MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVIII No. 5
May / June 2006
Meritocracy and a Diverse Faculty
A Brief History and Workings
of the MIT Corporation
Committees of the Faculty:
An End-of-Year Recap
Lippard and Sharp Awarded
National Medal of Science
Energy Research Council and Forum:
A Major New Institute Initiative
Efficient Use of Energy:
Part of MIT's New Energy Initiative
Fueling Our Transportation Future
Lighting a Fire in MIT's
Undergradute Education
Some Thoughts on the Arts
Reflections on the "Visualizing Cultures" Incident
On the "Visualizing Cultures" Controversy and its Implications
Communication Requirement
Evaluation Process Begins
A Modest Proposal:
A Dental Insurance Plan for All Students
New Resource on Faculty Website:
"Current Practices"
"Soft Skills" to Help Avoid the "Hard Knocks"
Computer Space Planning for MIT
Tops IT-SPARCC's Priority List
Seniors Report Increased Satisfaction
with Faculty Interaction
Smart Buy Purchasing Initiative
Primary Form of Support
for Doctoral Students
Printable Version

New Resource on Faculty Website: "Current Practices"

Ike Colbert

The Faculty Resources Website ( has a new resource called “Current Practices in Graduate Student Administration.” This compilation, illustrating current departmental efforts to enhance the graduate experience in areas such as communications, faculty/student advising, orientation, and peer support and training, is a direct outcome of the Graduate Student Council’s initiative on better advising and research ethics. The purpose of the resource is to document current practices in student life and academic administration and inspire new ones. This article tells the story behind the work.

* * * * * * * *

In the fall of 2004, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) initiated an effort to engage faculty, staff, and students in considering the status of advising and mentoring for graduate students at MIT. A GSC subcommittee on advising and mentoring designed survey questions for inclusion in the 2004 Graduate Student Survey. Over half the graduate student body responded to the survey. Subsequently, the subcommittee convened eight different focus groups, which included 85 participants (faculty, staff, and students) representing 25 different departments. The GSC reported on the results of this comprehensive work in an article in the March/April 2005 MIT Faculty Newsletter. They also presented their work to the Committee on Student Life (January 2005), to the broader MIT community at a town meeting in Room 10-250 (February 2005), at a faculty meeting (May 2005), and at a roundtable meeting of all graduate administrators (May 2005).

Writing in this newsletter on the GSC’s behalf (“Improving the Graduate Student Academic Experience,” March/April 2005) former GSC President Barun Singh described the advisor-advisee relationship as the single most important supportive relationship in the career of a graduate student. In addition, he noted that this relationship must be complemented by “. . . training in essential skills and advice to assist with their professional development.”

If you read Singh’s article or attended one of the GSC’s presentations, you couldn’t help but be inspired by the passion and commitment of the students who were determined to improve the graduate student experience.

The graduate administrators (who serve as the key representatives responsible for a broad array of services and resources for graduate students and work closely with me) applauded the GSC’s undertaking, resonated with the results, and agreed that the data generated was rich, comprehensive, and timely.

Determined not to lose the valuable information and momentum, they planned to design a structure and process that would seed ongoing support for graduate students by departments and faculty.

In August 2005, the graduate administrators met for a day-long retreat at Endicott House. The purpose of the retreat was to identify services currently provided across individual departments that differed widely in size, academic orientation, and culture. Those who attended the retreat discussed the most significant results of the GSC’s survey and offered descriptions of current departmental practices that addressed student needs as flagged by the survey. Over the past year, a subcommittee has organized and refined these descriptions into a directory of services organized by six broad themes: communication; ethics; faculty/student advising; mediation and conflict resolution; orientation; peer support and training.

Later in the academic year, I invited the graduate administrators to present their work to the Committee on Graduate School Programs (CGSP). The CGSP viewed the directory as a practical resource for faculty and offered many thoughtful recommendations. They concluded that this work addressed the recommendations of the original focus groups that “emphasized the importance of regular discussions – among faculty, students, and graduate administrators – to assess the state of advising and to seek out best practices from other departments or Schools.”

More recently, the Chancellor and the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) reviewed “Current Practices.” The FPC recommended disseminating the information to faculty via the Faculty Resources Website. “Current Practices” is now available there as a pdf file (see:

This is an evolving document, which the graduate administrators are committed to updating on a regular basis, with oversight from the Committee on Graduate Programs. Over time, issues and priorities change, and “Current Practices” will reflect that. The graduate administrators hope that many departments will find practices they can usefully adopt, or adapt, to improve graduate student life in their areas. Comments, suggestions for change, and contributions are welcome at any time. To contribute your current departmental practice, please contact Department of Physics graduate administrator Brian Canavan at


I wish to thank the graduate administrators’ subcommittee responsible for shepherding this effort on behalf of their colleagues and in support of graduate students: coordinators Brian Canavan (Physics), Cathy Modica (HST), and Susan Twarog (Political Science); and subcommittee members Sydney Miller (TPP); Paulette Mosley (ORC), Cynthia Stewart (Civil and Environmental Engineering); and Marie Stuppard (Aeronautics and Astronautics).

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