Taking MIT’s Pulse

Taking MIT’s Pulse

Presentation recording & slides

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This past May and June, the MIT Pulse survey was sent out to the MIT community. The purpose was to inform decision-makers and find out the needs of the community after the move to working remotely. In their Data Talk on September 17, Kate Doria and Jason McKnight presented how to interpret data from the survey and explained the design process of longitudinal surveys like the Pulse survey. You can find results from the Pulse surveys on the Institutional Research website.

Interpreting data

When approaching a report with many questions, such as the Pulse survey, it can be useful to start with a research question in mind. For instance, you may approach the Pulse survey with the question of whether MIT employees had experience working remotely before the pandemic. This allows for a more intentional approach in your exploration of the report. Afterward, you can use this initial question to continue guiding your inquiry and follow related questions. With the example question given above, one corresponding path may be to look into how much survey respondents agreed with the statement, “I can get my work done more effectively at home.” 

You may also consider looking at different groups or roles to see if there are patterns in responses for certain groups of survey respondents. Another approach would be to look at change over time; for example, the Pulse survey was distributed both in May and in July, so there may have been changes in responses between these two periods of time.

Design process

There are various challenges and opportunities in the design process of longitudinal surveys, such as the Pulse survey. It is important to start with “why” when designing such surveys, to have a clear motivation for the intent of the survey. The Pulse survey, in particular, aimed to gather information from the MIT community to inform decisions and help members of the community, however possible. So, from May to July, survey questions were refined to reflect responses gathered in the first survey. For example, one survey question asked about resources that respondents do not currently have, which would be essential in continuing to be effective while working from home. In the May Pulse survey, there was a large proportion of respondents who responded “Other” and listed resources such as a desk or office chair. In July, the list of resources was therefore expanded based on the May survey to better capture the community’s needs.

Next steps

A third Pulse survey has been sent this September, which provides a useful third data point to inform MIT’s decisions. In particular, campus access has expanded since July, so it will be interesting to see changes in responses over time as a result. Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students have been included in this third survey. Accordingly, new questions—such as housing team experience or housing location—have also been implemented, while certain existing questions—such as public transit for on-campus residents and working more efficiently off-campus—have been hidden.


Written by Melissa Cao