Kay C Dee

Kay C Dee

Professor - Biomedical Engineer
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Terre Haute, IN, United States
Kay C Dee
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Answers by Dr Kay C Dee

Hi, Eman,
Sometimes people who don’t get a job that they wanted will blame something external – say, their major – instead of taking a hard look at their resume and interview skills.  And sometimes people who don’t understand what a biomedical engineer actually studies and learns to do will believe that some other major is ‘better’ (and sometimes these people make hiring decisions for companies).  And on top of all that, biomedical engineering programs can vary from school to school, more than some other engineering majors tend to.  So someone might look at a curriculum at one school and then mistakenly make assumptions about biomedical engineers in general.
It’s pretty much always a mistake to make assumptions about groups of people, however you group them!  Because we’re all individuals.  Even if two people take the same classes, those two people can come out of the classes with very different sets of skills and experiences.  And an important part of interviewing well is helping the interviewer understand what your skills and experiences are, and how they match the needs of the job.  
So I disagree with the statement that ‘mechanical engineers have better technical skills.’  I think mechanical engineering graduates are usually taught a different set of technical skills.  And I think how well those skills are learned and applied varies from individual to individual.
Every year I have a conversation with one or two first-year students who are trying to choose between mechanical and biomedical engineering.  Often, they’ve been told that it will be easier to get a job with a mechanical engineering degree.  In these conversations, I always say two things.  First, I point out that all of last year’s biomedical engineering seniors got jobs, and that the folks with great academic records and career-building experiences and interview skills had an easier time getting jobs that the folks who didn’t.  Second, I point out that mechanical and biomedical engineering degrees give you credentials to work on different kinds of projects.  I tell the students that if they would be happy with a career making refrigerators, or ball bearings, or jet engines, then mechanical engineering might be a good choice for them.  If they really want to work on medical products and that’s important to them, then biomedical engineering might be a good choice: they will study things they care a lot about, and be ready to work in a field that’s important to them.
Thank you for asking this important question!


Hi, Leila,
First of all, please know that although the grades on your transcript are important, they are not the only things that college admissions offices look at. Your activities, interests, hobbies, and life experiences are all also important.  So I would encourage you to not worry too much about the B's on your transcript - and don't let schools psych you out and imply that they only want students with 4.0 GPAs!!!  

Second, I'd encourage you to map out the Northern California schools that are in your desired geographic range, and then go visit them.  There's no better way to get a feel for the learning and living environment of a school.  You'll be able to see how far you'd need to walk to get from place to place, interact with other students informally, and more, to see whether the school feels like the right place for you. 

Finally, yes, you can pursue a career in biomedical engineering that's not too physically-demanding.  If you are primarily running computational models, for example, you'd be spending most of your time at a computer.  If you are primarily running tests or experiments you might spend most of your time sitting or standing at a laboratory bench.  This is true for other engineering fields as well, but your life experiences make you a great candidate for biomedical engineering, focusing on improving health and quality of life.

Good luck!!  Again, don't let the 4.0 GPA thing psych you out. Grades are important, but they're not the whole ball game, and many of the best (smartest, most interesting, most creative, most productive) students I've taught in my career did not have 4.0 GPAs in high school or college.  

Hi, Emilee,
I really like being an engineer.  I like to solve problems, I like to learn new things every day, I like to understand how things work, I like to make things - and, since I teach engineering, I get to help other people learn to do all of those cool kinds of things!  What could be a better career??  I can't think of one.
I have to admit that I have not personally discovered any medicine to cure a disease.  But - medicines aren't generally discovered by one person working alone - they are developed by people (engineers, scientists, and doctors) who all work together to come up with and test ideas.  I have personally done some research that helped other engineers, scientists, and doctors get a better understanding of how cells interact with biomaterials, mechanical forces, and different kinds of biochemicals... so I like to think that I have contributed to the knowledge of the people who read my research reports, and that when they come up with great ideas for medicines, I contributed in a very small way to their good work!!
Thanks for asking!

Hello!  It's great that you are thinking ahead about college!  I'm glad to pass along some advice for you.
    It is a practical idea to combine your interests in sports medicine and biomedical engineering.  Biomedical engineers can certainly specialize in applying their skills to sports medicine - analyzing an athlete's motions to help them perform better, designing sports and training equipment, etc.  As a matter of fact, you will probably learn how to do fundamental motion analysis as an undergraduate student in a biomechanics laboratory, and you could probably work on sports equipment or rehabilitation aids as a design project in an undergraduate biomedical engineering program.
   Getting a B.S. degree in biomedical engineering is a great start toward your goal.  At that point, you could go and work for a company that develops and manufactures sports equipment or sports medicine equipment, or you could continue on for advanced education.  I would bet that by the time you are a college senior, you'll have a more refined idea of exactly what kind of career you'd like to have (what sports you'd like to specialize in; whether you want to help people generally achieve higher performance levels or instead help them with rehab after an injury; etc.), and that will guide you toward what kind of advanced learning to pursue.  It might be a Master's degree or a Ph.D. with a focus on biomechanics, or ergonomics, or kinesiology.  I've known students who earned Bachelor's degrees in biomedical engineering and then went on to study in these areas.
   For your planned career, sports medicine is a great start.  Advanced coursework in math is always helpful in setting the foundations for any engineering major.  The more biology you understand, the better.  And finally, engineering students who can write clearly and professionally have a real advantage (in college, when looking for jobs, and in their careers!) over students who have focused on math and science and neglected to work on their communication skills.  So I always encourage aspiring engineers to take classes that involve a lot of writing!
    Best of luck!  Thanks for asking.

Hello!  You asked a very good question.  ABET accreditation is an important sign that a program meets quality standards involving the breadth and depth of an engineering education, that the program has facilities, faculty, and support that allow them to provide strong learning experiences, and that graduates of the program have learned skills in appropriate areas and are building successful careers.  Graduating from an ABET-accredited program makes it easier for graduates to eventually become licensed as a Professional Engineer, which isn’t quite as important in bioengineering as it is in other areas of engineering (like civil engineering), but I think the main value of ABET accreditation is that going through the accreditation process forces the faculty and administration to look carefully at what they do for students, and why, and how it could be better.  ABET accreditation is really a sign of quality, and it’s common for bioengineering and biomedical engineering programs to be ABET-accredited, since the accreditation is such a widely recognized sign of quality.

The answer to your second question really depends on you, and what you would be happy doing for your career.  Simply put, if you major in another type of engineering and take a few biology classes, you won’t get anywhere near the educational experience you will get with a degree in biomedical engineering or bioengineering.  So if your heart is set on working in the medical device field or medical research, I’d encourage you to give yourself the best possible preparation for that field, and major in biomedical/bioengineering.  If, on the other hand, you’re interested in medical devices but you’d also be happy working on other kinds of things as well – for example, aircraft turbines, ball bearings, air conditioners – then you might decide to major in mechanical engineering (in this example) and take some biology/biomedical engineering classes on the side.  It really comes down to preparing for what you want to do.

Good luck!  I’d be happy to answer other questions.

Hi, Meghana, Great question! Most people would tell you that doing well in math and science is important - and this is true!! Taking some biology would be useful, too. I also like to advise people to take as many English/writing courses as they can. Engineers have to be able to communicate their ideas to other people, and the better you are able to communicate, the more effective of an engineer you will be! Good luck. Thanks for asking!!

Hi Carmen, Great question. Engineering degrees are much more versatile than people think. For example, I?????????ve certainly seen people with undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering go on to work for companies that make all kinds of medical products, but many graduates also go on to graduate school in all sorts of engineering fields or in biology, go on to medical school, or go on to law school. I?????????ve also known people who graduated with undergraduate biomedical engineering degrees who then worked for consulting firms ????????? firms that basically ?????????lend????????? companies (not necessarily medical companies - banks, airlines, companies that make food products, etc.) teams of people who work on solving whatever problems those companies have. Working for a consulting firm can be exciting, because you get to work on many different kinds of problems, in diverse teams, and sometimes you get to travel around the world. I?????????ve known people with undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering who have been hired by companies that make non-medical products ????????? snack foods, coffee, copy machines, etc. These companies (and the consulting firms) hired our biomedical engineering graduates because they had excellent communication skills, great teamwork skills, and were really good at thinking creatively and using logic to solve technical problems. You get to learn and practice all of those skills while completing an engineering degree. Thanks, KCD

Dear Tara, This is a very good question. The terms bioengineer and biomedical engineer are often used interchangeably. But sometimes biomedical engineer is used to imply someone who focuses on human health, while bioengineer is used more broadly to include someone who brings engineering expertise to issues involving animal health and/or plants and agriculture. So, if you are looking at engineering school programs, it is important to look at the educational objectives/outcomes of the programs and at the classes required by the curricula to be able to tell whether the program is using the term bioengineer narrowly or broadly. Good luck! Thanks for your question. Kay C Dee

Hello, Aida, One of the challenges in seeking training in biomedical engineering (especially advanced training) is that the phrase biomedical engineering is very broad, and so consists of different topics and specialties at different universities. The best thing for you to do is choose a couple of areas of biomedical engineering youd like to work in (robotics? medical device design? bioimaging?) and then seek out a program with faculty who specialize in that area. So, instead of choosing a place of study based on an overall program, you would be choosing a place of study based on the match between the courses and faculty in a program and your interests. That match, especially at the advanced level, is more important than the overall name or reputation of the institution. That being said, I can give you a couple of places to start looking, based on my personal experiences. Imperial College in London has a very good department of bioengineering, and excellent research/training opportunities. One of my past students spent time at Imperial and had a very good experience. In Canada, Ive seen some very good research and researchers come out of the University of Toronto, and I believe bioengineering is a growing field in Canada. Here is a useful collection of links with which to explore opportunities in Canada: http://engsoc.queensu.ca/qube/html/downloads/biomed-ed. pdf It will take some time (and Web searching) to find a school with faculty expertise that matches your areas of interest, but it will be worth it! Good luck. Kay C Dee