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.
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 and Tim Swager) 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.
In 2018, ChemREFS partnered with Women in Chemistry (WIC) to organize “Conversations and Cannolis,” a discussion between department students and officials at MIT. This event pairs sweet cannolis from Mike’s Pastries with difficult but important conversations, such as sexual harassment, implicit bias, and mental health. An “Orals Preparation Workshop” held in March 2018, co-organized with the Chemistry Graduate Student Committee (CGSC) for second- and third-year students taking oral exams, continues to be a successful annual event. Moreover, ChemREFS has organized a number of relaxation-promoting events, from a department-wide paint night to a dessert and play-doh hour for first-year students during orientation. Over the summer, ChemREFS also collaborated once again with CGSC to hold an Ice Cream Social.
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.