I knew I wanted to study biomedical engineering before I came to college. I was interested in it ever since I read an article about electronic interfaces with the brain. The article really intrigued me and I thought BME and bioengineering were cutting edge fields that would raise a lot of important ethical questions about what it means to be human in the 21st century, as well as being fields that had a lot of potential to have a tremendous impact on the quality of human life.
So what is BME? In my eyes, biomedical engineering is about quantifying human health and looking at the human body as a system; it has inputs, outputs, and some mechanisms in the middle that govern the two. This is a tricky problem, though. The human body is an immensely complicated system, and we’re really just at the surface of our understanding of it. Another facet of BME is that it’s a top-down engineering field. The human body system already exists, and if there’s something that needs to be fixed, you can only modify that pre-existing system. Compare this with electrical engineering, where you design your system from the ground up to meet the specifications of the task you want it to accomplish. That’s ultimately why I decided to pick up the electrical engineering emphasis. EE complements BME well, and I think having both the top-down and bottom-up design and analysis paradigms rounds out my engineering toolbox (remember, engineering is different from most other majors; it’s more about learning a very specific and useful analytical mind set than it is about memorizing facts, though there’ll be some of that too.)
Another facet of BME is that it is an intensely scientific course load. Of course, all engineering fields are based in math and science, but as a BME-electrical I take three courses in chemistry, three courses in biology, and three courses in physics. It’s awesome to have a broad and strong background of 9 courses in all of the major sciences. Every course I’ve taken in bio, chem, and physics has really impacted for the better the way I see the world, and I think there are few course loads that make you as scientifically literate.
I’m three years into BME and I’m still loving my major. I’ve taken so many classes that have transformed the way I see and interact with the world that I honestly can’t remember how I thought and viewed things before I started classes at USC. I have a lot more appreciation now for the human body. It’s a marvelously well engineered system. As much as it seems like things go wrong a lot with your body (pull a muscle, catch a cold, burn your tongue, etc.) there’s so much going on behind the scenes to keep your body operating that I didn’t really appreciate until I took courses in BME. There’s a lot of insight to be gained about humanity from looking at the human body as a machine that can be altered and repaired. And my EE side has given me a tremendous appreciation for the technology that we rely on so heavily today and the digital information revolution as a whole. Seriously, after EE101 I haven’t been able to look at my iPhone the same way. There’s speculation that bioengineering and BME will follow suit and have their own renaissance in the next 10 to 20 years. I’m inclined and a little biased to agree that BME is an emerging field with a lot of promise for growth and work.
tl;dr If you’re interested in an exceptionally strong background in science, and want to study and work in a cutting edge field which shows tremendous promise to improve the tangible quality of health for humanity, BME may be right up your alley.