Melissa Knothe Tate

Melissa Knothe Tate

University of New South Wales Australia
UNSW Sydney, Australia
Melissa Knothe Tate
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Answers by Professor Melissa Knothe Tate

Hello Farris,

Indeed, it sounds as though you have the makings of a biomedical engineer! Medical robotics is an important though small part of the field, so not being interested in building robots certainly does not disqualify you. In fact, you shared that the design and manufacture and implantation of pacemakers does excite you. Engineering in general and biomedical engineering in particular are so multifaceted! If you have a knack for maths and physics and an interest in the complex ecosystem of the human body, you are a perfect candidate. There are so many questions to answer and so many lives to improve that we need to rally as much talent as possible! I would encourage you to meet with potential mentors and their research teams to gain as much information as possible about the problems they are addressing as well as the team dynamics. Try to envision yourself in the team for two to four years (if you decide to stay on for a PhD). Once you find the problem and the group that fits you best, you will be on a great path! I am happy to chime in as well whenever you need advice or a listening ear!

Best wishes,


Dear Aleks,

What a great question! As with many professions, you will take a range of classes at different levels during your training, already starting in high school. Success in your career does not depend on any one class or theme, and some of the greatest thinkers have needed time to mentally digest concepts in a different way than others in order to make their greatest discoveries. So, please don't let lack of immediate success in one subject hold you back from pursuing your dreams. At the same time, get as much experience as possible in math and science and engineering, as well as in writing and speaking in English and other languages, since global communication is vitally important.

Another thing to consider is that you will continue to develop personally and professionally throughout your teens and twenties, and thirties - indeed, throughout your life! All of the subjects with which you come into contact along the way, whether school subjects or life experiences, will come to bear at one time or another. As they say, we learn more from our failures than our successes, so do your best and pursue your dreams! Keep taking the hardest classes you can, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, even if it means getting a lower grade. In this way, you maximise your potential for growth at any given stage in your life. 

Finally, try not to worry about not being 'good enough'. Usually those who worry most about this should worry least and vice versa. 

Biomedical engineering is a great field because it brings so many different subjects and human experiences together. It's incredibly interesting, fun and impactful!

Dear Morgan, You asked whether there are engineering jobs that involve taking care of animals. Indeed, some engineering jobs involve taking care of animals. For example, an old colleague of mine designs hip implants for dogs! You may not ever have considered that house pets get old and their joints get frail, just like humans. Some pet owners take their pets to the hospital to replace their joints, and engineers design, test, and develop manufacturing methods for those replacement joints. Also, any agricultural jobs involving livestock or farm animals could potentially involve engineering, including engineering of equipment but also genetic engineering to develop livestock breeds that are particularly resistant to disease and that produce superior meat, for instance. Also, some of the earliest biomechanics studies involved photographing horse movement to determine gait patterns during running and walking. Virtually any creative endeavor can potentially involve engineering! Thanks for your excellent question, MKT

Dear Angela,

It sounds like you "have the makings" to become a biomedical engineer! Actually, with an engineering background in any of the fundamental engineering areas like Mechanical, Electrical, and Chemical Engineering would also provide a foundation to make biomedical discoveries. What is important is that you learn to think critically like an engineer while also taking science and chemistry classes to understand the "world of cells and molecules" where disease processes start. You will be entering the field at an exciting time: research areas including the mechanics of the cytoskeleton (the cell's own skeleton), protein folding (yes, just like folding clothes but at a much smaller length scale), and electrical signaling between cells are changing our understanding of whole body/organ health and disease processes. By majoring in engineering as an undergraduate and then going to medical school (or graduate school to earn your Ph.D. in engineering), you will be poised to make new discoveries to prevent or to reverse disease processes! In planning for your future, I would suggest exploring research universities that have top programs in both engineering and medicine. Make sure you apply for scholarships not only at the universities but also through private foundations. You high school guidance counselor should be able to work with you to do searches on the internet as well as to contact universities directly to determine which ones have merit based aid. If your school counselor does not have much time to support you in this, I would recommend looking on the web for university research labs whose work interests you. Don't be afraid to write to professors directly to ask about their work. The best springboard for your career will be to participate in lab research as soon as you start at the university; professors who answer your emails will be more likely to mentor your in their research programs. So, keep up the great work in math and science and don't forget how important it is to excel in writing as well; a big part of research is conveying your results to others, either in written articles or at conference presentations. Good luck!