The C.H.A.O.S. Process

Graduate studies can feel a lot like chaos. There’s a lot going on between research, teaching, clubs, and activities. How can you stay focused and centered with so much going on? Will you ever have time to reflect on how you got here? How can you plan your next steps while taking on so much?

These are important questions, and C.H.A.O.S. can help! C.H.A.O.S. is a tool developed at MIT for MIT graduate students. It’s an acronym for a non-linear design thinking process (and a handy mnemonic device) that will help you find patterns and order within the chaos.

You can use it now to take stock of how things are going (see the exercise below), you can use it to reflect on the past and tell the story of what brought you to MIT, or you can use it to think ahead and plan for what comes next.

C.H.A.O.S. stands for Characterize, Hone, Affirm, Optimize, Success. Click each element to learn more about them.

Characterize asks you to think about your skills, interests, and values. This step of the process will help you name what matters to you, identify misalignments, and recalibrate when necessary. Check out some quick and free self-assessments from ImaginePhD and/or MyIDP.

Hone means to sharpen, and that’s exactly what this step asks you to do. Identify some small goals that will help you move towards a bigger vision of success or do some exploration so you can eliminate trajectories that don’t appeal.

Affirm requires you to use all of your research skills and apply them in a more personal way. Gather as much information as you can from peers, colleagues, alumni, and mentors to make sure you’re making the best decisions you can for yourself. MIT has some excellent resources to help you connect. Learn more about Networking and build connections using the Alumni Advisors Hub.

Optimize asks what you need to help you move forward. You might optimize by developing a new skill or pursuing something that has piqued your interest. It’s a deeply individualized element of the C.H.A.O.S. process because everyone’s needs are different.  

Success is an ever-evolving notion that you must define and redefine for yourself; it has more than one meaning. Recognizing the fluid nature of success will help you overcome setbacks more quickly and reset your goals as needed.

The C.H.A.O.S. Difference

Unlike traditional, linear Individual Development Plans (IDPs), C.H.A.O.S. anticipates directional changes and bumps in the road. Don’t let a little chaos catch you off guard. It’s all part of the journey, and you can handle it!

By Alexis Boyer
Alexis Boyer Alexis Boyer Assistant Director, Graduate Student Career Services