Chi-An Emhoff

Chi-An W. Emhoff

Title
Assistant Professor
Organization
Saint Mary's College of California
Location
Moraga, CA, United States
Chi-An Emhoff
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Biography
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, and a PhD in Human Physiology from UC Berkeley. I enjoy working as both a scientist and an engineer, and I believe acquiring interdisciplinary skills can open up tremendous opportunities. Most people have interests in multiple different areas, so I say, "Go for it!"
Answers by Chi-An W. Emhoff

Dear Nisha, First off, huge congratulations to you, and be incredibly proud of yourself for studying Mechanical Engineering, now in your third year. The analytical skills you're learning will carry through into any profession or personal endeavor you choose to pursue. You will be able to look at a complex system (whether it's a car, a space shuttle, the human body, or a complicated scenario) and break it down into its components to understand how the pieces work together to make the whole. Secondly, we are living in a fast-changing world where career opportunities for women can oftentimes be (and absolutely should be) equal to those for men. While society still has a ways to go to achieve gender equality, the most successful companies in the world are the ones that embrace the talents and hard work of both female and male employees. Absolutely, women can design and manufacture cars and engines. Absolutely, women can hold executive leadership positions. Absolutely, women can define what a company's work culture is. In your engineering training, it never hurts to learn about business and strategic planning, because the best companies will expect women and men alike to deliver value in everything from designing a product to deciding the future of a company. Always, work hard and do what you love. And position yourself so that when you find those opportunities to showcase your strengths, your capabilities define who you are. Big hugs and best of luck! Chi-An

Hi Erin, 

What a great question, as these two fields of science and engineering are traditionally so different, but more and more organizations that focus on innovative approaches to healthcare are finding they absolutely need people who understand both.  I transitioned from engineering to science, and in general, my experience was that employers generally look for individuals who have backgrounds in one or the other.  However, if you have backgrounds in both science and engineering, you are positioned to be a very desirable candidate, especially in the technology industry.  If you want to work as a biomedical engineer, then typically a bachelors degree in engineering plus work experience is sufficient.  I don't think a masters in engineering would be required, as work experience is far more valuable.  The transition can be quite significant, again because traditionally these fields are so different.  Science is hypothesis and testing driven and can sometimes be biased or imprecise, whereas engineering is highly quantitative and detail-oriented such that sometimes the big picture is missed.  Both have their strengths and challenges, but having cross-disciplinary literacy and skills can be extremely powerful.  Go for it!!

Chi-An

Hello Cathia, 

Absolutely!  A mechanical-biomedical engineering education will position you for many career opportunities within the medical field.  I myself completed a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, then pursued graduate school in the Biological Sciences.  I attribute a lot of my current employment opportunities to the engineering training that I received as an undergraduate.  Mechanical engineering is especially relevant, as the medical industry is always looking for individuals with a broad understanding of biomechanics and/or medical devices.  It might be a good idea to explore in what aspects of the medical field you hope to contribute.  If you enjoy the clinical side (directly working with patients), then perhaps consider supplementing your engineering education with some human biology coursework and hands-on experience (internships or volunteering).  If you enjoy the technology side (designing and building), then definitely pursue some internship experience at medical device companies.  As for your current switch from chemical to mechanical engineering, not to worry, you'll be just as successful.  Good luck!!

Chi-An

Hello Alison, 

This is a great question that can be answered 2 different ways. My first answer is that biomedical engineering is a sub-discipline of engineering; therefore, you would be better prepared for your master's program with a bachelor's degree in engineering (and biology minor). My second answer is that biology and engineering are inherently two vastly different fields; so which one is more interesting to you? If possible, an internship in both fields would give you some firsthand experience so that you might discover your interests and strengths fit one area over the other. Also, biomedical disciplines are primarily human-related, whereas biology pertains to all living things (including plants and non-human animals). This means that if you decide to pursue an engineering major and biology minor, make sure there are electives within biology that fit your biomedical interests. Best of luck, and enjoy your journey, as biomedical engineering is an incredibly exciting field!

Chi-An

Hi Joslynn, 

Congrats on setting yourself up for a career with lots of opportunities!  Honestly, I think the general track will provide you all the prerequisite courses you'd need for a master's in Biomedical Engineering, and as you said, most graduate school programs will specify which life science courses you need.  However, I would just look up a few Biomed. Eng. masters programs and see whether they require the GRE-Biology subject test.  If they do, then taking the organic chem, biology, and chemistry courses will be helpful for that test.  If they don't (and they only require the general GRE test), then you should be fine with the general EE track.  My experience has been that "Biomedical Engineering" requires more of a solid engineering education primarily, and biomedical education is secondary.  Best of luck in your endeavors!

Chi-An

Dear Sara,

You have selected an incredibly exciting and growing field, so congratulations! My advice is that since there are very few academic programs that provide combined science & engineering doctoral programs, try to attain some internships in biomedical engineering to get a sense of working in industry. There are some big companies with huge internship programs, such as Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and there are hundreds of smaller companies (especially in Cambridge, MA) that may have some summer internships here and there. It is important to gain some working experience, because when it comes to engineering, school setting and industry setting can be very different. With a few summers of engineering work experience, you can attend graduate school in cardiovascular physiology and gain the science background. I think combined skills in science & engineering will become more and more valuable as we continue to push biological research and technology. Good luck and please feel free to contact me if you have further questions!

Chi-An Wang