Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thoughts on the Field

Bioengineering is definitely one of the newer fields, both at MIT and in the scientific community. Consequently, sometimes it feels like it’s still figuring itself out a little.

I feel grape!

One of my previous blog posts was about how bioengineering opens up infinite possibilities for those who want to create something new. That's great. But then it got me thinking: how do you teach a discipline where almost anything is possible and there are very few limitations?

20.109 does a pretty good job of that, I think. We are introduced to some very basic techniques that will probably prove useful in a whole host of future experiments (site-directed mutagenesis, PCR, Western blots, flow cytometry, etc.) and walked through the process of writing a lab report as well as formulating a research proposal. 

Ultimately, though, it seems that each individual experiment requires tailored procedures, sometimes even new ones designed just for that specific experiment. There is always something to learn upon beginning an experiment, and that design and creative process cannot be hard-taught. In addition, each experimental design also rests very much on the background knowledge of the designer. One piece of random knowledge could come in very useful and greatly simplify things. I remember previous professors complaining that their grad students forgot to account for acid-base effects in some experiment. It's events like this that make you wish your brain could be like Google.

But I suppose Google exists for a reason, and that's where lit reviews come in.

Bioengineering seems to me to be organized around a lot of case-studies of successful experiments. I'm not sure if there is any fleshed-out underlying organization of concepts or areas in the field. In physics, for example, there is electromagnetism, classical mechanics, thermodynamics, astrophysics, etc. In bioengineering, there is...E. coli?

Perhaps someday there will be a more laid out curriculum for bioengineering. Or perhaps that's contrary to the idea of exploring all the possibilities, and it's better to just embark on individual experiments.

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