MIT Biology stood out to me because the research interests of the faculty are so diverse. My background is in biochemistry, and I expected to be forced to choose between studying that or exploring other realms of biology — but MIT Biology doesn’t draw those distinctions, and instead incorporates many disciplines into one department. As a result, I’ve discovered new interests in plant development and genetics. I was drawn to Jing-Ke Weng’s lab in particular because his calm and open attitude made for a harmonious research environment.
MIT Biology really values its graduate students, and many of our department-wide events are student-driven. Even the recruitment weekend, where accepted students are invited to campus, is run entirely by graduate students. I found it really reassuring that the department entrusts its students with so much responsibility, which I’ve found to be true in my classes and in lab as well. The professors treat you as an equal and give you a lot of freedom to pursue your interests.
Burge Lab ● Harvard University ’15
I had tangential interactions with MIT as an undergrad at Harvard, all of which were positive. I had a very favorable impression of MIT’s institutional culture and the scientists it produced, so it was my top choice in applications. At interviews I was struck by the electric atmosphere on campus, the rigor and ambition of the research, and the caliber of students in the program, who were not only bright but also warm and welcoming. So far I am absolutely thrilled with my decision to join them.
One of the main reasons I chose MIT Biology was because I wanted teaching experience. You have many opportunities to mentor undergraduates and summer students, and as part of the program you serve as a teaching assistant for at least two classes. If you face challenges as a graduate student, there are also plenty of resources — there were tutoring services that I used my first year, which helped a lot, and the professors here are very accessible.
One of the best things a graduate student can do is talk to other scientists. Doing so, they learn about new techniques, incorporate approaches from other fields, and refine ideas. At MIT there’s a culture of collaboration and multidisciplinary research. A lot of the best ideas I’ve had come from talking to my labmates and leveraging their knowledge. You can read as many reviews as you want but nothing beats talking to a person who understands a different field to give you that perspective.
Mónica C. Quiñones Frías
Littleton Lab ● University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras ’14
My goal is to pursue questions of interest to me, applying novel ideas and approaches to fill gaps in knowledge in the field of neuroscience. The Biology Graduate Program at MIT has provided me with the resources, training, and cutting-edge facilities to develop myself into a critical thinking, driven scientist. I am currently studying the synapse, the fundamental unit of communication in neurons, which could help unravel the complexity of the nervous system.
Young Lab ● UMass Amherst ’15
Coming to MIT, I expected to learn a lot and become part of a fantastic research community. So far, this has been my experience. My goal is to work in the biotech industry. The technical skills I’ve gained and the way I have been taught to think about problems here at MIT Biology will definitely help me attain this goal. MIT also has lots of connections with local biotech companies, offering many opportunities to network. There is no question that Boston/Cambridge is the best place to be in the world of biotech.
It’s important to work in a lab where you have the freedom to think without worrying about being wrong. In the Vander Heiden lab, we’re using new techniques to study cancer cell metabolism, so there is a lot of freedom to explore unexpected findings and follow interesting leads. We try to keep an open mind because there’s probably no one thing that cancer cells depend on. Everyone’s work builds together to form a cumulative understanding.
Schwartz Lab ● University of Wisconsin-Madison ’14
At MIT, I was pleasantly surprised by the sense of community in the biology department and its commitment to training graduate students. From the unique first year program and a rigorous set of classes designed to make all MIT graduates well rounded biologists to the supportive faculty, I feel well supported and well trained, and the facilities provide a world-class place to conduct this research, especially with the new electron microscopy facility that will be established in the Nano building.
Li Lab ● Haverford College ’13
I was drawn to the multidisciplinary nature of my lab, which draws from biochemistry, microbiology, physical modeling, and bioinformatics. My mentor is kind and supportive, and has built a collaborative environment within his lab. My research has helped me develop into an independent scientist, and provided opportunities to learn from leaders in my field. Coming into MIT Biology, it’s important to keep an open mind. The work in our department is incredibly diverse, and you should let yourself explore what most excites you.
Bell Lab ● Indian Institute of Technology ’16
The MIT Biology Graduate Program is structured to encourage graduate students to get a flavor of different sub-areas within biology, and that was the fit that I was looking for. I have come to realize that the program is all I expected and so much more. The biology community at MIT is vibrant and well knit; the professors are welcoming and excited to discuss their science, the graduate students know each other well, and the environment helps you be the best scientist you can be!
Jacks Lab ● Stanford University ’13
I chose to come to MIT Biology because I liked the way the structure of the program fosters community, and I believe having a strong community is essential for success and having a good experience overall. The research at the different MIT Biology institutes was cutting-edge, and their focus on studying basic science was appealing as well. In the future, I hope to lead my own research program in the field of cancer biology, and promote diversity in the sciences through mentoring and outreach.
Cheeseman Lab ● Columbia University ’16
MIT Biology is unique in that it prioritizes involving its students in its scientific community over getting them to work as soon as possible. The courses-only first semester and the introduction to the faculty during independent activities period create a tight-knit community of graduate students while integrating them into the greater biology community. This program allows students to become familiar with the faculty and research in the department before narrowing their interests to a specific lab.
Hemann and Lauffenburger Labs ● Brandeis University ’11
After college, I became a research technician in the biological engineering department at MIT. So when the time came to decide where to apply to grad school, I had already experienced the exciting environment here. I enjoyed visiting several other schools, but I chose MIT because I liked that the classes are very rigorous, that the department is very collaborative and acts as one umbrella for many different types of biology, and that there are so many excellent labs studying different aspects of cancer biology.
Sauer Lab ● UC Berkeley ’14
I chose MIT Biology because of the unique departmental community. At many large graduate programs, molecular biology is split up across many departments. MIT Biology provided me with many research options to pursue as a new graduate student under a single department. This has proven to be an excellent choice. Even beyond choosing a lab to do my graduate research in, MIT biology’s collaborative departmental structure continues to facilitate conversations with researchers outside my discipline.
Amon Lab ● Tufts University ’15
I am a first-generation college student, and the first in my extended family to pursue a graduate degree in STEM. I didn’t know what to expect or what it would take to succeed. I am grateful to the upperclassmen in MIT Biology, who helped me navigate classes and lab rotations, gave advice about choosing a lab and studying for the qualifying exam, and served as scientific mentors. The strong sense of community within the program definitely helps students develop these relationships.
Rebecca Estelle Silberman
Amon Lab ● Colgate University ’13
I came to MIT because of its outstanding research, and have been continually impressed by the breadth and impact of the work done in this department. In the Amon lab, I get to be a part of a team doing creative, rigorous science. Angelika’s mentorship and the department’s support have given me the opportunity to tackle ambitious questions. I’ve really enjoyed the collaborative spirit of the Koch Institute, where my lab is based, and benefited enormously from the expertise of the members of the core facilities.
Horvitz Lab ● UC Berkeley ’14
During my undergraduate studies, I realized I enjoyed the challenge of biology and trying to make sense of the complexity of life. I knew I wanted to go to grad school and continue learning and performing research. I chose MIT because they had one of the best programs in terms of research in the country, and (in my opinion) the best community of faculty to learn from and work with. I am now working on understanding how cells decide what they will become and how they stick to that plan once they have made it.
I was drawn to the MIT Biology first year program because you to get to know your classmates in a formalized community that extends well beyond your graduate career. I chose the Cheeseman lab so I could combine cell biology and biochemistry to ask mechanistic questions about cell division. Everyone works on distinct but related projects, so I knew I would have an area within the lab that was mine. It’s both exciting and challenging because no one else is thinking about your projects to the extent that you are.
I’m incredibly grateful for the first-year program, because dedicating the fall semester solely to taking classes gave me a background in subjects I didn’t take in college. I was really into protein biochemistry when I first arrived at MIT, and was surprised when I fell in love with a discipline that was completely different from my initial interests. I’d never taken genetics before, and I ended up joining the Kim lab — a genetics lab.
One reason I chose MIT was the first-year classes. Encompassing biochemistry, genetics, and quantitative biology, these classes are led by professors who value teaching. Because people come into MIT with different strengths and backgrounds, the classes are a good way of reviewing familiar material as well as exploring outside of your comfort zone. As a result, students find new areas of interest and rotate in laboratories they would not have previously considered.
I knew I wanted a broad program because I realized my interests in biology might expand beyond biophysics. I’d had the chance to meet professors and current grad students during preview weekend, which gave me a sense of the research possibilities and made the department seem more personal. Since then, I’ve experienced continuous support from my mentors and fellow students, especially when I’ve faced challenges in my research. Not all programs have that ethos, and that’s what makes MIT biology so special.
Francisco Sánchez-Rivera PhD ’15
Jacks Lab ● Post-MIT: HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
My years at MIT have been truly transformative, both personally and scientifically. Even though I faced some technical and personal difficulties during my graduate studies, I was able to finish with a PhD thesis that I am very proud of. Even though I took longer than the average student, I can honestly say that I am 100% sure that coming to MIT was the right thing for me, and I am 100% sure that doing research and eventually running my own lab in the academic setting is my path in life.
I was an MSRP student back in summer 2005, so returning as a grad student I was excited about the resources and faculty. I came in with a background in chemistry, and transitioning to biology was very hard. But in the end I was extremely satisfied with my training. I’d advise grads to get to know your classmates; those connections will be invaluable later on. Now as an Assistant Professor, I’d encourage students to interact with faculty and take advantage of all the resources that MIT has to offer.
Kevin Eggan PhD ’02
Jaenisch Lab ● Professor, Harvard University
Someone once told me, ‘If you want to become as successful as your scientific heroes, follow the paths they took.’ For me, in almost every instance, that included getting a PhD from MIT. I was exposed to cutting-edge technologies and immersed in an environment where new inventions are made every day. The work I contributed to as part of the Jaenisch lab was foundational in many respects, and paved the way for my own lab to later become the first to generate patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., PhD ’96
Guarente Lab ● Professor, Providence College; Catholic Priest
The MIT Biology experience shaped how I think. As a biology professor, I often incorporate my MIT education into my pedagogy. My students learn the methods and logic approach to reading research papers that I learned as a first-year graduate student in 7.50. I also run an undergraduate research laboratory, applying what I learned while supervising two UROPs at MIT. I would encourage current trainees to consider pursuing undergraduate teaching as a career; it has been a source of much joy and professional fulfillment.
One of my first recollections of graduate school at MIT was being called into a room with all the department heads to justify why I wanted to change departments. Salvodore Luria, Jack Buchanan, and Cyrus Levinthal were seated while I stood making my case. It was a bit intimidating but they accepted my reason. At the time, MIT had divided biology into several small departments, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Biophysics. I had applied to and been accepted to Biochemistry thinking that Boris Magasanik would…