4.1 Teaching and Research

This policy was last updated January 5, 2024. See the update history page for more information.

The ideal attributes of any departmental faculty, taken as a group, are scholarly achievement, creativity, collegiality, professional competence and leadership, ability and desire to teach, and willingness to cooperate with other departments in promoting the work and welfare of the Institute as a whole. It is the responsibility of the administration to ensure, within any department, not only a proper balance among these activities but also the maintenance of each at the highest level, together with suitable recognition of individual achievement and service.

Teaching and research are the primary functions of the Institute and are nourished by efficient and imaginative administration. Service to the community and the nation is an inherent obligation. These four — teaching, research, administration, and public service — are essential features in the MIT program and make comparable demands on ability and devotion.

When the performance of a faculty member is appraised, consideration will be given to high achievement in any of these areas, and the value of the faculty member's total contribution will be measured not only by the extent and nature of their other activities but also by the effectiveness with which they are pursued.

The contributions of a faculty member are not, however, measured solely by activities directly related to Institute programs. The objectives of the Institute are served and its programs enriched by the active participation of its faculty members in outside activities that contribute to the advancement of the faculty member's profession or provide an opportunity for professional growth through interaction with industry, business, government, and other activities and institutions of our society.

Not only does the Institute recognize outstanding contributions and achievements by appropriate salary advancement and promotion, but also by permitting faculty members substantial freedom in arranging their academic lives. This freedom is subject, however, to an overriding principle: The primary loyalty of a full-time member of the Faculty must be to the Institute at all times. This obligation underlies all others.

4.1.1 Academic Activities

In accepting an appointment, full-time members of the Faculty agree to place their professional careers within the scope of the activities of the Institute. The relationship thus created is based on the faculty member's readiness to serve the Institute in ways best calculated to carry out the Institute's objectives and obligations and to promote their own professional development.

In pursuing this goal, faculty members should keep in mind the importance of the following activities, which are essential to the overall program of the Institute.

Teaching: Teaching MIT students in formal classes and laboratories, in informal groups and conferences, and by collaboration on research projects. Preparation for such teaching by keeping abreast of current developments and studying ways to present subject matter more effectively and to improve teaching skills. Participation in curriculum development and in preparation of syllabi, laboratory manuals, texts, and other material written primarily for their value to teaching. Providing counsel, guidance, and example to students in relation not only to their academic programs but also to their professional standards and general welfare. Participation in student life to aid students in broadening their experience and in preparing them to be responsible citizens.

Research and Scholarship: Research in all forms carried on to advance knowledge, to develop its practical applications, or to improve an art, and thus of immediate or ultimate public benefit. Contributions to scholarship resulting from research and study, including publication of books, articles, and reports. Contributions to journals, meetings, or other activities of professional organizations of such a nature as to advance the profession. Writing papers and texts primarily for their professional value.

Administration: Participation in the administration of the Institute, including serving as members on Institute committees, planning of Institute-wide functions, and contributing to departmental administration, to the development of the junior staff, and to interdisciplinary collaboration.

Public Service: Service designed to strengthen other educational institutions here and abroad, assist the work of private institutions maintained for the public benefit, or otherwise contribute to the welfare of the community and general public. Activities in professional societies of such nature as to advance the profession. Advice and consultation to governments and service with government agencies.

In all their activities, members of the Faculty are expected to conduct themselves with proper regard for MIT's standards applicable to such matters as interpersonal relationships, conflicts of interest, and academic and scientific research. Faculty members also have the responsibility to take care that their classroom, laboratory, studio, and other settings as well as their own conduct are conducive to the safe pursuit of work and study by all members of its constituency in a spirit of collegiality, cooperation, and support.

The primary duty of junior faculty entering the teaching ranks is to become capable and effective teachers and scholars. No less than senior members of the Faculty, they should consider it a duty to keep themselves informed regarding both the academic progress and general welfare of their students. In addition, they should aim to exert a helpful influence on student life by taking an interest in extracurricular activities as well as by counseling individual students regarding their studies.

Members of the Faculty who conduct work for organizations other than MIT while concurrently holding an Institute appointment must avoid conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts, as outlined in Section 4.4 Conflict of Interest.

While fulfilling responsibilities to their students, the Institute, and their discipline, faculty members have a right, and the Institute has an obligation, to protect academic freedom in their classroom, in the expression of their ideas in the academic community, and in publishing and disseminating their work.

4.1.2 Mentoring

Schools and departments shall develop mechanisms to support faculty in their career development. The aim of such initiatives is to ensure that faculty members understand their obligations and opportunities as faculty members. The provision of mentoring support in no way obligates the Institute to a particular action or outcome regarding promotion or tenure, nor does it absolve a faculty member from the obligation to demonstrate excellence. A deficiency in mentoring may not be grounds for reconsidering promotion, reappointment, or tenure decisions.

4.1.3 Independent Activities Period (IAP)

As established by the Faculty, the Independent Activities Period (IAP) is a four-week intersession in January during which faculty and students have time for flexibility in teaching and learning formats, for incorporating independent study and research into the overall educational experience, and for concentration on intensive subjects within the regular curriculum. Students may arrange projects with faculty members or participate in scheduled IAP activities, which include both nonacademic activities and subjects for credit. Activities may be sponsored through academic departments, laboratories, or centers as well as by individuals or other MIT groups. Nonacademic IAP activities may be organized by faculty, students, or employees. Formats and meeting schedules are determined by the organizers. Activities are publicized in the IAP Guide, published each fall.

Contributions of faculty and departments are as critical to the well-being of IAP as to the regular semesters. Faculty members are encouraged to explore new subject matter, to present traditional subjects in novel ways, to experiment with new teaching methods, and to lead activities based on their avocations or interests. Each academic department should strive to offer an array of IAP activities, both with and without credit and varying in content and format. In particular, departments should insure that their IAP program provides students with activities that are sustained through several meetings.

Students generally do not have to be on campus for IAP, except to fulfill departmental requirements that are offered only during IAP and not during either of the semesters. Each student may earn no more than 12 units of credit during a single IAP. To exceed this credit limit undergraduates must petition the Committee on Academic Performance and graduate students, the Committee on Graduate Programs.

Departments planning to offer required subjects for their undergraduate programs only during IAP should consult with the Committee on Curricula, which must approve the appropriateness of such subjects for IAP. The Committee on Curricula (which must approve all undergraduate subjects for academic content) and the Committee on the Undergraduate Program have adopted the following guidelines:

  1. Departments may require no more than 12 units of their undergraduate programs to be completed during an Independent Activities Period. This work may be in the form of one 12-unit (or less) subject or a combination of subjects with units totaling 12 units (or less).
  2. If a combination of subjects is required, the subjects normally must be scheduled so that a student may complete all of them in a single IAP. A department shall be permitted to use parts of two different IAPs for its requirements only with special approval from the Committee on Curricula, and there must be compelling educational reasons for doing so.
  3. In order to preserve IAP as a time when students may make independent plans for learning, departments must provide students with flexibility in scheduling the year in which they must take an IAP-only requirement. The department may recommend a year in which the subject should be taken, but it may not require a specific year. If a subject is a prerequisite for another departmental requirement, the department must develop a viable alternative path so that students who cannot complete a subject during a particular IAP for any reason (for example, because of illness or personal emergency) may continue their degree programs without penalty.
  4. Required subjects offered during IAP should not be created simply by compressing subjects offered for 13 weeks in the fall or spring term into the four weeks of IAP. Subjects should be appropriate to the intensive schedule and unique pedagogical opportunities offered by IAP.
  5. It is strongly recommended that departments prepare explicit contingency plans in case members of the planned teaching staff suddenly become unavailable, due to illness or external factors.

Since academic-year appointments run from September 1 through May 31, faculty members are expected to plan their IAP activities as part of the framework of their teaching commitments for the academic year. Responsibility for working out arrangements for faculty participation in IAP rests with the academic departments.

The 1973 Faculty resolution on IAP states: "First, every department should establish for IAP a pattern of operation which makes its faculty accessible to students on the widest and most varied basis consistent with maintaining normal levels of research and outside professional activity. Second, every department should try to achieve an equitable distribution of academic responsibilities among its faculty during the nine-month period of each academic year, including IAP, and if inequities should arise, it should seek to correct them in succeeding years. It is up to each department to establish unambiguous internal policy practically conducive to these ends and to enunciate such policy clearly."

Detailed information on participation in IAP and procedures for organizing activities are available from the Office of the Vice Chancellor.