INSPIRE humanities research competition to have last competition in the fall, run by SAO

Competition delayed due to lack of judges

MIT INSPIRE, a national high school research competition in the arts, humanities, and social sciences run by a group of MIT students, will not continue next year. This year’s competition, which was supposed have its final round in April, will be delayed until the fall due to a lack of judges. The competition will also be organized by the Student Activities Office instead because there are currently only two students involved.

The competition involves submission of a research report in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. The deadline to submit the form for intent to participate was in December 2017, and the deadline for report submission in January 2018. Originally, the finalists were to be announced in late February to early March, and the final round would be held on campus April 8–10, according to the MIT INSPIRE website.

However, the student organizers of MIT INSPIRE sent an email to participants March 17, writing that due to “logistical difficulties,” they would not be able to host the finalists to present their research in person. Instead, the winners would be announced via email by May 1.

Then, on April 3, the organizers sent another email to participants that the competition was cancelled. “Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to recruit the necessary number of judges to evaluate submissions properly. As a result, we will neither be selecting winners nor releasing a list of finalists,” the email stated.

The competition participants were disappointed. “We understand that the organizers of the competition might have been busy with other things. But, why were they even going on with this if they didn’t even know they had judges and couldn’t figure out the logistics? This wasn’t established until after we submitted our research papers,” Hansiddh Chaswal, one of the participants, said in a phone interview with The Tech. “We were taken for a ride.”

However, according to MIT INSPIRE President Ethan Vo ’19, the decision to cancel the competition was made by faculty advisors Deborah Fitzgerald and Jeffrey Ravel. “I didn’t want to do that. We [the student organizers] fought back the decision, but they overruled us,” Vo said. “We still had time to recruit judges, in my opinion. But, the internal deadline that our advisor set had not been met.” Ravel could not be reached for comment.

High school teachers, students, and parents contacted SAO Director Leah Gallant about the abruptly cancelled competition. “To try to address those concerns, I then had conversations with SHASS leadership, the faculty mentors, and INSPIRE’s student leaders. We worked together to come up with a solution that will turn INSPIRE into a one-time, smaller-scale [no on-campus judging and awards ceremony], virtual competition in the fall,” Gallant wrote in an email to The Tech. “This means that we will be able to honor the commitment made to the high school students who applied without burdening the student leaders, who we understand are very busy.”

However, Vo was unaware that there will be a virtual competition in the fall.

A graduate assistant has been hired to recruit the judges who will review the competition submissions, according to Gallant. The participants will be notified later this week of the fall competition.

There will be no competition next year. “MIT INSPIRE has been disbanded because there was only two students involved and you need five students to remain a recognized student organization,” Gallant wrote in an email to The Tech.

“Like many student activities, they change as students graduate. It’s difficult to maintain continuity given the rhythms of student life and changes in leadership,” SHASS Dean Melissa Nobles said in an interview with The Tech.