BE Board:VisitingCom08

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Visiting Committee Visit Planning '08

Review of Meeting

  • Asked why we need more faculty? What classes would students like to see offered?
    • We said more elective opportunites – especially statistics. Expand into more research areas.
  • Committee took the advisor selection funding issue seriously.
    • Wanted to know how transparent the process was, i.e. were we aware of the funding issues before we chose the lab. Asked how many of us got our first choice and how happy were students in general with process.
  • Asked if any collaboration with brain/cog.
    • We said not really, not sure why.
  • Asked if Doug was aware of research interests in other areas.
    • We said we share the results of the survey with him each year.
  • Asked us about definition of Biological Engineering. How is it different from traditional engineering, biomedical engineering?
    • Biological engineering is the use of engineering analysis and tools to study natural biological systems and engineering using the substrate of biology ... building biological systems.
  • Asked how having central space would help us.
    • We mentioned the fact that top schools all have new buildings for bioengineering programs. Could hurt future recruiting.
  • Asked about vision of department – only Doug or everyone.
    • We said vision summarized well by Doug but represented by everyone.
  • Ending statement saying we would like more faculty and correspondingly more resources and space as the department matures so that the current success of the department can continue. Students often mention the sense of community and overall grad student happiness heavily influenced their decision to come here.

Faculty Size/Curriculum (Robin Volunteers to do this one)

  • Increase number of electives
  • From Survey:
    • Statistics Class focused on Biology
    • Tissue Engineering
    • Graduate Lab Technique class:Imaging,Biochemistry,Basic Biology
    • Cellular,Physiological,Organ level biology
    • Genetics
    • Metabolics
    • Mathematical modeling
    • Ethics
  • Impact of faculty spending time in Singapore/Thailand on advising time and class offerings

Advisor Selection Process (Scott + Jamie)

  • Students are generally pleased with the advisor selection process.
    • Most students feel that one semester is enough time to select an advisor. About 15-20% felt that it was not enough time.
    • Students find the 1st semester faculty presentations to be useful and effective.
    • The most common concern is availability of funding. Over half of students report that their advisor selection was adversely affected by funding issues (19/37). We feel that this could be addressed by greater transparency in the selection process (see below). Also, awareness should be increased regarding external fellowships and more guidance/mentorship could be provided for students interested in applying for these awards.
    • Another major concern is space, indicative of a need for an increase in faculty size and an increase in physical bench space within the labs.
  • The number of cross-listed faculty creates some competition with students from other departments.
    • Almost half of students reported some competition for research positions with students from other departments (although only about 10% reported that their selection was "very much" impacted).
    • Some engineering departments, notably ME, expect students to select advisors immediately. This can cause positions to fill up before BE students have started talking to advisors.
    • Our advisor selection process creates a similar issue for Biology and CSB because they don't select advisors until after a year of rotations.
    • Harmonizing department processes does not seem to be realistic. An incomplete but realistic solution is to ensure that students in all departments are informed about advisor selection schedules throughout the Institute.
  • Guaranteed 1st-year funding remains important to the students
    • It ensures sufficient time to select an advisor and reduces pressure to start research immediately so we can focus on classes and the written qualifying exam.
    • The current 1st-year class is significantly smaller than previous years because of funding constraints (16 compared to 24 last year). We understand the funding issues but are also concerned that small classes will make it difficult to maintain our current level of student activity.
  • There is a continual low level of interest in a formal rotation system. Most students seem to be well-served by the current system of allowing informal rotations.
  • Many issues with advisor selection could be mitigated by greater transparency early in the process.
    • The department could provide a list of professors with space and funding (for example, a professor could say they expect to take one or two students and are drawing from three departments).
    • Students should be informed of other departments' schedules so that they can move quickly to secure spots that might get filled early in the year.
    • Potential advisors is the single most important reason that students choose to come to BE. It is frustrating to discover that prefered advisors do not have space or funding. Prospective students could be encouraged to contact potential advisors about likely availability of space and funding. Professors should be encouraged to answer such questions honestly (say so upfront if funding is uncertain or contingent).
    • The BE Board and Professor Lauffenburger are talking about implementing improved communication for next year's incoming class.

Research Areas (Reshma)

There are three key areas lacking in the department

  • Synthetic biology
    • This area is especially critical since MIT has been a leader in this space in the past but Drew Endy is leaving
    • 5 first year graduate students are regularly attending synthetic biology working group lunches so there is definitely interest
    • Is one faculty member in this space enough? Should this be a core area for the dept?
  • Energy
    • There is a lot of interest in this area right now
    • Key application area of synthetic biology
  • Neuroscience
    • Ed Boyden's appointment begins to address this issue

Students don't have an option to work in these areas right now. It may have an impact on BE's ability to attract quality students.

Space (Sonia + HD)

  • Currently de-centralized,lack of collaborations?,social interactions?
    • Labs in the Biology Building can definitely feel isolated from department
  • Tech Square people generally happy over there, would not necessarily want to move
  • Not enough space for new faculty
  • Prevents conversations about the future direction of the department

Link title

BE Department Staff

  • Compared to other engineering departments, less staff; asking them to wear a lot of hats
  • minimal web site activity, low student input, other departments seem to do more self-promotion (related to staff issue)
    • BE: 7, ChemE: at least 9, EECS: at least 9
    • ChemE has dedicated Web Site developer, Communications/Events people
    • EECS has Alumni Relations

Jobs (Rachel+Nick)

  • Current grads are finding jobs, but new web portal might offer more help
    • How to attract recruiters - currently Merck actively recruits, but few others
    • Alumni contacts/database? - Dan says will try to incorporate into web portal, infinite connection has many
    • Where are current graduates working? (John Kisiday - faculty at Colorado State, Nora Szasz - start-up, Jon Fitzgerald - Merrimack, Jon Szafranski - Guidant, Laurel - industry, Ali K - HST faculty, Jenny Lee - Wyeth, Csani Varga - Millenium, Dan Erickson - Sales/Consulting, Kevin Janes - post-doc/academic, Maxine Jonas- BioTrove, Nate Tedford- Epitome, Erik Krauland- Adimab, Inc., Kathryn Armstrong- Schrodinger, Inc., Ricardo Brau- L.E.K. Consulting, Jon Behr- PureTech Ventures, Helene Karcher - Novartis, Lisa Joslin - Merck, Sriram Kosuri - , Siddhartha Jain - Bristal-Myers Squibb, Ale Wolf-Yadlin - Post-doc Harvard, Rouzbeh Taghizadeh - Post-doc (now, not sure), Shawdee Eshghi - Post-doc UC Berkeley, Bambang Adiwijaya - Vertex, Jan Lammerding - Lecture position (i think) at Harvard, Marita Barth - post-doc, Megan McBee-Post-doc)
  • Is the department paying sufficient attention to helping people get academic/post-doc positions?
  • Are more people going to biotech or pharma in industry? Is BE training better received in one sector versus the other?

Undergraduate Effects (Sean)

  • Increase in number of semesters as TA?
  • Requirements at other schools/programs
    • Hopkins BME: 2 semesters
    • UCSD Bioeng: 4 quarters (at 25% time)
    • MIT Biology: 2 semesters (2nd and 4th years)

Department Spirit (Robbie)

Do the younger years feel the same association and investment in the department that the older years felt? If not, is this unavoidable as the department grows and matures? Can anything be done about this? Centralization of labs, common areas?

Visiting Committee Meeting 2006

Notes from previous Visiting Committee Meeting - have these issues been addressed significantly?