“A given college may be a heterogeneous archipelago. But most of its students spend the bulk of their time on one of many homogeneous islands” – Frank Bruni
Source: The New York Times (December 12, 2015)
Check out this interesting piece by Frank Bruni from 2015. Bruni suggests that many colleges and universities don’t do enough to ensure students have meaningful interactions with people from different backgrounds. Without nudges to stimulate these interactions, “students will default to sameness” says Ronald Shaiko, a senior fellow at Dartmouth College’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center.
The research is clear: students learn the most when they interact with each other and their instructors. At least, students who are interacting with each other have the potential to learn more. But this potential is only realized if students have the so-called “soft skills” needed to interact constructively with each other. “Soft skills” is a pejorative term that suggests these skills are not important and are easy to acquire, neither of which is true. It’s best to refer to them as interpersonal competencies, since these two words tell us that we’re talking about the knowledge, abilities and skills required for two or more people to communicate and work together effectively. Regardless of what we call them, it is critical that students come to understand that interpersonal competencies can be developed through deliberate practice, and are critical to their success as engineers.
I just listened to this fascinating NPR Story that tells how different cultures, broadly speaking, conceptualize the act of struggling differently. These different conceptualizations can have profound impacts on how we behave when faced with challenges, which can in turn affect our ability to learn.
Psychologist Jim Stigler, when he was a graduate student, was sitting in on a 4th grade math class in Japan when he saw something that profoundly affected the course of his research. He discovered that there are big differences between how the East and West conceptualize the struggle to learn.
This is just a generalization, since one can always find counterexamples in any given culture, but the gist of the difference is that Westerners believe that success in school is due to innate intelligence, or talent, whereas Easterners believe success is tied to how willing one is to work and struggle to achieve.
In other words, Westerners are more likely to adopt a fixed mindset, whereas Easterners are more likely to adopt a growth mindset and espouse the virtues of grit and deliberate practice, topics I’ve written about before.
This is truly a fascinating story – please listen to it and let me know what you think by commenting on this post.
I decided to use this April Fool’s day to debunk two misconceptions about BME that seem to persist year after year.
Myth 1: BMEs don’t get jobs
This myth is refuted by Georgia Tech’s exit survey, which graduating seniors take every year. The survey provides two important pieces of information: 1) offer rates and 2) placement rates. The offer rate is the percentage of graduates who have at least one job offer when they graduate. The placement rate is the percentage of graduates who have accepted a job offer.
Here are the data for GT engineers according to the Spring 2015 exit survey:
|School||Offer Rate||Placement Rate|
|Other engineering majors||83%||68%|
The offer rate for BMEs is 79%, which is higher than 3 schools of engineering and lower than 5. So, BMEs are pretty much in the middle of the pack of this very elite group of engineering schools.
But hold on, you say, BME’s placement rate looks awfully low compared to other engineering majors. Sure, it looks that way. But remember, a lot more BMEs than other majors attend graduate or professional school (i.e., medical school) after they graduate. A fairer comparison would be to redefine the placement rate to include the percentage of students who have a job offer in industry OR who are attending graduate/professional school immediately after graduation.
Last spring, 28% of our graduates reported having been accepted to graduate/professional school, with the intent to attend in the fall. In stark contrast, only 15% of graduates from other engineering majors plan to attend graduate/professional school immediately after graduation.
So, a revised table, with a redefined placement rate (indicated by an asterisk) looks like this:
|School||Offer Rate||Placement Rate*|
Finally, it’s worth noting that 87% of our graduating seniors say that if they could choose a college all over again, they would still choose Georgia Tech, and 86% of our alumni who have been in the work force for 3-5 years report they are satisfied with their career choice.
By the way, check out stories of our alumni here, at BME Stories
Myth 2: BMEs don’t get “real” engineering skills
Once again, good old-fashioned data refutes this persistent myth. Who better to ask about whether or not BME provides useful skills than our alumni who have been in the workforce for a while? Every three years we do just that. The last time we surveyed our alumni was in March 2014. We sent that survey to 396 alumni who had graduated between 2008 and 2010. So, they had been in the work force for 4-6 years when we surveyed them. What did we learn?
93% of our alumni said that BME prepared them well for meeting our 3 main program objectives, which are to produce graduates who are expected to demonstrate the following during their first few years after graduation:
1. mathematics, science, and engineering fundamentals expertise at the interface of engineering and the life sciences which enables them to take leadership roles in the field of biomedical engineering,
2. an ability to use their multidisciplinary background to foster communication across professional and disciplinary boundaries with the highest professional and ethical standards,
3. an ability to recognize the limits of their knowledge and initiate self-directed learning opportunities to be able to continue to identify and create professional opportunities for themselves in the field of biomedical engineering.
Now, let’s drill down a little bit deeper:
What percentage of our alumni said BME prepared them well in their professional skills and skills as problem-solvers and designers (Table 1), and in specific technical skills (Table 2)?
Table 1. Preparation for real-world work:
|Identify, formulate, and solve problems||98|
|Analyze and interpret data||95|
|Design a system, component or process to meet desired needs||93|
|Make prototypes that addresses the needs of a client||88|
|Function in multidisciplinary teams||98|
|Interact with colleagues and customers||96|
Table 2. Preparation in traditional technical skills:
|Structure and properties of materials||83|
|Momentum, heat and mass transfer||81|
|Biomedical sensors and instrumentation||80|
|Analysis, modeling, control of linear systems||82|
Taken together, these data show that a very high percentage of our alumni who have been in the work force for several years feel that BME prepared them well for their professional work.
And this blog post is most definitely NOT an April Fool’s Day joke!!
As a BME student, you probably know by now that the department believes it is essential for students to learn how to create, and be an effective member of, high functioning teams. This is because high functioning teams produce better solutions and more innovative designs than less effective teams or individuals. But what are the characteristics of great teams and great teammates?
This is a complex and evolving topic, but recent research shows that the best teams are diverse (e.g., NPR and Harvard Business Review). That is, members of the team have a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, skills, and ways of thinking. Equally important, each member of the team listens to and respects the contributions of each person, which enables them to realize the full benefits of their diverse ways of thinking.
Interestingly, Google launched a research initiative called Project Aristotle in 2012 to study hundreds of Google’s teams to figure out why some stumbled while others soared. The researchers noticed that good teams exhibited two kinds of behaviors.
First, they allowed each member of the team to have equal amounts of time to talk and share their thoughts and ideas. This is something social scientists call equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.
Quoting from a NY Times piece that describes this study:
On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. If only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.
Second, good teams excelled at reading how others were feeling and reacting to things, based on nonverbal cues. Researchers would say the team members had high “social sensitivity”. Again, quoting the NY Times piece, good teams:
seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.
Are you interested in learning more about Project Aristotle? Read this fantastic piece in the NY Times: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team