About the Communication Lab
The Communication Lab is a graduate student program within the School of Engineering at MIT. Our goal is to help engineering graduate students learn the communication skills they need to achieve their career goals. We do this by hiring and training graduate students as paid Communication Fellows, who offer peer coaching to other graduate students within their department. While the Communication Lab mostly focuses on individual coaching, we also offer peer-led workshops, and innovate on communication-related endeavors in order to engage graduate students in thinking about the interface between research, impact, and audience.
The Communication Lab applies a “just in time” learning philosophy to all of its efforts. We align ourselves with graduate students’ authentic communication tasks and deadlines, and try our best to meet them where they are literally and figuratively.
Fellow training model
Our peer coaches are practicing engineers and scientists, first and foremost. We train them rigorously to offer high-level conversations with their peers about scientific communication. We focus as much on the Fellow experience as we do our clients’.
In order to scale efficiently, we cohort all first-year Fellows and give them targeted trainings in two-hour sessions once a month during their first year in the program. We employ a “80-20” rule to our trainings: 80% of the content is the same (the theory), but 20% is customized for each department (field-specific applications). All Fellows are mentored by experienced Fellows and are invited to attend professional development opportunities that we host for them throughout the year.
The EECS Communication Lab team designed a framework in 2016 that we now use as a shared tool for discussing effective communication across our program.
History and growth
The Communication Lab was first piloted in 2013 in the Department of Biological Engineering (BE) under the faculty leadership of Professor Eric Alm and Department Head Doug Lauffenburger. BE wanted to provide additional support for its students to learn communication skills, and hired Jaime Goldstein to begin experimenting with discipline-specific peer coaching.
The Department of Nuclear and Science and Engineering launched a Communication Lab in 2014, followed by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2015. Soon after, the Communication Lab partnered with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to help them develop a Communication Lab for their community by leveraging the existing Fellow training model.
In 2016, MIT’s Sandbox Innovation Program entered a collaboration with the Communication Lab to hire and train Sandbox Fellows, who will support student entrepreneurship. Sandbox will be using the Communication Lab model, and will work closely with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship to train the Fellows.
In July 2016, the Communication Lab transitioned from being housed within the Department of Biological Engineering, to being a School of Engineering Program housed under the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, with Professor Joel Schindall serving now as faculty director.
In 2017, Chemical Engineering joined the Communication Lab, and Mechanical Engineering followed in 2018.
The Communication Lab operates as a franchise model. Each department that participates has its own part-time Communication Lab Program Administrator, who is able to customize the program’s outreach and services to match the needs, culture, and goals of their community. The program is managed centrally by the Program Director, with support of a central Program Assistant.