Navigating science career journeys with 
LEAdership and Professional Strategies & Skills Training

The LEAPS Spring 2024 courses

Open to all Graduate Students and Postdocs at MIT, particularly for School of Science members and those with a STEM interest.

In 2024, we will again teach our award-winning LEAPS leadership courses. They offer all participants in-depth training of leadership of self and others in combination with career planning and personal development strategies, and hands-on practical guidance on how to implement day-to-day actions and reach your goals.

  • 8.397 — Developing Your Leadership Competencies (from Feb 6 to March 23, 2024)
  • 8.396 — Leadership Through Professional Strategies & Skills (from April 4 to May 16, 2024)


  • Grad students: Register by choosing your preferred (cross-listed) course numbers: 5.962/5.961 (chemistry), 8.397/8.396 (physics), 9.981/9.982 (B+C), 12.397/12.396 (EAPS), 18.897/18.896 (math)

    Note: Anyone can register for any of these course numbers, independent of department!
  • Postdocs: Register with us by filling in this short form (to get course access)

Participation in each course is capped at ~80 participants due to space constraints of our classroom 32.082.

Further details are given below.

In Spring 2020, our LEAPS courses on leadership and professional strategies and skills were offered for the first time at MIT in the School of Science. In the past, the SoS did not offer any such opportunity but it was recognized that such training is vital for advancing graduate student and postdoc careers in academia and industry.

A large variety of topics useful for all career choices together with interactive components and discussions have since been covered by the two half-semester LEAPS courses which will be offered again this coming Spring.

In Spring 2023, the LEAPS Program was awarded the Irwin Sizer Award for the “Most Significant Improvement to MIT Education” by the MIT Graduate Student Council. We are so appreciative of the wide level of support our program has received! Thank you!

Professor Anna Frebel poses with award
Prof. Frebel receiving the Irwin Sizer Award for the LEAPS program for “Most Significant Improvement to MIT Education.”

The two-course LEAPS program:

To ease grad student/postdoc participation amidst everyone’s busy research life and shouldering various responsibilities, the LEAPS program offers two half-semester courses (8.397 and 8.396) which can be taken on their own or consecutively.

We strongly recommend taking both LEAPS courses in order for participants to receive the full training and to make best use of this unique opportunity of practicing leadership and the hands-on day-to-day applications that go along with it!

Classes meet Tuesdays/Thursday 9:30-11am in-person throughout the semester. Our classroom will be Bld. 32.082 (Stata basement TEAL room).

Each of the two half-semester LEAPS courses has 3 credit units (for grad students). This means that the expected weekly workload is ~6h which includes class time (3h) and at-home personal (written) reflections (1-3h).

The LEAPS courses are kindly supported by the MIT School of Science and the Department of Physics. However, all students and postdocs from all other departments at MIT are very welcome to participate!

For questions, please contact us at:

This course serves a large range of career ages, from new grad student to seasoned postdoc by providing a unique opportunity to either practice new(er) strategies and skills, reflect on and hone existing ones, or prepare you for what’s ahead. Regardless, it allows you to take a step back to see what your advisor has or hasn’t done, and in turn, what you will need to teach others one day.

8.396: Leadership through professional strategies and skills

  • Learn to navigate academia better and with more confidence — being in your career’s driver’s seat and charting your goals with the career success matrix which is a tool for self-evaluation wrt the often unspoken rules and expectations in the academic landscape, assessing the quality if your current work relationships and how to go from there, reflecting on traits that make a good group/advisor and knowing what you need yourself, the benefits of clear communication
  • Convince with clear writing and arguments — building and structuring winning texts, papers, proposals, outreach/media articles, etc. with the hourglass and the icecream cone, building up a simple but credible case for your grant/facilities proposal
  • Enjoy public speaking and communication — winning different audience over with your best talks and presentations; preparing yourself and your talk, excelling at zoom talks, online lectures and interviews
  • Networking, conferences and building your brand — discovering your own brand and leveraging it, establishing an online presence, making the most of attending a conference and expanding your network, the meaning of work-life balance and seemingly never getting there, combining career & family
  • Scientists are humans, too — recognizing and navigating difficult situations/colleagues at work, understanding group dynamics, avoiding conflict through communication, maximizing everyone’s potential, crisis leadership 
  • Know your transferable/non-research skills — you know more than you know, it’s ok to change course from academic to expert professional, leverage existing skills in new environments, developing outreach projects, developing ideas that resonate, maximizing impact while minimizing one’s workload, tying it all in with your (science) communication goals 
  • Prepare your successful job application package — motivation, content, and writing/formatting of CV/resume, cover letter, publication list, research statements and proposal, asking for letters of recommendation, your best job talk ever, excelling at job interviews with confidence, negotiating an offer to get what you need, starting off as an advisor and teaching all this to your students 🙂
  • Leading a group/team —  deriving your leadership style for good times and bad, understanding group dynamics and how everyone needs to fit in, tools for being “good” advisor, matching leadership to the task at hand, writing letters of recommendation and help others to succeed 

8.387: Developing your leadership competencies

  • Develop your self-awareness, a foundational leadership competency, critical to leading yourself and others – tools include introspection/meditation, Myers-Briggs Type personality test, the Reflected Best-Self Exercise, and understanding crises and crucible moments
  • Grow your awareness of others and communicate optimally with different personality types – establish a clear communication strategy, learn to listen not just to what is expressed in words and adjust your message to the audience
  • Strengthen your internal power, resonate with your team and master the different influencing styles in order to champion and implement change – develop the art of re-framing as a tool to help colleagues overcome their resistance to change, including key stakeholders in the strategic planning of change
  • Build the right team for each job – create the team charter, assign positions and responsibilities, use work plans, adjust and monitor the process, recognize dysfunction, and master tips for early intervention
  • Recognize and resolve conflict by seeing conflict as an indicator for needed change and improvement, learn how to emotionally disengage, find strength to do the “right” thing, bargain and negotiate
  • Become an inclusive leader – understand bias as a necessary human survival tool for emergency situations that needs to be deconstructed to approach “objectivity” in our decisions and actions, develop cultural intelligence and curiosity for your colleagues and create effective collaborations minimizing microaggressions and maximizing microaffirmations
  • Map the power landscape and empower yourself by navigating organizational politics, adapting your leadership style to the situation, managing your energy (time is finite), and learning when to  trust others and how to be less controlling
  • Gain the courage to be an ethical leader – see the many shades of grey (rather than the ideal black and white), distinguish the “right” thing to do in an ethical dilemma, and find your moral compass through personal and organizational values statements
  • Learn to coach, mentor and sponsor others well – understand when to provide guidance and support and when to give others space to grow, evaluate yourself as a mentor, and practice listening, questioning and reflecting as a coach
  • Plan your leadership journey – where are you now? What is your destination? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Which path should you take through this labyrinth?

Anna Frebel, astrophysicist and professor of physics and head of astrophysics division at MIT
8.396: Leadership through professional strategies and skills

  • Member #HB6 cohort of Homeward Bound Global Leadership Program
  • Professional career development training with Women Graduate Students in Physics (GWIP), 2017-now
  • Professional career development workshops for postdocs 2016-2017
  • Professional career development sessions for young researchers at various universities & conferences, 2013-now
  • Faculty liaison for GWIP, 2013-now

Angeliki Diane Rigos, physical chemist
8.397: Developing your leadership competencies

  • Program Manager, Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport, MIT
  • Associate Director for Graduate Programs, MIT Energy Initiative
  • Executive Director, Tata Center for Technology and Design, MITEI
  • Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Merrimack College
  • Department Chair, President of the Faculty, Director of Women’s Studies Program, Associate Director of National Microscale Chemistry Center, Merrimack College
  • Executive Consultant, Levitan & Associates, Inc. Practice areas: renewable energy (wind, solar, fuel cells), fuel/power price forecasting.
  • President and co-Chair of Leadership Committee, Massachusetts Chapter of the Association for Women in Science

Our fantastic 2023 LEAPS postdoc co-facilitator cohort included:

  • Dr. Adele Gabba (Dept of Chemistry)
  • Dr. Sarah R Geller (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Akshit Goyal (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Megan Greaves (Dept of Chemistry)
  • Dr. Ray Lee (Media Lab)
  • Dr. Yin Lin  (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Dylan Suvlu (Dept of Chemistry)
  • Dr. Shane Wilkins (Dept of Physics/LNS)
photo of classroomm with many round desks filled with students with projectors displaying a slide of a chart
students pose with professor for last class photo
A successful last class of our Spring 2023 course!

Our fantastic 2022 LEAPS postdoc co-facilitator cohort included:

  • Dr. Darya Amirmaleki (Dept of Material Science and Engineering)
  • Vanesa Fernandez Avalos, MD (Dept of B+C)
  • Dr. Martina Dal Bello (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Thorsten John (Dept of Biological Engineering)
  • Dr. Jamie Karthein (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Marie Manthey (Dept of B+C/RLE)
  • Dr. Niklas Nolte (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Yagmur Yegin (Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Professsor Rigos sits at table in classroom with students
Spring 2022 – Listening to a postdoc co-facilitator presenting their mini-lecture in class
Students discuss sitting at round table in classroom
Participants during a table discussion.

Our fantastic 2021 LEAPS postdoc co-facilitator cohort included:

  • Dr. Chloe Delepine, head co-facilitator (Dept of Brain and Cognitive Sciences), now Scientist and Clinical Biomarker Lead at agenus
  • Dr. Ahmed Alade Tiamiyu (Dept of Materials Science and Engineering), now Assistant Professor at University of Calgary, CA
  • Dr. Daniel Bregante (Dept of Chemical and Biological Engineering), now R&D electrochemical scientist at Boston Metal
  • Dr. Jonas Karthein (Dept of Physics)
  • Dr. Hazal Kose (Dept of Biology)
  • Dr. Kin Long Kelvin Lee (Dept of Chemistry)
  • Dr. Li Wang (Dept of Biology), now scientist at seqWell
  • Dr. Niklas Thompson (Dept of Chemistry)
  • Dr. Sebastian Schwaminger (Dept of Chemical Engineering)
Photo of members who graduated from LEAPS 2021 program
​​LEAPS 2021 graduation – from L to R – Angeliki Diane Rigos and postdocs Li Wang, Kelvin Lee, Hazal Kose, Sebastian Schwaminger, Ahmed Alade Tiamiyu and Jonas Karthein
Photo of Professors Anna Frebel and Angeliki Diane Rigos
Fall 2021 – Anna Frebel and Angeliki Diane Rigos

Our fantastic 2020 LEAPS postdoc co-facilitator cohort included:

  • Dr. Chloe Delepine (Dept of Brain and Cognitive Sciences), now Scientist and Clinical Biomarker Lead at agenus
  • Dr. James Banal (Dept of Biological Engineering)
  • Dr. Bryan Lenneman (Research Laboratory of Electronics)
  • Dr. Elisabeth Matthews (Dept of Physics), now postdoc at University of Geneva
  • Dr. Mai Nakashima (Dept of Biological Engineering), scientist at Osaka University, Japan
  • Dr. Maximilian N Guenther (Dept of Physics), European Space Agency (ESA) Fellow
  • Dr. Michel Nasilowski (Dept of Chemistry)
  • Dr. Pragati Pradhan (Dept of Physics)
Professor Anna Frebel speaks to students of 8.S396, part of MITLEAPS
Professor Anna Frebel speaks to students of Spring 2020’s 8.S396, part of MITLEAPS.
Courtesy of Anna Frebel, photograph by Angeliki Rigos
Professor Anna Frebel speaks to students of 8.S396, part of MITLEAPS
Professor Anna Frebel speaks to students of Spring 2020’s 8.S396, part of MIT LEAPS.
Courtesy of Anna Frebel, photograph by Angeliki Rigos
Professor Anna Frebel speaks to students of 8.S396, part of MITLEAPS
Professor Anna Frebel speaks to students of Spring 2020’s 8.S396, part of MIT LEAPS.
Courtesy of Anna Frebel, photograph by Angeliki Rigos

December 2023: We are looking to assemble the 2024 cohort of postdocs interested in co-facilitating the courses with us:

The instructors are once again seeking interested postdocs to help co-facilitate the two courses. Postdocs at any stage are welcome to apply! No prior experience teaching these subjects is required but it does require a semester-long commitment!  

Interested postdocs should fill in the application form by December 23, 2023. Brief zoom interviews with shortlisted candidates will occur in early January. Final selection of ~10 postdocs will be announced by January 15, 2024. Note that the Spring semester starts on Feb 5, 2024.

LEAPS co-facilitator application form:

The goal for the new cohort of ~10 postdocs is to learn the material alongside the regular participants but to also co-facilitate the classes with us. We welcome applications from previous LEAPS participants although this is not a necessary prerequisite! 

Each LEAPS co-facilitator cohort will receive mentoring and extra weekly training from us about the core concepts of each week and how to teach it. 

They will be asked to co-teach/lead certain portions of selected classes, run group discussions and assist with personal work assessments.

Successful co-facilitators will have the opportunity to continue to work with us in the future so that they may be able to teach this class themselves once they become faculty/group leaders, in consultation with the MIT LEAPS program.   

Time commitment: The classes will meet Tuesday/Thursdays 9:30-11am EST in person throughout the Spring semester. We have an additional weekly mentoring/teaching team session (~1h). Additional time during the semester to prepare their teaching pieces and personal reflection assessments is also required.

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