Reach Out and Make Connections

February 22, 2012

Dear students:

This week I shared with the campus the sad news of another student death. Along with the recent bike accident, this is the fourth death to hit the community since the beginning of the academic year. I certainly am struggling to make sense of this trauma, and I know that many of you may be, too.

At MIT, we’re great at tackling the world’s problems. Whether it’s the future of energy, a cure for cancer, or affordable health care, we gladly take on the big challenges—and we expect that we’ll find a way to solve them. Often, we do so by teaming up with others. Sometimes, though, I think we forget to apply this same approach to our own struggles. In my email to the campus this week, I described how, during tough times like these, it is vitally important to reach out and make connections. It occurred to me that this attitude should be familiar to us. After all, we do it in our research. We do it working on class projects, or in study groups. Let’s do this within the community, too, for ourselves and for one another.

If you are feeling uncertain or overwhelmed by these recent losses, make a connection. Reach out to a classmate, a professor, a GRT, or Housemaster. If you see someone who appears to be in distress, upset, or distracted, reach out and let them know they are not alone. I suspect that opening up may feel difficult to some of you. In a community this talented and hard working, it’s easy to look around at your professors and fellow students and think you are the only one who needs support. But I can tell you from my own experience that this just isn’t true. All of my colleagues and I could tell you about times in our studies and careers when reaching out to someone else made all the difference, whether academically, personally, or both.

I want to suggest two options for seeking support, whether you are feeling distressed in the aftermath of the recent deaths, overwhelmed in your studies, or otherwise struggling. These are not the only options—the other sections of this monthly digest highlight some of the other services MIT offers to students—but each is a great first step for any undergraduate or graduate who isn’t sure where (or how) to start. And of course you can find an excellent collection of resources on the Personal Support and Wellness page on the Student Life and Learning site.

Student Support Services (S3)
For undergraduates, try Student Support Services (Room 5-104, Tel: 617-253-4861). The deans there are smart and supportive people who have helped thousands of students through personal and academic challenges. More than half of undergraduates go to S3 at some point during their time at MIT—which says to me that success often comes not just by doing it yourself but also through asking for help when you need it. What happens when you go to S3? An initial conversation with one of the deans, followed by some planning in which you both work together to come up with next steps.

Graduate Student REFS
Graduate students who are feeling overwhelmed or grappling with stress should check out the REFS program. REFS (which stands for Resources for Easing Friction and Stress) is run by graduate students for graduate students. It’s a department-based, peer-to-peer support program. The REFS volunteers are trained to give you information about resources and to make informed referrals for you to act on. Use REFS to have a confidential chat with someone who understands not just the challenges of graduate student life at MIT, but also your specific corner of it.

The number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have contacted me recently to suggest ideas for strengthening the campus and to offer their support to students has touched me deeply. I am grateful for the generous spirit behind these offers. It helps me understand that my own grief is shared by the community and gives me the confidence to assure you that if we help each other as a community we will find our way through it.


Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor