Biomedical engineering is a great major that has been marketed poorly. If you’re thinking about majoring in biomedical engineering, you probably like math and science and want to use your degree to help people.
However, depending on your career goals, a degree in biomedical engineering might not be the best way to achieve this.
Students are often mislead when going into biomedical engineering. As a student, you are not given the information you need to succeed, and it is not your fault. Because of this, biomedical engineering students often have a hard time finding jobs after graduation. Luckily, this is entirely avoidable.
- 4 reasons why biomedical engineering might not be right for you
- What should you major in to be a biomedical engineer?
- When is biomedical engineering a good major to choose?
- Taking it with a grain of salt
4 Reasons Biomedical Engineering might not be right for you:
If you want to get a job working as a biomedical engineer upon completion of your undergraduate degree, biomedical engineering probably isn’t the right major for you, and here’s why.
1. The Curriculum
The biomedical engineering degree is designed to combine medicine with engineering. The problem is, the more medical classes you have (think organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology, etc.), the fewer engineering classes you have.
A biomedical engineering degree is going to provide you with fewer technical engineering skills than other traditional engineering degrees will. People are attracted to the degree because of the breadth of topics it covers, but fail to consider how that impacts the depth of the knowledge they will learn.
A common complaint from hiring managers is that biomedical engineering curriculums lack design courses and manufacturing courses. Mechanical and electrical degrees have several design classes built into the curriculum. Often, senior design is the only real design course biomedical engineers are exposed to. Biomedical engineers also lack exposure to courses on manufacturing, which is a huge part of industry.
2. Full Time Employment Opportunities
Employers at biomedical engineering companies prefer mechanical or electrical engineers over biomedical engineers, especially in design roles. They know biomedical engineers don’t have the same in-depth engineering knowledge of technical skills.
In theory, learning the medical side of things sounds like it would be beneficial to employers, but it’s usually not. It’s a lot easier and faster to learn the anatomy of the area you’re working on than it is to learn advanced engineering principles on the job.
Let’s look at some other hypothetical examples. Let’s say you’re applying to work at a company that makes robotic prosthetics. The hiring manager has two candidates. One is a biomedical engineer, and one is an electrical engineer. Looking at it objectively, the manager needs someone who can design the electrical components of a robot. The manager will choose the candidate who has taken advanced circuit design courses.
Let’s say there’s another company that designs heart valves. At the end of the day, a heart valve is just that, a valve. A biomedical engineer will have more knowledge of the anatomy of a heart, but a mechanical engineer will have taken advanced fluid dynamics classes. A hiring manager would rather have to teach their new-hire basic heart anatomy than advanced fluid dynamics.
This is especially true if you’re looking to become a design engineer. Another thing students aren’t taught in college is that not all engineers are design engineers. At your typical biomedical engineering company, you have R&D engineers, quality engineers, and manufacturing engineers.
It is more common to see people who majored in biomedical engineering in quality or manufacturing roles because they require fewer technical skills. This is extremely counter-intuitive to students and should be taught in universities.
There are very few biomedical engineering internship positions and they are highly competitive. Every biomedical engineering student is going for positions at the same handful of companies. When browsing through internships, you’ll see more internship positions open to mechanical engineers than to biomedical engineers.
As a biomedical engineer, you are also competing against other engineering students for the same positions. Recruiters from these companies are even sometimes told to prioritize students from other majors.
A benefit of majoring in a more general engineering field is that it makes it easier to get internships as an underclassman, which is huge.
The best way to get an internship is by having previous internship experience. If you major in mechanical engineering, your odds of getting an internship as an underclassman are a lot higher. When applying for a biomedical engineering internship, a mechanical engineer with a previous internship (even in an unrelated field) will be in a better position than a biomedical engineer with no internship experience.
4. Lack of Flexibility
The final reason biomedical engineering might not be the right major choice for you is the lack of flexibility. We already discussed how majoring in another type of engineering can help you get an internship. This applies to many other things as well.
Biomedical engineering is very specialized. If you major in mechanical engineering, you will have a lot more flexibility. If you chose to go into the biomedical field, you can do that! But if you want to get an internship or job in another field, you can do that too! If ten years down the line, you want to have a career change, it will be easier to do that too. No matter how set you are on being a biomedical engineer, it never hurts to have the option of branching out.
What should you major in to be a biomedical engineer?
Let’s talk a little bit more about what you SHOULD major in.
If you want to be a biomedical engineer, you should major in either mechanical or electrical engineering.
If you’re not particularly interested in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering is a safe bet. Mechanical engineering gives you the depth of knowledge of advanced engineering concepts, but is also broad enough that it allows you to go into almost any field, including biomedical engineering.
You could also major in electrical engineering if you’re more interested in electrical/robotic medical devices or wearable sensors. Electrical engineering is just slightly more specialized than mechanical, so be aware of that.
Another option is computer science or software engineering. With this path, you’re less likely to be working hands-on with designs, but if you’re interested in coding, there’s a lot of money to be made in it. Every company needs software engineers, including medical device companies.
If you decide to major in another type of engineering but are still interested in working in the medical device industry, you should tailor your college experience accordingly. Look for design teams, research positions, and internships in the biomedical space. This can be a great way to motivate yourself and feel confident about your major choice. It also provides hands-on experience applying general engineering concepts to something you’re passionate about.
Many engineering degrees have tech electives built into your curriculum. Choosing biomedical classes as your tech electives can be a great option. It might also be worth seeing if your university offers minors such as biomechanics. Only consider this if you’re generally interested in the courses though. A minor is not necessary in order to have a successful career as a biomedical engineer.
When is biomedical engineering a good major to choose?
You want to go to medical school
Biomedical engineering is a great choice if you want to go to grad school.
Most schools design their biomedical engineering degrees to include all the pre-med classes you need for medical school or other medical careers.
You want to work in advanced biomedical fields
Additionally, there are some biomedical engineering jobs that a biomedical engineering undergraduate degree would be great for but would likely require a graduate degree.
Examples of these jobs include tissue engineering, bioprinting organs, drug delivery, and genome engineering. These jobs exist both in research settings and industry settings. Almost all of these jobs require a PhD, but biomedical engineering would be a great stepping-stone undergraduate degree.
In summary, biomedical engineering is the right major for you if you want to go to medical school, go into academia or research, or want to work in bioengineering fields that require grad school.
Taking it with a grain of salt
Everyone has their own opinions and experiences. Engineering is a great field to go into and you will find a job regardless of the concentration you go into. These are just some points to think about if you are entering or just starting your college career. It’s completely possible to get your dream job majoring in biomedical engineering. The purpose of this article is just to make it easier.
- If you want to get a 4-year degree and get a job as a biomedical engineer, don’t major in biomedical engineering. Major in mechanical or electrical engineering. You will be more hirable and have an easier time finding jobs and internships.
- If you want to go to medical school, go into academia or research, or work in a field of biomedical engineering that requires a graduate degree, major in biomedical engineering. An undergraduate in biomedical engineering should be thought of as a stepping stone to graduate school.