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BME applicants: advantage?

ninebillion

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    I will be applying to MD/PhD programs with the intention of completing my graduate work in BME. Will this affect my candidacy, positively or negatively, at schools where BME is only just now burgeoning? One school that comes to mind is Wash U. If I express a strong interest in BME, will that in and of itself help my case? I'm thinking along the lines of an adcom reacting in this way: "Oh, excellent, this one's interested in tissue engineering with Professor So-and-So! Even though he's not as numerically competitive as all these guys clamoring for a shot at our neuroscience program, he'll help to bridge the medical scientist gap with our brand spanking new BME outlet!" Any feedback is much appreciated, thanks.
     

    Neuronix

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      I am a BME student at Penn, though I originally applied through the Neuroscience department. I think that BME students are at least held to the same standards as other applicants, but they may have a disadvantage. It seems to me that most programs are only looking to accept one or two BME students per year, because most programs have a very molecular focus. There are alot of BME applicants out there, and alot of them are really stellar, so I imagine the competition for those BME slots are stiff.

      I could be way off base about this, but it's just a friendly warning. When I saw all of the 5 (That's it!) BME applicants Penn interviewed this year I was thinking, "hmmm... which one, if any, will actually be here next year."

      Good luck!
       

      Maebea

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        Identifying BME as your program interest will neither help nor hinder you. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of individuals iinterested in BME. I am not sure why this is happening, except for the gee-whiz appeal of BME. Most MD/PhD programs select students without regard to doctoral program interest. The idea is to select the best available talent. No matter what you select as your interest, you have to have outstanding research experience to be competitive.

        Admissions committees realize that as a rule, it is harder to pull a 4.0 in electrical engineering than in Biology, so there is some adjustment made for that. But a 2.9 EE GPA will kill your candidacy just as efficiently as a 2.9 Biology GPA. One other thing about undergraduate work, if you want to do a PhD in BME, you must have taken appropriate undergraduate courses to prepare yourself to do the doctoral work. If you were a biology major and your undergrad curriculum was light on math, computer science, engineering, etc., it will be hard to convince a BME program to take you. Because of time constraints (and because MD/PhD students are expensive to feed and care for) programs are not wild about students having to take a lot of undergrad courses to get up to speed for the PhD.

        You should contact the schools you are interested in and ask them about the specifics of their BME programs. Questions you might ask are:

        What is the relationship between the MSTP and BME? Is it formal, or informal? Formal is probably better because everything is spelled out, and there is less chance of an unpleasant surprise down the road.

        What are the course requirements for BME MD/PhD students?

        Do I need to take the GRE? (Some BMEs require this of MD/PhD students.)

        How are BME applicants evaluated? Is there a quota for BME applicants?

        On average, how many individuals interested in BME apply? Are interviewed? Are accepted? Enroll?

        Good luck with your application.
         
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        Neuronix

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          I'll give some plugs for Penn's BE (they call it BE here for some reason) department.

          I was a dual Biology + Psychology major for ugrad. I switched over to the BE department after I came to Penn and I am expected to take 5 ugrad courses (calc I, II, and three BE courses) in addition to the graduate work. While that isn't so great, no TAing is required in the department, rotation requirements are very flexible, and there's very little molecular grad work required from the MD/PhDs. To make up these courses I am and will be taking some of them during med school. Right now I am taking Calculus III at night in addition to medical school. The BE department was happy to have me and has been very flexible in accepting me to the traumatic brain injury concentration. The MSTP has also not said a word of opposition to this plan, and they said they would be supportive of me even if I had to spend an extra year or two to do it (which I probably won't). At some other programs it was made clear to me that this could not happen. Of course, they told me it was like that everywhere, which turned out not to be true (and this is possible at some other programs as well).

          I agree about the relationship between departments. Another thing you should think about is where is the BME department in comparison to the rest of the medical school? You can bet it's going to be tricky to do any collaborations with other departments or go to events within the department while in med school if it's far away. If it's too far away you even have to think about things like moving.

          I honestly don't know if it's harder to get an interview and/or acceptance here if you are applying BE. Maybe the small number of applicants and matriculants reflects that BE is just a minority of our applicants. Perhaps that is the case.
           

          Neuronix

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            Originally posted by ninebillion
            Neuronix, one of my top choices right now is to do TBI at Penn. Have you already joined a lab? Are you working with Meaney or Margulies?

            Dr. Meaney is my coursework advisor. I could work in his lab and he does have an advanced MD/PhD student in his lab now. Dr. Marguiles seems to be really looking for people to work on her puliminary engineering projects right now, though there's a third year MD/PhD student who recently joined her lab.

            I'm more thinking about the lab of Douglas Smith for this summer, but I'm not quite set on that yet. I was supposed to be set awhile ago, but I've been talking to alot of different people and taking this Spring coursework.

            As a first year I have to do two rotations in BE (I already did one in Neuroscience with Virginia Lee), so we'll see where I rotate and what lab I join.

            When you apply here let them know about your strong and specific interests here. Just be sure not to tell them you want to take that and go do neurosurgery :)
             
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