About the Communication Lab
The Communication Lab is an educational program within the School of Engineering at MIT. Our goal is to help engineering graduate students and postdocs learn the technical and professional communication skills they need to achieve their career goals. We do this by hiring and training graduate students and postdocs as paid Communication Fellows, who provide coaching to peers within their departments. In addition to our core service of one-on-one, discipline-specific coaching, we also offer workshops, online resources, and other tools and opportunities to help trainees build vital skills in written, oral, and visual communication.
In effect, we offer a double-tiered training service: by intensively training the Communication Fellows, we empower them to provide their communities with continual, innovative communication support.
The Communication Lab applies a “just in time” learning philosophy to its efforts. We align ourselves with graduate students’ authentic communication tasks and deadlines, and work 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 and professional communication. We focus as much on the Fellow experience as we do our clients’.
All first-year Fellows receive a year-long training program (nine workshops of two hours each) to build their skills in coaching and technical communication. Our trainings employ an “80/20” balance of content: 80% of the content is shared (the theory), but 20% is customized for each department (field-specific examples and conventions). All Fellows are mentored by their managers and experienced Fellows, and are invited to attend professional development opportunities that we host for them throughout the year.
Our approach to communication emphasizes iteration among a set of strategic questions: communicators must define their audience and goals for their communication before selecting content and making choices about presentation.
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 launch a model centered on discipline-specific peer coaching.
Following its success in BE, the Comm Lab model has been adapted by several other MIT engineering departments and other academic institutions:
- 2014: Nuclear Science and Engineering
- 2015: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- 2016: Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (sister program)
- 2017: Chemical Engineering
- 2018: Mechanical Engineering
- 2020: Civil and Environmental Engineering
Since 2016, the Communication Lab has been a School of Engineering program within the Gorden Engineering Leadership ecosystem, under the oversight of GEL co-directors Dr. Reza Rahaman and Professor Oli De Weck.
Since 2017, the Communication Lab model has also been taught to and adopted by institutions beyond MIT via the Summer Institute training workshop. This has resulted in the formation of the greater Communication Lab Consortium; read more about the Communication Lab Consortium here.
The Communication Lab operates through a membership model. Each department that participates has its own part-time Communication Lab Administrator, who customizes 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. See our current staff here.
- Read our publication describing the Communication Lab model (Hanson et al., “Technical Communication Instruction for Graduate Students: The Communication Lab vs. a Course,” 2017, Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education)
- Read our publication describing the adaptation of the model beyond MIT (Summers et al., “Experiments in the Communication Lab: Adaptations of the Comm Lab Model in Three Institutions,” 2019, Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education)