Grad School Glossary

Inspired by Emory University Department of Chemistry’s Grad School Glossary

Academic Calendar: Key dates and deadlines throughout the academic year. Available on the Registrar’s Website.

Academic Integrity: Online student handbook with guidelines about academic integrity at MIT.

Academic Year: refers to Fall and Spring terms, roughly September-May, excluding summer.

Appointment: MIT categorizes paid and unpaid positions into “appointment” categories. In a student context, an appointment is financial aid offered to a graduate student that is contingent on some kind of service, usually teaching or research support. Students in the Chemistry department have 12 month funding appointments.

ARM Coalition: Information on financial and other resources that can help make life as a student more affordable. ARM is an acronym for Accessing Resources at MIT.

CAPD/Career Advising & Professional Development: MIT office dedicated to career advising, distinguished fellowships, employer relations, graduate student professional development, operations, prehealth advising, and student staff.

CGSC/Chemistry Graduate Student Committee: student committee aiming to improve graduate student quality of life. To carry out its mission, the committee organizes forums, information sessions, and social events for the department.

ChemREFS: a group of Chemistry graduate students who are trained and certified in conflict resolution and mediation. Their mission is to improve the graduate student experience in MIT Chemistry by serving as a confidential resource for chemistry graduate students, faculty, and staff. They’re here to listen and talk through possible solutions if you have a problem—big or small, in lab or at home.

Chem Ed/Chemistry Education Office: office supporting chemistry coursework, as well as the undergraduate and graduate programs at MIT Chemistry. Email:

Community Wellness: offers classes, programs, and resources to help students make healthy choices.

Coursework: refers to classes that a graduate student pursues during the academic year. Most students at MIT Chemistry complete coursework during the first year of study in preparation for the Oral & Written Exams (see below).

Defer: describes a request to wait to complete a specific requirement or program milestone. Most often this refers to students who want to “defer” an offer of admission until the next academic year. Our department can typically grant one-year deferrals provided that the reason for deferral is chemistry-related, such as for a research opportunity or one-year master’s program in chemistry.

DEIC/Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee: a standing committee within the Chemistry Department composed of faculty, staff, postdocs, and students. The purpose of this Committee is to lead the Department’s efforts to address issues identified to implement action plans that progress the Department’s goal to create and sustain an actively anti-racist and anti-discrimination community/culture providing a welcoming and enriching environment for all.

Department Head: The faculty member who serves as administrative lead of an academic department and represents the department to internal administration and the public.

DAS/Disability and Access Services: An MIT Office that supports students with disability accommodations and access needs.

EHS/Environment, Health & Safety: Oversees occupational safety and environmental sustainability on campus.

Exams: can be used to refer to a single test or series of tests in a course. However, when used in the plural and in a graduate school context this sometimes refers to the oral exam (see below).

Fellowship: a monetary award provided to support a student’s education, usually based on academic achievement or potential. Many fellowship opportunities are extremely competitive and/or nationally recognized.  A fellowship is not required in order to apply for the PhD program but helps both students and departments.

Funding: funds that might be used to cover a student’s stipend, money available for the lab to do research, or funds available for department expenses.

GradSupport: provide advice and counsel on a variety of issues including faculty/student relationships, changing your advisor, conflict negotiation, funding, academic progress, interpersonal concerns, and a student’s rights and responsibilities. They can also help with excused absences and provide clarification about Graduate Policies and Procedures. GradSupport is part of the Office of Graduate Education (see below).

Grad Admins/Graduate Academic Administrators: Key representatives responsible for a broad range of services and resources for graduate students. At MIT Chemistry, the Chemistry Education Office fills this role (see above).

GAIN/Graduate Assistance & Information Network: Free, 24-hour confidential service at MIT connecting graduate students and families to resources and referrals for various work-life issues, including legal and financial consultation; child care, school, and summer camp resources and referrals; relocation guidance; and career assessment.

Graduate Guide: includes important information about the academic program, department policies, student organizations and activities, and teaching assistantships. The guide is updated at the beginning of each academic year.

Graduate Officer: the faculty lead for the graduate program(s) in an academic department.

Graduate School: a school that offers advanced degrees.

GRE: An acronym for the Graduate Record Exam, a test of verbal, quantitative, and writing ability administered by the US-based Educational Testing Service. The exam is intended to predict performance in the first year of a graduate program. For Fall 2022 admissions, MIT Chemistry does not currently require or accept the exam due to concerns about equity and the cost burden to applicants.

GRFP: The purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education.

GSC/Graduate Student Council: Student governing body that aims to enhance the overall graduate experience at MIT.

ICEO/Institute Community and Equity Office: Promotes awareness of equity, inclusion, and diversity as core MIT values and serves as a focal point for activities, conversations, and best practices.

IDHR/Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office: Formerly Title IX, serves as the central office addressing discrimination and discriminatory harassment (including sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, and stalking) for faculty, staff, postdocs, and students.

IELTS: An acronym for the International English Language Testing System, a language proficiency test for applicants whose first language is not English. Many programs either require IELTS scores or accept them as an alternative to TOEFL scores.

Impostor Syndrome: describes a mindset of self-doubt and a lack of belief in one’s own accomplishments. It can be accompanied by a fear of being exposed as an intellectual “fraud”. This phenomenon disproportionately affects high-achieving people (like graduate students). If you are feeling this way, you are not alone; more on this experience available here:

Industry: in STEM, used to refer to the field of work that applies science knowledge to corporate/nonprofit product and idea generation. Students will often refer to “industry” careers, meaning anything from jobs in the pharmaceutical industry to food chemistry to tech and beyond.

ISO/International Students Office: Provides programs and services for international students, from advising on immigration regulations to navigating MIT.

LBGTQ@MIT: Promotes a safe and supportive MIT campus-wide community where lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer, questioning individuals, and their allies are all welcomed as equals.

Lecturer: a member of the academic faculty of a department whose primary responsibility is for teaching (as opposed to research).

Literature: in a graduate context this refers to the collected body of published academic work in a given area of study. In chemistry, “the literature” will most often refer to journal articles.

MIT Medical: Central resource for physical and mental health and well-being at MIT.

Mentor: may be used synonymously with PI or research advisor (see below). More broadly, a mentor is any colleague who provides support, advice, and perspective on your career trajectory. At MIT Chemistry, all first-year students receive a peer mentor who can help navigate difficult situations such as starting graduate school, finding a research advisor, and adjusting to life at MIT.

OGE/Office of Graduate Education: supports and serves individual graduate students, programs, and schools in order to make graduate education at MIT empowering, exciting, holistic, and transformative.

Orals/Oral & Written Exam: MIT requires that all Ph.D. candidates pass general oral and written examinations in their field of study during the second year. This helps evaluate progress, general knowledge, critical thinking skills, communication skills, future research plans, and overall scholarship.

Orientation: refers to the initial training period that provides new students with information on policies and procedures of the program and school. At MIT Chemistry, this occurs concurrently with TA Training the week before classes begin.

PI/Principal Investigator: the term used to indicate the lead researcher on grants. Also used to indicate the lead investigator of a research lab (the person the lab is named for). Some graduate students will use this term interchangeably with advisor, mentor, boss, etc. to refer to the director of the lab where they are completing their PhD work.

Private vs. Public: in the context of graduate school, these designations refer to whether an institution receives funding from the state in which it is located or entirely from private sources. MIT is a private, non-profit institution.

PUI/Primarily Undergraduate Institution: Refers to a college or university where the focus is on the undergrad experience. This doesn’t mean other institutions don’t focus on the undergrad experience. Rather, PUIs usually have very few graduate programs, if any. Speaking broadly, PUIs have the potential to offer students more interaction with faculty. PUIs often offer students leadership opportunities in research, although research activities may have a different scope than at universities with large labs incorporating graduate and postdoctoral researchers.

QoL/Quality of Life Committee: committed to improving the Department of Chemistry experience for all students, postdocs, staff, and faculty. The QoL Committee’s objectives fall broadly in four categories: Community; Education and Professional Development; Research and Mentoring; and Diversity.

R1: Refers to a university with “highest research activity” (as compared to universities with higher and moderate research focus.)  Based on a classification system that isn’t used much anymore, but the name has stuck. It’s uncommon to hear people refer to an R2 or R3 university, even though these technically refer to “higher” and “moderate” research activity, respectively. MIT is an “R1.”

Recruitment: refers to the entire graduate admissions process–including when you visit a department, school, or program’s table at a conference and pick up some flyers and “swag” with the school logo on it. Might also be used as shorthand to refer to visiting weekend.

Registrar: the office that keeps university records, i.e. a transcript. The Registrar’s Office oversees the registration process for coursework.

Research Advisor: the faculty member or PI overseeing your research.

RA/Research Assistant: a member of a research group in a laboratory or on a project, whose principal duty is to contribute, under supervision, to a program of departmental or interdepartmental research. Through project work, the assistant gains increased facility in organizing work, applying new experimental techniques to real problems, and oral presentation. Most students welcome the opportunity a research assistantship gives them to participate as junior colleagues of the faculty in an ongoing research project; this experience frequently influences their choice of thesis topic.

REFs/Resources for Easing Friction and Stress: Graduate student peers representing Institute-wide (iREFS) or departmental (dREFS) programs that provide low-barrier, confidential services in the form of support, coaching, listening, de-escalation, and informal mentoring and mediation. MIT Chemistry’s REFs are ChemREFs (see above).

Research Group: a collection of people and resources engaged in a shared research project, usually under a single mentor/primary investigator.

Research Group Selection Process: Graduate students in chemistry generally select a research supervisor during the first term of the program and begin thesis research by the beginning of the spring term. Choosing a research supervisor is one of the most important decisions you will make during your graduate career. To assist first-year graduate students with this process, the department has developed several ways for students to become acquainted with potential research supervisors and groups. Some of these activities may include desk rotations, Chemical Biology lab rotations, faculty research talks, meeting with faculty/students individually, and attending group meetings. Students then fill out a form (usually in early November) with their top research advisor preferences and receive an assignment to a research group the following week.

Rotations: a structured program used by some STEM departments to allow students to spend time in multiple research groups prior to choosing a research home for their graduate degree(s). Students will move (or “rotate”) through the groups they are interested in. Rotations are not a required activity at MIT Chemistry, but students have the option to participate in Desk Rotations. Students interested in Chemical Biology have the option to enroll in 5.52, a course where students can participate in laboratory research on a rotating basis. Rotations in the Chemistry Department are approximately 3 weeks each and take place September – early November.

Seminar: Presentations that provide an opportunity to learn about exciting current research at other universities and in industrial research laboratories. The Department of Chemistry currently has five seminar programs (including a student-organized seminar series), plus endowed lectures and special seminars throughout the year.

SFS/Student Financial Services: Administers need-based financial aid, processes student and parent loans, and manages student billing and student employment.

SPXCE Intercultural Center: Social Justice Programming & Cross-Cultural Engagement Intercultural Center (SPXCE, pronounced “space”) provides social justice education, support, community-building, and leadership development.

Standing: the status of a student in an academic program. Students in “good standing” have met program requirements and are on track to degree. Funding and other opportunities at MIT Chemistry are contingent on good standing.

Stipend: refers to the funding offered to a student in support of their graduate training. A stipend differs from a salary because the work to earn the funds is not entirely directed towards support of an “employer.” A stipend funds the entire academic endeavor which may include required work related to training, including research work and T.A.

Student Life Fee: Current rates available here. This helps fund student clubs, organizations, and the sports and fitness center. This fee covers all graduate students’ unlimited access to the gym, fitness classes, student organization events, and trips.

TA/Teaching Assistant: assist faculty members in classroom or laboratory instruction, conduct discussion sections, provide review sessions and office hours, and grade problem sets, exams, or lab reports. MIT Chemistry Grad Students serve as TAs for two terms as partial fulfillment of the department’s requirements for a PhD degree. Usually this requirement is fulfilled in the first year.

Term: refers to the defined academic period during which single courses start and end. Most schools have a fall, spring, and summer term. Most program, including MIT Chemistry, accept students for the Fall term.

Thesis: the written work that represents the culmination of a student’s graduate-level research progress.

Thesis Committee: three MIT faculty members who oversee graduate student research: the student’s research advisor, a thesis committee chair, and a thesis committee member. This committee is appointed at the beginning of each graduate students’ second year in the program. The role of the Thesis Committee includes monitoring progress toward the PhD degree, participating in oral examinations, participating in the Plan to Finish Meeting, and conducting the final evaluation of the doctoral thesis.

TOEFL: An abbreviation for the Test of English as a Foreign Language administered by the Educational Testing Service. Often required for prospective applicants whose first language is not English. Sometimes this testing requirement is waived for students who have studied in an English-speaking country long enough to acquire English proficiency.

Tuition Waiver: a commitment made as part of an admissions offer indicating that a student will not be charged for the cost of course enrollment. It is important for graduate students to understand that they will likely be required to enroll in credit hours even in a semester where they are not taking classroom courses. A tuition waiver will potentially cover costs throughout a student’s graduate training. It is important to understand that tuition waivers will not be delivered to the student as real funds–the tuition will never be charged to the student or, if it is charged, money will be paid directly to the school on the student’s behalf. Therefore, there is no way for students to acquire the funds other than as a credit towards their tuition.

URM/Underrepresented Minority: This term is often used be schools to refer collectively to prospective and current scholars who make up a smaller percentage of the population at a given school and/or within a given field than is representative of their percentage of the population in the country. This NSF report is one helpful overview of diversity in the chemical sciences.

UROP/Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program: cultivates and supports research partnerships between MIT undergraduates and faculty. Graduate students may occasionally have the opportunity to serve as a UROP mentor or supervisor.

Visiting Weekend: an opportunity to travel to the campus of a program that has agreed to accept a candidate on the basis of their application. Sometimes referred to as “recruitment weekend.” In chemistry, it is common for accepted students to be offered a visit to a school. At MIT Chemistry, Visiting Weekend usually takes place in mid- to late-March.

WIC+/Women+ in Chemistry: a group that uses the lens of gender to guide its support of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the Department of Chemistry. WIC+’s mission is to foster a sense of community in the department, facilitate connections with the greater community, support the professional development of department members, and advocate for people of all genders and for gender diversity in the department and the entire chemistry community.

Writing and Communication Center: MIT resource that provides in-person or online consultation on any writing difficulty, from questions about grammar to matters of style, and oral presentations; specialized help for English as a second language.