BE Board:Visiting committee

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Student opinion


Topic Areas

Add, subtract as you see fit

Curriculum (Sean)

  • Students have suggested a variety of changes to bolster the curriculum.
  • In general, students feel the core courses are good preparation for the qualifying exams and provide a good foundation for a PhD, but are divided on the relevance to research.
  • Classes some students would like to see: applied statistics, more graduate BE electives, instruction on good paper writing skills, practical biology lab
  • 410,400 now emphasizing project proposals (written, some oral)

Advisor Selection Process (Diana)

  • First year funding/Timing of joining labs: we understand that a lack of funding is what limits incoming class sizes. Changing the timing may allow greater flexibility, but the majority of students are happy with the current system, with a few at both extremes.
    • Students are agreed that the flexibility permitted by 2 semesters of guaranteed funding attracts many to the department.
  • Rotations: Overwhelmingly against required rotations, although the option would be appreciated by some. IAP would be a possible time for rotations.
  • Process: Students would appreciate a list of available faculty (those who have space), but are otherwise happy with the process. Morning (afternoon last year) preview seminars are especially helpful.
    • The students are aware that for most PIs, it is hard to specify how many, if any, spaces are available so that this might not be a workable plan.

Facilities (Nate & Maxine)

  • Space
  • BATS and seminar space can be emphasized.
  • Proximity?
  • Concerns used to revolve around common space - seminar room, student lounge etc. - We have outgrown our seminar space and the Stata works nicely in the interim, but perhaps the more pressing issue is lack of office space for first and second year students after they have joined labs and lack of bench space for large or rapidly expanding labs.
  • Can pressure be put on the MIT admin. to make building 56 and 16 even more homogeneously BE, or does it look like we'll stay scattered in 4or 5 different buildings for a long time to come?
    • At least one labs has actually left 56/16 in order to get adequate space.

Career Development (Nate, Jordan)

  • ISS
  • Industry connections - What happens nbow that formal centers like BPEC and BTP are going away?
  • Academic Career Workshops - Are students in BE well prepared to interview for top notch faculty positions?
    • I think the fact that we get to particpate in this process for our own department helps; getting to meet faculty candidates and comment on them gives you a great insight into the process - BC
  • BE Undergraduate Course Development Opportunities
  • 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 - Centacore, Csani Varga - Millenium, Dan Erickson - Sales/Consulting, Kevin Janes - post-doc/academic, others?)
  • Where are the remaining gaps?
  • Are more people going to biotech or pharma in industry? Is BE training better received in one sector versus the other?
  • Where are our graduates doing/considering post-docs? Is there a necessity to change fields significantly betond your own interests??
  • Is the length of the PhD program deterring some students from toiling away in a post-doc for 2-4 additional years to get a faculty position and scaring them away to industry?
  • Do people feel that now that most of the major BME and BE departments around the country have stopped expanding, getting Whitaker funding etc. that it is much harder to get a good faculty position now?
  • Is there sufficient training on how to become a professor for those interested in academia? Should there be an optional short course (IAP?) on the process and developing related skills?
  • What networking opportunities are available for BE students to contact BE graduates?

Undergraduate Major (Amy)

  • TAing Requirements
  • Faculty time split between more responsibilities
  • Curriculum development
  • Senior design course
  • Increased number of UROPs looking for experience in BE labs (is there any additional funding available to attract them ? )
  • Questions to consider:
    • How reasonable is/ was your TAing requirement (time commitment, work load)? Should the undergraduate TAing assignments be assigned differently?
    • Do you enjoy working with the undergraduates?
    • Do the instructors adequately and clearly cover material in class? Do you have to spend a lot of time outside of class explaining and clarifying concepts?
    • Would you like to be more involved in developing the undergraduate classes or have you had the oppurtunity to help develop them?
    • What do you think is missing from the undergraduate cirriculum?
    • Do you think the undergraduate classes will detract from the graduate experience and how?
  • Summarized survey results:
    • TAing Experience
      • Majoring of students found it valuable (~4)
      • Suggestions to avoid increased or unequal responsibilities
        • Get more information about the workload for each class (hours per week, student/TA ratio etc.) This doesn't seem to be done systematically right now.
        • Pay TA’s
        • Add graders
        • Add undergrads as TA’s
        • Formalized guidelined for TAing
      • Suggestion – teach graduate students how to teach to better fill the need for the undergrad major
      • Students split on TAing two terms (2.64), most people would be willing to TA for additional compensation (3.32)
    • Students interested in being associate advisors for undergrads (2.97)
    • Positive part of their education (3.21) and want to be involved in learning about what is going on (3.87) and being more involved in the development process (3.76)
    • Participation in undergraduate development via:
      • A session for all interested parties at the yearly retreat
      • Perhaps graduate students could have access to the evaluations of students in the undergraduate courses that they TA. TA's and professors could then discuss potential improvements to the course.
      • Having student input for A) which courses should be included, B) which are mandatory, which are elective, and C) the content of certain courses.
      • To aid in curriculum development, course plans should be presented to the Division (perhaps in a seminar-type forum?) to provide the opportunity for members of the BE community to provide initial feedback on the undergraduate curriculum.

Thesis Mentoring (Diana, Danielle)

  • Most of the mentoring information focuses on career development and mentoring. Very little information about mentoring during the course of the thesis.
  • Thoughts on full vs. joint faculty and their time for students AND knowledge about BE program requirements, etc.
  • Formal mentoring for academic writing.
  • Other sources for formal mentoring: committee members, older students, recent graduates ?

Faculty Research Directions (Barry)

A number of students have suggested research areas that are not currently pursued by the department. Of these, the two that are most frequently mentioned are neuroscience and the engineering of prokaryotes. Having said that, BCS covers neuroscience already so its not clear that BE needs to move in that direction.

Faculty/Student Interactions (Maxine)

  • Do the faculty have less time for the graduate students now that the undergraduate major has started?
  • Are the faculty generally supportive for all types of career development, or only for academic positions?

ABS/Bioengineering (Paul, Bahar)

  • Percentage and background: About 20-25% of all BE students are ABS. They generally have a diverse background with a focus on life sciences.
  • Core courses: 20.420 and 20.440 (Fall) 20.400 and 20.450 (Spring)
    • Overall, it seems that the 4 core courses encompass sufficient knowledge required for quantitative based biology. They can be a good foundation for preparing students for their Ph.D. projects and later on for their careers.
    • ABS courses together can give students broad flavor of diverse BE research (to be followed with more advanced graduate courses depending on one’s particular research interest). They can further expose students to research approaches applicable for their own projects and give them necessary critical reviewing skills.
    • Overall fair workload for both semesters (although 420 is perceived by many as more challenging than the rest).
    • Course material of 420 and 440 seem to be complementary. For example, qualitative network biology of 440 complements many of quantitative examples/strategies covered in 420. Therefore, they provide a good combination for bringing students to the same level of qualitative and quantitative background.
    • 400 exposes students to the diverse contemporary research in the field of biological engineering while enhancing their skills for a critical review of the scientific journals. 450, on the other hand, covers cellular and molecular pathophysiology broadly applicable to research in the department.
  • Changes in the curriculum: Based on students’ feedback, there have been some changes within the curriculum (for 400 and 450). For instance, in previous years some ABS students felt somehow underwhelmed by their course load in the second semester. However, this year the workload has been increased by changing the course format (i.e., addition of molecular pathophysiology regarding DNA damage, and some changes regarding the format of the term project). While still less challenging than Fall, the work load now seems to be adequate for Spring semester in terms of providing students with time to attend to their research or study for the quals.
  • Other comments:
    • As more ABS students join engineering labs and vice versa, the labs are no longer are just toxicology or engineering based (division is becoming less noticeable).
    • Several BE track students took 440 last semester. Based on their response, it seems that they found it adequately supplementing other engineering courses they were taking. Hopefully this trend continues to increase.

General BE Board Activity Updates (Diana, Barry)

  • BE Student Directory with possible Alumni Directory extensions?
  • BE New Events Fund
  • Increasing First-year study breaks
  • New BE Diversity Initiatives

Discussion Summary

  • Space – both lack of student common space and lack of proximity.
  • Size of department and relationship to the feeling of “intimacy” in the department – growth is acknowledged as a necessary evil with the undergraduate major, but proximity and space are strongly recommended before growth occurs.
  • Size/Growth concerns associated with TA requirements also discussed. So far, interest from students who want to pursue academia can fulfill needs – future concerns expressed…
  • Visiting committee asked how we were so successful at maintaining collegiality of department despite the lack of common space and proximity – response involved a combination of size, social activities, and core classes maintaining relationship most strongly within each year.
  • Visiting committee asked about social activities organized by students.
  • Concerns with post-doctorate academic opportunities especially considering the end of Whittaker and NIH funding expansions – some disagreement among visiting committee members about the expansion and growth rate of programs.
  • Industrial speaker contacts discussed – potential involvement of visiting committee and/or faculty
  • Question arose about working under a joint faculty member (as opposed to a primary faculty member) – general consensus was that the pros were that you got to interact with students of more varied backgrounds, cons may be the split administrative duties of the faculty and their familiarity with program requirements.
  • ABS/Bioeng track divide discussed as a non-issue now.