Answers by Dr. Melissa Knothe Tate
It sounds like you "have the makings" to become a biomedical engineer! Actually, with an engineering background in any of the fundamental engineering areas like Mechanical, Electrical, and Chemical Engineering would also provide a foundation to make biomedical discoveries. What is important is that you learn to think critically like an engineer while also taking science and chemistry classes to understand the "world of cells and molecules" where disease processes start. You will be entering the field at an exciting time: research areas including the mechanics of the cytoskeleton (the cell's own skeleton), protein folding (yes, just like folding clothes but at a much smaller length scale), and electrical signaling between cells are changing our understanding of whole body/organ health and disease processes. By majoring in engineering as an undergraduate and then going to medical school (or graduate school to earn your Ph.D. in engineering), you will be poised to make new discoveries to prevent or to reverse disease processes! In planning for your future, I would suggest exploring research universities that have top programs in both engineering and medicine. Make sure you apply for scholarships not only at the universities but also through private foundations. You high school guidance counselor should be able to work with you to do searches on the internet as well as to contact universities directly to determine which ones have merit based aid. If your school counselor does not have much time to support you in this, I would recommend looking on the web for university research labs whose work interests you. Don't be afraid to write to professors directly to ask about their work. The best springboard for your career will be to participate in lab research as soon as you start at the university; professors who answer your emails will be more likely to mentor your in their research programs. So, keep up the great work in math and science and don't forget how important it is to excel in writing as well; a big part of research is conveying your results to others, either in written articles or at conference presentations. Good luck!
Dear Morgan, You asked whether there are engineering jobs that involve taking care of animals. Indeed, some engineering jobs involve taking care of animals. For example, an old colleague of mine designs hip implants for dogs! You may not ever have considered that house pets get old and their joints get frail, just like humans. Some pet owners take their pets to the hospital to replace their joints, and engineers design, test, and develop manufacturing methods for those replacement joints. Also, any agricultural jobs involving livestock or farm animals could potentially involve engineering, including engineering of equipment but also genetic engineering to develop livestock breeds that are particularly resistant to disease and that produce superior meat, for instance. Also, some of the earliest biomechanics studies involved photographing horse movement to determine gait patterns during running and walking. Virtually any creative endeavor can potentially involve engineering! Thanks for your excellent question, MKT