A letter from the department head

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EECS Department Head Anantha Chandrakasan


Whether it is through groundbreaking research or creating the next generation of global innovators, our faculty, students, and staff are working to make a better world through transformative technologies and new approaches to learning. In this issue of the MIT EECS Connector, we invite you to find out more about the initiatives we’ve launched recently, some of which are described below.

Computational thinking is an essential skill in all engineering and scientific disciplines, and important beyond these as well. We are proud to announce that beginning in Fall 2016 MIT will offer a minor in computer science. The minor will give students a strong background in the fundamentals of programming, algorithms, and discrete mathematics, enabling students to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to make effective use of computer science concepts and computing technologies in their future careers.

Undergraduate enrollment in Course 6 is at an all-time high. As of October 2015, 1,204 sophomores, juniors, and seniors, were enrolled in Course 6 majors. We are especially pleased that undergraduate women are increasingly choosing to study electrical engineering and computer science; women now account for 43 percent of sophomores enrolled in Course 6. As enrollment increases, EECS is developing new ways for its students to ask questions and access information about our curriculum. One example is the recently launched 6.AcAd Advising Forum, which gives MEng and undergraduate students a comfortable online forum in which to raise questions and issues, and provides quick access to authoritative answers and suggestions — about department curriculum, courses, degree requirements, opportunities, and more. Hosted on the academic forum service Piazza, the “instructors” for the forum include the members of the department’s Academics and Advising Committee, the staff of the Undergraduate Office, peer advisors, and faculty volunteers.

SuperUROP, or the Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, is an undergraduate research program that gives students the research toolkit they need to tackle real-world problems. Students in the program participate in a year-long research experience, and enroll in 6.UAR (Preparation for Undergraduate Research). We are pleased to be able to offer access to this popular program to an increasing number of students. For the first time this year SuperUROP has expanded to include students throughout the School of Engineering, and enrollment has more than doubled in the four years since program began, from 80 students to 178.

Entrepreneurship plays a vital role in deploying new ideas and technologies. To give our students more exposure to the elements of entrepreneurship, EECS launched Start6, a two-and-a-half-week IAP course, in 2014. This year Start6 has had a makeover as StartMIT, and the program has expanded to include other disciplines. Students from all five of MIT’s schools had the opportunity to work closely with successful entrepreneurs and innovators, including Ethernet co-inventor and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe, the 2015 – 2016 MIT Visiting Innovation Fellow. StartMIT students also received first access to the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund, a program that launched in January 2016 to connect students with tailored educational experiences, mentoring, and up to $25,000 to help qualified students and teams nurture their ideas.

The innovation pipeline becomes stronger when it includes a diversity of voices. In November 2015, EECS hosted the annual Rising Stars in EECS workshop, which brought 61 women graduate students and postdocs considering careers in academic research to campus for three days of academic talks, networking, and skill-building sessions. In addition to introducing participants to the skills they need to navigate the early stages of an academic career, participants were able to expand their network and make lasting connections, opening the doors for collaborations and professional support in years to come. We are pleased to announce that Carnegie Mellon University will host Rising Stars in EECS in Fall 2016.

For new ideas to take root, they first have to be heard. In Fall 2015, EECS launched the Graduate Communications Lab to offer writing, speaking, and visual design support for scientists by scientists. The lab’s communication advisors are EECS graduate students and postdocs who have been trained rigorously so that they are both content experts and communication coaches. The EECS communication advisors are available to help EECS students, staff, and researchers with individual coaching for any scientific communication tasks they are working on — from publications to conference talks.

Other initiatives that continue to play major roles in the important work of keeping EECS responsive to its students and community members include the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group in EECS (USAGE), and Postdoc6. The efforts of USAGE this year are deeply important to understanding and addressing workload balance; and their input on undergraduate curriculum is providing crucial feedback to our faculty curriculum committee. Postdoc6, entering its fourth year, is committed to ensuring that postdocs across EECS-affiliated labs have access to the resources they need to build a vibrant postdoc community — opening the door to the many opportunities available to them at MIT. This year, we created a new workshop to develop leadership and teamwork skills for postdocs.

In April, I announced that the 2015 – 2016 academic year would be my final one as department head of EECS. Throughout the five years that I have been privileged to serve in this capacity, I have been most impressed with the drive, creativity, and leadership of the members of our community. We have collaborated to not only support a historic increase in undergraduate enrollment, but also to expand and enhance the student and faculty experience through more than twenty-five new initiatives. I am especially proud of the advances we have made in enhancing student advising to meet our growing needs, expanding undergraduate research opportunities (with SuperUROP), exposing our students to entrepreneurship (through StartMIT), supporting women interested in an academic career (through the Rising Stars Workshop), hiring faculty in strategic areas, and other changes that have strengthened the EECS community (such as student input to faculty hiring, USAGE, the undergraduate lounge, GEECS hour, and Postdoc6). As our undergraduate enrollment has grown, so has our reach beyond MIT. Our efforts to expand access to course materials through MITx/edX have created new ways for people worldwide to learn about electrical engineering and computer science. I believe that — together — we have made MIT EECS a stronger and more welcoming place for everyone.

As always, we are eager to engage our alumni in exploring ways for them to share their expertise with current students and faculty. I welcome your input and hope that you will stay in touch directly or through our website and social network channels.

Sincerely,

Anantha P. Chandrakasan
Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Department Head, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

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