Rob Burke was one of the first 40 graduates from Tech’s BME program. Being a member of this first class of students, they were often the “guinea pigs” as the department and the professors were working to the lay the groundwork for what is today one of the best Biomedical Engineering programs in the country. Despite having to go through the experience of trial and error, what Rob enjoyed the most of being a part of this first class was how all the students “bonded so well with one another” and the “personal connections” they developed with the professors.
One of the most interesting aspects of Rob’s story was the path that led him to becoming a BME, or rather, the lack of a path that led him to this program. After coming to Tech, he decide to major in Civil Engineering because he had no idea what he wanted to do and civil engineering “just sounded cool”. It wasn’t until he began working a co-op position at a building design firm that Rob realized that Civil Engineering wasn’t as “cool” as he had initially thought. Confused and unsure of what to do, Rob became sure he had to change his major. But to what? His answer came in one of the most unexpected ways. While waiting outside before one of his classes, Rob happened to grab a copy of the Technique just to kill some time. As he began to read, he happened to open to the page advertising Tech’s new BME program. After seeing the ad, Rob decided to give it a shot and applied to the program. Shortly after, he was accepted and Rob decided to officially switch majors.
During his time at Tech, Rob spent about 1.5 years working in the lab of Dr. Gang Bao. He worked with optical and magnetic beacons and developing ways to stabilize the beacon structure. Outside of the classroom, Rob also participated in sports and was involved with a fraternity on-campus. After college, Rob decided to do a Ph.D in Bioengineering at the University of Washington. This gave him the opportunity to do focused time doing research. After completing his Ph.D, he spent 5 years working for Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies. Rob described this experience as his “apprenticeship” where he spent a lot of his time “just soaking up as much information as he could”. This work led to his current position at Avidity Nanomedicines, where he works as a Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics Scientist. His company is looking to develop drugs against cancer, specifically through the use of nanoparticles. They are using nanocarriers as drug vehicles for siRNAs that inhibit tumor growth.
One of the biggest lessons Rob learned as an undergraduate revolves around one of the key strengths of an engineer: the problem-solving process. His academic coursework at Tech allowed him to learn how to solve problems, especially in taking a given problem, translating it and breaking it down into its individual components.