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

Interview with Professor David Schauer: impact of BE on BME

Recently, BioTECH representative Nupur Garg had the opportunity to interview BE Professor David Schauer, also the BE UROP Coordinator and the Director of Undergraduate Minor Programs in BE. She inquired about the impact of the developing BE major on the BME minor, as well as about the progress of the BE UROPs over the years.

"A lot of different parameters can be used to judge the growth and vitality of a program on campus.
By all of these criteria, BE is growing, and growing fast."

By Nupur Garg '07, VP of Campus Relations

BioTECH: Will the development of the BE major impact the BME minor program? If so, how?

Prof. Schauer: It has already impacted the Minor Program. Because we are in the process of developing a new BE Major curriculum, professors are developing new subjects for the Major that are applicable to the BME minor curriculum.

    This year, three additional new subjects that will be part of the new Major curriculum are being offered, including BE.309 Biological Engineering Laboratory II: Instrumentation and Measurement (Fall), BE.320 Biomolecular Kinetics and Cell Dynamics (Fall), and BE.330J Fields Forces and Flows in Biological Systems (Spring). One subject that would normally be offered this year (BE.360J, Cell and Tissue Engineering) is deferred to next year.

    Students should check on-line (web.mit.edu/BE) for updates about changes in subject availability. After next year, there will be more options, both for taking different subjects and in selecting a major and/or areas of study.

    The development of the BE Major, as well as many bioengineering tracks and options now offered by departments in the School of Engineering, also affects the long term future of the BME program.

    We are committed to offering a biomedical engineering minor degree, but a stand-alone, separate BME program is not the only option. Bioengineering tracks and options in other departments could be complemented by a BE Minor degree program that could encompass different aspects of the BME degree program.

BioTECH: One of many people’s concerns is that by developing the BE Major, the interdisciplinary nature of BME will be lost. How would you respond to this? How do you think joint teaching between the Courses has impacted BE research?

Schauer: The BE Major will offer training and education in an integrated way rather than having it in pieces in the BME Minor program.

For students who want great breadth in many subjects, it may be harder to achieve, but there are still many options, and the development of this Major gives them yet another option.

    An additional solution could be the eventual creation of a BE Minor, so students would have more of a choice: to immerse themselves in BE, or to take a bioengineering track or option in other disciplines.

    Importantly, cross-disciplinary education will continue to be very important in BE. Many of our faculty hold dual appointments in BE and in other departments, including Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and Chemical Engineering. Many subjects in the BE Major curriculum, including the restricted electives, will be very interdisciplinary. In some cases, subjects will be team-taught by a scientist and an engineer.

    I think students will really enjoy these subjects, and I know the instructors enjoy teaching them as well. It’s fun to see the unexpected interactions and how individuals solve the same problems with different approaches. One example is the popular BE.105J, Biotechnology and Engineering (cross listed as 5.22J and 10.02J). This class has been co-taught by Professor Essigmann and Professor Langer for some time and has been very successful. We want to have even more subjects like that.

BioTECH: What will change about the courses offered?

Schauer: We will always offer subjects in certain key areas, such as tissue engineering, biomechanics, and biomaterials, and hope to continue to offer subjects in other areas of Biological Engineering as well.    

    Some specific subjects temporarily won’t be offered, and others will be discontinued. This may impact the seniors of 2005, who may not be able to take the subjects they might have planned on taking. In all cases, we have identified appropriate subjects that can be substituted for those that are not being offered this academic year.

BioTECH: Speaking of students not being able to take classes, there are many rising sophomores interested in BE but will not be able to major in it. What are some of their options in choosing classes if they want to take the BE version of something?

Schauer: Well, the BME Minor is something that can be done with any major. Documents on which subjects and when you should take them can be found on-line at <http://web.mit.edu/be/> and in the BE headquarters office (56-651).

    I would recommend that incoming freshman, who don’t really know about BE or what to major in, take BE.010, a non-required introductory course that offers broad exposure to BE. Also, I would highly recommend that those who are interested in BE consider taking BE.110, a sophomore level subject on statistical thermodynamics. This subject can be used to satisfy part of the BME Core requirement for the Minor.

BioTECH: Will transferring credit between departments remain such a problem with the development of the BE Major?

Schauer: In some cases transferring credit, or satisfying departmental requirements with subjects taught outside the Major department, will become easier as the BE Major continues to evolve.

    Course VII (Biology) already accepts certain BE subjects, such as BE.110. While the decision to accept BE subjects is up to each department, many subjects have been jointly developed, so they typically provide credit that can be used interchangeably.

BioTECH: You’ve taken quite an administrative role here as head of the BME Minor program and BE UROP Coordinator. How long have you held these positions?

Schauer: I began serving as the UROP Coordinator for what was then called Bioengineering & Environmental Health (now BE) since June of 1995. I’ve only been responsible for Undergraduate Minor programs in BE for a year now.

BioTECH: So you’ve been able to view the growth of the BE program since its initial stages. Can you shed some light on the future of the growth of BE here at MIT? Has it been reaching a level of constancy?

Schauer: A lot of different parameters can be used to judge the growth and vitality of a program on campus.

    By all of these criteria, BE is growing, and growing fast. There is no indication of it slowing in the near future. Some of the key indicators of growth are the enrollment in the BME Minor, which is increasing every year, and the fact that so many departments are involved in joint teaching BE faculty. Potentially, it can grow even faster once we have a Major.

BioTECH: As UROP coordinator for BE, what are the statistics on the number of UROP proposals you see each year and the number you accept versus reject?

Schauer: As UROP coordinator, I don’t take responsibility for evaluating the quality of the proposals. I leave that to the UROP advisor, but I don’t sign proposals unless they are signed by both the advisor and the student.

    What I do is oversee more administrative aspects of the proposal, making sure the student is working for pay, credit, or as a volunteer; if it’s for pay, what the source of funding is and amount; and if it’s for credit, how many units and whether or not it’s for a grade. I don’t reject proposals based on scientific content, but I do make sure students will get the pay or the credit that they are hoping to get.

: What kind of trends do you see in the UROPs of BE? Are there more than before? Are they focused in a field? Are they mostly upperclassmen?

Schauer: The number of UROP proposals I get per year is definitely increasing. I have no doubt that this trend will continue. We may be seeing this increase in the number of UROPs for a number of reasons.

    Students may be becoming more interested in BE; professors may be expanding labs over the years, and one reason for sure is that as the number of BE professors increases per year, so does the number of UROPs. BE is definitely expanding.

BioTECH: Do you expect that the development of the BE Major will affect the qualities of the UROPs you receive?

Schauer: I can’t say there won’t be any difference. If anything though, I think the students will be better prepared for being a BE UROP, mainly because BE.109 and BE.309 are two lab subjects that will give them the expertise they need to be successful as BE UROP students. Otherwise, I think the UROP students who major in BE will be similar to the BME Minor students, who make significant contributions to BE labs with their problem solving and technical skills. Many of the UROPs working in BE labs are enrolled in the BME Minor.

BioTECH: What are some resources available to students?

Schauer: The BE academic headquarters (56-651) has a lot of information for interested students. Also, students can look online at <http://web.mit.edu/be> for subject descriptions, listings of research being done in BE labs, excellent resources for anyone looking for a BE UROP, updates on the availability of subjects for the BME Minor program and the Toxicology & Environmental Health Minor program, and a list of Minor advisors for the different Major departments.

Statistical data were obtained from:
* Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program’s Office (7-104)
* Biological Engineering headquarters office (56-651)
* Professor David Schauer’s office (56-787).
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