As if course numbers weren’t enough: Learning your A, B, Cs, and OEs by Melis A. '08
Different majors at MIT, and why I chose mine
It has been far too long since my last entry, and I have an excuse for every day that I have neglected my blog. The short story is that I have been traveling around for MD-PhD program interviews, which is one of the final steps in the long journey that is the medical school admissions process. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Baltimore, New Haven, New York, and San Francisco/ Palo Alto, and meet countless doctors, scientists, and MD-PhD students. (Pictures from San Francisco will be included in a future entry.)
I’m ashamed to say that I had received an email from Paul ’11 many weeks ago that asked about my choice of major (a sub specialty of Mechanical Engineering called Course “2A”) and I’ve only now been able to respond. Better late than never, no?
As you may know, asking an MIT student what they’re majoring in may result in a numerical response (or even a string of numbers.) For example,
—Laura might say “2”, meaning Mechanical Engineering
—Evan might respond with “6”, meaning Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
—Anthony would say “11”, Urban Studies and Planning
–I know someone that would respond “Majoring in 5 and 7, with minors in 9 and 14”. Translation: “I’m crazy.” Well, more accurately, it means that this person is double majoring in Chemistry and Biology, with minors in Brain and Cognitive Science and Economics.
The (imaginary) MITese – English dictionary has entries for Courses 1-24 (with the exception of Course 19 (which was called Metallurgy from 1937-1940, Meteorology from 1946-1981, and Meteorology & Physical Oceanography from 1981-1983) and Course 23 (which used to be Modern Languages, then Foreign Literature & Linguistics.)) A history of the evolution of course numbers can be found here. It’s actually pretty fun to look at.
Anyway… as if the fact that the majors, buildings, AND classes are all numbered (e.g. “I have 5.111 at 12:00 in 10-250”) wasn’t enough, several of the majors have letters or numbers tacked onto them as well. For example:
-The flavors of Course 1 are 1-A (Design your own Civil and Environmental Engineering degree), 1-C (Civil Engineering), and 1-E (Environmental Engineering)
-The flavors of Course 2 are 2 (Mechanical Engineering), 2-A (Design your own Mechanical Engineering curriculum), or 2-OE (Mechanical and Ocean Engineering.)
-The flavors of Course 6 are 6-1 (Electrical Engineering), 6-2 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), or 6-3 (Computer Science and Engineering.)
-The flavors of Course 10 are 10 (Chemical Engineering), 10-B (Chemical-Biological Engineering), and 10-C (Design your own Chemical Engineering curriculum).
As an applicant, you are by no means expected to understand this alphabet soup. Once you get here, though, you’re forced to dip your spoon in and search for the right letter (or combination of letters) that suits your interest. This can be a rather difficult task that my fellow bloggers have covered extensively. I’ve compiled some of the links at the bottom of this entry, and rest assured that almost everyone ends up switching majors or minors at some point.
Why I chose to be 2-A (Design your own Mechanical Engineering major with a concentration in Biomedical Engineering) with Pre-med:
I came into MIT knowing that I liked two things: building stuff and the human body (and what can go wrong with it.) I learned how to use a power drill and table saw at the ripe age of 10, and I loved making robots. So, the decision to major in Mechanical Engineering was pretty easy. I thought that an undergraduate degree in MechE would provide me with a solid yet broad engineering background that I could apply to either medical or graduate school. My impression was that studying engineering taught you how to solve problems, and isn’t that a prerequisite for most careers? I also thought that MechE would train me to think analytically about systems – both how to design them and how to fix them when they “break.” Since the human body seemed to be a web of interconnected systems (circulatory, muscular, digestive, immune, etc.), I thought this training would make me a great doctor, as well.
Next, I chose to design my own Mechanical Engineering major through the 2-A degree program instead of taking the traditional full Course 2 route. My reasoning was that the full Course 2 degree program has a pretty defined structure with many required classes. I wanted to learn about material properties, control systems, robotics, manufacturing, and thermodynamics, but I also wanted to have time to take my pre-med requirements (see my previous pre-med entry and explore other classes. To get the flexibility that I wanted (and needed), I enrolled in the 2-A program. This enabled me to take the 9-10 core Mechanical Engineering classes, while taking 6-7 classes in my self-defined concentration. Here’s some info from the MechE website:
“A significant part of the 2-A curriculum consists of electives chosen by the student to provide in-depth study of a field of the student’s choosing. A wide variety of popular concentrations are possible in which well-selected academic subjects complement a foundation in mechanical engineering and general Institute requirements. Some examples of potential concentrations include biomedical engineering and pre-medicine; energy conversion engineering; engineering management; product development; robotics; technology policy and pre-law; sustainable design and engineering; and architecture and building technology. The ME faculty have developed specific recommendations in some of these areas; details are given on other pages in this web site.” (MechE site)
My concentration is in Biomedical Engineering (BME), which has since become a minor. Several of the classes for my BME minor also fulfill my pre-med requirements.
But now, the choices are more plentiful than ever. The Department of Biological Engineering (Course 20) has been developed recently, and it offers some really cool classes, some of which I’ve taken through my BME minor. If you’re thinking of being pre-med but want to get an engineering background too, then Course 20 is an awesome option. If you want to engineer proteins, learning about cell systems, and model processes of a cell, then consider Course 20. If you want to learn about forces, model mechanical systems, study fluids, and build robots and other cool stuff, then consider MechE. Chemical Engineering, or Course 10, is sort of at the intersection, and you should look at the course requirements and talk to professors if you’re incredibly confused. You’ll also be assigned to a faculty advisor who can talk you through the process.
If you’ve made it this far, you get a gold star. Now that I have a few months left at the Institute and I’ve gone through a significant number of med school interviews, I’m really happy about my choice to be 2-A with BME. I think it’s prepared me really well to think critically, and I’ve had the opportunity to take cool classes outside of my major (like Computational Neuroscience, Analysis of Biomolecular Systems, Linguistics, and more.) (On a side note, so far, I haven’t met another Mechanical Engineering applicant on the interview circuit.)
Helpful advice from my fellow bloggers:
Bryan on why he chose to be 2A: here
Mollie’s thoughts on Biology (Course 7): here
Jessie’s advice on Physics (Course 8): here
Mollie’s info on Brain and Cognitive Science (Course 9): here
More on Course 9:
Sam’s advice on what Chemical Engineering (Course 10) is: here
Matt’s info on Management Science (Course 15): here
Mitra’s pre-med advice: here
Laura’s adventures in choosing a major:here
Mollie’s advice on choosing a major:here