Finding Your Passion

My name is Courtney Rowe, and I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2008. I am currently working as a product development engineer on the commercialization side of research and development at Kimberly-Clark.

BMEs pick up skills in different areas. We act as go-betweens because we have that base of knowledge in almost everything.

In high school, math always came easy to me. I also loved biology and had always been interested in the medical field, but I knew I did not want to become a doctor. After reading more about the job market in BME and talking to other students who were enrolled in BME at Georgia Tech, BME just seemed like a perfect match of those two things I enjoyed most. In the fall of my sophomore year, I started co-oping with Kimberly-Clark and worked with them all through college. Upon graduation, I was able to continue working in the labs at Kimberly-Clark before being offered a full-time job by the company. My job experience coupled with the classes I took, further helped me get a better picture of what BME was and helped me realize medical devices was what I wanted to work on.

Behind the Scenes

There are several facets to a company. In launching a product, there are three main groups that work together. First there is the concept development team, who identify the problem. Their task is to go out to get input from doctors and customers in order to understand what would make the lives of patients easier. Second, is the group I’m part of: the commercialization team. My current projects are related to digestive health products, more specifically, feeding tubes, which cater mostly to kids who can’t eat or absorb nutrients due to some health condition. Once a concept has been created and prototypes have been developed, the next step in the industry is commercialization in the form of manufacturing, testing and dealing with the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to launch the products. Lastly, there’s the business support team, which deals with any issues after the product has been launched, because there’s inevitably going to be something that comes up. It’s impossible to make a perfect product, so there’s a whole team of people who support the product after its launch to make any upgrades to it and respond to customer complaints.

14345327355_06f9161071_o

The Good and the Bad

Sometimes, it’s the failures which lead to the next great idea.

Sometimes, it’s the failures which lead to the next great idea. Even before we start building prototypes, we have ideation sessions in which we figure out what our options are and what we can build. We ask ourselves, is there anything out there already which could help us make a better device? My favorite part is playing around in the lab and getting to build things even if they don’t work. I love doing that stuff because it’s always challenging to come up with something new and innovative. Who cares if you fail, you’ll come up with something great eventually.

The parts that aren’t so fun are the meetings. There are meetings everywhere, all the time, and you just get used to them. There are also always different phases to a project. Right now, I have been working with the FDA quite a bit, and we’re in the midst of trying to launch a new project. It has involved a lot of paperwork and analysis of data to prove that our device is robust enough to launch and is not going to harm any patients.

Every day is never the same, which I love. A project always has many phases; there are phases of paperwork, phases of discussion, and phases of playing around to move projects forwards. There are a lot of meetings, but they depend on where you are in the project. Although I’m in a paperwork phase right now, we’re about to start the new phase of another new project. That will involve coming in everyday, meeting up with the team, and discussing our design options for the prototype models.

Advice to the Students

Georgia Tech has its academic record for a reason, so buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a rocky ride, but also an awesome one. Be sure that you manage your time well.

Manage your time. The hardest thing transitioning to college was having a lot more freedom. I got to Tech thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to be just like high school.’  I thought I would barely have to study to get A’s, but college really smacked me around that first semester. Georgia Tech has its academic record for a reason, so buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a rocky ride, but also an awesome one. Be sure that you manage your time well. Make sure that you reign in yourself and get your study time in. However, it’s also very important to get your social time in, too. That’s a big one, making sure that you achieve a nice balance between school and fun.

Find your niche. When I graduated and came into industry, I thought, ‘I know a little bit about a lot, but I don’t know a lot about much at all’. I had studied design and a bit of electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering, so I had a basic understanding of everything. However, I wished that there had been tracks that I could have taken. So, while I loved being a BME, there was a part of me that wished we had like a mechanical concentration or something where I could have learned more about designing, manufacturing, modeling and things like that.  If I could do it again, I would still be BME, but I think it’s important to find your niche. Find what you really love and concentrate on that, rather than taking a million other classes in every field.

 

 

At Georgia Tech, you are allowed to choose between a minor, a certificate and a research option for the breadth electives. Choose depending on what you want to do. If you want to go on to medical school, go with research because that’s what you’re going to be doing. If you want to go into industry, a minor or a certificate is probably going to be more beneficial to you. Studying a foreign language would be incredibly helpful. We manufacture everything in Mexico, and I wish that I had taken Spanish classes in college. If you have an inkling of what you want to do, you should just steer towards that in terms of choosing between the three options. You can’t go wrong, either way you will gain a wealth of knowledge.

8078589298_7613fbff6f_o

Keep strong. On the plus side, BMEs pick up skills in different areas. We act as go-betweens because we have that base of knowledge in almost everything. I do find that when someone asks me a random question, it sparks a little memory in my mind and I recall things quickly. The biggest strength about being a BME is the ability to stay in conversation about a variety of subjects. There is such a variety of jobs available for BMEs. There are companies which focus on pharmaceuticals, there are companies which work on tissue generation and medical devices, etc. There also many small startup companies which I obviously haven’t worked for, but people say it’s an incredible ride. Being faced with a lot of responsibility right out of college is stressful, but definitely worth the experience. In the end, I’m happy that I chose to go to Tech, especially in stressful situations, because it prepared me for the workforce. The stress sucks while you’re at school, but when you’re at work, people will freak out and you’re just going to say, “You know what? It’s fine.”

Teamwork is essential. There are so many skills which college gives you in preparation for the workforce. We had some challenging classes in college, for example, BMED 2300 in which we were randomly assigned groups. I don’t like conflict, so I never had a problem with anybody in a group before. However, that class really helped me learn how to deal with people who are very stubborn. There are people like that who I work with every day. It’s just a matter of understanding their point of view and working with them without fighting every time that you don’t agree on something.

Group classes were definitely a great learning experience, they really teach you how to work in a team even if you’re not all friends. Working in a dynamic industry, teamwork is one of the crucial skills to being successful. Almost all medical device companies are set up in a team environment, where there is a team leader along with the group. You have to be able to work with all those people. It’s also important to be willing to learn from observing as much as you can. When I first started working, it was important for me to be a sponge, because everyone else already knew so much. Everything goes back to teamwork and the ability to acknowledge that you’re not right 100% of the time.

Make the most out of your classes. My senior design project was probably one of the most important BME courses I took because it pushed me the hardest and prepared me for the workload I was going to experience after college.

Make the most out of your classes. My senior design project was probably one of the most important BME courses I took because it pushed me the hardest and prepared me for the workload I was going to experience after college. We designed a prototype from start to finish, wrote up a mock submission to the FDA, and gathered data regarding patents for our device to make sure that we weren’t infringing on anything. I found that incredibly useful after I graduated because I got to know what went into making a device. In addition to senior design, I took a couple of computer programming classes. There are tons of presentations involved on the job, so basic computer skills are essential.

Challenges in the Work

Designing a product is all about creativity and letting your imagination run wild.

Kimberly-Clark is a really good company in that they encourage employees to branch out and get a feel for everything. If you understand all sides of business, in the long run, you will be a stronger employee. I’m allowed to move around between areas of focus, so for example, right now I’m in digestive health, but if I got tired of it, I could always take a break and start in the airways or the medical equipment teams. It’s important to move around in the company; otherwise you keep going on the same track and lose that passion and innovation. Challenges are necessary once in a while, and you need something to kick yourself up again. The crucial factor is passion, if you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re not going to be doing good work.

Designing a product is all about creativity and letting your imagination run wild. There’s no restriction to what ideas can come up and be used in projects. However, this freedom is the other end of the spectrum, because it’s pretty tough dealing with the FDA. Although I took classes on the FDA and other regulatory systems in college, I had never learned about the entire process before I started working. It’s been a challenge because we have to get a CE mark on our devices, and the FDA is out there to make sure that we produce products that are safe for customers. The hardest part is trying to get information across to people who don’t necessarily have technical experience in your area of expertise. Sometimes for someone who has no idea about the background of a project, it’s hard for them to see things from your perspective.

In addition to dealing with the FDA, I have to deal with timelines. They are probably the biggest stressor, even though I’ve always been good at managing my time. In the past, I was always managing stuff for myself, but here I have to communicate timelines with people in different countries and time zones. Often my needs are not the same as the needs of others as far as timing goes. Sometimes I get in time crunches that are unavoidable, and I just have to buckle down and get work done. It’s important to communicate with people about why you can or cannot meet a timeline, because a lot of times other groups don’t understand what you’re dealing with.

Getting the job

It’s the skills in managing time which really make BME majors marketable to companies. When recruiting, I like to see that prospective employees have had “real world experience”. This involves internships, working in labs or co-oping.

It’s the skills in managing time which really make BME majors marketable to companies. When recruiting, I like to see that prospective employees have had “real world experience”. This involves internships, working in labs or co-oping. It’s shows that you understand that it’s not just all about being book-smart. You have to be able to work in a group.

Another thing that I like to see is that prospective employees have a life outside of academics. We often get students who come up to us with incredible resumes and 4.0s in every class you can imagine. It’s fine if you want to focus on your studies, but a lot of the time it doesn’t translate well into the work environment because you don’t have that social experience with other people. Being in a sorority, leadership organizations and, even the sailing club are all ways to do a little something that’s not focused on studies. You need that little break from studies and also that experience outside of school. It’s also essential for you to be passionate about whichever job you’re looking for. Even if you’re unsure whether you want to do it for the rest of your life, you need to want to be doing it now.

Other things that recruitment teams really look for include cross-cultural experience and language skills. I didn’t realize until after I graduated that a lot of companies set up international bases because often it is much less expensive to produce raw materials abroad. I picked up Spanish when I spent 4 months in Mexico and so was able to somewhat coordinate with our base there. We have process guys in the company who are learning Mandarin Chinese because we build so much in China. It’s definitely incredibly helpful to be able to add different languages to your resume, because finding a job or co-op can be challenging.

The most important piece of advice I can give is to find your passion. Stay in school and find out what you like. Find out which classes you enjoy. Even though everyday isn’t amazing, I know that I’m happy here and this is what I want to do. Your route may not be straightforward, but you should know that in the end you’re going to be doing something that you love.

The most important piece of advice I can give is to find your passion. Stay in school and find out what you like. Find out which classes you enjoy. Even though everyday isn’t amazing, I know that I’m happy here and this is what I want to do. Your route may not be straightforward, but you should know that in the end you’re going to be doing something that you love.

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on Google+Email this to someone
Finding Your PassionAlexa Siu
01

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.