Autumn Changes


Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?

In her poem, “Messenger”, Mary Oliver asks the question that has informed much of our wondering during these recent commotion-filled weeks. A New England autumn brings us a heightened awareness of the length and quality of life, and an opportunity for thoughtful questioning of the efficacy of our good work. And, just as the leaves shift color in their usual manner, we too are enveloped in changes, some predictable and others unforeseen.

A few days ago, we moved from our two-year temporary quarters into newly renovated space a few hundred feet west. We’re still on Main Street in Kendall Square, but now closer to a classroom portion of campus. We are located in Building E19 with entrances at 50 Ames Street and 400 Main Street. If you are on campus, feel free to stop by and say hello!

Our next campus event will be held this coming Wednesday, November 30, at 4:00 PM when we welcome Professor David Miele for a DUET seminar. Professor Miele is from the Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Department in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and will deliver a presentation on “Increasing Student Motivation through Instructional Practices”.

In these newly and deeply uncertain times, we are drawing strength and confidence from the words of our president Rafael Reif who urges us to “[follow] our students’ lead [and] find ways to listen to one another — with sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness.” Listening carefully to self, others, world will be a worthy and necessary challenge for many semesters ahead.

Finally, along with all this, we are taking a temporary break from blogging. This was a new experience for many of us. We’re mostly pleased with our progress over the past fifteen posts since August and we have begun to identify ways to improve. We realize, though, that our initial conception of this work as a weekly sprint ought more properly be called ‘a marathon with weekly rest stops’. So, we’re going to regroup and come back to you in the new year, starting out again but a bit wiser and ever hopeful.

Grateful for so much, we wish you and those you love a very Happy Thanksgiving!

(“Autumn: Maine, Pond, Woods” from Janet Rankin / cc by-nc-sa)

The Facilitating Effective Research Program @ MIT

rhinos_1In most science and engineering fields, success in research (in both academe and industry) requires not only advanced domain-specific knowledge and sophisticated experimental and analytical skills, but mentoring and managerial skills as well. Graduate students and post-docs here at MIT (and throughout the US) often have their first professional mentoring experiences when they are given responsibility for the day-to-day supervision of undergraduates in laboratories and/or other research environments. These close working-relationships between graduate students/post-docs and undergraduates can be very rewarding for all parties, but often graduate students and post-docs are given little explicit guidance or advice about planning research tasks, or how best to guide and manage undergraduate students.

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Working Together

Most faculty who do experimental work begin their academic lives leading fairly small lab groups: perhaps two or three graduate students and a post-doc. A group of this size is fairly straightforward to manage and support. At this stage, faculty are often physically present in the lab – working side-by-side with students – and it is relatively easy to know when there are issues with group dynamics, or when a particular member of the group is having difficulty or problems.


In addition, in these early stages, the lines of communication between the PI and their mentees, as well as those between other group members, are often fairly direct. However, as PIs build successful careers, their research often diversifies, and their lab groups grow. Often the old models for successful mentoring, management, and communication may not be quite so effective, and new, more relevant models may not be quite so obvious.

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On Our Way

Autumn Woods 2013 - Newton MAA while ago, many of my colleagues began to think about ways to more effectively share the good work we do here. Some individuals have moved on and others have arrived – as happens in the way of offices – but the ideas took shape and persisted and now are bearing some fruit:

Last year, we began to play more often in the Twitter sandbox (and will pass 1,000 tweets later this week). Earlier this summer, we launched this blog (six posts and counting!). And, in recent weeks, we have begun redesigning and adding to the content of our website. While we do not claim to be social media wizards yet, we are pleased and proud about these three new ways we’ve embraced in order to share our story with you, our campus, and the wider higher education community.

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