Fellow presentation and intro to your career path
I am Len Magara and I work for Laborie as a R&D Hardware Engineer. I am from Zimbabwe and came to the US to get both my bachelor’s & master’s degrees in mechanical and biomedical engineering respectively. I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise, but I was always fascinated by engineering. I really admired how tangible the outputs are and that most projects have measurable and direct impact. So, I picked mechanical engineering which is very broad and offered many different options again to maintain my flexibility.
In my “middler” (third out of 5) year I did an internship, and it was very influential for me in that it showed me how interesting biomedical engineering could be. The funny story is how biology was my least favorite subject and yet during my internships and upon graduation I was working in the medical device field. Since then, I have worked in Urology, Ophthalmology, Drug Delivery & Containment & Diagnostics with products ranging from capital equipment to disposable injectors & electromechanical devices.
Biomedical Engineering career options
As a biomedical engineer there are many options to choose from. You can work on technical engineering aspects with the fundamentals of mechanical, electrical, software, chemical etc. or you can work on the natural science aspects such as in research or you can be in the commercial development side of things such as business development, consulting, technical sales etc. In addition to these typical roles the multidisciplinary nature of the career allows you to focus on various areas not limited to any of the following:
Biomaterials, Medical Devices, Drug Delivery, Tissue Engineering, Pharmaceuticals, Advanced therapies, Regulatory Agency & Compliance among others.
Each Company/Organization will have various roles and may call them slightly different names but the structure of having some version of the following departments: R&D, Sustaining Engineering, Process Engineering, Manufacturing, Quality, Regulatory is very typical. Below are a few of the career paths and opportunities available to you as a Biomedical Engineer:
Biomedical Engineer (Industry)
Typically works in an office setting, can work in any of the following departments in a company.
- R&D, Sustaining Engineering/Product Lifecycle Management, Quality, Regulatory, Manufacturing Engineering, Process Engineering, Clinical
- Duties can range from design, testing, protocol development & execution, verification & validation, compliance
Biomedical Engineer (Research)
Typically works in a lab setting.
- Designing, performing, and documenting techniques, novel ideas, and experiments.
- Typically, a bit slower paced than in industry, may also involve a teaching aspect if in academia.
Work with medical technology companies, and research institutions to provide guidance and recommendations using the multidisciplinary skillset.
- Provide technical assessment tied in with business goals – e.g.: Market Access Strategy, Pricing
- Performing Secondary research across multiple disciplines
Typically works in a healthcare setting such as a clinic or hospital.
- Duties include Purchasing, installing, and maintaining hospital equipment & systems.
- Training & Working with physicians and patients on using the technology
Main hard skills you use on daily basis in your current job
- Engineering Design & Analysis
- Using CAD Software like SolidWorks & ANSYS
Spending time reading relevant books and articles, doing tutorials, and watching YouTube videos adjacent to the skills I needed to learn. For example, I came out of undergrad without having done too much design for injection molding, everything had always been for rapid prototyping such as 3D printing. So early in my career I invested ~30 mins a day to learn about the fundamental differences in designing for molding (usually for higher volume products) vs for prototyping (proving out a concept, low volumes). What’s key is to understand is the fundamentals and the method to get there becomes simpler – typically once you have the fundamentals of designing something small in whatever capacity if parts or assemblies, in sheet metal, machining, Cast parts IM etc., just keep extrapolating that process/methodology to different areas. Lastly practice makes perfect, the more time you spend doing something, the better you become at it. CAD is simply a tool and the more time you spend working with it the better and faster you become.
- Incorporating the relevant functional and biological considerations during design
This comes through reading scientific articles and papers, but the most valuable growth will be through speaking with your clinical colleagues as they’re closest to the patients and provide invaluable feedback during the design stages. Many a time there are design features we as engineers feel are vital/game-changing but it turns out that the patients or clinicians don’t care as much or care about something a lot more than we do.
- Root Cause Analysis & FMEA (Failure Modes Effects & Analysis)
I was tasked to this during an internship first and then throughout my career. This is another skill that is bread and butter for engineers. The thing that’s benefitted me most was engineering labs where we used the scientific method. It provided a baseline and structure for different experiments whether statics, dynamics, materials, etc. In the same way, root cause analysis and going through an FMEA are very structured and repeatable processes. Every time I am tasked with either of these it is very important to keep an open mind and be thorough in how you apply your analysis. The thing that I’ve found most beneficial is to have a reliable and consistent template and thus method which you use to do the analysis. Most companies may have their own, but if needed you can develop one using online resources such as “iSixSigma.com” etc. This is key for engineers, and you can assume you will be involved in this almost weekly regardless of your role in an organization. Last thing to note is that these are typically team efforts so that each functional group can provide feedback and input in the areas they find important.
- Product Definition, Requirements Creation & Cascading
This is a skill I use regularly within R&D. We are required to translate the VOX – (which is called Voice of X where the X here is customer, business, regulation/regulatory, market, etc.) from an intangible want into verifiable product requirements. This means that one is going from qualitative and sometimes subjective needs and turning them into a technical requirement for a product that must prove it can achieve the function to fulfill this need. This is something I learned throughout each job and each time I am involved in launching a product, it is a joint effort between R&D and various other functions to generate these requirements which ideally will produce a product that fulfills all stakeholders’ needs. The thing that’s most important is to plan as you design and build your product. This means cascading user needs to requirements until you have the most granular requirements possible but most importantly, write requirements with an idea on how you’d plan to test them in the future.
For example, a user need may be that a new procedure chair must be able to be lifted by hospital staff and yet hold 500lb,
One product requirement could be that the new 500lb capacity chair hold the weight with a specific safety factor (1.5).
Another requirement could be that the material have a high strength to weight ratio (specific strength > 1) allowing staff to lift it.
Another requirement could be that the total unloaded chair weight be less than 50lb.
Therefore, multiple requirements can come from each user need, but each is required to ensure that the user need is fulfilled.
- Design Verification & Validation Test Creation
This is a skill that is paramount and ties into the one above – product definition. This skill is also used every time a new or existing product is being released or updated. It is the beginning of the second major part of releasing the product. Once you have generated your product requirements and developed a concept/prototype, you’d then need to test your product against the identified requirements and user needs. This is termed design verification (for product requirements or level 2 requirements) and validation (user needs or level 1 requirements). This involves creating objective evidence that your current design fulfills the user need and product requirement. Again, the scientific method comes to mind as something that is very useful in terms of your mindset when exploring the test creation.
- Product Ideation & Concept Generation
This is a skill that you will be using almost weekly especially if in R&D. You will lean on best practice design principles, your product requirements as well as analyzing previous products and existing solutions for each product you are tasked with developing. The most beneficial thing I have found is to research a landscape of existing products and look at market share, product features and if available – volumes sold. This will usually give you an idea of what the market likes and doesn’t like. Then going forward as you look to generate concepts you know which features are important to your internal and external stakeholders.
Soft skills you use on daily basis in your current job
- Teamwork & collaboration is the top skill I use in my job every day. Whether in my department or on my project, I am ALWAYS working in a team. This is something that is quite different from school as school is usually optimized for individual learning. The skill I found most helpful is to ensure you are open-minded, listen empathetically and give everyone equal respect when working in a team.
- Presentation Skills
This is something that I have honed as time has gone on. I find that as engineers we are not always taught the same level and amount of presentation skills as some of our counterparts such as those in marketing, etc. Therefore, wherever there’s an opportunity, my managers have actively made sure we can have our voices heard. I learned early on that you should not have the same presentation for different audiences. For example, you must tailor presentations for technical audiences (i.e., your engineering department), non-technical audiences and executive teams at a minimum since each of these representative groups have various and disparate interests.
- The importance of WHY, Learning Adjacently, Being Resourceful & Inquisitive
It is important to be good at taking instructions and executing those instructions but it’s even more important to see the big picture and connect the dots wherever you can. That will separate you from “another fresh grad who does what I ask/is good at taking instructions” to someone who’s an independent thinker and can give unique ideas despite their inexperience. Secondly, if there are tasks your manager asks of you, find out WHY those tasks are important. Often the WHY is more critical than the how or the what and once you understand why you are doing something you are more empowered to come up with a more impactful way to achieve something than if you are iterating/ideating on someone’s original thought of a task.
- Personal Brand, Organization & Professional Etiquette
This is something that continues to grow and develop as time goes on and you figure your own style. The key thing that I found is that you should have a system for how you communicate with everyone. Be professional and courteous, but also know that everyone is a person so it’s good to be genuine too. IE if you like making jokes, keep things professional but let your personality come out in positive ways too. Ensure you communicate clearly, accurately, and succinctly, keep your calendar organized and build your professional brand by being punctual and reliable wherever possible.
Your personal path
When I was a fresh grad, I was just as daunted as you were. I must have applied at least 100 times before I got an offer. I had a ratio of every 10-15 applications would result in 1 interview and then of those, the offers came at different times, so it was a real waiting game with lots of highs and lows. I had previously worked at AbbVie doing an internship/co-op. During my time there, I learned that Abbott had split into two companies the year before and these were Abbott & AbbVie. So, I applied to Abbott, and I mentioned that I had previously worked at AbbVie. I made sure to highlight that in my cover letter and during my interviews. I spoke about the things I had learned during my internship and why they would enable me to contribute faster as an employee if Abbott hired me. Specifically, I mentioned that I would have an advantage and a faster ramp up to contributing meaningfully than someone who would be hired from outside with no previous context/experience in the company. This helped me land my first position and the key takeaway is to mention how you stand out and why them hiring you is to their benefit as well. Even if you don’t have a first degree or original connection such as when I applied for the internship or the job before I knew they were linked companies, you should highlight any coursework, or relevant experiences both in and out of school which gave you skills that’d benefit the company by them hiring you. My biggest learning through this experience was to leverage everything you have access to. This means speaking to professors, fellow students, being able to network with working professionals in areas you want to be involved in as well as going through LinkedIn and growing your network wherever possible. In your career your network is like a trump card, just like any of us would typically hire someone we know or have worked well with before, hiring managers will typically hire someone with some connection to them before someone without any connection. That connection can be anything from being a previous employee to simply having a similar interest in a sports team. Landing a job is just as much about needing a “worker-bee” as it is forming a good working relationship that leaves both sides feeling energized and excited.
Throughout your search, one thing to know is that it takes time. Especially when it is during a time like now when the economy is not doing well, companies slow down the recruitment process too.
For interviewing, the key thing to remember is that someone said “yes” when they could have said “no” – this is a good way to remember that for all the anxiety and fear, you’ve already passed step 1. I suggest you always be honest and self-aware. Be open about your strengths and mention areas you’d like to grow more in, don’t “say what people like to hear” say what you mean and mean what you say. You must remember that you’re typically talking to someone who is seasoned and can spot a lie. Lastly, make sure to have a genuine interest in the company and show this by researching them and their mission, and don’t just regurgitate facts, show them your interest by bringing a unique perspective throughout your conversations.
What would you tell your younger you regarding building your current career?
One thing I didn’t know and that I would tell my younger self is to network and go to conferences, career fairs etc. I was quite reserved and found it very awkward during networking events and so I would work up the nerve and energy to participate and speak to a few people. However, I did not have an elevator pitch and was not well versed in handing out my resume or finding people on LinkedIn etc. So, the exercise of going to a networking event ended up with me talking about things that weren’t as relevant during the event. My biggest learning was to be strategic. Firstly, one should always attend networking events when available and it’s more powerful to attend when you don’t need something so that you just build connections and confidence. This works later since that the day that you do need something – people know you and are more willing to talk and vouch for you etc. Secondly, when you do go to the event, research the companies that shall be there and spend time on places that are a good fit and not just for other people or brand etc. It’s important that you are interviewing and interested in them as much as they are in you and that each company you work for aligns with your personal mission.
Final tips and insights
It all sounds as if they are platitudes, but you should all know that everyone has been in your shoes. We were all fresh grads once and we know how it feels, uncertainty is always a hard thing to deal with. My biggest advice is for you to take each day as it comes and live in the moment. I spent most of my last semester worried and stressed because I wasn’t sure what I’d do next. If I could go back, I’d cherish the time I have left in school with my friends, and enjoying time that you probably won’t get back without having to give up something in return. Time is the one resource we never have enough of, so I urge you to spend it in a wise and balanced manner.
Here’s an image I think really captures the reality of everyone’s career path so just be patient and keep working with integrity.