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Avoid bioengineering, if you can!

s1185s1185 Registered User Posts: 174 Junior Member
edited November 2012 in Engineering Majors
I am a 4th year bioengineering major at UC Berkeley and I've long realized that I've made a terrible mistake. I really don't see how BioE should be as "hot" a major as it is. The program at Berkeley, given its admission statistics, is highly overrated. In terms of career prospects and earning potential, there is no added advantage to majoring in BioE. Here's my take on why it is a bad idea to major in BioE (with exceptions, below):

BioE is too broad and theoretical at the undergraduate level to be useful as a terminal degree. Companies in the relevant field hiring newly graduated bachelors are looking for people who have more specialized skill sets so they can be part of a interdisciplinary team. As a result, they will prefer the mechanical engineer, the chemical engineer, the materials scientist, or the electrical engineer (and put them all on the same team to complement each other) over the bioengineer (who knows a little bit of all the fields but is not good at any one of them). Alumni of Berkeley's BioE program have told me that there arent many jobs specifically available for BioE bachelors and they have found the need to compete with graduates of other engineering disciplines for jobs. (The BioE major trying to show employers that he can be better at chemical engineering than the ChemE major is already at a disadvantage.)

Of course, there are exceptions. For example, top rated BME programs at Johns Hopkins, Duke, and UCSD literally force their students to select another engineering field in which to specialize and offer few choices in actual course selection. Consequently, these are all ABET accredited. The BioE program (which is not ABET accredited) is poorly designed: you can get away by taking half your core in integrative biology department. If not, the result is still a mish-mash of wholly unrelated courses in various sciences and engineering. What I am hearing from people in the job search is that when employers ask them if they have experience in a certain field, they can say "I took a class and we covered this", but they can't really say they know or understand it. (Keep in mind that what is true for Berkeley is not true for a number of places, but it can still be representative for many emerging programs.)

On the other hand, it is worth getting PhD in bioengineering to get into the industry, but PhD programs take anyone who has majored in a science or engineering discipline. And here, BioE majors are still at no advantage, especially if they haven't done any substantial research.

So my advice to all of you early in the game:
-Major in BioE only if you truly love and enjoy the subject. This is true for any major.
-If you are premed, you must not only love and enjoy the subject but be good at it since your GPA will matter a gazillion (literally!) times over your major. The same holds the same if you are prelaw, but you will better off as a patent lawyer having majored in something more specialized at the undergraduate level like EE.
-If you want to enter a BioE-related field, then you do not need to major in BioE: try choosing another engineering discipline (e.g. EE to work on BioMEMS, MechE to work in orthopedic biomechanics). This will make it easier on you both when you are trying to find a job with a bachelor's degree and when you are trying to get into a PhD BioE program.
-If you do major in BioE, try to take classes in a single engineering discipline (or double major!) to make yourself more marketable to employers.

Keep in mind that what I learned firsthand I experienced in school. The rest I learned talking to other people. Feel free to validate these opinions or disagree with them.
Post edited by s1185 on

Replies to: Avoid bioengineering, if you can!

  • s1185s1185 Registered User Posts: 174 Junior Member
    Let me add if you compare the starting salaries of Berkeley grads, bioengineers poll significantly lower than most other engineers: (average/median)

    BioE: http://career.berkeley.edu/Major/Bioengr.stm $48,346/$38,500
    EECS: http://career.berkeley.edu/Major/EECS.stm $59,131/$60,000
    IEOR: http://career.berkeley.edu/Major/IEOR.stm $57,044/$55,000
    MechE: http://career.berkeley.edu/Major/MechEngr.stm $53,543/$55,000
  • redbeardredbeard Registered User Posts: 308 Member
    Thanks, S1185, for adding a little sanity to the BioE craze. My son is at UVa's school of engineering. They just disestablished the Aero-E department and created a dept of BioMed-Engineering. This despite the fact that, according to their own surveys, BioE is the least requested major by recruiters and employers.

    I've raised this issue with the dean. I wonder if they're responding to their own hopes and dreams and not to the market itself. As Isaac Asimov once said, "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."

    On the other hand, it sounds really neat to say you're majoring in Biomedical Engineering.

    As for your problem, s1185, my suggestion is painful but probably for the best. Stay at Berkely and complete a major in an ABET-accredited field. Chemical engineering is really hot. Others are equally promising, as your data shows. All the best...
  • TiberiusTiberius Registered User Posts: 597 Member
    I saw those figures a long time ago. Never understood what was so "hot" about Bioengineering myself.
  • toronto_guytoronto_guy Registered User Posts: 261 Junior Member
    s1185, I do not think we have BioEngineering in Canada as such though there is a program called Biological Engineering in some schools. I do not if that is the same thing.

    You are saying that you are in 4 th year of this program and worried about job outcomes. When you graduate, simply register for another branch of engineering which you think is more practical. I would think that with a degree in BioE it shouldn't take more than 1 year or so to complete Chem E or Mech E, given the credits you have accumulated.
  • oxypunk151oxypunk151 Registered User Posts: 372 Member
    I agree that Bioengineering is not a good major even if you want to enter the field. At my school I was originally a Bioengineer major, but wised up and changed to mechanical engineering. The first thing that made me question the major was while I was looking through the classes I would take. They teach you the basics of many types of engineering topics, and a lot of biology and chemistry. What I failed to see was many classes that integrated all the information. Also, in spite of being a mechanical engineer I am in the process of starting an intern at a small Biomedical Device company. According to the head engineer there only half of the people in the biomedical device/Bioengineering field are Bioengineering majors. The other half are traditional majors such as mechanical and electrical.

    I do not want anyone to be discouraged about entering the biomedical engineering field, but advise against the Bioengineering majors. I am choosing to get a traditional engineering major, which is a much safer major, and leaves me with more options. Hope this is helpful to some of you.
  • john1101john1101 Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
    In reply to s1185
    "EE to work on BioMEMS, MechE to work in orthopedic biomechanics"

    Could you expand on each of these topics, the BioMEMS and orthopedic biomedchanics?
    I have talked about bioengineering in other threads and now am just trying to absorb as much info as possible, (and I need to choose either EE or MechE so I am trying to see what things each major would do in the bio field, so I appreciate any insights you would have).

  • dadofsamdadofsam Registered User Posts: 1,635 Senior Member
    My understanding is that bioenginering and biomedical engineering are not the same subject. Bioengineering supposedly is, as the OP said, a more generalized course of study with input from a number of sciences, whereas biomedical engineering is more aimed at combining knowledge of mechanical engineering with physiology to work on design of medical devices.

    So in choosing to major in one or the other, look carefully at the courses that are required as opposed to those that are electives.
  • 43212344321234 Registered User Posts: 926 Member
    What other majors should be avoided? I was kind of worried tech writing would be scattered like bioE and not have a specific focus... is this true?
  • CitanCitan Registered User Posts: 2,287 Senior Member
    tech writing is not engineering
  • karthikkitokarthikkito Registered User Posts: 1,387 Senior Member
    Well, UCSD's BioE requirements and course list is: http://www-bioeng.ucsd.edu/undergrad/BENG.CourseList.20051014.doc

    The actual BENG classes only come up sophomore year and later, see junior and senior year for lists of electives.

  • RatedPGRatedPG Registered User Posts: 1,079 Senior Member
    Redbeard says "chemical engineering is really hot". I have read on numerous other posts that it definitely is NOT, and might be in demand but only in a few specific areas of the country, (or Canada). Does anyone have any information that would either substantiate, or dispute, Redbeard's statement?

    Also, can others expand on the bioengineering vs. biomedical engineering disciplines?
  • sakkysakky - Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    Redbeard says "chemical engineering is really hot". I have read on numerous other posts that it definitely is NOT

    I think you will finnd that those numerous other posts all tend to come from one particular person, with which I PROFOUNDLY disagree. ChemE is white-hot right now.
    and might be in demand but only in a few specific areas of the country, (or Canada).

    Yeah, but this is also true of practically all other careers. Investment banking, for example, is in demand only in large cities with well-established financial sectors. If you want to do investment banking by you insist on living in, say, rural Wyoming, you're not going to get anywhere. Not even all big cities have well-established investment banking industries. For example, San Jose is the 10th largest city in the country but it has very little investment banking. That's because most of that activity in NorCal (and in the West Coast in general) is located in San Francisco. There's venture capital activity in San Jose, but there is very little actual investment banking. Other large American cities such as San Antonio, Detroit, Phoenix, and San Diego also don't have particularly large investment banking industries. Far and away the most important city in the US for Ibanking is New York City, and there is also some activity in San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Atlanta, and a few others. But the point is, if you want to be an Ibanker in the US, you are basically have little choice but to move to one of these cities, and you probably have to move to New York, at least in the beginning of your career. If you're not willing to do that, well, I don't know what to tell you.

    The same thing is true of management consulting - if you want work for McKinsey, you have to move to a city where a McKinsey office is located. The office locations don't exactly map to population sizes. Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the country, but it doesn't have a McKinsey office. Nor does Phoenix have an office of BCG, Bain, Booz Allen Hamilton, Mercer, or Monitor. I'm sure that Phoenix must have some less prominent consulting firms, but the point is, if you want to get into management consulting, but you insist on staying in Phoenix, that's going to be a problem.

    This is true of practically any industry. If you want to get into aerospace engineering, there are only a few places in the world where aircraft/ spacecraft are made. If you want to do biomedical research, there are only a few cities and areas that have major biomedical research facilities. If you want to do computer engineering, there are only a few places in the world where computers are designed and manufactured. The point is, I don't see how chemical engineering is any worse on this regard than most other careers. Requiring a chemical engineer to move to where the petrochemical industry (i.e. the Texas Gulf Coast, or if you're Canadian, then to Alberta) is at is no different than asking a budding investment banker to move to New York or Boston.
  • scorpscorp Registered User Posts: 994 Member
    BioE and BME are not the same thing. BioEs can't expect to get BME jobs.
    BME @ JHU (thank you for noting the exceptions) allows you to add a "concentration" to your major in four areas that are not full second majors but are maybe 1/2 or 2/3 there. This makes BME really difficult because of all the engineering classes one has to take along with the BME specific engineering classes.
  • CitanCitan Registered User Posts: 2,287 Senior Member
    Bioengineering is a broad-based engineering discipline that deals with bio-molecular and molecular processes, product design, sustainability and analysis of biological systems.

    Biomedical Engineering is the application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field. It combines the expertise of engineering with medical needs to improve healthcare.

    from Wikipedia. That should help. Biomed Engineering is still lucrative.
  • s1185s1185 Registered User Posts: 174 Junior Member
    Bioengineering is supposed to encompass more than biomedical engineering (e.g. it would include engineering of non-medical technology, such as agricultural engineering). BME includes much more than developing strictly medical devices and can include engineering-based medical therapies. It includes bioinformatics, prostheses, medical imaging, tissue engineering, etc.

    But as far as the undergraduate curriculum is concerned, the two are synonymous. Every class or research project in the BioE department at Berkeley concerns medical technology. When I went to orientation three years ago, someone asked the department chair why we went by "bioengineering" instead of "biomedical engineering" and the response was that the two were essentially the same and it was a matter of preference. They decided in favor of bioengineering instead of biomedical engineering because Berkeley does not have a medical school, even though the graduate program run jointly with UCSF and many of the BioE faculty also hold appointments at UCSF. At UCLA, biomedical engineering is an interdisciplinary program that only offers graduate degrees while bioengineering is a department of the school of engineering and only offers undergraduate degrees...I haven't found a BioE department covering agricultural engineering.
This discussion has been closed.