Graduate FAQ

What is the application deadline for the Ph.D. program?

Applications to the department close on December 15th, at 11:59 PM.

How does the admissions process work?

Applications are reviewed after the submission deadline. Top applicants are then selected and invited to visit the department to interview with the faculty and meet current graduate students. Our visit weekend is in early March.

Our visit weekend is structured to allow applicants to hear about the BE program & faculty research areas, meet our current students, and see their work. Additionally, prospective students will get the opportunity to present some of their own undergraduate research and participate in faculty interviews as well as get a feel of the BE and MIT community.

What are the minimum requirements?

Minimum requirements to qualify for the visitation weekend vary every year with the applicant pool. The BE department is interested in applicants who have excelled in their previous research and academic endeavors, and who bring a diversity of thought and experience to our student body.

A strong applicant has a demonstrated interest and excitement for research, an academic grounding in the quantitative and life sciences, and enthusiastic support from previous mentors. Applicants should be able to identify faculty within BE whose research aligns with their scientific interests.

We do not require that students have had a certain undergraduate major to apply to BE. We encourage students with a science, math, or engineering background to apply. We recommend that students include both biochemistry and cell biology in their undergraduate curriculums, or demonstrate familiarity with these disciplines through their previous research experiences.

Who should write my reference letters?

The admissions committee is looking for students with demonstrated excitement for and experience in research, a strong background in the quantitative and life sciences, and a diversity of thought and experience. Letter writers should be able to speak to those traits, with strong emphasis on research experience. Reference letters may also include complementary material to your application (e.g. lack of life science coursework on the transcript can be complemented by a strong reference letter describing your research experience in a life sciences lab). Writers that know you well and can speak to your potential for success in our program will provide particularly strong references.

What is the typical length of a Ph.D. in the MIT BE department?

The average length of a BE Ph.D is 5.5 years.

Can I choose to be advised by a faculty member outside of the BE department?

Students may choose to be co-advised by faculty outside of the department, but all BE students must also be co-advised by a BE faculty member.

Should I reach out to advisors before applying? How does advisor selection work?

The choice of research advisor is made at the end of the first semester of study. The department gives graduate students time to find an advisor that best matches the student’s research interests. Included in this process are research presentations by each faculty member as well as informal rotations, if desired.

Contacting faculty or potential advisors before applying does not give an advantage to your application. However, if you have specific questions for particular faculty members, you can contact them.

What about funding?

All MIT Biological Engineering Ph.D. students are fully funded for tuition, health insurance, and a stipend that covers living costs. Before advisor selection at the end of the first semester, students are placed on a departmental fellowship. After this period, the selected advisor generally handles funding. Students who receive external fellowships may have an augmented stipend.

The Graduate Student Council at MIT tracks average stipend levels across departments (Note: the stipend is paid in addition to tuition and health insurance).

How livable is the stipend in the Cambridge/Boston area?

Most students find the stipend to be sufficient for their expenses. The Department assesses the stipend annually to address inflation and the cost of living in the area.

The stipend is only intended to support one person, but there are students who support spouses and/or families on the stipend. The greater Boston area has a high cost of living. The Graduate Student Council at MIT surveyed students and composed a cost of living analysis, but individual expenses vary. For instance, students with loans would need to incorporate those costs into their budget.

What careers are possible with an MIT BE Ph.D.?

Graduates of the BE PhD program have gone on to a wide range of careers. Many of our alumni go on to academia or the biotech/pharmaceutical industry, however many also enter the fileds of consulting, venture capital, and government research.

How many courses will I take?

The program requires 6 subjects, though more may be taken at the suggestion of the student's advisor. See Ph.D. Course Requirements for more info.

What is BEAAP?

BEAAP is a department-supported, student-run application assistance program that pairs students applying to MIT BE with a graduate student mentor. BEAAP aims to assist underrepresented applicants who may need additional support during the application process. Mentors can answer questions about BE and MIT and provide feedback on application materials. If you are interested in participating in BEAAP, check out the Application Assistance Program page for the interest form and more details.

Who is eligible to participate in BEAAP?

BEAAP is intended to support applicants who may not have had the same opportunities and support in the graduate admission process as other students. This includes, but is not limited to

  • Students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM
  • Students with non-traditional academic backgrounds
  • Students from lesser-known academic institutions

Only students applying for BE's PhD program for the current admissions cycle are eligible to participate in BEAAP.

Who do I contact with questions about applying?

If you have specific questions about the application process, please contact the BE Academic Office at be-acad@mit.edu. If you have questions about BEAAP or receiving application assistance, please contact beaap@mit.edu.

The Department of Biological Engineering has a Communication Lab that provides resources and tips that can help create effective presentations and writing. They also have advice about writing a successful personal statement on their website.

How do I learn more about BE graduate students?

To learn more about our graduate students, visit the Graduate Life page or visit the BE Graduate Board website.

At the visit weekend, prospective students will have the opportunity to meet and ask questions of current graduate students.