Update from the Graduate Student Council

The Graduate Student Council set out to chart a financially prudent path to better graduate student life and to maintain core activities and services provided to students this year. And with much pleasure, I report that our administration has achieved what we promised — not just to maintain the level of graduate student life at MIT, but to bring it to new horizons.

This past year has seen many important developments at the GSC. As a direct result of the council’s work, a reasonable stipend increase (2 percent) as well as improvements in various aspects of campus life were possible. We also managed to establish a leadership position for the GSC on the national level. Orientation and signature events were very well attended while creative new initiatives like the Diversity Task Force were launched. The graduate dental plan that was created by the GSC three years ago has reached an enrollment of 1051 this year.

Today, I write to provide a short “State of the Council.”

Advocacy, student welfare & career development

The GSC’s annual stipend recommendation to the MIT Administration has been a consistently strong example of the Council and the Administration working cooperatively. Each year’s recommendation is made from a cost-of-living analysis, produced from surveys and government inflation statistics. Our analysis this year showed that the average grad student faced at least 1.4 percent inflation during 2008-2009 and that many grad students still rely on savings, credit card debt and gifts from relatives to meet all their expenses. These findings were presented to the Deans Group, resulting in a central stipend increase of 2 percent to make up for a shortfall in previous years.

Our GSC administration has created a legislative action subcommittee and added national policy to our otherwise campus-based advocacy agenda, going to Washington, D.C. to push for tax exemption of graduate student stipends, open access to federally funded published research, and higher caps on H-1B visas for advanced-degree holders. We sent delegations to Capitol Hill to lobby as part of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students’ annual “Legislative Action Days” in both the fall and the spring. The MIT GSC demonstrated its leadership in these efforts and stood out as the nation’s most active graduate-professional government in our lobbying efforts.

The 2009 Career Fair, organized jointly with the Class of 2009 and the Society of Women Engineers, was a tremendous success by all measures. With over 300 companies and more than 5,000 students attending, the fair was the largest student-run event on campus and one of the largest career fairs in the country. The employer-to-student ratio of the MIT Career Fair is approximately five times higher than that at the career fairs of our peer institutions, such as Harvard and Yale. In collaboration with the UA, students worked with administrators and faculty to propose a resolution at the May faculty meeting for moving the September student holiday from a Monday to a day aligning the fair with a student holiday to make student participation easier and reduce class absenteeism. This resolution was passed in the November 2009 faculty meeting.

For a third consecutive year, the GSC teamed up with the Writing and Communication Center and the Center for Health Promotion and Wellness to offer the Dissertation Boot Camp for students who would like additional support while writing their dissertations. Also, in collaboration with the Postdoctoral Advisory Council and the Career Development Center, the GSC held the Academic Career Series as well as the national award-winning Professional Development Series, and our latest sessions attracted over a hundred attendees. Furthermore, the GSC travel grants continue to benefit many students in need of support to present their work at conferences.

Student life and activities

The year started off with an extremely successful graduate orientation, the most highly attended in history. Our welcome address featured President Hockfield and two Nobel laureates. Other GSC activities that made the year more enjoyable included excursions to local events, an 800-person BU-MIT Party, and the Alumni Dinner Series. The annual GSC Ski Trip was the largest ever, and saw some 550 students enjoy an IAP weekend in the snow at Sunday River.

The Muddy Charles Pub continues to be a focal point and meeting place for many grad students. The pub continued its cultural Monday Mondays series, offering food and drink from around the world in partnership with student groups from the featured country. Also, the Pub conducted an extremely successful Renovation Competition. The Muddy board is working with some of the winning ideas and moving toward implementation to give this beloved pub a new and improved look.

The GSC Funding Board awarded $128,548 to over a hundred student groups in the past academic year. Hundreds of events were made possible because of this funding. Despite the budgetary contraction, our team managed to maintain this vibrancy of student activities by keeping funds available to the student groups. We have also launched a small fund to encourage creativity and new student groups.

The Leadership Development Subcommittee held a one-day on-campus leadership evaluation seminar at which participants used a self-assessment tool to investigate their own leadership styles and how those styles interface with others. The Subcommittee also continued its successful Leadership Evolution for Graduate Students series, instructing graduate students on essential leadership skills over the course of three IAP sessions.

As members of our newly-established Legislative Action Subcommittee took on key leadership roles in NAGPS, our team also reinforced our leadership role with the Boston Graduate Leadership Organization (BGLO). A stronger graduate student coalition in the Boston area and across the nation can serve as a unified voice for student advocacy as well as a useful platform for sharing best practices and networking. As part of our work with BGLO, we organized several events including a 900-person party and a Haiti fundraiser. Furthermore, we won the bids to host the 2010 NAGPS National Conference and the 2011 Ivy Summit. Our administration established MIT as a leader in the graduate community nationwide.

Looking forward

As part of a broader Advising Initiative, we developed and implemented a new graduate student survey on mentoring issues and advisor-advisee relationships and started analyzing the results. This survey had 2460 respondents, which amounts to 40 percent of all MIT graduate students. It is the most powerful dataset on advising ever generated at MIT. A major focus of the rest of our term and for a substantial part of the next administration will be to generate suggestions and actionable items from this dataset.

The 4th Grad Gala will be held on April 10, continuing a growing tradition for the GSC. The MIT Ring is one of the most recognizable rings in the world, and the GSC Grad Rat committee launched an extremely innovative campaign reaching out to a wide range of both student groups and alumni.

Finally, elections for new GSC officers for the 2010-2011 term will be held at the April General Council Meeting on April 7th, 2010 at 5:30 p.m. in 32-155. More information is available at the GSC website: http://gsc.mit.edu. Speaking from personal experience, this is a very rewarding experience for both enhancing personal growth and contributing to the community. I encourage you to consider running for a position.

Join us now or send your suggestions to changemit@mit.edu.

On Campus runs every Friday and features opinions about campus issues.

Alex Hamilton Chan is the president of the Graduate Student Council.