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Women majors boost biology to #3 course

The study of biology became the third most popular undergraduate major this past fall with MIT sophomores, juniors and seniors. A net increase of 56 women and 27 men pushed enrollment up 29 percent to 372 majors, according to data from the Registrar's Office.

Among MIT women, biology outranked electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) for the first time. Women majors numbered 203 (55 percent) in biology and 182 (20 percent) in EECS in fall 1994, a dramatic shift from the previous fall when biology had 147 women majors and EECS had 177.

Women now comprise 50 percent or more of the majors in nine courses, including four in the School of Science and two in the School of Engineering. Women majors are predominant in the following: biology; civil and environmental engineering; chemistry; architecture; brain and cognitive sciences; nuclear engineering; earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences; linguistics and philosophy; and science, technology and society.

Only three courses had net increases of more than 10 students: biology (83, an increase of 29 percent), management (13, a jump of 14 percent) and chemical engineering (12, an increase of four percent).

The largest net losses of majors were in EECS (-45, a decline of five percent); physics (-40, a drop of 20 percent), Aeronautics and Astronautics (-31, a decline of 23 percent), and architecture (-20, a drop of 24 percent).

In total enrollment, EECS remained the most popular course at MIT with 925 majors-a drop of 45 from 970 EECS majors the previous year. The second most popular course was mechanical engineering, with 464 majors-341 men and 123 women.

Chemical engineering,with 49.8 percent women last fall, enrolled 158 men and 157 women. It was the first time since 1987 that men outnumbered women majors. Chemical engineering, which had been third in the number of majors in 1993 with 303, wound up fourth last fall.

Mathematics, which had been sixth in popularity in 1993 with 178 majors, jumped to fifth despite only 172 majors. Physics, which had been fifth with 200 majors, had a net loss of 40 majors (20 percent) and dropped to sixth in popularity.

Civil engineering and materials science and engineering were tied for seventh most popular course with 120 students, a drop for each of seven students.

Chemistry ranked ninth with 119 students, an increase of seven students.

In tenth place this year, falling from seventh the previous fall, was aero/astro with 106 students, 31 less than the previous year. In close competition for students was management, which increased its enrollment to 103 students.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 17, 1995.

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