If you're a biomedical engineer, you're in a fantastic career path. These engineers work on the front lines of medicine and technology, creating solutions that save and improve countless lives.
But what does it take to be successful in this fast-paced, high-tech field? We asked engineers in the know about the most important behaviours you can develop to advance your career in biomedical engineering.
1. They use checklists.
Consistency is key in biomedical engineering and other scientific fields. Checklists can help you catch missed steps and perform a task the same way every time. Whether it's something you do every day or just on occasion, using a checklist can have a huge impact on your work.
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, describes how when experienced surgeons began using checklists for standard procedures, complications fell sharply. Adding checklists to the field collection sheets that his own team uses also reduced the amount of missing information that they need to go back for later.
2. They document their work.
If you went on vacation or took extended sick leave, would your team members be good to go, or stopped in their tracks? Meticulously documenting projects and procedures might seem like a daunting prospect, but it's critical to working as a team, especially in the complex world of biomedical engineering.
“When I create calculation sheets in Excel for my engineers to use, I put notes on the side of the page that detail the master formulas and assumptions," Sol shares. “This helps someone else understand my work, but also saves me time so I don't have to remember why I used an unusual variable in this situation; it's all right there."
If you're an academic, documenting your projects, findings, and procedures in detail is particularly vital. "In academia, publishing our findings in peer-reviewed journals is the life-blood of advancing our field," states Lauren Delaney, a biomedical engineer and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "To publish your project findings, you need to be able to clearly communicate exactly how the experiments were done and verify that your findings are repeatable," she explains. "It also saves you time later, so that you don't have to go back and check lot numbers, or track down a potential error."
Documentation is particularly important if your project leads to filing a patent or other intellectual property protection. That's because you need to submit exhaustive documentation about all of the elements involved in your project.
3. They pursue lifelong learning
Medicine and technology are rapidly evolving, making regular continuing education essential. Many biomedical engineers proactively keep up with new developments in the field by:
Taking formal courses, either online or in person
Attending seminars, conferences, and lectures
Participating in “lunch and learn" programs
Learning how to use a new software program or programming language
“Medicine is always changing, as is the technology we have to address problems in medicine," Lauren says. “Therefore, it is essential to keep improving yourself and learning new methods and approaches to the problems we are asked to solve."
4. They network.
Conferences aren't just for sharing knowledge. They're also critical opportunities to network with colleagues in your field. “Networking is extremely important in the biomedical engineering field because it allows for interdisciplinary collaborations," Lauren explains. “It also helps you keep up to date in the field, and could lead to career advancement opportunities."
5. They're curious.
Biomedical engineers are naturally curious and take the initiative to look things up, find answers, and discover how things work. They also have an innate desire to learn and solve problems. “Many of us are just continually building upon habits that we've cultivated for many years," Lauren says. Some of these habits could be as simple as enjoying crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or jigsaw puzzles to keep your mind sharp, or researching simple questions that you have during the day.
“If you foster that curiosity by asking questions about the things that interest you, and satisfy it by going out and finding some answers to those questions (even just a Google search for the easiest questions), you're already building that habit of lifelong learning."