BE REFS resources

Rotating/joining a lab

A guide to expectations for the PhD student-advisor relationship.


worksheet and a some questions to help guide discussion of expectations for professors, instructors, advisors, and TAs.

An overview of TA responsibilities for TAs in BE, agreed upon and approved by all BE faculty. This document is also in the BE Handbook.

Perspectives on TA rights, responsibilities, rewards, and resources from the Office of Graduate Education.

Thesis proposal

A summary of thesis proposal preparation guidelines and proposal outcomes and criteria.


A summary of committee meetings: what’s their goal, what the BE handbook says about them, and what you can think about to set yourself up for success.

A short summary of the important dates and details for graduation.

A graduation checklist that can be used for planning the steps to your defense and graduation.

MIT resources

The Refs have personally met many of the individuals involved in these programs. We can help you find a program or a person who can get you the support that fits.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start but aren’t sure where to go, check out this flowchart to get you on your way.

iREFS & other dREFS: There are Institute-level Refs (iREFS), designed to be used by students who don’t have a department REFS program or by students want to talk to someone further removed from their department. Other departmental REFS programs are also happy to take visitors from BE.

Ombuds Office: The MIT Ombuds are professional conflict management practitioners. They are neutral, confidential, and informal. You can learn more about individual ombuds.

Office of Graduate Education (OGE): The people in OGE focus on helping students, especially with problems and conflicts that have to do with their studies. They also provide a list of Common Values that provide guidelines on expected student-advisor relationships.

Community Wellness: This MIT Medical program aims to help you improve your stress level, diet, exercise habits, sleep patterns, or sexual health.

Finally, has a comprehensive list of programs and offices at MIT that are available to you. Start here if you have a more specific question and want to find out where to start (e.g. career advice, professional development, etc).

Good books & articles

Getting Things Done – many of us have read this book and find it a very valuable resource that has definitely influenced our experience as graduate students in a positive way.

This post in Scientific American is one of our favorites in the vein of providing advice, both practical and philosophical, to the young scientist. It’s written for junior faculty but you can replace “7 year postdoc” with “5 year PhD” and everything else follows.

Uri Alon’s Materials for Nurturing Scientists has a great list of resources, especially for transitioning to more mentoring roles.

The MIT Ombuds Office maintains a list of self-help resources, which aim to help students deal with difficult situations and convey general conflict management skills.

We strongly recommend Getting to Yes, a quick and immensely useful book on how to do better in any situation where you and someone else want something.

In the same vein is Difficult Conversations, another quick and excellent read which will give you perspective on and tools to approach conversations that may seem conflict-laden or too emotionally charged to handle.