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Phase I of a new, improved MCB program

Jan 2012 | Michele LeRoux 2,238 Comments

Many of you may remember that the MCB program went through a ten-year review last year. If you participated in one of the student panels, you may remember a big room with a panel of serious looking people at the front, scribbling down notes of what we said… Not surprisingly, we passed with flying colors, no small feat for a program that granted its first degree in 1997. MCB has been enormously successful, for example, over 90% of students graduate, and of those, over 90% of our alums are using their degrees in some science related field. The suggestions made by the reviewers were almost exclusively echoing self-identified problems that the program directors pointed out to the reviewers: 1) curriculum and 2) faculty involvement in MCB. They continue to strive, as before, to reduce the time to graduation, increase the numbers of student publications, and increase minority recruitment.

The first way of addressing curriculum and faculty involvement is the creation of “areas of interest” (check it out on the website in the “Areas of Interest” tab). Each one of these eight broad, non-binding areas, has one or two chairs. These are contact people for students who want advice in selecting rotations. Their more daunting task is to identify holes in the curriculum in that area – and then work to fill these in. That means, in part, identifying which courses we should have that don’t exist, and finding people to teach them. There still won’t be required classes or “tracks” as some other programs have, but we do want to have the options available for a more complete education.The goal is to improve the curriculum, and organize the vast sea of MCB into more manageable chunks. If first years have more direct point people that can connect students with faculty, the prospect of 250 labs to choose from will hopefully seem less overwhelming.

The second major change is that all MCB faculty will be required to fulfill certain roles within the program. Because MCB is a program, not a department, faculty involvement in the program has been somewhat optional. That is changing: in order to be a listed member of MCB with access to graduate students, faculty will be required, on a rotational basis, to participate in admissions, recruitment, and teaching or assisting in some way with the curriculum. The exact requirements are still being nailed down, but  because these commitments will be spread over many people (>200!), the actual work required  will be manageable.

This has some obvious benefits for faculty too – they will have greater access to students, more input into what happens, and a better sense of community within MCB. Another added benefit for faculty is that they will not only have more say in who is admitted (helping bring more outstanding students to our program), but will be more familiar with the incoming students, and hopefully help select students that will be a good fit with our program. A by-product may be that there will be a good distribution of students across areas of interest, although this is not the goal. Having faculty participate in admissions and recruitment in the same year will create some follow-through and knowledge of the students.

All in all MCB will become slightly more structured and organized, while keeping its flexible, “it is what you make of it” character that many of us love. If you thoughts or suggestions for the program directors, they are always happy to hear from you! Now is an especially good time as we are still in Phase I of change.

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