Vol. 4 No. 2 October 2005

BE Survey 

BME @ Madison

Letter to Editor

Afeyan Interview

Company Spotlight

Photo Gallery

Student Research

Printable Version

The BioTECH Quarterly

Undergrads and Grads in BE Survey

By Brian Chase '06, Managing Editor

    The MIT Biological Engineering (BE) Student Board conducted a survey last spring of undergraduates and graduates involved in the BE program, asking them questions about the most attractive aspects of BE, what their academic plans are, and what BE could do to help its students. The results describe the types of undergraduates who are interested in the new program, but also bring to light some things that the BE program could do to attract more students in the future.

    Undergraduate Survey Results
The survey of undergraduates focused on what the plans of undergraduates involved in BE were, and how informed they were of their options for graduate education. The only major trend was that 80 of the 107 respondents were enrolled in the BME minor. This suggests that the minor is still the most popular way for students to get involved in BE. The undergrads were significantly more diverse on issues such as major and future plans. The respondents were from three majors principally: Biology, EECS, and Chemical Engineering with Mechanical Engineering running somewhat behind them.

    When questioned about future plans, 30 respondents were unsure or undecided while 23 respondents planned to get a PhD or an MD. Part of the large numbers of undecided students can be explained by the fact that only 54 of those surveyed were juniors or seniors, so many of those undecided might have been freshman or sophomores. Still, it might be beneficial for the BE department to do more to educate the undergraduate BE students about what their options are and why those options might be desirable for different people.

    The main questions in the survey centered on those students who were choosing to enter graduate school and how informed they considered themselves about MIT’s program as well as other programs around the country. Those students who were considering applying to graduate school were asked to rank what factors they considered important. No one category ranked extremely high in this survey. The course program and coursework were ranked the most important factors by undergraduates, followed closely by research, location, and tuition/cost.

    When asked whether they felt informed abut graduate school, 73 of 107 undergraduates polled said they felt informed of MIT's graduate programs, but only 37 of those 107 felt informed about graduate programs other than MIT’s. Of those that did feel informed, many mentioned seminars arranged by BE student groups or meetings with MIT professors. While this shows that the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) is informing some undergrads of the opportunities in grad schools outside of MIT, it may want to try to do more to reach out to students with questions, as well as to try to bring top notch schools to its presentations. Many of those students who were looking at other schools were looking at places that had not had a representative at MIT recently, including Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Stanford. The questions students wanted to pose to these representatives were not that surprising; they mainly focused on the work, the admissions requirements and trends, and the structure of their programs and research. Should BMES wish to present school reps with a list of questions to have answers to beforehand, these survey results would prove quite useful.

    Graduate Survey Results
A total of 45 graduate students took a graduate survey that identified some strengths as well as some shortcomings of the BE program. Most of the students said they did not choose BE over a more traditional major; rather they pursued BE as their primary option.

    When asked why they joined BE, the most common responses were the enthusiasm of the faculty and the excellence and uniqueness of the curriculum. The fact that MIT’s BE program and research integrated biology and engineering was understandably a big selling point for many of the people surveyed.

    When the students were asked to rank the factors they considered most in coming to MIT, the unique research was the most important reason.

    The other important factors include the program, the coursework, and the location. All of this reflects well upon the MIT BE Grad program’s core classes, subjects, and research, as well as the faculty who run them.

    Besides the coursework and research, the BE grads surveyed found several other things to praise. Many of the students commented on how intelligent, well-rounded, and considerate the people involved in BE were. Several liked the challenges that BE had to offer. Still more were impressed by the small class sizes and communities in the program, complemented by the high degree of collaboration noticed between labs and professors. And finally, the enthusiasm of the professors for their subject material was emphasized repeatedly throughout the survey.

    Besides all the praise heaped on MIT BE, there were a few things that students thought could be improved. Most of their complaints stemmed from the structure, or lack thereof, in the administration of the program. Several commented that they wished the requirements for the different tracks, especially Toxicology, were better defined, and that there was more structure involved in picking an advisor. At the same time, a number of other students wanted more freedom in the class work choices offered in the first year, including the opportunity to experience some lab work. Probably the most serious concerns voiced by a few students are that the Applied Biosciences track is not well defined and has grown too far from the Engineering track, and that the program as a whole is not as welcoming to students with a science background as it is to engineering students. It appears that the problems grad students have with the BE program are not rooted in the material, but in the administration-- something that hopefully will be easier to fix. Steps in the right direction are already being made: the Applied Biosciences track and the Bioengineering track now share more classes than they did when this survey was taken.

    As a new and burgeoning field for both graduates and undergraduates alike, BE at MIT needs to be attuned very highly to the desires of its students. This new survey of BE graduates and undergraduates by the BE Student Board reveals several things: both programs are doing well, especially in regards to the coursework and knowledge involved in BE itself. However, more advertisement of the opportunities in graduate school for BE undergraduates and better administration of the Graduate major might help BE attain an even higher level of excellence here at MIT and enhance the experience for MIT BE students of all levels.

The BioTECH Staff would like to thank Nathan Tedford G, BE Student Board executive member, for providing the survey results and reviewing this article.

Undergraduates' Ranking

Graduates' Ranking

Of the 107 undergraduates surveyed, 30% ranked coursework as the most important factor in selecting a graduate program; 25%, program quality; 20%, financial matters; 14%, research. Of the 45 graduate students surveyed, 62% ranked research as the most important factor in their decision to enroll in the MIT BE PhD program; 29%, program quality; 4%, coursework.

A ranking of 1 denotes the most important decision factor while 8 denotes the least important: 25% of the respondents selected "Course Work / Overall Curriculum / Qualifying Exam Structure” as the #1 most important factor in choosing a graduate program; 21% selected "Program or School Reputation / Prestige / Ranking"; 17% selected “Financial Matters (Stipend, Expenses, etc).”

A ranking of 1 denotes the most important decision factor while 8 denotes the least important: 62% of the respondents selected "Potential Advisors/Research Opportunities" as the #1 most important factor in their decision to enroll in the BE graduate program; 29% selected "Program or School Reputation / Prestige / Ranking"; 4% selected "Course Work/Overall Curriculum/Qualifying Exam Structure.”

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