The Importance and Value of Our Graduate Students
MIT graduate students are key to our scientific and engineering productivity; they will be the coming generation of researchers and innovators; and they will be the mentors and instructors of further generations of young people.
The research and education carried out on the MIT campus responds to pressing national needs – finding the causes of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, designing advanced electronics for computing and telecommunications, developing sustainable energy sources.
Our graduate students have been selected for their talent, willingness to work hard, and commitment to their fields. They are our skilled junior partners in carrying out experiments, making the measurements, developing new ideas and knowledge. Their research and their teaching also enrich the undergraduate curriculum and experience. They provide much of the innovative environment that permeates the surrounding Cambridge community and draws high-tech industry to the area.
Most of these students have to spend long hours at their desks or in the laboratory. Members of research teams responsible for key breakthroughs should not have to live an hour’s commute from campus, but need to be close, almost on call. This is a major reason that all of the leading research universities in the United States are residential campuses.
Though some students can work from home, this limits their interactions with other students, staff, and faculty, and weakens their contribution to the intellectual life of the campus.
As reported in the valuable January 2014 draft report of the Working Group on Graduate Student Housing, more than 4,000 graduate students live off campus. Well over 2,000 of these students live in Cambridge. However, rising rents in Cambridge, one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation, make it increasingly difficult for graduate students to secure adequate housing in Cambridge, and constitute a growing source of stress and uncertainty. The demand also increases the housing burden on the Cambridge community, making it more difficult for residents to stay in their apartments. This is a lose/lose proposition.
The report from the Working Group calls for 600 new units of quality graduate housing – not dormitories, but apartments – and 400 swing units that would transition to permanent units. Articles in this issue suggest that this number is not adequate to fill the emerging need.
The report also notes that thousands of new employees will be working in Cambridge as the new office and lab construction in Kendall Square and Central Square is completed. Our graduate students will be unable to compete for nearby apartments and will be forced to move further away from the campus. We have no quantitative measure of the resulting loss of productivity, but most faculty and students understand the importance of lab time lost to excess commuting.
Assessing the cost of graduate student housing to MIT cannot be a simple accounting calculation. The contribution of productive and creative graduate students is not monetized in MITs financial reports and projections. Treating graduate student housing simply as a cost to MIT’s budget is short sighted. MIT has the land and access to capital required to build sufficient housing for our graduate students to fully satisfy the need. The Institute should make this critical investment.