Funds are used to support students in their first and to a lesser extent in their second year of graduate study. In the first year, students are required to take courses in their program of study and to rotate through three laboratories (one rotation per quarter). This provides both a strong foundation in engineering and biology, and an opportunity to experience a number of different environments before committing to a lab. Rotations generally involve sitting in on research group meetings and carrying out a short-term research project.
In contrast to a stand-alone departmental program, the UC Berkeley – UC San Francisco Graduate Program in Bioengineering offers students an enormous variety of research options. Therefore, rotations lead students to select a dissertation project that reflects their personal and academic interests, and a mentor with whom they feel compatible. In addition, rotations are central to the culture of this program and the cultivation of new research ideas. Thus, funding for the first year of graduate school provides critical support for students to fully engage in this process. The research mentor is expected to support the student once they commit to their laboratory.
Our program has been designed to provide a structure that maintains the highest intellectual standards both in the biological and engineering components of bioengineering, while allowing our graduate students to develop independently in an academically enriched and stimulating environment. This is achieved through the following five key elements of the program:
- All students complete a fundamental set of background courses that cover a spectrum of engineering, mathematics and science at some time in their career, either during their undergraduate studies or during their first years of graduate school.
- Each student, in coordination with their academic and research advisors, develops a set of courses that make up a major study area and a minor. The two study areas must provide breadth and contain at least one area of study in engineering and life science. The Head Graduate Advisor provides the final approval of the course of study.
- To help students clarify their aptitude and interest in teaching, the students are required to complete one teaching assistantship. This is normally performed during the second year.
- Depth and breadth associated with the first two years of research and courses are brought together at the student’s qualifying exam, which includes material from the major, minor, and ethics. The exam is conducted by a committee of four faculty members, which includes representatives from each campus and an outside member from the student’s home campus.
- Four faculty members split between the two campuses, and covering both biological and engineering disciplines, review the dissertation. This ensures high academic standards for both areas.
Graduate advising is an essential component of this interdisciplinary program and is managed by an Advising Committee of faculty who are active members of the graduate program. The program has designated two senior faculty as Head Graduate Advisors, one from each campus. This gives balance to the leadership of this very important committee, while also giving the students the flexibility of obtaining advice on either campus. The Head Graduate Advisors are available to meet with students at any time. Each student has four other advisors: graduate advisor, area advisor, peer advisor and research mentor. There is ample opportunity for students to seek advice on academic matters such as course selection, and appointment of qualifying examination committees and dissertation committees. Students also seek out these advisors for counsel on personal matters and future careers.
Responsible Conduct in Bioengineering Research and in Practice (BioE 201)
This weekly seminar required of graduate students explores ethical issues likely to be faced by a bioengineer, and considers them in the context of responsible engineering. The content of the class is designed considering the NSF Standards of Ethical Conduct and the NIH Ethical Guidelines & Regulations, and serves as the Responsible Conduct of Research training for our PhD program. Topics include: animal and human research subjects, authorship, peer review, data interpretation, intellectual property, conflict of interest, mentoring, ethical challenges, etc.
Teaching Techniques for Bioengineering (BioE 301)
This weekly seminar required of first-year students provides instruction of effective teaching techniques. Topics include: use of educational objectives, alternative forms of instruction, and special techniques for teaching key concepts and techniques in bioengineering. The course is intended to orient new graduate student instructors to teaching in the Bioengineering department. In addition, the students all write drafts of NSF and NDSEG fellowships. This preparation effort and the steady improvement in our admissions quality has greatly improved our success in obtaining these prestigious fellowships.
Annual Research Conference
In the autumn of each year, faculty and students attend a three-day research conference at a location removed from the two campuses. The primary objective of this conference is to allow the faculty and students to discuss their research. The bulk of the conference includes oral presentations by faculty, current students, and alumni. During the two evenings, poster sessions are scheduled to allow second and third year students to present and discuss their research. Faculty members use the conference as a means to advertise their research projects and incoming students often choose rotations based on this interaction. In addition, in the last several years, panels have been organized on a variety of topics such as “Translating technology to the developing world,” “Life after graduate school,” and “Public policy and bioengineering.”
Another purpose of the conference is to discuss the organization and outcomes of the program in an informal setting. Evening socials allow students and faculty to meet their colleagues, which leads to an increasing awareness of the breadth of the research in the program and reinforces a sense of ownership for the participants. On the third day students and faculty meet separately participate in a joint student-faculty meeting that provides valuable strategic input to the Executive Committee. Student representatives help to design the format of each year’s Conference, and have often requested that a particular topic, such as “The Qualifying Examination” or “Employment after Graduate School” is discussed.