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Biology Dept. Modifies Grad Admit Policy

By Jenny Zhang

In a change to a long-standing policy, MIT undergraduates in the Biology Department are no longer forbidden from enrolling in the department’s graduate program.

In the current application cycle, however, fewer than 10 out of more than 550 applicants are MIT biology majors, said Professor Stephen P. Bell, chair of the department’s graduate committee. Because a typical graduate biology class consists of 30-35 students according to Bell, the change is unlikely to significantly affect the makeup of next fall’s incoming graduate class.

In the past, MIT undergraduate biology majors were strictly excluded from admission into the graduate program because the undergraduate and graduate curriculums were too similar, Bell said, though MIT undergraduates from other departments were eligible.

But over the 30 years that the policy has been in place, the department has grown from 30 faculty members to more than 50 and diversified in interests, and similarity between the undergraduate and graduate programs is no longer a concern. The modification was made for this reason, not “at the behest of the students,” although a few biology undergraduate majors had expressed a desire to remain in the department, Bell said.

“We still consider it a good idea for most students to go elsewhere,” but will no longer absolutely prohibit the undergraduate biology majors from staying, since some “could still gain a lot” from the MIT graduate program, Bell said. Most MIT biology undergraduates, if admitted, would probably still want to attend other schools, he said.

Although diversity of undergraduate institution is a factor in selecting the incoming class, MIT biology undergraduates will not specifically be evaluated differently from other applicants during the admissions process; each applicant will be considered on the basis of what he or she can bring to the class, Bell said.