My name is Dr. Richard Carano and I am a senior scientist at Genentech. I use models of diseases to evaluate drugs and do research in biomedical imaging to understand how drugs work in the body.
I have always enjoyed math and biology, so I knew that I wanted to do something that tied the two together when I started college. I looked for any applications (especially those focusing in engineering) that were related to medicine and biology and ended up received my master’s degree in electrical engineering (EE) with a focus in biomedical engineering (BME). After that, I worked for several companies in software engineering, mostly doing work that involved image and signal processing. I started work in an entry-level engineering position and was given a small number of projects that I was actually able to contribute to thanks to my education.
My expectations of working in industry were pretty accurate – I first worked for a large company where the assignments were very focused – but I soon realized that I wanted a research position. I thought I needed to get a PhD to get that kind of job, so I went back to school. At that time, my goal was to focus on medical imaging and MRI technology.
I ended up receiving my PhD in BME with a focus on MRI technology, and I did research on image analysis of photomicrographs of the cornea.
After receiving my PhD, I became the senior scientist at Genentech. I often do technical work, which usually tends to be related to software or data analysis, but I also have more managerial duties now than I did before. I am part of multi-disciplinary project teams that work together to address specific questions related to biology and drug development and have multiple ongoing projects. For example, one of my teams is trying to identify which imaging techniques would be best for different situations. On a typical day, I meet with numerous people to discuss how best to approach a problem, deal with logistical issues, and try to figure out how best to get something implemented and tested.
One of my other main duties as a manager is to hire people. As hiring manager, I filter resumes to find the people that my company may be interested in hiring, after which I make a recommendation to my boss, who makes the final decisions. During interviews, I look for characteristics like knowledge, experience, and collaboration skills. Being able to work in a team is vital to the success of a BME. In an interview, I like to see that people understand what is listed on their resumes, and that they can further explain or answer questions about each part of their resume. I also look for people who are competent in the areas they have worked in.
You also need to demonstrate that you, as an individual, will contribute to a team and are needed for the projects you will be working on. You need to perform well, know your field well, and work hard so that you will be able to excel at your position. Then, when it comes time to take on greater responsibilities, you will be more than ready, will do well, and will be the person picked for the job.
Biomedical engineering is a broad field and can be approached from many different disciplines, whether it is chemical, electrical, or mechanical engineering. As an undergrad, the most important thing you can do is work hard, even as a freshman. Try to find areas within your field that you find interesting. This will make the “working hard” part of school a lot easier! Sometimes the toughest thing is to find the area that you find the most rewarding. Then you need to keep up that drive and keep working hard and setting goals and achieving those goals.
Along the way, you need to make sure that you get a general understanding of the field and specialize in something that truly interests you. Don’t expect anything more than to understand the field. Pay attention in your introductory classes, because they provide an understanding of what kinds of projects you may work on as a biomedical engineer. Make sure you develop a set of basic and marketable skills from engineering courses because they are extremely useful after you graduate.
The last major piece of advice that I can give you is to specialize in something that you truly care about. BME is usually a very broad program that may be preparing students for graduate education. At some point, you need to develop a good skill set if you want to enter industry. You need to become an expert in some aspect of your field if you want to get a good job. The undergraduate program at my school, for example, was designed to prepare students for graduate school. I got great advice from one of my professors at the time. He told me that it was important to develop good skills that you need when you work, and I’m telling you the same thing he told me because I completely agree with what he said. Foster an analytical mind, be ready for memorization, and stimulate your interests. The rest will follow.