Vol. 4 No. 5 March 2006

Admissions Process 

BE-BMES Recognized

Johnson & Johnson Prize

Interview With Dr. Berlin

BME at the University of Virginia

Printable Version

The BioTECH Quarterly

BE Admissions Process Misrepresented by the Tech

By Brian Chase '06, Managing Editor

   The Biological Engineering department and the BE-BME Society made front page news recently when MIT’s student-run newspaper, The Tech, ran a story on the process used to admit sophomores into the new BE SB program. However, the article presented the process and outcome in a confusing and potentially misleading way, thus possibly generating uncertainty among freshmen who are now considering their choice of major.

    December and January were busy months for the undergraduate BE major. Sophomore students taking BE.110/2.772, the BE thermodynamics class, applied to the BE major online lottery during the last four weeks of the term. Enrollment in the BE SB has been limited for the first 5 years of its operation. The approved admissions process calls for selection of the sophomore class by lottery if the number of applicants exceeds the number of available slots. Holding the lottery in the sophomore year ensures that everyone has time to consider all their options carefully. Prof. Griffith, director of the BE undergraduate division, is quoted in the Tech article as originally aiming to limit this year’s initial class size to 20, “based primarily on the lab space available for BE.109,” which is the BE introductory lab course. This decision was developed over a 2-year period by the Committee on Undergraduate Programs (CUP), Committee on Curriculum (COC) and many other groups of faculty and students.

    However, when 33 students applied to the lottery, BE worked quickly to accommodate the extra students and minimize disappointment. Dr. Kuldell and Prof. Engelward, the BE.109 instructors, developed a plan to expand the BE.109 lab space into space for BE.309, the advanced undergraduate lab, and to hire additional TAs. Thus, on December 23, BE accepted all 33 applicants into the major. Twenty-nine of the 33 applicants then transferred their major choice to BE. Thus, by reconfiguring the available BE laboratory space, all BE students were able to all take the class this term.

    This happy outcome of the admissions process is great news for the BE major and for MIT in general, but unfortunately the Tech article included several misrepresentations that confused from this central point. First, the article stated that “only 33 out of the 75 students who took the required introductory BE focused class applied to the major.” Close to 100 students took BE.110, about 75 of whom were sophomores. However, many of those 75 had no intention of applying to the major, but were instead taking the class to fulfill requirements for other majors. In 2004, BE.110 was added to the list of classes that fulfill the thermodynamics requirement for Course 7, which typically has about 70-100 majors per year. BE.110 is also a recommended foundational class for the Course 2A bioengineering track.

    Of the 75 sophomores in BE.110/2.772, Prof. Griffith reported that roughly 40 asked for a BE faculty liaison during fall term, indicating interest in applying for the BE major. Thus, less than a dozen students who took BE.110 in the fall and indicated an interest in the program opted not to apply to BE. This outcome is clearly a success for the admissions process in general, which aimed to ensure that most students would make their final decision about choice of major during the freshman year.

    Second, the article states that Prof. Griffith determined together with the BMES students to the best way to conduct the lottery. While the BMES made many important suggestions, including not admitting students to the major until after fall of their sophomore year, designing the lottery was the official province of the Committee on Undergraduate Programs (CUP), which has undergraduate members, and the Committee on Curriculum (CoC).

    Third, the article states that “by looking at the programs built at other colleges, Griffith and the other faculty were able to create” MIT’s BE program. This is completely the opposite of the truth, according to Prof. Griffith. She explains that the subject material for the new BE major was patterned off the unique and very successful BE graduate program. In fact, Griffith reports, other schools have been asking her and other BE faculty members for their class syllabi and notes, indicating that the MIT BE classes and focus may be imitated in the near future by other schools with aspirations to develop their own programs in BE.

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