BE Board:FAQ

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This page of frequently asked questions is put together by graduate students of the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. It is not meant to comprehensively reflect BE student views, and it does NOT reflect the policies of the Biological Engineering administration, faculty or staff.

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I am interested in graduate school opportunities at MIT. Can you please advise?

MIT has many departments and programs to which you can apply. The one that is appropriate for you really depends on what your interests are. We would recommend looking around the MIT website and finding professors whose research interests you and then look to see what departments they are in as a guide. But keep in mind that many students work for professors outside of their home department.

Potentially relevant departments include BE, HST, CSBi, Biology, EECS, MechE and ChemE. You can search for these departments and programs on the MIT homepage.

I would like to know about the overall atmosphere among the faculty of the Department of Biological Engineering.

The faculty are great. In general the program is very supportive of students. Obviously the different faculty in the department have different styles, so it helps to talk with them and people in their labs to choose a research advisor that will mentor in a style appropriate for you. There is a strongly collaborative environment in the department, with many joint research effort between labs. With the varied interests and expertise of the faculty, novel ideas and approaches are constantly being pursued.

When should I apply?

Applications are due in January for the students who want to enter the following fall. See the official site for details on how to apply.

How long does it take to complete a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering?

The expected time to graduation is 5 years. BE is relatively new at MIT and we haven't had that many graduates thus far, making it hard to give an average length of the Ph.D. Some students have done it in less (though they generally have previous research experience in the lab) and some students are taking a bit longer.

What are the class sizes like?

There are roughly 25 per entering class. Right now there are ~100 students overall in the program though we are expanding a bit. In terms of the actual sizes in academic classes, that can vary a lot. For the required BE classes, some will be ~30 and others will be ~60. You are also required to take some classes in other departments and those vary from ~15 in small discussion type classes to ~100 for intro biology classes (for students who haven't taken much biology before).

Is the stipend sufficient to live on?

Most students find the stipend to be sufficient for their expenses. However, the stipend is only intended to support one person. There are students who are supporting spouses and/or families on the stipend, but it is more difficult. Boston is an expensive city in terms of rent and home prices.

How flexible is the program in terms of academics?

The program does have a list of courses you are required to take but in general you can fit classes into these requirements pretty easily. And you can take extra classes of course as well (as long as it is ok with your advisor, which it usually is).

How approachable and helpful are the professors?

This varies a lot with the faculty member. Some have big labs and are really busy, so students tend to schedule appointments with them, often through their assistants. Others are less formal and you can just stop by and chat. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles so you should decide what is appropriate for you. In general, they are very willing to talk to students and give advice.

What is the aim of most of the students in the biomedical field?

We are really biological engineering not biomedical engineering. See the departmental website for a description of Biological Engineering. Our program doesn't have much in the way of artificial limbs and other medical devices on that scale. We are more focused on the molecular/cellular/tissue scales. A lot of the stuff may have medical applications but a bit more long-term. Much of the current research work will be going into patients on a 10-20 year timescale rather than within a year, though there are definitely exceptions to this (see Bob Langer and Linda Griffith for some work that is being used in patients now).

An arguably more medically relevant program is the Harvard-MIT program in Health Sciences and Technology.

What are the students' career objectives?

Biotech, pharmaceutical companies, faculty positions, teaching-only positions, policy, publishing, entrepreneurial startups ... you name it, we've got it. We have graduates working in these areas, and they are also areas of interest. People often come in thinking they want to do one thing and change their objectives after being exposed to new fields while at MIT.

Would a X.XX GPA get me considered for the program?

We're not aware of any particular GPA requirement for the program. The admissions committee likely looks at a variety of things when they consider you which is why the website lacks a clear outline of admissions requirements. In no particular order, previous research experience, grades, recommendations, GRE scores, classes you've taken, your personal statement and interviews are all likely to be considered. But we don't actually sit on the admissions committee or have any input on individual applicants!

I really want to work in Boston next summer in a BE lab at MIT because I'm thinking about grad school. I was wondering if you knew of any research opportunities for undergrads?

I would look into the REU program offered by NSF

I would like to know where I would like to apply for graduate work.

That really depends on what your interests are. Different schools have strengths in different areas. One factor that many students don't think about enough is the place in which they will be living. Keep in mind that you will be in that town or city for quite a while so it should be a factor in where you go.

I do not have a biology major/minor, and I'm wondering if that will hurt my application to BE.

A biology major/minor is not required. However, it is helpful to have taken some basic biology courses and/or worked in biology-related research. That said, people with very diverse backgrounds are accepted every year.

What is MIT like?

MIT actually has a larger graduate student population than undergraduate so there is a huge emphasis on research here. It generally has the reputation of being very competitive. This may be true for undergraduates in some departments, but is definitely not true for the graduate program in BE. Since everyone has very different backgrounds, everyone comes in and helps each other out to get through the classes. The first year classes are a lot of work but ultimately pretty valuable and interesting.

What is Boston like?

Boston is a great town. It's a city, but it's small enough that you can walk between most things or take the subway (the T), and you'll always see people you know around town. There are tons of young people here and there are lots of things to do. Plus there are opportunities near Boston to go to the beach, hiking or skiing. New York City makes a great weekend trip. For those who like shopping, the city has a store for almost anything you could need, fashionable boutiques, and a huge outlet mall about an hour away in Wrentham, Mass.

What do I need to do to get into the graduate program? Is an engineering or biology beginner like me eligible for the program?

Definitely. The students in the program come from a wide variety of engineering and science backgrounds, including biology, biochemistry, computer science, chemistry, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, and medicine.

How do I apply?

Information about how to apply to the program is available at the website, via email at, by postal mail at BE Academic Office MIT, Room 56-651 Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 617-253-1712