MIT continues to refine a transitional support program for graduate students at the Institute who wish to change research advisors or groups.
In implementing this program, one of the Institute’s goals is to ensure that there are options for students who are in research situations with unresolved conflict. These students can switch research advisors without worry of financial burden, and our mutual goal is to mitigate retaliation.
The guarantee of transitional support empowers students to more freely exercise autonomy over decisions that deeply impact their health and wellbeing, research progress and productivity, and future careers.
There are many reasons for a student to switch research groups, such as evolution of research goals. The simple fact of switching, and receiving transitional funding, does not reflect a fault of the student or the advisor.
The transition process will look different for each student; however, every student will be guided by a Transition Support Coordinator (TSC) (explained below). As part of the Guaranteed Transitional Support program, every department has designated a staff or faculty member to act as a TSC. Eligibility, accommodations, and general process are outlined below.
All MIT PhD and SM/PhD graduate students wishing to change advisors are able to seek transitional support under this program, whatever the reason. Students may receive transitional funding for a range of situations, and receiving transitional funding should not be interpreted as the student or the advisor being at fault.
Students experiencing unresolved conflict with their advisor or within the advisor’s group
The immediate focus of this program is on advising situations with unresolved conflict in which students raise concerns about behavior that, if true, could constitute bias, harassment, discrimination, other violations of MIT policies, or other aggressive behavior from their advisor or colleagues in the unit they are wishing to transfer from.
Students whose research interests/approaches have changed
Students may wish to transition research groups for other reasons, such as:
- an evolution in research interest,
- changing research approaches, or
- a mismatch in early group choice.
In these cases, movement from one research group to another should ideally align with the beginning of the semester.
Accommodations and services
Students in the Guaranteed Transitional Support program will be provided interpersonal support in the transition process, transitional funding, and reasonable academic accommodations to be determined on a case-by-case basis; in addition, the process aims to prevent and/or mitigate retaliation:
The student will have an advocate in the form of a Transition Support Coordinator throughout their transitional process. Transition Support Coordinators (TSCs) are advocates for the student within their department and within the Office of Graduate Education (OGE), helping them navigate the transitional support structure.
Departmental TSC. The departmental TSC is an approachable faculty or staff member with authority to act as a strong advocate for the student.
OGE TSC. If students feel they may have a conflict within the department in handling their particular situation, they can reach out to the OGE TSC. The OGE TSC will act as a mediator to help the student discuss their situation with the departmental TSC and departmental leadership.
While all graduate students may still receive transitional funding for healthy situations, this policy guarantees advisor-independent transitional funding for one full semester for PhD and SM/PhD students in situations involving unresolved conflict as described above. The department will award this funding.
Each department may provide advisor-independent funding in the form of a fellowship, a TA, an RA, or other sources of funding. When possible, the department should try to give the most flexible funding (i.e., a fellowship).
Additional funding beyond the semester may be needed and will be determined on a case-by-case basis by mutual agreement between the degree-administering department head and the departmental TSC, with consultation by the OGE TSC as needed.
Students utilizing this program should receive reasonable academic accommodations, including flexibility around degree requirements and milestones, to minimize the amount of time their degree is ultimately set back. For example, flexibility should be allowed around the timeline for executing incomplete degree requirements, and students should not be asked to re-execute previously completed degree requirements. Academic accommodations will be evaluated and determined on a case-by-case basis after an individualized assessment of the student’s unique situation.
Prevention and/or mitigation of retaliation
The TSCs will inform all students utilizing this program of MIT’s non-retaliation policies and proactively and periodically reach out to these students during and after the research group transition. In the event of concerns about retaliation, TSCs will provide students support in reporting any misconduct.
The departmental TSC and OGE TSC should work with department leadership to provide avenues for the student to find alternative letter writers and references, if desired.
Students can opt into this program at any time by meeting with a Transition Support Coordinator (TSC).
The TSC will perform an initial intake assessment with students seeking transitional support to learn more about their situation and educate them about other options that may be applicable in some circumstances (e.g. medical leave, moving beyond MIT, etc.). Please note, no proof of an unresolved conflict is required for transitional support to be granted.
The departmental TSC arranges funding with the department. The student will receive uninterrupted funding for up to a semester. The departmental TSC and/or OGE TSC will reach out to the Dean and the School as needed during this process.
Communication with original research advisor
Ideally, the student will discuss their departure with their original research advisor, following some coaching from the TSC, if necessary. If the relationship is too strained, the TSC will lead the conversation with the research advisor and the student. Topics covered should include timing and closing responsibilities.
Finding a new research group
Transitional funding provides time for the student to identify a new research advisor. The OGE or departmental TSC can provide guidance as needed.
Closing responsibilities to the first research group
The student’s original PI may ask the student to wrap up or hand off their duties (i.e., train new students, finalize/compile data and other materials, etc.). As a general guideline, in most cases this should take no more than 15 hours per week of the student’s time, for up to 4 weeks.
In cases where the student or PI does not agree to the terms of the requested wrap-up/hand-off duties, the departmental TSC and the OGE TSC will work with the student and advisor (separately, if the student wishes) to facilitate an equitable agreement.
Transitioning between programs
If a student’s second research group is in a different program than the first, the two academic units should collaborate to ensure a smooth transition for the student (i.e., the two DLC heads work together). If there is a need for financial support, the heads can seek the help of the appropriate Dean(s), who may seek support from the Provost.
Note that that student’s home department, or department of registration, will remain unchanged. The home department may have additional rules in terms of student supervision (i.e., a co-advisor from the home department in addition to the new advisor) and guaranteed funding.
Transitional funding timing
The default length of transitional funding is for one semester.
If a student finds a new research advisor before exhausting a semester’s worth of funding, and support is not immediately available from the new advisor, the student should continue to receive transitional funding through the remainder of the original period.
If the transitional funding begins mid-semester, it should be carried over into the following term. When appropriate, the student should continue to receive support for the complete second term (e.g., it is not easy to end a TA in the middle of the term).
A student seeking this funding should receive it within two weeks so they do not miss a pay period.