Join Lachlan, an outdoor loving Waikato native, as he embarks on a journey through Biomedical Engineering whilst trying to explain just exactly what it is he’s studying.
Yellow Brick Road
Now let’s follow the yellow brick road back through what my first few weeks of uni were like this year and what brought me here.
So why did I do biomedical engineering?
From day one, I have been interested in how and why things work. I also believe in helping people to achieve the best possible lifestyle for themselves. Whether the BME degree leads me into prosthetics, external devices or user-friendly healthcare software, I know that ultimately I want to create something to improve the quality of life for people in need.
The job prospects for biomedical engineering are diverse and expansive. The biomedical technology industry has exploded, with percentage growth being listed in the top two by Forbes. There is work around the world, both commercial and government funded.
The ill-defined nature of BME’s role in industry allows you to take the job anywhere; from being a design engineer to programmer to CEO. You can bring your personality into the equation and create a new job description that fits you perfectly.
The courses we take
BME students take a very diverse range of subjects to reflect their ‘jack of all trades’ role in the work force.
- ENGSCI 211: Mathematical Modelling. (Maths)
- BIOMENG 221: Biomechanics. (Chemical Materials)
- BIOSCI 107: Anatomy and Physiology. (Biology)
- ENGSCI 233: Computational Techniques. (Programming)
- BIOMENG 241: Instrumentation and Design (Design)
- BIOMENG 261: Tissue and Biomolecular Engineering (Biology)
- ENGGEN 204: Managing Design and Communication (Presentations)
- MEDSCI 142: Biology for Biomedical Science (Biology)
So, if you love;
- Problem solving
- Working in teams
- Helping people
Then maybe considering biomedical engineering wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Perks of BME status
Over at 70 Symonds, the BME and engineering science departments get exclusive access to several floors. Here, you can find numerous computers (no more waiting in the lab opposite the Leech!), a small kitchenette that you can use if you are sneaky enough and most importantly a massive balcony with ocean views. Although it is requires a bit of a walk from Uni, 70 Symonds is a massively helpful resource that I have come to rely on. It just creates an easy environment to work, relax or catch up with your lecturers/tutors.
BME is the smallest cohort, with only around 25 students. This allows a sense of community to grow not only amongst the part II but also with the older students as well. It helps knowing there are other incredibly bright people struggling right alongside you that you can call on as soon as you need help. It also provides opportunities to have organised sport, lunches, parties and study sessions.
The BME/EngSci field trip is definitely one of my top memories from the first few weeks. The trip is based around industry site visits. This year it was Callaghan Innovations LTD, Stretch Sense and Fisher and Pykel healthcare on the first day, and Trustpower’s geothermal plant on the next. Industry visits gives us massive insights into the different options when entering the workforce.
Most of the time, however, was spent getting to know the people in the course. We spent our nights/evenings in Rotorua, staying at the backpackers known as Crash Palace. We had plenty of free time which made it feel a bit like a less structured, less rule-focused, camp. Amongst the havoc, tight bonds were formed between us that will definitely last a lifetime. On the last day we finished the field trip with white water rafting. Adrenaline and the fear of drowning always seems to bring people together, with the added bonus getting some great pics of the lecturers.
All in all, life as a BME is great.
I’m back at it after a long overdue (and well-earned) mid-semester break. The strangest part is that I actually kind of missed it. Delving deep into the complicated problems arising in the health sector is, at times, a daunting grind but when you step back you realise that you actually love that grind. Anyway, I guess we’ll launch into what the bulk of my following weeks with the biomedical crew is going to entail; BME/Engsci sport tournament, the hunt for the elusive summer job and a little spiel on the culture in biomedical engineering.
The Sport Arena
If you have spent the majority of the first year of Uni with a book, not a ball, in your hand then it sounds like you might be engineer; it also sounds like you need a change of pace. That’s why our department runs a small weekly tournament every semester. First semester tournament was Netball, where the year groups fiercely battled for top rank. The level of passion for the game was immense with every team fielding not only a team with plenty of subs, but also supporters too. It provides a great opportunity to meet people from different years. It also makes that bond within your year that much stronger. Everyone loves a little friendly competition. And with Soccer to come this semester, and Ultimate Frisbee and Volleyball in the cards for next year, it looks like this tradition is going to continue going strong.
Summer job hunt
As you will come to learn, half the struggle of engineering is just trying to find a job to get you 800 hours of work experience. The university has tonnes of programmes designed to help you find a good job but being a second year it is very nearly impossible. Luckily for Biomedical engineering students, the bioengineering institute offers a summer internship where you work on a project for about 10 weeks. These projects are funded by the University and you can even get a $5000 untaxed stipend for your troubles. This allows you to meet some amazing people, get a taste of what real research would be like and hopefully be funded for another year of scraping by.
Once again I thought I would just quickly mention the great culture in BME. Sharing a building with your lecturers and tutors makes them so much more accessible. They are always happy to see us and chat not only about the course but just about whatever is going on. The friendliness of the situation seems to be a lot more conducive to a successful learning environment. I have been told I am not allowed to mention names but if you ever talk to anyone around BME or Engsci, you will quickly learn of some people that go above and beyond what is required of them.
In conclusion, I am in a bit of a duality at the moment; part of me is shaking with the anticipation of leaving Uni and starting the exciting path that BME offers but on the other side I can’t even imagine leaving Uni when it is such an amazing place to be. Either way BME is great place to be, and I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone reading this blog. Peace.
Still Not Afraid
This morning I woke up with one thousand-and-one things to do. With so many pressing projects, I decided to take some time to step back and reflect on my experience as a biomedical engineering student. As I sit in my room overlooking a rain stricken Auckland and ponder the trials and tribulations that led me to this point, I have to decide that I would do it all again. The hard work, and outstanding internship applications, are now more daunting then ever but I can’t help but think about what we are devoting our life to, something greater then ourselves. When I face the oblivion of the years to come with these thoughts flickering in my mind, it is an easy decision.
Biomedical engineering is one of the biggest growth industries internationally at the moment. People are beginning to realize the benefits that specialized healthcare can provide them. The outdated model of only a few doctors working on each case is long past overdue for modernisation. With any industry, growth brings forth novel problems and niches that have never before even been considered. This a fantastic opportunity for anyone who believes themselves to be entrepreneurial, or even just have a passion for the frontier of technology. The area is also expanding so fast that it is opening new avenues of research that were previously unavailable. Around the world, many countries have begun to tap into the new era of healthcare. Even though New Zealand has a few companies directed towards this industry there is still a lot more room for growth. I believe that, with the level of innovation and perseverance in the New Zealand population, we too can become on the forefront of medical engineering.
I’ve spent my time in this blog shamelessly plugging my degree with no ifs, buts or remorse. Now, however, is time for a different tact. I love my degree but I also know that not everyone will share this opinion. Whether you have a natural affinity for electronics (can’t say I share this disposition), or maybe you have always loved how mechanical contraptions work, the industry still needs you. This means that the actual specialisation matters much less than you think. Follow your strengths and your passion, and you will end up where you deserve to be. People from almost every specialization will be needed in the new industry so it is more important to put yourself in a position where you will excel then it is to align your degree with exactly where you want to be. If it is truly your passion, you will get there in the end.
The ‘In’ Crowd
Now to shift the focus back to my degree. We put in long hours, learn diverse material from a plethora of lecturers and then struggle to put it all together into one coherent skillset. The thing about being in a newly developed field is that you will have to define your own job. This can be really good for the opportunistic type that is willing to put in the extra work required to create your own niche. Unfortunately, it also means that cruising is not as much of an option as some other degrees. To be appreciated in this degree you need to work, hard. The hard work is worth it though. You will end up with what you deserve.
The seasons are changing and the glorious time is nearly upon us. Here are just a few quick tips to get you through the Summers to come:
- Apply early. Jobs a few and far between for such a specialised degree. If you plan to get your sub professional hours ticked off in second year, then you should probably think about polishing that CV of yours past the point of recognition.
- Keep doing your own research and self-directed learning. You can never know too much about your chosen field.
- Take time off. You are in for a big year, avoid burning out early by truly living it up while you’re back to having no responsibilities or due dates.
It’s coming to the final days of 2016 and our minds are slowly filling more with visions of the sun, whilst slowly letting go of those dreams of advanced mathematical modelling. I hope Uni has been everything that you were looking for. You will never forget the people you met, the memories you made and the sleepless nights.
I thought I may as well give you a final piece of advice before you make your decisions for next year. Your degree, all the assignments and exams, are just a means to an end. It is much more important to decide what you want. The rest is just a method. As you progress through life you can shift and change your method but as long as you keep your work ethic, you will continue moving toward your goal. Follow your passion and natural ability, and don’t worry too much. You will fall into exactly wherever you are meant to be.
Anyway, that is it from me. I hope this blog helped and hopefully it wasn’t too painful to read. Best of luck to all you first years out there.
“Choose the hardest degree,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. So that’s how I wound up in BME.
Hey there, my name is Lachlan. I am a nineteen year old from the small Waikato town of Cambridge, a biomedical engineering student and, supposedly, the voice of the BME Part IIs. From hiking mountain ranges to diving deep sea wrecks, I love to explore how far we can push the combined ability of technology and people.
The first thing you’ll learn as a BME student is that you’ll have to explain your degree to everyone. Everyone. Reps at engineering careers expos, your friends, family and basically anyone who isn’t also in the specialisation. Don’t fret. Having an elaborate and ill-defined role in industry can work to our advantage, but more on that later. Biomedical engineers use technology and lateral thinking to solve problems in the healthcare industry and beyond.
We learn a large variety of subjects, combining them to form cohesive and innovative solutions for modern medicine.
Our areas of expertise include:
- Product design
BME is definitely one of the harder degrees but, with dedicated staff and a tightknit cohort, it is an incredibly rewarding line of study.
That’s all for now. I look forward to sharing the rest of my journey with you.