A successful inaugural year for CAPD Graduate Student Professional Development’s certificate programs

This spring, over 150 doctoral students and postdocs successfully completed CAPD’s new professional development certificate program. Two certificates—one in research mentoring and the other in grant writing—were launched last fall to help PhD students and postdocs advance their growth in these essential areas. Participants attended a series of workshops throughout the 2023-24 academic year to fulfill the certificate programs’ requirements.

As reflected by the application numbers, the programs’ launch received an enthusiastic response. The Research Mentoring Certificate attracted 245 applicants, of which 75 participants, representing a mix of PhD students and postdocs, were selected. The cohort attended workshops designed to teach mentoring skills such as maintaining effective communication, aligning expectations, addressing equity and inclusion, and assessing understanding. Each session was led by a facilitator trained by the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER).

For the Grant Writing Training Certificate, which was co-funded by Postdoctoral Services, 325 doctoral students and postdocs applied and 100 were accepted. Participants were required to attend three intensive workshops that delved into critical aspects of writing and submitting scientific grant proposals for the NSF, NIH, and other agencies.

A certificate program presenter stands at the podium in the front of a lecture hall, speaking to a group of engaged attendees.

The first workshop featured a faculty panel, moderated by Vivian Siegel, lecturer in the Department of Biology, which introduced the grant writing landscape. Professors Anna Frebel (Physics), John Gabrieli (Brain and Cognitive Sciences), and Chris Kaiser (Biology), along with Research Administration Services’ Vivian Holmes, offered insights based on their professional experiences.

The second session, led by outside facilitator Dr. John Robertson, was an all-day deep dive into the art and practice of writing winning grant proposals. The third session, entitled “The Nuts and Bolts of the Research Funding Machine,” was led by MIT Research Administration Services and discussed the internal process for federal grant submissions. Participants also had the option of attending a fourth workshop, helmed by outside facilitator Dr. Beth Schachter, focused exclusively on NIH K grants for postdocs and F grants for graduate students.

Survey responses demonstrated that the programs achieved Graduate Student Professional Development’s goal of helping PhD students and postdocs learn valuable skills that are not typically included in their training. A participant in the Research Mentoring Certificate program wrote, “Thank you for organizing this! [It] should be mandatory for all mentors — it really was so helpful!” Responses to sessions of the Grant Writing Certificate program included, “Best grant writing workshop I ever attended,” “This was extremely helpful for many levels of grant writers,” and “I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to write a successful grant application.”

Based on the success of the first year of the program, CAPD looks forward to continuing with these offerings and expanding them to include certificates for other vital skill sets. Ultimately, these efforts will support the Institute-wide focus on developing graduate student professional development, an area of emphasis in the Institute’s Task Force 2021 report.

By Julia Mongo
Julia Mongo Staff Writer and Advisor