School of Engineering Debuts MIT Postdoctoral Fellowship Program

With the selection of 16 inaugural postdocs, the program seeks to develop the next generation of faculty leaders.

With the selection of 16 inaugural postdocs, the program seeks to develop the next generation of faculty leaders.

Back row, from left to right: Timothy Holder, George Moore, Jorge Méndez, Dean Anantha Chandrakasan, Associate Dean Daniel Hastings, Matthew Rivera, Joseph Wasswa, and Steven Ceron. Front and middle rows, seated, from left to right: Maria Ramos Gonzalez, Michael Kitcher, Suhas Eswarappa Prameela, Molly Carton, Sofia Arevalo, and Ulri Lee. Not pictured: Matthew Clarke, Amy Fox, Kristina Monakhova, and Kimia Nadjahi. Image courtesy of Gretchen Ertl.

In the summer of 2022, the MIT School of Engineering welcomed its first class of scholars selected for the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Engineering Excellence. The idea for the fellowship grew from conversations within the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee—established in 2020—that identified a need to diversify the pool of postdocs employed within the school. The program seeks to discover and develop the next generation of faculty leaders to help guide the school toward a more diverse and inclusive culture.

“I look forward to the positive impact these postdoctoral fellows will bring to their work and research while also helping the School of Engineering continue our growth as a more welcoming and diverse community for all,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering.

The program offers annual stipends for postdocs to pursue research and educational efforts that widen the scope of the school’s current work, while maintaining its commitment to excellence in engineering. It is partially inspired by MIT’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholars and Professor Program, which aims to bring more diverse scholars to campus.

Engineering is a field at MIT that has long struggled with supporting scholars from underrepresented backgrounds. Today, only 8% of School of Engineering graduate students identify as an underrepresented minority. Only 5% of undergraduates identify as Black or African American and only 14% identify as Hispanic or Latinx. Women account for about half of the School of Engineering’s undergraduate enrollment but make up just a third of the school’s graduate students.

Postdoc demographics are equally disconcerting, says Dan Hastings, the School of Engineering’s associate dean of DEI and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“If we looked at the data from institutional research on postdocs in the School of Engineering, the diversity of that group was terrible. There’s no other way to describe it,” says Hastings. “The sense was, why can't we have a program like the MLK Program that attracts a diverse population of postdocs?”

The Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Engineering Excellence aims to build on the school’s other initiatives, like its DEI committee, the MIT Summer Research Program initiative, and the work of the gender equity committee. The aim is to specifically diversify the pool of postdoc researchers hired by the school each year. Supporting postdocs is particularly important, says Hastings, because hiring for those positions often happens through diffuse professional networks and via personal faculty contacts.

“We hope that by intentionally building a supportive community for our scholars, we can create a space where postdoctoral scholars that are historically underrepresented in engineering can thrive,” says Nandi Bynoe, assistant dean, DEI for the School of Engineering.

Aside from supporting postdocs in their research, the program provides opportunities for fellows to gain professional skills required to succeed in potential careers in three different areas: entrepreneurship, engineering leadership—supported by The Daniel J. Riccio Graduate Engineering Leadership Program (GradEL)—and academia.

Sources: Press materials received from the company and additional information gleaned from the company’s website.

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