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Enhancing the First Year at MIT

Call for the Development of First-Year Discovery Subjects

The Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) is prepared to offer curriculum development funds to all departments at MIT who wish to create inspiring opportunities to engage undergraduate students and help them explore different fields of knowledge, academic departments, and possible future careers, primarily during their first year.

First-Year Discovery (FYD) subjects can be offered in the fall, IAP, or spring. Under Phase II of the CUP Experiment, in the fall and spring terms, FYD subjects may count towards a separate 9-unit limit outside the regular first-year credit limit. During IAP, they count towards the 12-unit limit for all students.

While the credit limit policies for the Class of 2024 are still to be determined, we encourage departments to propose FYD subjects for AY2021.

The CoC proposals should be submitted through the typical subject proposal process. Subject descriptions should end with the following sentence: “Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first year students.” Proposals should include a rationale explaining how the subject meets the criteria listed below for FYD subjects.

While we encourage departments to develop subjects that promote exploration of any kind, we are specifically offering funding for the development of subjects that could be classified as “First-Year Discovery” subjects.

Characteristics of First-Year Discovery Subjects

Under the CUP experiment for the students entering in the fall of 2019, first-year students have access to a supplemental credit limit specifically for discovery-focused experiences. In each semester of the first year, this supplemental limit gives students 9 units beyond the main first-year credit limit that may only be used for FYD subjects, advising seminars, UROP, and a limited set of approved exceptions.

FYD subjects must be approved by the CoC and have the following characteristics

  • 1-3 units
  • Graded P/D/F (P/NR under first-year grading rules)
  • Does not satisfy any major, minor, or institute requirement other than unrestricted elective credit
  • Created for the primary purpose of helping first-year students discover majors, minors, HASS concentrations and/or fields of interest
  • *Consist of primarily in-class activities, rather than outside class preparation.

We encourage you to also consider the following guidelines as you develop your subject:

  1. Think about student learning outcomes that center around skills and perspectives rather than content. Possible skills include self-reflection, informational interviewing, and being open to new perspectives.
  2. When possible, instructors should use active pedagogies to achieve learning goals. Particularly if instructors want students to understand approaches to problem-solving and thinking within a discipline, students must actively partake in that type of thinking.
  3. Consider one or more of the following strategies to provide a more exciting and informative experience for students:
    • Collaborate with related departments to offer a subject that explores intersections and differences between your fields.
    • Include hands-on activities that simulate the experience of being a practitioner in your field.
    • Invite upper-level students and alumni to attend the subject or lead a class session so that students can ask questions and expand their network.
    • Include field trips to labs on campus and/or local companies as appropriate.

We have witnessed the creation of many such subjects over the past year, and we are delighted by the enthusiastic response from departments. Both students and faculty have shaped the guidelines for these subjects, and we hope to soon have a full landscape of subjects so that students can easily discovery any field at MIT.

In sum, although we already have many excellent exploration opportunities, we hope that departments will consider developing new ones to meet growing student interest. This is especially important for departments without such subjects, as it will provide more ways for students to learn about these fields.

For more information, please contact Ian Waitz and Kate Weishaar (

Example Ideas or Simple but Effective FYDs

  • “Discover ZZZ” where ZZZ is some field, or minor, or major. E.g. “Discover Energy” with rotating talks/seminars from faculty teaching different subjects in the Energy minor
  • “M&Ms: Life Sciences” (Where M&M’s are mind candy — about the major and minor). “M&Ms: Environment”, etc., — “Majors and Minors in Environment” with multiple departments/faculty participating
  • “Alums Speak: Aero/Astro” — the idea would be to invite an alum, or a panel of alums, talking about field x each week, how they got there, how it connected to their MIT experience, ….
  • “Discovery Seminar in AAA” — if the department or area has a typical weekly research seminar series, have the students go to the seminar, and then later in the week gather for 1.5 hrs to talk over what they heard, what made sense, what activities/subjects/background build up to that topic, etc.

Guidelines for Proposals (1-3 pages)

  1. A basic description of the course as described by the CoC guidelines here.
  2. A funding plan for course development. Please include the following:
    1. A list of other secured or requested funding sources (e.g. department or School cost-sharing).
    2. A description of resources and staffing required, noting interactions among faculty across departments or schools and/or among faculty and other members of the extended MIT community, such as alumni/ae, close industrial partners, research scientists, and partners at other institutions.
    3. A description of how the department plans to support the class in subsequent years. The OVC is prepared to provide initial curriculum development funds but does not have the resources to sustain the course long-term.
    4. Funding requests may include faculty and/or TA salaries, materials/books, and equipment related to course development. We welcome plans to hire students to assist with curriculum development.
  3. A more detailed description on how the course will help students explore majors/minors (no more than 1 page), including:
    1. How much time and effort will be required of students?
    2. Will the class focus entirely on exploring opportunities within the department or will there be additional content as well?
    3. How broad of a subject area do you intend to cover? We are trying to encourage diversified opportunities for exploring and therefore welcome proposals for classes addressing multiple related fields of study, one field of study, or one sub-field.
    4. What networking and mentorship opportunities will students receive as part of this class? Possibilities may include close interaction with one or more faculty members, opportunities to ask questions of alumni and/or upper level students, assistance in finding UROPs, etc.
    5. Other related information you wish to include.


Proposals to add subjects to the catalog are due to the CoC at the beginning of the prior term (mid-March for fall and mid-September for IAP/Spring). On rare occasions, the CoC may make exceptions to these deadlines upon request.

Please provide your funding request to the Office of the Vice Chancellor at the same time as submitting the proposal to the CoC so that we can review it and make a decision on financial support.

Proposals for funding can be turned in to the Office of the Vice Chancellor at any time during the subject development process. Funding will not be offered retroactively to subjects that have already been developed.