Petition to the HST Ad-Hoc Committee
Statement of Purpose
HST is a unique program, offering the most rigorous science/engineering education at Harvard and MIT, the best medical training at Harvard Medical School, and research opportunities at hundreds of the best biomedical laboratories in the world. This combination of depth and breadth sets HST apart from all other biomedical engineering and medical science programs in the nation.
The HST Ad-Hoc Committee has been charged with examining various structural options to ensure that the HST effort at MIT is better aligned and organizationally more congruent with the other academic units at MIT. The Committee has solicited suggestions and considerations from the HST community. In an effort to unify our voices, we have created this petition to describe the essential features of HST that we believe must be maintained despite any organizational changes the Committee deems necessary.
Essential Attributes of HST
§ An intense focus on translational (“bench-to-bedside”) biomedical innovation
● Our excellence in this pursuit is reflected in the many commercialized medical inventions (e.g. the pulse oximeter), the numerous awards (e.g. all four most recent Lemelson-MIT first place prizes and the three most recent Collegiate Inventors Competition first place prizes), the diversity and success of our start-up companies, and our outstanding publication record in the highest impact journals.
● The focus on translational medicine is the glue that binds our incredibly diverse applicant pool. Our applicants come from many backgrounds but all share a passion for innovation in medicine. Their graduate applications (and the high fraction of external fellowships) would likely go elsewhere should our focus change or be diminished.
§ Rigorous and diverse engineering education in departments throughout Harvard and MIT
● HST is a nexus of engineering disciplines that fosters cross-fertilization of ideas that lead to real world changes in medicine.
● Our graduates are well trained in their core engineering or science discipline and many of them go on to become faculty in their corresponding departments. HST does not train “bioengineers,” but rather electrical, chemical, mechanical, etc. engineers who focus on medical research.
§ Full immersion in medical education and clinical exposure
● Through medical coursework at HMS, we acquire a deep understanding of human physiology, a familiarity with important medical concepts, and we learn the clinical terminology that allows us to collaborate and communicate with physicians as peers.
● The experience of learning to practice medicine in our Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM) courses brings contextual understanding and has lasting effects on research interests. Additionally during ICM, we gain important insight into the U.S. health care system from the perspective of a care provider.
● Cross-pollination between medical students, engineering students, and business students during the medical training exposes students to a diverse set of perspectives on a common set of problems, and initiates the teamwork required to develop and bring their solutions to fruition.
§ Broad connections to the biomedical research community of greater Boston
● Students are encouraged to explore the hundreds of extramural laboratories (most of them with hospital affiliations) where they may conduct their primary thesis research.
● Our engineering students bring a new set of skills and vision to a medical research laboratory, helping to develop synergistic relationships and enable innovation.
● The lack of departmental boundaries encourages interdisciplinary research that does not occur anywhere else in the nation.
Suggestions to the Committee
Based on the above considerations, we, the students and alumni of HST, respectfully put forth the following recommendations to the Committee:
§ Maintain a rigorous multi-institutional engineering program that perpetuates the strong connection with the medical establishment and the flexibility to train students from diverse backgrounds
● In this way, HST will continue to spearhead the “bench-to-bedside” innovation that is so often celebrated by both MIT and Harvard.
§ Provide students with sufficient financial support to explore the expansive research opportunities at the affiliated hospitals
● Recent reduction in financial support (from 3 to 2 semesters), on top of a new constraint that it must be spent within the first 2 semesters, seriously impairs students’ ability to find and join the best fitting labs.
§ Reinstate the option to take the entire preclinical curriculum
● Students have recently been restricted access to first year courses and only second year courses directly related to their research. This limits their exposure to material important for career development.
§ Provide a leadership that advocates for HST, engages with the students, and inspires our careers
● Coordinating the efforts of MIT, Harvard, and HMS required to make HST fully operational is an extraordinarily demanding job, and requires dedicated advocates that truly believe in HST.
Finally, we thank the Committee for their openness and dedication to maintaining MIT as the most innovative university in the world.
Sincerely, (please include your current title/position in the Comments box)