Heidi Koschwanez

Current Position: Graduate student at Duke University
Heidi Koschwanez
Highlight Choose a career that lets you use your strengths – something that will make you happy!
August 28, 2007Her job: Graduate student, Duke University
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I’m starting my fifth year of graduate school in biomedical engineering (BME) at Duke University in North Carolina.  Graduate school is additional schooling you can do after you finish your college degree.  Graduate school is great – you can spend all your time studying a particular problem you are interested in solving!  When I first started graduate school, I spent my time learning about how the body reacts to medical devices implanted under the skin.  Now, I use the knowledge I learned from my classes and design experiments to solve a real-life medical problem – how to prevent the body from rejecting glucose sensors so they can last in the body longer than a few days. Glucose sensors are little machines that figure out how much sugar (also called glucose) is in your blood.  People with diabetes need to check what their blood sugar is often (3-4 times a day) so they don’t get sick.  These little sensors help make checking their blood sugar easy.  Every day is different, which makes being a graduate student so fun.  Some days I read about different experiments, other days I design and perform my own experiments based on the information I read.  I collect the data from the experiments and spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the results mean.   For the work I do, I use chemistry, biology, math and lots of imagination!!
Why did you choose engineering? Honestly, I did not know what engineering was when I applied for the engineering program in my college applications!!!   When I got accepted into the Biological Engineering program at the University of Guelph, I thought I would try it out to see what engineering is and if I would like it.  After my first semester, I knew engineering was exactly what I was looking for because being an engineering lets you find interesting ways to solve problems!!  I always loved, and still love, understanding how and why things work.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? I went to the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada and received my bachelors (college) degree in biological engineering.  Then, I moved to the United States for graduate school at Duke University in biomedical engineering.  I am currently working on my PhD.
What do you like best about being an engineer? What I enjoy most about being an engineer is that I get to use my imagination to solve real-life problems.  There are so many different ways a problem can be solved, and as an engineer, I get to try out lots of different solutions to find the best one!!
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? The biggest challenge for me was paying for school.  My family couldn’t help me pay for college, so I had to work and go to school at the same time.  Luckily,  the university I attended had a great program that let students work for companies for part of the school year, so they could get work experience and figure out what kinds of engineering jobs they would like when they finished college.   I participated in this program and was able to make enough money for me to pay off all my student loans before I graduated from college!!
Please tell us a little about your family. My family is wonderful because they always encouraged me to stay in school and follow my dreams.  My mother lives in Canada and drives a school bus.  My sister lives in Germany and works in a bank.  My dad died a few years ago.  He used to be a pastry chef.    I am the first person in my family to go to college.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? My short term goal is to finish my PhD in biomedical engineering.  My long term goal is to find a job that will make me happy and let me have enough time to raise a family. 
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? My mom always told me “Anything boys can do, girls can do better!!!”  Don’t become an engineer because someone else wants you to be one!!  Choose a career that lets you use your strengths – something that will make you happy!   Also, don’t pretend to be stupid to impress someone.  Be proud of your brains and don’t be afraid to use them!!  No one is worth pretending to be something that you are not.  Love yourself.  
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. Oh, I have lots of hobbies!!!  I am a long-distance runner and will be running a marathon this November in New York City.  I am also a belly dancer and a math tutor.  I love to paint and draw.  I can play piano and love music.   I also enjoy camping, hiking and canoeing!!    I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan, too (I thought the ending was great!)