What to actually expect
When I chose Biomedical, I was expecting lots of learning about medical equipment and how it works. I did not do my research that well into what biomeng was, even when I was enrolling in papers for semester one over summer, I didn’t make any new connections about what was in store. Boy, was I surprised this year when I found myself sitting in class with a bunch of EngSci kids. I didn’t even realise we were part of the same department. So, to help you get a clearer idea of what to expect in second year biomedical engineering, here are a few things I wish I was expecting.
What I was expecting
To help explain more about what I was expecting, I chose biomedical engineering because leaving high school I couldn’t decide between medicine and engineering. I loved learning about the body and how it worked, and I didn’t want to sacrifice it for my passion in physics and calculus. When I heard about biomedical engineering, my very quick research led me to believe it was all about designing medical equipment. I saw that graduates had said it was a perfect blend of biology and engineering, and I decided it was for me. Last year, I didn’t even really consider the other specialties, and although I attended the specialisation evenings, it still didn’t really click until this year what studying biomedical engineering actually entails.
First has got to be the engsci. Although we are not in the department name (keep an eye on this though), biomedical engineering falls under the Department of Engineering Science. While this makes our classes a bit larger in some papers, it also means coding. A lot of coding. As mentioned in a previous post, the labs require you to pretty much teach yourself python. Start doing some basics over summer. It also means gaining skills in machine learning and statistics, which opens a whole range of opportunities if you find you prefer that. A few engsci students will pick biomeng papers as electives in second semester, which means you get to know these people as well as the biomeng cohort.
Arguably the best thing to come from being part of the engsci department is the fieldtrip. This is not your average school camp, and both engsci and biomeng students attend free of charge. This year COVID pushed the fieldtrip back into midsem break (not great for those four tests the first week back) instead of the usual first weeks of semester one. We gathered bright and early at uni for a bus ride out to Zenith Technica, where they described what they do and walked through some of their manufacturing processes. We headed back to uni to listen to some biomedical engineering firms present some projects they have worked on. Fisher and Paykel Healthcare brought in some ventilator masks and explained some of their features. IMeasureU Labs showed us how they monitor athletes during training to ensure they are optimising their recovery (they’ve worked with Sophie Pascoe), and FormusLabs walked us through their modelling of the spine and other projects. The last two are both part of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, the building where you have 233 labs (and sausage sizzles – keep your eyes out for that!) and are often start-ups out of uni research projects. They both encouraged getting to know lecturers and tutors, as this networking can help you get more involved with projects they may be working on.
After this, we headed down to Taupo. We sailed down the Southern motorway as far as the Rainbows End exit when smoke started billowing out the back of the bus and we were quickly evacuated and directed as far as possible from the bus. After being honked at by every passing truck and the tow truck coming along, we got on another bus and got to Taupo where the engsci students already had a beer pong game running, and the lecturers were out for dinner. A group of students were in charge of buying and cooking up dinner for everyone and did a great job organising a massive sausage sizzle. While Taupo on a Thursday is no Shads on Friday night, there was karaoke running in a pub just down from the backpackers everyone seemed to enjoy. The next morning, we headed out to Wairakei Power Station operated by Contact Energy, where they gave us a short presentation followed by a quick tour to show us some turbines and a filtering system using bacteria to make sure the water quality is perfect to drain into the Huka river. In typical tourist fashion, we had lunch at Huka Falls, before heading back into town attend a Haka Shop at the local college. The following morning was spent doing a treasure hunt of sorts around Taupo town centre, with challenges including going for a swim in the lake and polishing a stranger’s shoes.
The fieldtrip was definitely a highlight of the year and made my friends in other cohorts rather jealous. It was cool to hear early in the year about the different opportunities as a biomedical engineering graduate and get to know the cohort better. I was not expecting it at all, and it was a pleasant surprise.
Back to more course-related content, expect some electronics. The Biomeng 241 design and instrumentation project requires you and your group to design and build the circuit to accompany your colourimeter. While this does mean soldering (yay!), it also means lectures and labs about electronic components, their features and how they work together. After hating electeng 101 last year, I don’t know if I would have chosen biomeng upon learning that we had more electricity in store, I was so relieved to discover it is nowhere near as bad as 101. Yes, it is still confusing at times, but the lecturers and TAs are so so helpful and are always happy to explain anything you have trouble understanding.
If I’m being completely honest, I was not expecting a design paper at all. I don’t know why, and maybe you’ll be a little more onto it than me, but the 241 design project came out of the blue for me. I have loved doing it, from starting out with background research and design concept sketches to actually seeing (albeit over Zoom) our 3D printed case and circuit board was a really exciting taste of just what we can do in the future. Of course, its not all just the practical side. Throughout the project we have been submitting reports on our progress and future steps, keeping notebooks of all our team meetings and major decisions, and finally presenting to the class our design process and problems we came across. Again, while it caught me off-guard, 241 has been a welcome surprise.
Expect Biosci & Medsci
One final thing: biosci and medsci. If you’ve got any friends doing first year health sci or biomed, they’ll be able to help you get a fair idea of what’s instore. If not, these papers are intense. They both use the same textbook, which I would recommend you invest in (second hand off Facebook is most financially friendly). These papers both are huge as you take them with everyone in those first-year health sci and biomed cohorts. The labs are long, but super practical and a good chance to solidify what you’ve learnt. They’re really content heavy, definitely stay on top of the lectures and quizzes.
Writing this all out has made me realise that while I was pretty much blindly going into second year, it has been a better year than I would have thought. It has been so unexpected in terms of content covered and class sizes, but I have really enjoyed it. I love what we learn about and being able to link what we learn to real life applications. Hopefully this has helped you form some more insightful expectations around biomedical engineering x