Connecting Discourse Members Through Evaluating Bmes

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Posted on 12 Apr 2013 23:56

Connecting Discourse Members through Evaluating BMES

by Liudi Yang


College acts as a transition from textbook material to the occupational world. Clubs are key tools used to immerse their student into different professional fields. Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) is one of those clubs, which has a local branch at the City College of New York. Through hands on demonstrations and tours of medical device companies, the club helps the students learn about the field of biomedical engineering.

A group such as the BMES club is also known as a discourse community due to the forms of intercommunication and similar goal. This research project was designed to evaluate the club as a discourse community. Many forms of communication were analyzed, including: emails, newsletters, Facebook page, Twitter page, and the club website. Interviews were also conducted to see how the group members felt about the goal of this club verses their own and how they viewed themselves and others as members of the club. I wanted to see if there was a strong tight-knit community, unified by their goal to become prepared experts in the field before going into the workforce. The findings showed a lack of communication between members because of the competitive nature of the field and graduation rate of the school. It also revealed that the educational scene reflected the workplace scene. I recommend that the club strengthen the student body through group exercises, within the club, so that members can benefit off of one another and be prepared for group work in the occupational field.


A discourse community is a group with members who are connected by a common goal. Their unity can be seen in the methods by which they communicate. That link between the members has been strengthened in today’s various forms of electronic communication, which are relatively new genres. John Swales (2011) gives six criteria that must be fulfilled for a group to be a discourse community.

The study of discourse communities looks beyond the surface of the group and inspects the interconnectivity of the community. Just as in chemistry, a compound is defined by the molecules that its made up of and the bonds that are formed between each molecule, the only way of truly understanding a discourse community is by, not only knowing the members, but knowing how they interact with each other through different mediums of communication. That “bond” is very important because it gives the group characteristics that can only be deduced from researching and inspecting those connections.

Tony Mirabelli (2004) writes an article about the discourse community of food service workers. He uses a tactic that resulted in insightful findings. He did not focus much on how food service workers communicated with each other but rather on how food service workers communicated with the actual customers using the menu. This method revealed a lot about the discourse community and why they do some of the things that are unique to the group. Even if this method seems unconventional, it was very insightful information for the audience regarding a discourse community that is often overlooked.

This project explores one of those educational discourse communities, the City College chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society. Biomedical Engineering Society (2013) is a large community dedicated to “build and support the biomedical engineering community, locally, nationally and internationally, with activities designed to communicate recent advances, discoveries, and inventions; promote education and professional development; and integrate the perspectives of the academic, medical, governmental, and business sectors.” They have many local groups dedicated to smaller communities with that same goal. City College has its very own BMES, a club whose goal is to “aid in the scientific and professional development of the student body.” On the club level, BMES organizes lectures and events that inform the students about the field of BME and what these engineers do and create.

It is indeed a discourse due to several reasons. They have a defined goal and club meetings are dedicated to accomplishing that goal. Mechanisms of intercommunication are provided for the members and they are offered ways of giving feedback and providing information to peers with different genres. Lastly, there is a wide array of lexicon shared by the BMES group and the BME discipline.

Purpose and Goal of Project

Even though plenty of research has been done about different discourse communities as isolated groups, very few have linked discourse communities in an educational setting to a real world example of the same discourse community. This type of research is what this project will take on. It will reveal not only about this specific discourse community, but about discourse communities in an educational environment.

Because the biomedical engineering is such a large discipline and discourse community, hopefully analyzing a smaller, educational branch will help reveal a lot about the larger discourse community. The method of investigating smaller branches of a complex structure is a technique used all throughout the research group. Using this method, the audience will be able to learn about the actual biomedical engineering field.


Multiple communication methods are used to update students on upcoming events and club meetings. Regular emails are sent with no regular set time intervals in addition to a weekly newsletter sent by email. The club also has its own site within the CCNY website in addition to a Facebook page. The new weekly newsletter is very useful in connecting the members to each other and to the BME world. It gives the dates and topics of club meetings that are coming up and internships and opportunities the club members can utilize. The newsletter is very organized and special important information is usually listed at the bottom of the newsletter (BMES E-Board, personal communication, March 6, 2013). It can be considered a genre. The format for each newsletter is the same so members know exactly where to look for information they are searching for. Emails have the same task; they are just more time specific, focusing on important things that are a day or two ahead. The website and Facebook page are used to recruit and entice new people to join the club.

The methodology of this project will require several steps. I will analyze the components of intercommunication between members. It will be important to see how involved group members are and how they contribute to the goal of the club. It is also important to see the interactions between the club leaders, who are peers of the members, and the members themselves. This step follows Mirabelli’s methodology; the interactions between the leaders and students will show a lot about the workings of the group. The newsletter and the Facebook group will show how the members communicate with each other and if it is enough to keep the group tight-knit. Interviews will be conducted with both newer members of the discourse community and older members. The questions that will be asked including: how long have you been a part of this club? What is your goal being in this club? How will/did the club help you achieve that goal? How connected do you feel with other members of the club? Why is that? How comfortable do you feel around other BME students?

Data Analysis

From the analysis of electronic communication, one obvious observation is the lack of communication between members. Emails and newsletters are directed towards each student and, aside from the leaders, members do not email the collective group. There has been only one post on the Facebook page from a student, during the Fall 2009 semester, with the question: “Hey, has anyone taken a course with Prof. Wang? I'm going to take cell and tissue engineering next semester and I'm wondering if she's hard (that is, should I start studying before classes start)? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks :D.” Sadly, no one ever replied to it. BMES also has a twitter page, which has a history of only two tweets, both from 2009. Even though it was not deactivated, it is clear that it is not longer in use. The website also reflects this sad finding; it is not updated with recent information ( Events are still from the year 2012.

Electronic interviews with the members of this club may give reasoning to the above findings. Both upperclassmen and freshmen, a total of 8 students, were interviewed to give a general view of the population of BMES members. When asked, “what is your goal being in this club?” everyone agreed they wanted to learn more about BME. A few mentioned that it is a good place to network. When these students were asked, “how connected do you feel with other members of this club?” few said they were comfortable, and those who were comfortable said it was due to being classmates with many club members. The discrepancy between the want to network and the lack of closeness between members shows that the club is not somewhere where a lot of socializing happens.

One important research topic is the relationship and distinguishing factors between new and old members. The lexicon used and the confidence in which they’re used can be one of those factors. In the BME world, there are lexicons, but there are also skill sets that distinguish newly integrated BMEs and old members. In the 3-D printing workshop, there seemed to be a lack to freshmen. Majority of the participants were upperclassmen. When I asked a few freshmen why they did not attend, they responded saying that they did not feel comfortable working with such high-tech instruments. Old members seemed to be more comfortable with technology and learning about them. Other lexicons that can be seen used are microfluidics, nanotechnology, biomaterials, signal processing, and thermodynamics. Often, the depth of knowledge one has about the lexicon assesses the level of membership of a member.

Discussion and Recommendation

Based on the research, it seems to be that communication is not common between club members even though they are provided so many ways to connect with each other. It seems to be due to the sad fact that the goal they are trying to achieve is limited, unlike goals of other discourse communities. Only some will graduate and excel in the world of BME, which is also cutthroat and competitive. If one is to achieve this goal, collaboration does not seem to be a viable option.

The larger question of this research project was, “what is the connection between college level clubs and real world occupations?” Colleges aim to expose their students to the world through these clubs, which are based on a major or an occupational field. A hierarchy can be seen in both. The board members are peers but they exercise a somewhat more responsible role in the club and have both more responsibility and obligation to the members. A club like BMES is always integrating real world technology so that students can learn outside of textbook pictures. Needless-to-say, the competition between members can be seen in both worlds. However, biomedical engineers in the real world have to know how to collaborate with other in order to produce effective creations or groundbreaking research. It seems like the group has a common goal but a person must protect their road to that goal because sharing a road may lead to his/her own demise. This viewpoint should be changed because it is false and misleading for students who should be connecting with their own kind.

A recommendation for the BMES club would be to strengthen the student body; team-building exercises can help with this. Sometimes, more viewpoints are necessary for a group to be productive. One person cannot be so well rounded that he or she can complete a task all by him/herself. Group work will make students realize the wealth of resources that can come from their peers. Maybe then, the graduating BME class won’t be the usual 20 or 30 students. If students learned to help each other through the resources given by the BMES club, not only will they reap long-term benefits, they will also learn the importance of collaboration and group effort.

Work's Cited List

BMES (2013). Vision mission. Biomedical Engineering Society. Website. Accessed March 5, 2013.

Mirabelli, T. (2004). Learning to serve: the language and literacy of food service workers. In Jabari Mahiri (Ed.), What They Don't Learn in School: Literacy in the Lives of Urban Youth (pp. 143-162).

Swales, J. (2011). The concept of discourse community. In Wardle, E. (Ed.), Writing about writing: A college reader (466-479). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's.

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