Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
What do seniors think about their MIT experience? What aspects of MIT do they think are most rewarding or least rewarding? What worked and what didn't work? These are some of the issues that undergraduates are being asked to think about as they answer the survey which was mailed to graduating seniors and other fourth-year students this week.
The survey, the second of its kind done at MIT, gives seniors an opportunity to send messages to the faculty and the administration about such things as learning experiences in their major, advising, UROP, living group experiences and student activities, as well as how their MIT experience contributed to their personal development. Students are encouraged to write open-ended comments about any aspect of their MIT life that has special significance.
Students majoring in civil and environmental engineering, materials science and engineering, chemical engineering, and music and theater arts will have some supplemental questions to answer for their respective departments.
Three-quarters of the seniors who responded to the first senior survey in 1994 said they were satisfied with their major and with their education in general. Only half said they were satisfied with their freshman year, a response that inspired two additional surveys concentrating on the freshman year in 1995 and 1996 to see if students who had just completed freshman year felt similarly.
More than 80 percent of the 1994 seniors indicated satisfaction with their living group experiences. They were least satisfied with the quality of advising, personal contact with instructors, availability of tutoring and other help, and opportunities for class discussion. Many also thought their communication skills--writing and public speaking--had not appreciably improved.
A final report was written and distributed in many areas, including faculty committees and departments, while 1994 graduates received summaries by mail. The findings made a considerable impact and the data are still being used to help guide changes. The information was instrumental to the work of the President's Task Force on Student Life and Learning and caused debate and discussion in other faculty committees.
Results of the 1998 survey will be sent in the aggregate to academic departments, administrative offices and Institute committees having responsibility for specific aspects of the undergraduate experience. A summary of data will again be sent to survey participants next year.
People are keenly anticipating the results from the 1998 survey to see the views of current students and to assess trends over time. The response rate to the 1994 Senior Survey was 42 percent--a good rate, given that response rates for surveys are generally quite low at MIT--but not as high as the researchers would have liked. They are hoping for a higher response rate this year now that the survey is well established as a valuable tool for faculty and administrators.
Each student has been randomly assigned a code number to assure personal anonymity while allowing for correlation of responses with demographic information. Only surveys with code numbers will be accepted. Students who have misplaced their survey forms or code numbers will be able to request them by sending e-mail to
The survey was developed through a broad cooperative effort with academic departments, Institute committees, students and offices concerned with undergraduate education and student life. It was sponsored by Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education RosalindWilliams and is being undertaken by Educational Studies Working Group coordinators Alberta Lipson and Norma McGavern. More information is available by contacting Alberta Lipson, x3-8604, or Norma McGavern, x3-4849.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 29, 1998.