Biology classes have a reputation for being memorization-heavy, but MIT Bio’s approach is all about taking the information you’ve learned and using it to solve interesting problems — which I find incredibly enjoyable. I’ve also had the opportunity for hands-on practice; joining the Grossman lab was the best decision I’ve made. I’ve learned different lab techniques, how to plan and troubleshoot experiments, and so much about bacterial DNA replication that wasn’t covered in my classes. It’s a great place to come each day. If I could, I’d spend all my time there.
Muskaan Aggarwal SB ’20
Course 7 ● Amon Lab UROP
MIT Biology fosters a creative mindset, providing us with tools and knowledge to think about biological problems, but leaving it up to us to apply what we’ve learned. This is reflected in every facet of the undergraduate experience, from classes to research opportunities. I’ve worked in the same lab since my freshman fall, and I love how — in every class I take — something ties back to my research. By directing me to think about problems in this unique way, MIT Biology has prepared me for a career as a physician-scientist.
I chose a joint major in computer science and molecular biology because I love extracting meaning from data and bringing the results to life. While some required classes meld the two disciplines, most offer training in each separately. That approach really appealed to me because I was hoping to develop both skill sets independently. I wanted to learn to write algorithms that could be applied to any field, and I also love understanding the biological mechanisms behind different diseases and viruses. I also learn outside of class from my peers, who have taught me new topics like machine learning, which is very applicable to my work.
Although I initially intended to pursue a joint major in chemical engineering and history, my goals evolved, and I ultimately decided to focus on medicine, leadership, and policy. I found MIT Biology my junior year, and the department worked with me to come up with a plan tying my interests together. I am very thankful for the advising I have received — I can look to my professors for guidance because they care about me as a person outside of my biology courses. My advice to prospective students: You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do. If there are several areas of interest to you, MIT Biology will help you find a way to explore them!
I’ve always had a dual-interest in the sciences and humanities, which I’ve cultivated at MIT as a 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology) major with a concentration in Philosophy. I’ve also always enjoyed writing. The scientific communications portion of the curriculum has helped me explain my work more clearly, and I’ve honed this skill as part of Phil Sharp’s lab studying miRNAs. Looking back, my communications classes have definitely made me both a better writer and a better scientist.
5-7, 18 double major ● Post-MIT: MPhil, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
Growing up in Columbia, I equated MIT with the joy of learning I had cultivated all throughout high school. I love finding out how the world works, not only as a biologist but also through the social sciences. MIT allowed me to explore all these interests; every semester I chose my classes based on what I thought was interesting — not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I came here because I thought MIT would foster that kind of interdisciplinary learning, and it has.
I’ve always seen MIT as a place of opportunity. The research environment is extremely collaborative and welcoming towards undergraduates. The curriculum, based in the scientific literature, emphasizes problem solving and encourages us to put theory into practice. Our professors especially push us to think about research in ways we might not otherwise consider, which augments our work in the lab. Most importantly, MIT biology has an unparalleled sense of community, which I highly value.
I began doing research in Professor Matthew Vander Heiden’s lab during my first semester at MIT, and I’ve been there ever since. For almost two years, I’ve been working in a mouse model to determine the role that PKM2, a glycolytic enzyme, plays in pancreatic cancer. Professor Vander Heiden does an excellent job of tailoring the research project to the individual, and I am very friendly with the grad students and postdocs. There is no hierarchy among lab members, and I definitely feel like part of the team.
The research environment here at MIT is incredibly collaborative. You come into the lab as an undergraduate, and everything is set up so you can find out what you’re interested in and what will advance your scientific curiosity. You are truly recognized for your potential, and not just given busy work. And it goes both ways: undergrads here can contribute in meaningful ways; not just grad students and postdocs.
7, 17 double major ● Post-MIT: Policy Research Assistant, DIPHSA
My favorite biology class was 7.06 (Cell Biology), with Professors Cheeseman and Orr-Weaver. Prof Cheeseman broke our recitation into four Hogwarts Houses, and held an inter-recitation House Cup. (Our team was Hufflepuff, which I found quite fitting.) He’d show us slides and we’d have to work together to figure out what was being shown in order to earn House points. It was a great learning experience and a super creative way to get us all engaged in the subject matter.
Madeleine Duran SB ’17
Course 6-7 ● Post-MIT: Associate Computational Biologist, Broad Institute
My department at the Broad develops open-source software products for the analysis of genomic and clinical data at a large scale. It’s perfect for someone with a 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology) degree, as it applies computational data analysis strategies to biological problems. Looking back, participating in multiple different UROP experiences — four in total — helped me figure out what types of research problems and work styles I most enjoyed, and which weren’t right for me.
The critical thinking and problem solving I learned at MIT — combined with real-life experiences — has inspired me to think of my education as a gift I should put to use. Whereas fermentation engineers worry more about physical variables like oxygen transfer and think of organisms as black boxes, MIT gave me an empathy for microbes. It’s an approach that has been key to my success. When I walk through campus, I still get goosebumps from all the memories. It is such an amazing place.