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2017 in Review: ChemREFS

Categories: Students

The goal of ChemREFS is to provide the chemistry graduate student body with a resource to help diffuse, if not resolve, problems, conflicts, and concerns.

Achievements of the 2016-2017 Academic Year

ChemREFS is a group of twelve graduate students who span all four divisions of the Department of Chemistry – two members from the Biological Division, three members each from the Physical and and Inorganic Divisions, and four from the Organic Division. It is one of the eleven departmental REFS (Resources for Easing Friction and Stress) programs at MIT. Certified mediators through Conflict Management @ MIT (CM @ MIT), the members of ChemREFS serve all members of the department by providing private conversational sessions with individuals and hosting workshops and social events. Members of the ChemREFS work under the guidance of Faculty REFS (Professors Mei Hong, Tim Swager, and Troy Van Voorhis) and often together with other student groups such as Chemistry Graduate Student Committee (CGSC) and Women in Chemistry (WIC). The group has continuous meetings with students on an individual level, and an annual meeting with the Faculty REFS to discuss issues within the Department.

One of the major goals of the group is to provide students of the department resources for dealing with issues related to research, interpersonal conflicts, and program requirements. The primary means to accomplish this goal is to have confidential conversations with individuals, most often initiated by a graduate or postdoctoral researcher. Members of ChemREFS are familiar with resources within the department and around campus that can help with a variety of personal and professional issues. The effort to ease conflicts within the department is ongoing, and ChemREFS meets with Faculty REFS regularly to communicate the major problems in the department and to promote a more constructive and supportive culture.

Similar to those that members of ChemREFS attend with other departmental REFS groups, ChemREFS organizes workshops that are open to all members of the department on topics such as “Being an Active Bystander”, held in June 2016, and  “Improving Conflict Outcomes” in collaboration with CM @ MIT, which was held in March 2016. An “Orals Preparation Workshop” held in March 2017, organized with the Chemistry Graduate Student Committee (CGSC) for second- and third-year students taking oral exams, has also been a successful annual event. ChemREFS also collavorated with CGSC to host a Group Selection Event, and, in addition to contacting students before major points throughout the program, ChemREFS hosts social events such as a Coffee Break (Fall) and Departmental Breakfast (Spring) for first-year students to introduce the group as a resource for the department. Over the summer, ChemREFS collaborated once again with CGSC to hold an Ice Cream Social, and in August 2017, the group held Outreach Day, in collaboration with the MIT Edgerton Center.

ChemREFS takes the initiative to contact students in the Department before and during significant milestones in the program. They reach out to first year students over the summer, prior to the start of classes, as well as in the first year, prior to lab selection.  Second and third year students are contacted before oral exams, and along the way, the group continues to train and educate alongside other departmental REFS and iREFS programs.

ChemREFS strives to be a helpful and trusted resource for all graduate and postdoctoral members of the Department of Chemistry. ChemREFS will continue to provide resources for the department, and in the coming year, the group plans to be more proactive toward student concerns and will organize weekly opportunities for meeting with ChemREFS members in an informal and private setting, modeled after the “Let’s Chat” program through MIT Mental Health.