Bioengineering is an interdisciplinary major intended to solve bio(medical) problems. Since these real-life problems are so complex, Bioengineering seeks to equip students with a diverse array of tools to solve them. As the result, engineering principles are fused with life sciences in Bioengineering all the way in research and education. In some universities, the major is targeted specifically to meet medical needs, dealing specifically with biomedical research and technology, thus termed “Biomedical” engineering. In other universities, “Biological” engineering major tinkers with both medical-related research as well as topics in engineering biological systems, such as biotic games, environmental engineering, bioenergy and bioremediation processes.
What sets Bioengineering apart from the other engineering majors is its breadth. The curriculum itself is subject to continuous changes, keeping up to date with the present findings in research. In general, typical bioengineering first year’s program covers engineering basic courses, such as calculus and computational programming courses, as well as fundamental chemistry and organic chemistry courses, not to mention some classical biology courses. The upper division courses tend to be specific, depending on each student’s concentration, and are flexibly designed to address up-to-date insights from active areas of research, such as stem cell engineering or drug delivery. Because Bionengineering covers very broad topics, some universities do not offer Bioengineering major for undergraduate students; Bioengineering major is only offered at Master’s or PhD levels of study. So if you want to major in Bioengineering for your undergraduate study, make sure first the universities you apply to offer Bioengineering major. Also because of its breadth, depending on the chosen depth, a student majoring in Bionengineering can also be expected to take courses in other majors, such as Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, or Physics.
One common complaint, however, is the issue of having to learn bits and pieces of everything, but never in depth. Considering how broad this major is, it is easy to get lost and difficult to define what you are most interested in and would like to pursue in depth, especially when you are good at everything. Therefore, every student is advised to find their niche (abilities and interests) as early as possible during the first years when taking these broad fundamental classes. One way to do this is by reaching out and being involved in active research labs, or taking pure sciences courses from other departments. (This is a research-based curriculum after all.)
Depending on the institution, Bioengineering can cover, for example, five submajors:
- Bio-computation: simulation of biological structures, design and prediction of molecular conformation and protein folding, modeling of human gene variations, bioinformatics
- Biomedical devices: health sensors, cardiovascular devices, neural prosthetics, synthetic bone materials, microfluidic devices
- Biomedical imaging: in situ cancer imaging, functional brain mapping, ultrasonic diagnostic technology
- Cell and molecular engineering: metabolic engineering, cell engineering, protein engineering
- Regenerative medicine: stem cell technologies, tissue engineering, regulation of genetic signals involved in cell proliferation and differentiation
Since this is a research-based education, many students will continue on to graduate school or medical school upon graduation. Others land on jobs in biotechnology, medical device, imaging or other non-medical industries. Some graduates may choose to pursue advanced degrees in business or law. In other words, bioengineering graduates are diverse in what they do, but we are all standing at the frontline of the future of biotechnology. In the United States, many companies that primarily hire bioengineering majors are located in California (San Diego area and San Fransisco Bay Area), and Massachusetts, among some other places. Many new university graduates who major in Bioengineering look for jobs in those areas.
To summarize, if you are the type of person who likes biology or biomedics and technology, and if you like to learn a bit of everything and using your broad knowledge to solve problems that advance humans’ quality of life, you may give Bioengineering major a serious consideration.
Sylvie Liong was born and raised in Jakarta. She obtained her baccalaureate degree from University of Washington in 2009, majoring in Bioengineering. She decided to join graduate school after working at a non-profit research institute in Seattle. Her Ph.D. research at Stanford University involves biohydrogen production through enzyme engineering. Sylvie is currently having a happy balanced life between research in lab and social gatherings.