Vol. 3 No. 1 September 2004

President's Welcome 

BE Major Developments
BE vs. BME

MIT Bio, Eng Options
Prof. Schauer: BME Program

BMES-J&J Research Award
Internship Experience Abroad
Prefrosh Visit

Letter from Berkeley
Letter from UCSD

MIT BMES Chapter Goals
MIT BMES 10th Anniversary

Printable Version

The BioTECH Quarterly

"Bio" + "Engineering" Options: BE Major & much more

In addition to the anticipated Biological Engineering major, there are many other “Bio” + “Engineering” options offered at MIT. Here is a sample of student perspectives from different departments:

Dawn Wendell ’04 ~ Mechanical Engineering & Biology, BME Minor
Yin Ren ’06 ~ Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, BME Minor
Priya Shah ’05 ~ Chemical Engineering, BME Minor
Issel Lim ’05 ~ Biology, BME & Toxicology Minor
Christina Fuentes ’05 ~ Brain & Cognitive Sciences, BME Minor
Brian Chase ’06 ~ Biology & Biological Engineering (planned)

BE enables one to answer biological questions in a new light

"A student might want to look at what [other departments have] to offer, but I would still recommend taking at least part of the BE curriculum . . . nowhere else in the university do I feel that there is the same
integration of engineering and biology as in the major itself.

By Brian Chase ‘06, Biology & Biological Engineering (planned)

   MIT is a place of infinite variety, be it in living arrangements, activities, or courses. Nowhere is that truer right now than in the burgeoning field of bioengineering and biology-related fields. Currently, several different majors at MIT, such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), Mechanical Engineering (MechE), and Chemical Engineering (ChE), offer curricular paths that link to biology, not to mention the new Biological Engineering (BE) major itself.

    It may be somewhat confusing trying to determine which one is the correct choice for any given student; I know I had to dig a little myself when I first arrived here. So to help out students who may be interested in BE, I’m going to explain why I chose the double major in Biology and BE, and point out other alternatives that may be better suited to a different situation from my own.

    When I first came to MIT, I had the notion firmly in mind that I wanted to be a biologist. To this end, I searched around for a UROP to enhance my skills. The one I eventually got was in the BE Department, and that was my first exposure to the field. To me, Biological Engineering represents a new set of tools and skills I could learn in order to make myself a better researcher. It allows me to ask research questions I couldn’t before, especially quantitative ones, and gives me new ways to answer questions I could only approach through Biology before.

    Once I had determined I wanted to learn BE, I had to figure out the best way to do it. What I eventually settled on was the double major. I ruled out the minor because the curriculum for it was not that close to the major as yet, as it was still primarily a Biomedical Engineering (BME) minor, not BE. Besides, I might as well have taken the BE major anyway, because the MIT Biology curriculum is specifically designed, by the staff’s admission, to let students participate in a lot of extra research or double major. I found I could fit the BE major into my schedule because of this. The problem I had with the 10B option is that none of the teaching really seemed that integrated. Sure, you get engineering classes and biology classes, but in the BE major you learn engineering that specifically relates to biology, and how to apply it. In addition, I would have had to give up the Biology major if I took 10B, which was not something I was willing to do.

    The icing on the cake for future students looking at Biology with BE is that the computation taught to students in BE will be focused on applications to the problems at hand, and will not contain extraneous material. This is good news for those biology students who may be afraid that BE will contain computation they don’t want to deal with, but it still leaves a lot of interesting material for more technical students.

    Of course, my choice of a curriculum might not be suitable for someone looking to explore a different area of the bioengineering space. For example, I have a friend taking several bioengineering classes who is also taking a MechE major. This is the side of bioengineering that involves mechanical constructs applied to biology for research purposes or otherwise, rather than just manipulation and study of purely biological constructs.

    For this kind of research, a student might want to look at what the MechE department has to offer, but I would still recommend taking at least part of the BE curriculum, for the same reason I stated before: nowhere else in the university do I feel that there is the same integration of engineering and biology as in the major itself. The same argument applies to people looking into EECS and bioinformatics as well. And of course, taking BE in its own right is an option, and one which will probably open up a lot of opportunities for graduates of MIT in the future.

Brian Chase '06 is currently a Biology major, and he plans to double-major in Biological Engineering (BE) as well, once the proposed BE major receives Institute approval. He can be reached at <bcc93@mit.edu>.

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