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

The LEAPS Spring 2022 courses

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

In 2022, we will run the leadership course first (8.397), followed by the professional strategies & skills course (8.396). This offers all participants practical advice following their preparation on leadership!

  • 8.397 — Developing Your Leadership Competencies (from Feb 1 to March 17, 2022)
  • 8.396 — Sharpen Your Professional Strategies & Skills (from March 29 to May 10, 2022)


Participation in each course is capped at 80 participants due to space constraints.
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 are now covered by the two half-semester LEAPS courses which will be offered again in Spring 2022.

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. Room details will be announced in time!

Each of the two half-semester LEAPS courses has 3 credit units. 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 currently hosted in the Department of Physics, for administrative reasons. All students and postdocs from all other departments at MIT are 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.

3.896: Sharpen your professional strategies and skills or learn how to teach it

  • 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 at MIT
8.396: Sharpen your professional strategies and skills and/or learn how to teach it

  • 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 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

We are looking to assemble the 2022 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. This requires a semester-long commitment! 

Postdocs at any stage are welcome to apply! No prior experience teaching these subjects is required.  

Interested postdocs should fill in the application form by December 1, 2021. Brief zoom interviews with shortlisted candidates will occur the week thereafter. Final selection of ~10 postdocs will be announced by December 12, 2021. Note that the Spring semester already starts on Feb 1, 2022.

Co-facilitating 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. Each LEAPS postdoc 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 be able to teach this class themselves once they become faculty/group leaders, in consultation with the MIT LEAPS program.   

Time commitment: The courses will meet Tuesday/Thursdays 9:30-11am EST in person. We have an additional weekly mentoring session (~1h) and postdocs will have to make additional time during the semester when preparing their teaching pieces and personal reflection assessments.

Connect with us: or @mitleaps (Twitter)

For interested participants:

All graduate students and postdocs are encouraged to register for this two part course!

  • Grad students: Register for the courses as for any other of your courses
  • Postdocs: Register with us by filling in this short form (to get course access):

To ease grad student/postdoc participation amidst your busy research life and various responsibilities, this course has two parts which can be taken separately or together.

We strongly recommend taking both parts in order for students to receive the full training and to make best use of this unique opportunity!