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What are some effective ways to transfer into the biomedical engineering field after getting a bachelor's in biology and environmental engineering?

I am currently a fourth year student (graduating after one more year) at the University of Georgia pursuing a B.S. in Biology and a B.S.ENVE in Environmental Engineering. I added my environmental engineering degree during my second year because I wanted to supplement my biology curriculum with a background in engineering and had plans to go into the alternative fuel industry (such as biofuels, wind, solar, etc.) upon graduation.
However, after having passed through my courses in both environmental engineering and biology I have realized that I'd like to mesh the two disciplines more and transition into the field of biomedical engineering. Unfortunately, this transition into the field is daunting considering I do not have an academic background specifically in biomedical, biological, or biochemical engineering. I wonder if any professionals in the field have made a similar transition into biomedical engineering before or have any advice regarding how best to do so? Thanks!
#biomedical-engineering #engineer #biology #engineering #environmental-engineering


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Bobby’s Answer

Hi Thomas,

I will try my best to give some advice about this from my background but I have not made the same transition as you. I have an undergrad in Chemistry with a minor in biology, then I got a masters of computer information systems.

My best advice would be to go and try for a graduate degree (masters) to see if it is what you want a PhD or a full career in. They should allow you to take some leveling courses to be brought up to speed with other students. After the leveling courses everyone is on the same level, and you will learn just as someone who has an undergrad in it.

If a graduate degree is off the table then I would try for an internship. With not having a true degreed background it would be best to get as much experience as you can. Real hands on experience looks great even if you are trying to go to grad school for it as well.

You have the math and scientific knowledge to do the biomedical engineering, so I would think with a couple leveling courses you would do just as good as other students in the programs.

Here is a good link for some background about the degree: https://www.bestcolleges.com/features/masters-biomedical-engineering-degree-programs/

They do mention how many students who get a masters of biomedical engineering come from backgrounds of natural or life science.

Hope this helps and feel free to ask any other questions.

Thank you so much for your response! This was really helpful. Graduate school is not off the table for me and I was considering getting a master's in biomedical engineering - thank you for the link about the degree and some good programs to choose from! During my last year in undergrad I will also try my best to search for a research project/internship in this realm to help prepare my resume for applying to the graduate program. Thanks again for your input! Thomas S.

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Rachel’s Answer

I agree with Swaprakash in that you could complete your degrees and then pursue a master's in biomedical engineering. Another idea that I liked was applying for jobs or internships in the biotech fields and seeing where your current skill set lands you. Often there is significant on the job training that may allow you to fill in your knowledge gaps while working.

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Stephanie’s Answer

My first thought would be to focus on biocompatibility testing and cleanroom requirements. Medical devices are constantly testing. I know a few people that start at a low level and learned on the job and moved up. It might be a way to get your foot in the door and to further research. Or to just research and learn the FDA requirements.

My company works a lot with Namsa.
https://www.namsa.com/services/testing/biocompatibility-testing/

https://www.cedengineering.com/userfiles/HVAC%20Design%20for%20Cleanroom%20Facilities.pdf

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Emily’s Answer

Great question! I would agree with many of the other posters that one clear path to making this transition is by pursuing graduate studies in biomedical engineering. I would advise you to get your Masters rather than start with a PhD up front. Additionally, you should look at the different types of Masters degrees available. A Master of Science (M.S.) typically takes 2 years to complete and requires a research thesis. This is the traditional path. However, professional Masters programs are becoming more and more common. They are called professional because they are designed for people who want to work in the industry in a technical role rather than a research role. This could be an M.S., M.Eng, or other type of Masters, but the common theme is the focus on a job in industry. Many of these programs only require coursework and projects so they can be completed faster. I would recommend the professional masters based on your stated goals.

If graduate education is not available, I would recommend an entry level job as a lab technician or test engineer at a medical device company. I work at Medtronic and we have many labs that are staffed by people in these roles, who complete lab work needed to develop a medical device. This testing provides a lot of exposure to medical devices, but mostly involves following written procedures, so less technical background is required. Many people I work with today (as engineers) did not have an engineering background, but started in these technician roles and were able to work their way up after a few years. Working in a large company, you may also be able to get your Masters degree through a tuition reimbursement program, which will defray costs and strengthen your rationale for moving up from the entry level position to a more traditional engineering role. Your environmental engineering degree will also help you, as you have already completed some basic engineering coursework that is applicable to all disciplines. Best of luck!

Emily recommends the following next steps:

Research professional Masters programs in biomedical engineering
Research career opportunities at large medical device companies in lab-based roles

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Sara’s Answer

Hello Thomas,

If your schedule allows in the time you have remaining, I recommend taking a course (or courses) which focus more in biomedical engineering applications. If you do not have time in your schedule, keep in mind that learning does not stop with formal schooling!

If you choose to pursue a graduate degree, that could lead to a more direct path to a biomedical engineering role. If you decide not to pursue a graduate degree, there are several paths you could take to work towards a biomedical engineering role. I would encourage you to both investigate and be open to a wide variety of opportunities in the biomedical engineering field.

The most direct path would likely be in biocompatibility, microbiology, or sterilization -- these are three critical areas for medical device manufacturing that would fit nicely with a biology and environmental engineering (for sterilization processes) background. Opportunities in these departments would be a good way to get your foot in the door at a medical device company. Additionally, there may be Research and Development opportunities that consider biology backgrounds depending on the type of product they are developing.

For a potentially less direct path, there are many other job opportunities at medical device companies that are engineers by title, but may not require strong of technical biomedical backgrounds (this is where investigation and being open comes in). These are roles where the ability to problem solve is the sought after experience, which is inherent in any engineering background. The clinical knowledge required to perform the the work can be taught on the job. Ability to problem solve is an especially critical experience for sustaining engineering roles--where a product is already developed and you work to sustain the manufacturing of the product long-term. A stronger technical biomedical background is more applicable to the design of the product, but once a product is developed, you already know the application of the device which lends to learning on the job. As an example, I started my career as a reliability engineer (a type of quality engineer). My educational background is in biomedical engineering, however my team consisted of people with backgrounds in: chemistry, biology, computer science, mechanical engineering, and even meteorology.

Once you have your foot in the door of a company, there are always opportunities to explore other job functions -- through trainings offered by the company, informational interviews, or through stretch project work.

Good luck!


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Jon’s Answer

Hi Thomas,

The great thing is that you are at an excellent university that offers courses that can set you up for biomedical engineering. If possible, I recommend that you transfer to one of the programs in UGA's School of Chemical, Materials and Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Programs: http://www.engineering.uga.edu/schools/cmbe/undergraduate.

If it's too late in your studies to transfer programs then you can take courses from the programs in your school that are similar to your interests and craft a resume that shows you've taken the requisite courses. Build skills, work on some projects and be clear about your interests as you craft a resume. A good format to use to start crafting your resume can be found here: https://www.myperfectresume.com/resume-samples/the-student-resume.

It's good that you are finding what you'd like to do for your career while still in school. You'll find the job you are looking for if you craft your final year of courses correctly, put in the academic effort, work with your school's career center and are persistent with your job search.

Thanks so much for the advice and the online resources for prepping a resume more tailored to what I would like to transition to. Unfortunately, it is a bit too late in my undergrad career to transfer to that school since I have only one year left in the School of Environmental, Civil, Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering. However, leveraging my other curriculum in Biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, I will try to fill my last courses with ones that will prepare me more for the field. I've also been looking into experiential learning opportunities in the biomedical field via UGA Research. Thanks again for your advice and consideration! Thomas S.

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Estelle’s Answer

It may be worth pursuing a master's to fill in the gaps in your biomedical knowledge prior to applying for jobs in this field.

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Miranda’s Answer

You are lucky enough to already have a lot of general engineering course work with environmental engineering . If Grad school isn't something that you are interested in, you can still get into BME; the engineering will get you pretty far. When I was in school, I majored in Biomedical engineering but got an internship in Civil Engineering so it's not unheard of to change tracks.

My advice for pursuing Biomedical without changing majors is to take all your electives in something biomedical related. Look for internships in that field or seek out a research opportunity outside of environmental engineering.

When you graduate and are looking for a job, a lot of entry level engineering positions are looking for how you solve problems rather than direct experience and highlight your biology and engineering experience in your resume and cover letter.

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Swaprakash’s Answer

Biomedical engineering is a culmination of various disciplines. There is always some application where you need expertise from other backgrounds.
Eg. Considering your case in Biotech and environmental engineering, I had a friend who worked on a project using microbial technology to produce biomass energy (not too familiar with the wordings) ,but, my point being there is definitely scope for you to transition from your field to BME.
If you're joining a Master's track, look into the research being conducted at various universities and pick one that you feel you have the necessary experience and skillsets for, I'm sure you will find something pertinent.
Good luck!

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