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


Spring 2021 course

Open to all Graduate Students and Postdocs at MIT, particularly for School of Science members

8.S396 & 8.S397 (listed as “Special Subject: Physics” — long story, weird name, but it’s LEAPS!)

  • 8.S396 for Part I — Sharpen Your Professional Strategies & Skills (from Feb 16 to Apr 1, 2021)
  • 8.S397 for Part II — Developing Your Leadership Competencies (from Apr 6 to May 20, 2021)

Grad students: Register for the courses as for any other of your courses
Postdocs: Register by form: https://forms.gle/36S7kuc2WWDYLKTT9

Participation in each course is capped at 80 participants.


In Spring 2020, a new course on leadership and professional strategies and skills was 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 has been 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 covered in this two-part course which will be offered again (online) in Spring 2021.

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. 

Part I: 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 

Part II: Developing your leadership competencies

  • Gaining self – awareness with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test to understand your natural tendencies and how you appear to others – ask others about yourself using the Reflected Best-Self Exercise, practicing simple feedback analysis
  • Awareness of others and communicating with different personality types – establishing a clear communication strategy, learning to listen not just to what is expressed in words, bystander training
  • Team building practices – creating the team charter, assigning positions and responsibilities, using work plans, adjusting and monitoring the process, recognizing dysfunction, tips for early intervention
  • Strategies for recognizing and resolving conflict, seeing conflict as an indicator for needed change and improvement, learning how to emotionally disengage, meditation training for difficult decisions, finding strength to do the “right” thing, bargaining and negotiation training
  • Bias, diversity and inclusion – understanding bias as a necessary human survival tool for emergency situations that needs to be deconstructed to approach “objectivity” in our decisions and actions, bystander training for inappropriate and uncomfortable situations
  • Organizational savvy, delegating and working through others – navigating organizational politics, adapting your leadership style to the situation and the team, managing your energy (time is finite), learning resilience, trusting others and being less controlling
  • Having the courage to be an ethical leader – seeing the many shades of grey (rather than the ideal black and white) and distinguishing the “right” thing to do in an ethical dilemma, finding your moral compass through personal and organizational values statements
  • Coaching, mentoring and developing others – learning how to provide guidance and support to help others learn and grow, self-evaluating yourself as a mentor, coaching by listening, questioning and reflecting
  • Championing, accepting and implementing change – applying knowledge gained from past experiences to new situations, re-framing as a tool to help colleagues overcome their resistance to change, including key stakeholders in the strategic planning of change.

Anna Frebel, astrophysicist and professor of physics at MIT
Part I: Sharpen your professional strategies and skills 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
Part II: Developing your leadership competencies

  • Program Manager, Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport, MIT
  • Associate Director, MIT Energy Initiative Education (MITEI)
  • 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, technical/safety advice on proposed LNG projects, evaluation of power supply proposals.
  • Associate Director, Bryn Mawr 2019 Leadership Institute, Higher Education Resource Services
  • Leadership Committee, Massachusetts Chapter of the Association for Women in Science – Developed a new Women’s Leadership Program, designed to help members become successful leaders in science and engineering

Part I was done as an in-person class, as planned. 
Part II was all zoom when COVID-times came around.

Our fantastic 2020 LEAPS Cohort included:

  • Dr. Chloe Delepine, postdoc in Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
  • Dr. James Banal, postdoc in Department of Biological Engineering
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
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
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

For interested participants:

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

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! 

Classes meet Tuesdays/Thursday 9:30-11am via zoom throughout the semester.

Each of the two half-semester courses has 3 credit units (expected weekly workload is ~6h, including class time). 

This course is currently hosted in the Department of Physics, for administrative reasons. That is also why the current course numbers 8.S396 and 8.S397 are really weird and don’t make much sense — “Special Subjects: Physics”. But it’s all LEAPS! We aim to have proper course numbers in 2022, and matching even course numbers across all SoS departments. 

For postdocs interested in co-facilitating the courses:

The instructors are once again seeking interested postdocs in all departments in the School of Science to help co-facilitate both courses combined. 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 Jan 20, 2019. Brief zoom interviews with shortlisted candidates will occur soon thereafter. Final selection of ~10 postdocs will be announced by Feb 1. Note that the Spring semester starts only on Feb 16, 2021 this year.

Co-facilitating application form: https://forms.gle/qgarX8wFTnL61gxU9

The goal is for a new cohort of ~10 postdocs to learn the material alongside the regular participants but to also co-facilitate the classes with us. The 2021 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 grading selected pre-class assignments. The courses will meet Tuesday/Thursdays 9:30-11am EST via zoom. The mentoring session will be for 1h on Mondays.

Connect with us: mitleaps@gmail.com or @mitleaps (Twitter)