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As the economy continues in an uneasy state, a global reduction in resources is being realized. In that context, our financial challenge is material and pressing. From student stipends, to transportation, to funding student groups and running the orientation, the work of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) impacts every graduate student and the current team is aware of its importance. We have great confidence that the Graduate Student Council will be able to chart a financially prudent path to better graduate student life and to maintain core activities and services provided to students.

This past year has seen many important developments at the GSC. As a direct result of the work by the GSC, a graduate student dental plan was created. Our continued advocacy on student welfare had also led to a reasonable stipend increase as well as improvements in various aspects of campus life. Signature events were very well attended while creative new initiatives were launched. There appears to have been a significant increase in interest in participating in the Council over the past year.

Today, I write to give you a snapshot of the work done by your Council and to update you on some recent activities on campus, and to provide a short “State of the Council,” for those who may not be very familiar with the extent of the work of the GSC.

Advocacy and student welfare

One of the biggest achievements in these past two years was the creation and implementation of the first graduate student dental plan. The plan launched in September 2008 and has 873 subscribers. As the number of students concentrated in the northwest corner of the campus increases, the GSC (in collaboration with MIT Medical) launched the Northwest Flu Shot Clinic. Over 200 students took advantage of this service.

In addition to our work on health, the GSC has continued its tradition of making annual stipend recommendations to the administration. The GSC recommended an increase in stipends to match the increase in cost of living. Relying on the Cost of Living Survey and local Consumer Price Index data, we found that the average MIT graduate student’s cost of living had increased in the past year by about 4.9 percent. We made a recommendation for a stipend increase to match this figure. While facing budget cuts across the Institute, the administration approved the GSC’s request for an increase in stipends at a slightly lower level of 3.4 percent.

Our continued advocacy had also led to the elimination of the summer DAPER fee for the use of athletic facilities for students, as well as the construction of the shuttle shelter outside of Tang Hall and Westgate.

Career development

Each year, the GSC partners with the Undergraduate Senior Class and the Society of Women Engineers to host one of the largest career fairs in the country, bringing together 300 companies and 5,000 students. For every 30 students enrolled at MIT, there is one employer at the Career Fair, while at other universities this ratio is typically around 150:1 (e.g. at Harvard, 146:1; Yale, 143:1; Berkeley, 148:1; Dartmouth, 116:1). Our Career Fair is exceptional not only in its size but also in the fact that it’s run by students. The GSC Career Fair Directors and the other Directors demonstrated the ability to collaborate across campus populations to run an event professionally.

For a second consecutive year, the GSC teamed up with the Writing and Communication Center and 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 Postdoctoral Advisory Council and the Career Development Center, the GSC held the Academic Career Series (previously the award-winning Professional Development Series), and our latest session on academia versus industry 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

GSC activities like the country’s most successful graduate orientation, Two Dollar Tuesdays, GSC Ski Trip, and the Grad Gala were all extremely successful, with high participation, several new events, and significant positive feedback from participating students. The most substantial addition is the launch of joint university events. The first ever BU-MIT Party attracted over 700 people.

The GSC Funding Board awarded $124,142 to over a hundred student groups in the past academic year. Hundreds of events were made possible because of this funding. In this coming year of budgetary contraction, my team and I are determined to maintain this vibrancy of student activities by keeping the funds available to the student groups at a similar level. We will also launch a small fund to encourage creativity and new student groups.

Early this year, our team started the Boston Graduate Leadership Organization as a platform to connect with the graduate student population in the greater Boston Area (there are over 65,000 graduate students in greater Boston). This year the GSC also hosted the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) Northeast Regional Conference for the northeastern U.S., helping to build support for NAGPS in an area of the country where membership has generally been somewhat weak. GSC members also traveled to Washington, D.C. to support the lobbying efforts of NAGPS. Our longer-term goal is to establish MIT as a leader in the graduate community nationwide and globally.

Traditions

The MIT Ring (the Brass Rat) is one of the most recognizable rings in the world. The Grad Rat is a new tradition initiated by the GSC half a decade ago. This past year, the GSC Grad Rat committee crafted a new design that features many hidden images of the graduate experience in MIT. I encourage all of you to take a look at it and be part of this proud tradition!

We have also renamed the Graduate Student News as The Graduate. The Graduate was the name of the original publication that was created in the last century as part of the Graduate Student Council. As we revive this tradition, we will also move our publication to a more electronic format to save paper and help the Council become a more environmentally-friendly organization.

Into the future

In this coming year, the GSC will continue our work and provide better services for the graduate community. In addition, we will try to harness the value of diversity within the Institute, enhance relations and interactions between graduate students and alumni, and we will move to expand the social sphere of the graduate students at MIT beyond the walls of MIT. Also, we will work towards building better communication channels between the graduate students and their Council. Our publicity efforts will be elevated and new means will be used in addition to traditional ones (check out the MIT Grad Blog at gsc.mit.edu/blog).

We have many important allies within the MIT administration, with whom we will continue to have cordial and constructive relationships, while we will strive hard to make the voices of the graduate students heard. We are committed to bringing the graduate community of MIT to new horizons.

* * *

For over half a century, the Graduate Student Council had served the community with passion and commitment. To this day, it is hard not to notice the obvious impact around campus. When you take the GSC-created SafeRide to attend an activity by a student group funded by the GSC with friends that you met at the GSC-organized orientation, or when you attend the Grad Gala before you take up a job you found at the Career Fair, you should know that there is a group of dedicated individuals here at your Council working for you. With initiatives like the department-sponsored graduate student health insurance we secured a few years ago, or recurring ones like the yearly stipend negotiations, the GSC needs your support. So, if you are not already an active member of our team, please join us now or send your suggestions to changemit@mit.edu.

Alex Hamilton Chan is the 2009–2010 Graduate Student Council President