How Too Many Biomedical Engineering Programs Undercut Their Undergraduates Corporate Job Prospects

Students and their parents interested in a B.S. Biomedical Engineering or B.S. Biomedical Engineering Technology degree as a ticket to a corporate career need to examine their options carefully.    They need to look beyond the campus facilities, the leading edge research and of the campus “experience” and ask hard questions about how the graduate will be prepared for a career.  This is particularly important given the competitive landscape for biomedical engineering related positions.

Take a look at the curriculum of the majority of biomedical engineering programs and you will find at most one course that will consider the business aspects of the degree usually a course in engineering economics.  A number of programs offer a minimal smattering of communications courses.   Experience using industry standard Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Engineering ( CAE ) is minimal.  Yet  these subjects and tools are critical for an engineer to understand and flourish in a corporate environment.  Hiring managers would like to see new engineering graduates with significant experience with these tools.  To be fair there are a number of programs that have identified shortcomings in preparing their undergraduates for a career.  Typically they provide for co-ops and internships to improve the employability of their students.  Unfortunately the quality of these experiences varies and can not be controlled by the program.

Exacerbating the issue of career preparedness is the fact that few programs bite the bullet and recruit former industry professionals to teach their students the finer points of product development let alone have an impact on the curriculum.   Many times these professionals are not published in the engineering journals but if they have been involved in product development they will have patents to their name.   Lack of publications in the engineering journals will typically keep them from being hired as professors.   However, they can be and are hired as lecturers.  Unfortunately for the most part their impact on curriculum is minimized by internal politics dominated by research minded professors which are in the majority.

Generally the curricula are heavy on theory but light on using the tools of their trade in simulated assignments.  Laboratories, which are becoming scarcer in engineering curricula, tend to focus on reinforcing the lecture vs. expanding technical skills.  Unfortunately for graduates of these types curricula the vast majority of the entry level engineering positions require ability to use the industry recognized tools of the trade to create a product.   Complex theory is secondary for a vast majority of these entry level positions.  The more complex aspects of applying the theory learned in the classroom is increasingly performed by the software they need to know how to use.  This is particularly important to recognize since nearly all entry level positions at the B.S. level require the new engineers to work on mundane design tasks leaving the more complex and interesting tasks to the experienced engineers.  The more complex tasks typically are critical to projects that are on a tight schedule and require a combination of Computer Aided Engineering skills combined with experience.  The deficient graduate is relegated to learning the tools of the trade.

The contributors to the Medical Device Industry Feedback series of this blog have clearly stated how they think an entry level engineer should be prepared. See: Biomedical Device Industry Feedback They are looking for people who can shoulder basic design responsibilities immediately upon being hired.  Unreasonable?  Not when you understand that there are a large number of experienced engineers looking for work.  As a result, students and parents need to ask whether the curricula provide opportunities to use industry standard software tools such as ProEngineer, MatLab, Labview,  Fluent, I-DEAS, MultiSim, Orcad, COSMOS/m, etc.   Ask about these software tools specifically as you investigate programs.   I would strongly suggest students continue to ask for experience with industry standard tools after acceptance to the program if you decide to settle on one that is deficient.  You can use this blog as a resource if there is any question.

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