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MIT student blogger Bryan O. '07

To BE or not to BE by Bryan

Bioengineering, it's so hot right now.

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a doctor.

The summer before my senior year of college, I wanted to be a doctor.

Are these two statements the same?


So since I’m from the 80s, I can tell you that I was a Doogie Howser fan.

I used to want to save lives by performing surgeries and hold a defribillator in my hands and say “Clear!”

As a kid, I jumped around and had a tour of careers: judge, astronaut, movie star, video game designer…you get the gist.

And then in 6th grade at the state spelling bee, I mispelled the word prosthetics. (I still blame the man reading the words, but then, in retrospect the prize for first place was a set of encyclopedias. Then the internet became popular, so HA!)

I never really forgave myself for that day back in 1996, and it’s probably a good thing. How else would I have learned about bioengineering?

Fast forward to MIT circa 2003.

Bryan arrives on campus.

I still danced around the major I wanted, AeroAstro, EECS, Biology, ChemE…aye so many choices.

Eventually I settled on Mechanical Engineering, and for me that was a good decision given what I could select from. I still wanted some biology in my life though, so I thought a while about double majoring in biology, but I decided against that one and went for the biomedical engineering minor instead.

Up until the middle of my sophomore year, I still wanted to go into medicine.

That’s when I started to change my mind.

Having taken a lot of engineering classes by then and having a UROP in a bioengineering lab, I began to change my perspective on things. I really liked applying engineering concepts to biology, and I really didn’t like the idea of just doing medicine. At this point, I just kind of knew I wanted to go into bioengineering. I wasn’t positive about the PhD thing until about 3 weeks ago.

But I guess the question is can someone who studied mechanical engineering go into a bioengineering program? Simple answer: yes.

What particularly interests me about bioengineering is in the area of biomechanics and cellular fluid dynamics. I like thinking about how mechanical properties either those inherent to the cell or those in the local environment of the cell influence behavior. Biomechanics on different length scales is a very big aspect of bioengineering programs these days, so I’m safe. For me, it was a good decision to get a handle on the purely mechanical aspect of things before trying to apply those principles to biological systems because in biological systems, a lot of the phenomena has yet to be understood or quantified. These systems however are so complex that I’m pretty sure that while I like biomechanics that I won’t be able to completely ignore all the other aspects such as signaling, kinetics, etc.

And why a PhD?

1. I still want the title of Dr.
2. I really want to be able to learn how to design a research project and see it through, and that is best accomplished in my opinion by getting a PhD.

So as I look on Facebook and see everyone who wants to go into bioengineering, it’s not surprising. It’s a really hot field in my opinion with a lot of unanswered questions. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of areas that you can go into and a bunch of ways to end up in the same place.

5 responses to “To BE or not to BE”

  1. JKim says:

    Hey, you can still yell things like “Get me that file, STAT!”

  2. Aziz '10 says:

    Well I want to go into ME…so that’s good to hear that you can choose a different course…but I’ll probably stick to Mech. Eng. wink

  3. your story is ejactly!! like my story.

    i wanna do medicine/engineering.



  4. Kristin says:

    Ahh, this reminds me of a question I’ve been harboring for a while:

    I had heard that the majority of people who get PhDs in Engineering just go back and become a professor. Is that really true? Do you know what all people do once they get an engineering PhD?

  5. Bryan says:

    Hey Kristin,

    A lot of the graduate students I work with are actually planning on going into industry at least for a little while before considering academia. These days, a PhD is required to become a professor, so it’s natural that anyone who wants to become a professor will be seeking a PhD, but I think there is a large set of people who want PhD’s to become better researchers. As far as what I want from an engineering PhD, right now I’d like to say I want to go into academia, but I also realize that I haven’t even been accepted into grad school yet.

    – Bryan