BE Board:Graduate Program Review

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For current website see begradboard.mit.edu


Introduction

The BE graduate committee is conducting a review of the graduate program this semester. The overall objective is to evaluate the current program and decide what, if any, changes to the program may be recommended. They have asked the BE student board to collect graduate student feedback as part of this review.

Current Status

The board gathered feedback from the students (~12 responses) and combined this with information from last years annual BE student survey to compile an interim feedback report for the graduate committee. This report was discussed with the graduate committee at a meeting of 9/30/05. The committee are receptive to the suggestions of the students and the issues raised will be the main topic of conversation at the upcoming BE faculty retreat.

Hopefully results from this years BE board annual survey will be available in time for the faculty retreat as a further source of student feedback.

We'll be giving a 30min Image:GPR.pdf at the BE faculty retreat, Oct. 15th.

The 30min presentation turned into a 2 hour discussion and was the substrate for further discussion among the faculty. Expect further information about what the faculty are thinking of acting on soon.

Student Feedback

Curriculum

In regards to the core courses, the general feeling is that the courses are relevant to quals, provide a good foundation, and is somewhat relevant to later research. Many students feel that BE.400 needs to have more substance or could be restructured to include more emphasis on methods, analysis, etc. Especially after taking BE420, the paper analyzing skills emphasized currently in BE.400 feel redundant. A small number of students would also like to see more flexibility in the core courses as well, so that they are more pertinent to all the research topics in the department.

In general, people would like more flexibility in choosing electives that are pertinent to their research or personal interests. The option to take undergraduate classes in topics with which they have little familiarity should be preserved. While the option is open for petitioning, it makes it difficult for students to plan, so a more transparent policy is advised. Additionally, people would like more BE electives as well.

In bioengineering track, there is a feeling of emphasis on mechanics over other fields such as kinetics or networks. However most are happy with the course content, although some feel that the workload is a bit high. Suggested additions include signaling and algoriths, experimental training, and computational/math (PDE’s and numerical methods)/statistical courses.

In toxicology/applied biosciences, some students felt underwhelmed by the coursework.

Funding Support Policy

Overall, the general feeling is that support is adequate. The health insurance coverage has been greatly appreciated. Only suggestions were for travel funds for conferences.

Thesis Advisor Selection Process and Policies

There are a wide variety of feelings on this process regarding timelines and approach. Some felt rushed, and others would have liked to start in their labs sooner. In general, the faculty seminars were appreciated, as well as the requirement to meet at least 3 professors before making a decision. A formal rotation system received modest support, overwhelmingly in favor of an optional, but not compulsory system since there is little free time in the first semester for formal rotations.

Suggestions included providing a list of professors who had space available to students to narrow people’s searches and a timeline of when the spaces may be filled by students in other departments. Additionally, preserving the flexibility to work with those outside the department was desired by some.

Qualifying Exam Procedures

The overall structure seems reasonable to most students.

Some students suggested that the considerations for passing the qualifying exam (understood to comprise of the written exam, course grades, and possibly other considerations) be made more clear to alleviate stress. Several students hope that the written quals remain a “real” test and not become a formality.

A student suggested that many graduate programs have a requirement that students write a research proposal on a topic that is distinct from their thesis research. This is useful because it forces the student to tackle a new field and propose a research project at the cutting edge of that field. Now there are already a number of courses and requirements for students to do at this point, but in principle this is a useful exercise.

Admission Process and Policies

With regards to the recruitment process, feedback was generally positive. The only comment was that applicants would like to know in advance of recruitment weekend dates to prioritize this event over others.

Mentoring and advising during years 3-5+ of PhD program

There has been a long-recognized need for more post-graduate career advising. While the BE Board has attempted to address this through the Industrial Seminar Series and now the academic career mentoring workshops, more formal advising from faculty, industry, and alumni would be greatly appreciated. Most students felt inadequately informed about career opportunities.

Other Comments

With the increasing department size, BATS and BE seminar space is becoming limited. To encourage attendance, space for all “required” to attend would be beneficial. Some students would like to see a change in BATS scheduling so that a full year would elapse between a student’s presentations.

There is a wish to maintain the size of the department to keep the collaborative and collegial environment.

There was a suggestion for a open-door policy for BE labs to encourage a more collaborative research environment.

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