Marjolein van der Meulen

Marjolein van der Meulen

Title
Swanson Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Organization
Cornell University
Location
Ithaca, NY, United States
Marjolein van der Meulen
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Answers by Marjolein van der Meulen

Basma:

First of all, I am very happy to hear that you are interested in biomedical engineering! It's a great field, but then I may be a little biased since it's what I do.

Second, to address your question about whether biomedical engineering is very male dominated. Women are underrepresented in engineering fields in general, as you mention. This is a fact, not a stereotype: In the US in 2011, women received 18% of bachelor’s degrees, 23% of master’s degrees, and 22% of doctoral degrees (based on data published by the American Society of Engineering Education). I realize you are in London and the European numbers may be somewhat different, but probably not too substantially. However, as you can imagine, the distribution across different engineering specialties varies considerably. The highest percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to women is in Environmental Engineering, with Biomedical Engineering coming in second. The percentage of women in biomedical engineering is around 40%, more than twice the overall engineering average. My own field, mechanical engineering, is around 12% female, which puts us below the overall average and close to the bottom. However, in biomechanics we definitely have a greater female representation than mechanical engineering as a whole.

In summary, I think you'll find biomedical engineering to have a healthy number of women students and lots of interesting opportunities. I encourage you to pursue the major.

M.

Faith: First of all, I'm really happy that biomedical engineering interests you, since it's what I do and I love it! One of the interesting aspects of biomedical engineering is that nearly every traditional engineering discipline can be applied to human medical problems. As a result, all aspects of engineering can be found in some form in the biomedical arena. What this means for your specific question is that CAD, electronics, manufacturing and polymers all have biomedical applications and analogues. In practice, most biomedical engineers will end up specializing in only one of these areas, or even a totally different one not offered in your high school. Your high school program is likely trying to expose you to a range of engineering experiences so that you'll get a taste of the possibilities of a career in engineering, while at the same time making the material appropriate for a high school junior curriculum. The program does not sound specific to biomedical engineering so the examples and assignments will likely be based on more traditional material, although that will depend on the teacher and text and other factors that I can't judge from your message. It's really a luxury to have engineering coursework at the high school level, so you are very fortunate to have this option and should be careful dismissing it. That being said, if you really think the program will turn you off from engineering and you can get the important math and science subject matter in other ways, maybe you should not participate. I really don't have enough information to make a more specific recommendation, so I've tried to highlight the key points for you to consider.

Working in biomedical engineering, the decision to continue ones studies in graduate school or apply to medical school frequently arises. From your question, it is not clear to me whether you are considering majoring in engineering or already an undergraduate engineer. The good news is that both options are open to you as an undergraduate engineer. Generally, having research experience as an undergraduate helps with the decision process as may summer experiences in industry. In addition, the area one pursues in graduate school will affect whether you're primarily studying basic mechanisms or if your work is rapidly translated to the clinic. Both types of research exist. It sounds like translational research will be of more interest to you, and you will need to figure out which particular area you want to pursue. That being said, if your goal is primarily to have direct, daily interactions with patients, then medical school is likely your best route. Few engineers interact with patients on a daily basis, although there are some exceptions. Again, this decision does not need to be made before starting college as long as your coursework fulfills the premedical requirements, which many undergraduate curricula do. You have time to consider your options based on the experiences and information you accumulate as an undergraduate.