these domains. This framework is then used to assess current MIT offerings (e.g. courses, workshops, one-on-one training, experiential learning, as well as other forms of training and development) and identify needs for additional efforts or emphases. The report concludes with a set of recommended next steps utilizing this framework to leverage our current offerings and resources to increase effectiveness and participation, as well as expand our professional development efforts.

As we consider the task force recommendations, feel free to consider the resources listed in the Appendix of the report, as well the MIT ODGE PRO-DEPOT (Online Professional Development Portal) – a collection of over one hundred MIT event videos focused on professional development.

2.  The Committee on Graduate Admissions (CGA) 2013 Annual Report

The academic year spanning 2012 and 2013 marked the second year in MIT’s transition to an all-electronic graduate admissions platform “GradApply,” spearheaded by Professors Frans Kaashoek and Robert Morris in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In the 2012-2013 graduate admissions cycle, 30 programs used the GradApply platform (currently two graduate programs are not using GradApply currently) and 15,127 applications and 53,253 letters of recommendation were received. The graduate programs utilizing GradApply found the platform to be extremely beneficial to their admissions process, as it enables remote access of applications for reviewers, reduces the time necessary to administer the applications, provides significant savings in costs, and improves the overall robustness of various admissions processes in a variety of ways.

During the Spring 2013 semester, the committee surveyed targeted graduate administrators, graduate officers, graduate admission chairs, and other key users of GradApply. In addition to reinforcing the great added value of the electronic graduate admissions platform and the responsiveness, flexibility, and dedication of the graduate admissions development team, the committee made a number of recommendations, including expanded documentation, enhancement of the user-interface, and improved integration of GradApply with the MIT central database system. The graduate admissions implementation team has already addressed a number of the committee’s recommendations which have been described in detail in a communication to the graduate officers, administrators, and department heads. The Institute is strongly committed to continued support for GradApply, the graduate admissions implementation team, and departments as needed.

2. Task Force on the Future of Graduate Education in the Context of MITx (TFGEM)

The TFGEM was a specialized committee focusing on graduate education that carried its work out during the Spring 2013 semester. The TFGEM was charged by and has now submitted its final report to Sanjay Sarma, the Director of the Office of Digital Learning and Professor of Mechanical Engineering. The TFGEM has presented its recommendations at the May 2013 Office of Digital Learning retreat and also submitted its final report to the co-chairs of the Institute‐Wide Task Force on MIT Education commissioned by President L. Rafael Reif for their consideration as well.

The charge of the TFGEM included formulating a strategic vision and identifying key areas of opportunity for the deployment and development of MITx to enhance the quality of MIT residential graduate education and also to provide recommendations for potential pilots and assessments for the identified areas. Outreach to the MIT community was carried out by individual TFGEM members to their home departments, schools, and selected graduate dormitories via individual one-on-one interviews, email correspondence and group discussions with faculty, staff, and students. The TFGEM also investigated relevant initiatives both within and outside of MIT, as well as reflected and discussed the committee members own extensive experience on this topic.

TFGEM outreach and discussions yielded a sentiment that the core of high quality graduate education and research is closely linked to face-to-face interactions with faculty, research groups and peers, and that residential graduate education should enable graduate students to acquire skills themselves by “learning to learn” and “learning by doing.” Simultaneously, the TFGEM asserts that MITx, and more generally digital technologies, hold many possibilities to enhance graduate education. Three sub-groups were formed and recommended exploration of potential initiatives in the areas of: 1) graduate courses and teaching assistants, 2) thesis research and co-curricular skills, and 3) graduate-level assessment and research in teaching and learning.

Opportunities were identified in the areas of: innovation and enhanced training for digital-learning teaching assistants, professional development of 21st century research and transferable skills, closer engagement of graduate students with external groups (e.g. alumni, organizations, industrial sponsors, etc.) in graduate education curricular components, development of graduate-level collaborative, geographically-distributed courses that also may engage external groups, experiments in new publication media and formats, as well as the formulation of mechanisms for early sharing, archival and discussion of research progress.

I would like to open up a comment period through November 12th, 2013 . I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and input. Feel free to email me directly. Though I ask for your feedback on these reports by November 12th, please don’t hesitate to send me any comments afterwards as well.

My sincere gratitude to the many faculty, students, and staff who participated and contributed to the work of these task forces. In particular, I would like to especially like to thank the graduate students who participated as members of the TFPRO: Lei Dai (Physics) and Ulric J. Ferner (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science) and the TFGEM: Pavitra Krishnaswamy (Health Sciences and Technology), John Rogosic (Materials Science and Engineering), and Jit Hin Tan (Sloan School of Management and Chemical Engineering), as well as the faculty chairs of these two committees: Professor Yang Shao-Horn (TFPRO Co-chair, Mechanical Engineering); Professor Steve C. Graves (TFPRO Co-chair, Sloan School of Management); and Professor Leslie A. Kolodziejski (2012-2013 CGA Chair, Graduate Officer, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science); and the Staff to the Committees, Heather Law (TFPRO Spring 2012, of the Global Education and Career Development Office within the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education); Mark Colvin subsequently (TPFRO, Supply Chain Management, Academic Manager, Center for Transportation Logistics); and Clarice Aiello (Graduate Student, Nuclear Science and Engineering).

I would also like to thank the graduate admissions implementation team for their significant contributions: GradApply developers and support Professors Frans Kaashoek and Robert Morris; Dorothy Curtis of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Eamon Kearns, Associate Director, Education Systems, Information Services & Technology; Stu Schmill, Dean of Admissions in the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education; and Sonia Liou of the Office of Institutional Research, in the Office of the Provost.

 All the Best,

Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education
Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

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