Honest Tips on Breaking Into the Biomechanical Engineering Market
This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the views of BioSpace.
Earlier this month I wrote an article for the careers section of BioSpace titled, “Life Science’s Fastest Growing Job Right Now.” The job in question was biomedical engineering, and the article took a closer look at a field mentioned in a USA Today article about the fastest-growing careers.
Numerous statistics from different sources cited that biomedical engineering was growing anywhere from 23 percent by 2024 to 72 percent, depending on the source.
Shortly after running the article, an individual posted the response below on BioSpace’s Facebook page:
I currently hold a B.S. in Bioengineering from The University of California. I graduated in December of 2015 and two year(s) and close to 300 applications later, I have not been successful in landing a job related to my field. I worked for a year and a half in a microbiology QA job, but I was barely making enough to survive.
This led me to take on a role at a local county as a hazmat specialist. Although the title sounds exciting, I could not be more bored with a job that is not mentally engaging.
So I read your article about how biomedical engineers had the faster growing job market, and I am just wondering what I am doing wrong in order to become so unsuccessful at landing a job?
The majority of BioE jobs seem to require many years of experience or a graduate degree. My first question is, how does one go about obtaining this initial experience?
I have about three years of experience as a research assistant from when I was attending college, but the experience that companies appear to ask for is extremely specific to their particular tasks. Second, being that I have been so unsuccessful with my job hunt, I have started planning out my way into graduate school. I hope that a graduate degree can enhance my chances at a good job, but the question I have is, would a Master’s degree or a PhD be more marketable when it comes to jobs in Bioengineering?
My fear is that a PhD can make a person overqualified for many jobs, while a Master’s might not be considered enough for more than a technician in some companies. Again, I do not know if you answer messages from your followers, but it would be interesting to hear your feedback on this, and I am open to listening to any advice that your company might have. Thank you.
A Few Thoughts on the Market
Before I specifically respond to this person’s questions, I wanted to touch base with the article and the field itself. When I was writing it, one of the statistics that I found most important wasn’t the job growth, but the number of jobs itself. I wrote: “It’s important to understand that compared to other fields of engineering, such as electrical and mechanical, there are fewer jobs for biomedical engineers. The BLS is projecting 27,600 biomedical engineering jobs in 2018, compared to about 304,600 electrical engineers and 253,100 mechanical engineers.”
Since that’s a whopping factor of 10, or 19 if you combine electrical and mechanical engineers, it’s unfortunately easy to see where the problem might lie. It may not have anything in particular to do with his background or education, but just that the market is specialized and far smaller than what it is for more general engineering degrees.
This then lead me to look at job listings to see what’s out there for bachelor’s degrees in biomedical engineering. One of the first positions I see, and it’s a month old, is for a Lab Technician, Biomedical Engineering, for Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn. There’s very little description of the job, although “Lab Technician” raises a few red flags in my mind.
A position for Celgene in Warren, Michigan for an Associate Bioengineer I calls for a bachelor of science degree with 0 to 3 years of experience seems more promising for someone without a lot of experience.
I don’t know exactly where the writer lives, but it sounds like California. One job I found was Systems Engineer I in Sunnyvale, California for Abbott. One of the things I found interesting about this job was it didn’t have “Biomedical” in the title, but it does call for a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science Engineering, Electronics Engineering, or related engineering field. It’s possible there are more jobs with life science companies that would be available for someone with a degree in Biomedical Engineering that have “engineering” titles other than “biomedical.”
So my quick search did find that there are jobs calling for Biomedical Engineers out there, and that they don’t necessarily seem to require a great deal of experience. As usual, of course, experience is generally preferred, unless that experience outprices the position.
More Specific Advice
Without seeing this individual’s resume, I can make some recommendations.
First, three years of experience as a research assistant, even at the college level, is significant. So, it’s possible that his or her resume isn’t emphasizing the appropriate things.
A modern resume typically is structured as follows:
1. Name and contact information.
2. Career summary – a paragraph that sums up your basic experience and skill set.
3. Key skills – a bullet point list of skills, some hard, some soft. Hard skills would be, for example: Biomedical Engineering, Instrument Validation, Technology Assessments, and Feasibility Studies, while soft skills are things like: Problem Solving, Communication, and Troubleshooting.
4. Professional history – with newest jobs first, followed by older, in chronological order. There are several suggestions for professional history: Start with a couple sentences that describe the duties, then have a section subtitled Key Accomplishments. Under Key Accomplishments, have bulleted lists of two to four things that you can frame as such.
Biomedical engineering design team, University of San Diego, Sept. 2016 to May 2017
Led the Biomedical Engineering Design Team at the University of San Diego in building a commercial-ready Ultrasonic Height Measuring Device for BMI Calculation. Oversaw and organized the medical device design utilizing 3D modeling software. Built models and prototypes. Carried out extensive safety tests on various devices, including prosthetic limbs, artificial valves, joint replacements, and clinical instrumentation and equipment.
- Acted as Project Manager of a three-person design team to successfully design and develop a cost-efficient device.
- As part of the Design Team, wrote code for the PIC Microcontroller and designing the device hardware.
· The final section(s) are education, any certifications or memberships.
· For a technical field, there is often a bulleted Technical Skills section. Sometimes it’s at the end, sometimes it’s below the bulleted Key Skills section. For biomedical engineering that could include any specialized software, computer languages, or field-related expertise. Even without seeing the reader’s resume, I can see how he can emphasize skills from his positions that would apply to a Biomedical Engineering degree, such as: Quality Assurance, Laboratory Protocols, Sterile Procedures, Hazardous Materials Management, and others.
The Matter of Advanced Degrees
The reader also asks if a Master’s or a PhD would improve their chances of employment. The quick answer is: most likely.
But the reader also expresses concern that the PhD might over-qualify them for the job market. I suppose it’s possible, but at that level you’re probably going to be heading departments and leading research and development teams. A bigger question, at least from my point of view, when it comes to getting a PhD, is: Do you want to spend four to six years or more in school? Is all that education going to get you where you want to be?
In terms of a Master’s degree, it probably would help you get some jobs and could be worthwhile in the long run. Is it necessary to get a job?
A lot of that depends upon the specific type of job you’re interested in. Some fields pretty much require master’s and/or PhDs—physical therapy, pharmacy, for example. Biomedical engineering is not necessarily that kind of field.
A Few Thoughts
Without actually seeing his resume, it’s difficult to know if there are specific issues in terms of presentation. Having read and written literally hundreds of resumes, I can confidently say that there often are problems with resumes. If the reader doesn’t want to pay for a professional review or rewrite their resume, at the very least it should be shown to some knowledgeable friends who can provide feedback.
The same goes with the interview process. Is there an issue in not getting interviews, or are you not getting jobs? Have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview with you. It’s often surprising just how many improvements can come out of that.
Another suggestion is to learn to network. There are many professional organizations such as the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the American Society of Biomechanics, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Bioengineering Division, and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, just to name a few. Each of these would offer numerous opportunities for networking within your profession, both online and in person. They also likely would have career postings as well.
Another approach would be to select a couple companies you’re interested in working at. Find them on LinkedIn and look for people working in the area you’re interested in. Then politely contact them and tell them that you are interested in the company and was looking to develop contacts in the field. Do this in a polite, professional and non-needy fashion. Ask questions if they agree to make contact with you, such as: What do you think is the most important skill set for biomedical engineers? Is the Master’s or PhD worth it? What types of projects are you working on?
Sometimes it’s a matter of timing—the right application to the right person at the right time. But you can improve the odds by focusing on your skills, education and experience that overlap with the jobs you’re interested in, presenting yourself in the best way possible, and making connections within the field.
Mark Terry, a regular writer for BioSpace, is a full-time freelance writer, editor, novelist and ghostwriter specializing in biopharma, clinical diagnostics, medical practice management and resume writing. He has written 1000+ articles and more than 20 books, including the award-winning THE FALLEN. When not writing, he can be found practicing Sanchin-Ryu karate, riding his bicycle or reading.