Practical Considerations for the Involvement of
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For MIT graduate students involved in international programs and collaborations, the length of travel varies greatly, from a few weeks to an entire calendar year or more abroad. If the length of contemplated travel is equal to an academic semester or more, programs should ensure that the student’s residency requirement is maintained. Residency requirements are consistent with the philosophy that MIT will grant MIT degrees for those who carry out their education at MIT in Cambridge, MA (02139).
There are two types of student status under which thesis research may be carried out while not in formal residence at the Institute. “Thesis Research in Absentia” is applicable to all graduate degrees and intended primarily for students who are on location away from MIT but who maintain in every other respect full access to and contact with the academic life of the Institute. This status is appropriate for trips of shorter duration than one semester. “Nonresident Doctoral Thesis Research Status” is available only to doctoral students who have completed all requirements other than the thesis and is granted one semester at a time to students with limited access to the campus and MIT resources. The visiting student category can be used for students pursuing a graduate degree at universities abroad who have been invited by faculty in an MIT department or laboratory/center to do research.
It is advisable for graduate programs and administrators to be aware of the itineraries, passport, and health insurance information of their graduate students traveling abroad. The Global Education Office maintains the database MIT-Horizons, which captures such information for GEO study abroad programs, the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), and travel through the Public Service Center (PSC). Additionally, students should inform themselves about their destination. General MIT travel policies can be found through the Office of the Vice President for Research. The MIT Risk Acknowledgement form is required for travel with MIT-sponsored programs. One should also be aware of MIT’s Travel Risk Policy regarding countries with travel warnings. Travelers should also obtain a membership card for the International SOS program, which provides 24-hour emergency medical and security evacuation services to MIT travelers. It should be noted, however, that these services are not a substitute for personal health insurance.
All students, both domestic and international, should secure an educational visa from the embassy or consulate of the country they will visit.
Visa regulations vary dramatically depending upon the host country and the student's country of origin; there are no generic visa requirements that apply to all nationalities.
International students must also contend with getting their U.S. immigration papers and status in order so that they can return to the U.S. and MIT in a timely fashion. This will invariably involve strategic planning in consultation with the International Students Office advising staff before departure. Once again, with U.S. immigration regulations, the difficulty of getting a renewed student visa to return is dependent upon country of nationality and field of study. International students who contemplate studying abroad have to be concerned about extended visa security clearances, which are more likely if they have been abroad during their MIT degree program. In addition, their ability to take advantage of pre- and post-completion employment benefits associated with their F-1 or J-1 student visa status upon return may be impacted. If an MIT international is out of the U.S. for more than five months, they will likely need to accumulate another academic year of study in residence in the U.S. before they will be eligible to apply for employment-based benefits such as CPT, OPT, or Academic Training.
International programs may want to consider formal cultural training for students traveling abroad prior to departure. MISTI has been a leader in this regard and includes extensive country-specific preparation sessions for each of the countries to which they send students. Topics include: safety, political and socioeconomic background and history, language, practical aspects such as in-country travel and cultural differences. These sessions are available to all MIT students.
Graduate students at MIT are given access to and utilize a wide variety of support services including, for example; advising and counseling on academics and graduate policies and procedures (e.g., Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, departmental graduate administrators and chairs), personal and professional development (e.g., Graduate Student Council, MIT Career Development Center, etc.), medical emergencies, wellness and stress reduction (MIT Medical), mental health services (MIT Mental Health and Counseling), conflict resolution (Ombuds), immigration and visa issues (International Students Office) and family support (Center for Work, Family & Personal Life). In addition to an administrative coordinator at MIT and abroad, equivalent support to those services available on the MIT campus should be identified for graduate students. Lastly, cohort-building and graduate student community aspects should be considered as well.
MIT has a large international graduate population: 2356 graduate students or 38% of all enrolled graduate students (fall 2010) representing 97 countries [Office of the Provost, Institutional Research], as well as a growing number of international exchange and visiting students. The graduate student community actively participates in bringing international companies and universities to MIT through numerous events, such as the MIT Energy Conference [T. Zeller Jr., “Energy Geeks Converge on M.I.T.,” Mar. 5, 2011], the MIT 100K competition, the MIT European Career Fair, and the MIT Career Fair, all organized by students. MIT can provide support to such graduate student-organized initiatives, as well as coordination with laboratory, department, School, and Institute-wide activities.
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