EECS-Biology major to give foundation in two thriving areas

EECS-Biology major to give foundation in two thriving areas

The requirements for the new Course 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology) were recently unveiled on the newly-launched course website, ahead of the April 29 deadline for freshmen to declare their majors. The goal of the new joint major between the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Biology is to provide instruction in the field of computational and molecular biology while also fostering an understanding of both biology and computer science.

Though expertise in both biology and computer science is valuable in research and industry, there are very few people who can satisfy that criterion, according to Christopher A. Kaiser PhD ’88, head of the biology department. “A lot of MIT students are interested in getting trained, but the only way they could do that was to double major in biology and Course 6,” Kaiser said. “Very few people could actually pull that off.”

Course 6-7 was designed to be an equal partnership between the two constituent departments. The joint program between Course 6 and 7 calls for eight subjects (96 credits) from computer science and 7.5 subjects (90 credits) from biology. The requirements include eight of the 14 subjects needed to complete Course 6-3 and 7.5 of the 12 subjects required to complete Course 7.

In addition to having an almost equal number of requirements from each major, the joint program also gives students two advisers — one from each department. The equal partnership, according to Kaiser, allows both departments to develop the joint program more actively. “If you have a sort of bio-flavored version of Course 6-3, then faculty from Course 7 would not have as strong a motivation in teaching biology,” Kaiser said.

In an email to The Tech, W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, who served as EECS department head before becoming chancellor, said the dual advising system is also beneficial for students’ future careers because “students considering either employment or graduate school in either field will have access to someone experienced in that field.” Based on his or her academic focus, each student will get to choose a primary adviser who will have authority to sign registration forms.

The two departments are considering developing a fifth-year MEng program if there is enough student interest. “MEng would be great if students from this program want to directly join the workforce,” said Kaiser. But for students interested in pursuing research or more intense graduate study, Kaiser said the MEng would be unwise, as it would delay their entry into a PhD program.

There already exists a graduate program similar to Course 6-7 called Computational and Systems Biology (CSB). Kaiser said there might be a possibility of linking the 6-7 joint degree with CSB, although a mentorship program would probably be established first. “We are going to have to let the program grow and see what happens,” Kaiser added.

Freshmen can choose Course 6-7 from the major form when they declare their majors at the end of the month. Upperclassmen can also change their majors to Course 6-7. In either case, students who decide to major in Course 6-7 cannot pursue a double degree with EECS (6-2), computer science (6-3), mathematics with computer science (18C), biology (7 or 7A), or biological engineering (20). They also may not minor in biology or biomedical engineering, although they may switch to a double major in EECS and biology. According to Kaiser, Courses 6-2, 6-3, 18C, 7, 7A, and 20 have significant overlaps with Course 6-7, which is not allowed by the “fundamental MIT spirit.”

The Course 6-7 checklist and sample road map are available online at