Studying Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences (iBioMed) at McMaster University
By Kavya Sundaresan
Hi, my name is Kavya, and I am an Integrated Biomedical Engineering and Health Sciences (iBioMed) student at McMaster University going into my second year. In this article, I will be discussing my experience with the iBioMed program and why I chose this specific university and program.
Tell us a little bit about your program.
The iBioMed program is a very unique program in that it combines biomedical engineering and health sciences, which used to be separate programs, so that students can choose to do either a bachelor of engineering or bachelor of health sciences. It is a 5 year program with optional co-op that aims to bring together aspects of engineering and medicine to solve problems in healthcare by using technology. The Bachelor of Health Sciences that you'd do in this program is not like the typical Health Sciences program at McMaster, or at any other university. Your major would be health & engineering sciences and entrepreneurship. You would mostly be taking courses that a typical health sciences student would be taking, but on top of that, you'd also take a few engineering courses. With the Bachelor of Engineering program, you have to first choose a specialization because biomedical engineering is a multidisciplinary program, and it requires different specialized engineers to come together to make a product. In iBioMed, students can specialize in subjects like software, computer materials, mechatronics, etc. Engineering students within this program would take all the courses a normal engineering student would be required to take, but in addition, they would also take some health sciences courses to understand the biological perspective. This makes it easy for students in the health sciences stream and the engineering stream to not only understand their own discipline, but also to be able to collaborate with students from the opposite stream. Both streams have to take some general iBioMed courses which include various project-based design courses.
When and how did you know you wanted to go into biomedical engineering?
When I was growing up, I got frequent opportunities to volunteer at hospitals and meet with patients through a variety of extracurricular activities, allowing me to learn a lot about different challenges in healthcare. I always knew I wanted to go into the healthcare field because I thought that we needed to develop a better system for people and correct the inefficiencies in our current system. I really only discovered biomedical engineering in September of grade 12 when I got introduced to an engineer in a workshop I attended. They talked about how engineering is just the process of problem-solving. Engineers work to solve society's problems and these problems can range in subjects from climate change to astronomy. That's when I realized that I can solve inefficiencies in healthcare by going through engineering and finding engineering based solutions. That's why I went to biomedical engineering. It was partially a last minute decision because I only considered it for a few months but I felt that this field would let me solve the challenges I have wanted to address all this time.
What factors did you consider when deciding that McMaster was the best choice for you?
I only applied to biomedical engineering programs, aside from iBioMed, in other universities. I mainly made this decision by talking to representatives from those programs. I asked them to tell me about the different topics they learn about in their program, the types of projects they worked on and the resources their university has for engineering students. I chose iBioMed mainly because of its uniqueness in combining engineering with health sciences. In other biomedical engineering programs, there is a greater focus on engineering, mostly consisting of technical courses that teach students how to program and design products. In iBioMed, I have opportunities to work with patients, meet with radiologists and physicians, learn anatomy and other biological concepts through experiential learning (i.e. dissections). These are all things that are not highlighted in other biomedical engineering programs. I believe these learning opportunities will make me a better engineer since when you are working with living people, you have to understand how their bodies work to help them properly.
How did you finally choose between your top choices?
I was mainly debating between Waterloo and McMaster. This was because Waterloo is known for their engineering programs, they have a really good co-op program and they have a lot of resources dedicated to engineering students. So, I was leaning more towards Waterloo, but that was when I decided to talk to upper year students in both Waterloo's biomedical engineering program and McMaster's iBioMed program. What I liked about iBiomed is that you were not just a biomedical engineer; you can be a mechatronics engineer, a software engineer, etc. with there always being the option to do health sciences. I also liked that I could narrow my focus and concentrate on areas of engineering I was especially interested in, such as robotics. Further, the projects which iBioMed concentrated on were more intriguing to me. I would get to work with real clients and patients and develop solutions for them, which I really liked. Essentially, it really came down to McMaster's program allowing me to get more experiential learning and concentrate on my specific interests.
What are some common misconceptions that people have about your program?
I think the main thing is that a lot of people just don't know enough about this program, especially since the program and field of biomedical engineering in general is very new and still being explored. I find that a lot of students who are aiming to go into healthcare tend to think that they only have two options, life sciences or health sciences. As such, they are missing out on really good options like iBioMed. It's a common misconception that you cannot pursue medical school if you don't go into a biology-related program, but you definitely can. Also, you get the chance to explore other possibilities concerning aspects of healthcare technology through programs like iBioMed. Many students and employers also don't understand that people who graduate from this program are not just biomedical engineers, and that we can work on non-healthcare related problems. Ultimately, engineering students in this program are taking all the courses general engineering students would take. In fact, in my case, a more accurate description of my stream would be mechatronics engineering with a focus in biomedical engineering, giving me the same qualifications as a general engineering graduate.
What are some extracurriculars you have been a part of and how have they shaped your university experience?
In first year, I was part of this program called MacChangers which is an incubator program. This meant that I focused on a problem and developed a solution for it, with a team, over a period of time. My team focused on pollution by people in conservation spaces located in Hamilton. We created this website under "Hamilton Conservation Spaces" which encourages people who visit these trails and parks to clean up after themselves and follow trail etiquette. We also designed this social program where they can get prizes based on how much they engage in these activities. Aside from this, I was also a high school student ambassador for McMaster's Women in Engineering Society. Through this, I visited my high school and talked to them about engineering at McMaster, the opportunities that we have and how they can get involved. This following year, I will be a junior graphics member for McMaster's Design League which will help students develop new skills related to 3D CAD modeling and UI/UX design. Lastly, I am currently a learning resources assistant for EMBER (a 3-week "transition to university" program that McMaster's faculty of engineering hosts for incoming first years) through a 4 month paid co-op program. I will be teaching a crash course in physics and creating their new computing course.
What is one piece of advice you have for incoming university students interested in the Integrated Biomedical Engineering and Health Sciences program at McMaster?
I would advise them to just remain open minded and be ready to explore new avenues. iBioMed is not a one-way route and it leads to a million branches with so many opportunities and amazing people to meet. So, come in without too many preconceptions and be prepared to explore these different paths.
I have only briefly discussed my experiences in this article. If you have any more questions, I am completely open to talking more about this program. You can reach me at my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewed and transcribed by Bhargavi Venkataraman
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