MIT graduate students are benefiting from a coaching program that not only aids them personally, but also professionally, promoting a strong sense of community. The Mechanical Engineering Graduate Coaching Program, which was introduced in 2020, has since started supporting students from a range of departments. This approach enhances their personal and professional growth by promoting a "coaching mindset," according to MIT News.
The program was created with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as traditional educational models were disrupted, Kelli Hendrickson PhD '05, a research engineer at MIT and the program founder, recognized the need to offer students additional support. "With everything going virtual, there was definitely a big need. Coaching seemed like the missing piece in students’ support," Hendrickson said, per the MIT article.
Since its initial launch, the program has only expanded, benefiting students even in the wake of the pandemic. In cohorts of three to seven, graduate students gather weekly for confidential sessions. These sessions cover coaching skills and relevant topics. According to MIT News, themes of these meetings commonly tackle challenges including prioritization, goal setting, and stress management.
Over time, the program has fostered a sense of support and connection among its participants, an essential resource for those who might feel isolated in smaller lab groups or while progressing through their PhD program. Hendrickson stresses that the feeling of being in a community that also encourages growth and development is "a big reason students join the group."
The program deviates from traditional mentorship models since it aims to forge a unique partnership between peer coaches and their coachees to creatively foster growth. Hendrickson relates this to "collaborative product development" where he sees the student as the "product." This analogy underlines the goal to equip students with the necessary support beyond academics.
Back in 2020, Qiuyun Wang, a PhD student, personally felt the benefits of the Graduate Coaching Program. She initially doubted her self-efficacy because of factors like the pandemic and the extended time she needed to complete her PhD. After joining the coaching program, Wang found that her struggles were not unique. From her peers, she learned how to set goals, accept help, and cultivate a growth mindset.
In the past spring, the coaching program teamed up with MIT's MindHandHeart initiative and received a grant to run a workshop series for all graduate students from the Chancellor's Innovation Fund. It focused on topics such as defining success and exploring potential careers. These workshops have identified other departments where graduate students at MIT could greatly benefit from the program. As a result, the weekly coaching sessions have stretched to accommodate students from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, with plans for more expansion in the near future.