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BME in trouble, need advice


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#1 presequence

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 06:31 AM

Hello, I just started my PhD program in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins and so far I am absolutely struggling. I've only been here 2 months and am already seriously considering dropping out since I am absolutely hating it. I thought I would have liked working in something biologically and medically related, but just can not get past the biology course work. My analytical skills are fine. I was thinking about moving on to Boston University's LEAP program and moving instead to computer or electrical engineering. My undergraduate degree is not in engineering, but rather in mathematics. The other thing that troubles me is the fact that BMEs seem to have trouble finding jobs. Many employers don't consider them engineers or biologists, they're somewhat caught in limbo. Also, I'm starting to become increasingly worried about having to work in a field related to biotech, which is notorious for being unstable. I'm already a non-trad trying to go back to school and retrain for a new profession, so I don't want to waste any more time trying to decide. The only downside to the LEAP programs is that it costs money. Most likely a significant amount while the program I'm in now is free and pays a stipend. On the plus side, however, is the fact that I could leave LEAP in 2 years with a Master's in EE instead of being here for 6 years until I get my degree. Would it make it worth it in this economy?

So for you EEs out there, how easy would it be to transition into such a career? What are the job prospects like in the future? Better than BME? Has anyone here done the LEAP program? This is probably the low point in my life, I'm getting old, don't have a job (been laid off multiple times which is why I'm trying to retrain), and now I'm doubting the path I've chosen (which I just started). Could I jump into an EE program almost 8 years removed from my undergrad career (I had very good math grades but probably forgot a good amount of math)?

Edited by presequence, 12 November 2011 - 06:36 AM.


#2 benbo

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 02:31 PM

Do you have a reason why you think you would like EE or computer engineering, or are you just looking for something more employable? Because I hear that it can be sort of tough for everyone out there, regardless of major. In fact, I read somewhere recently that one of the best jobs with lowest unemployment is actuary, which seems ideal for a math person, but I'm sure you've probably considered that and aren't interested.

The good news is that depending on what area you pick in EE (or computer engineering) it is probably one of the easiest branches of engineering to jump into from math because a lot of it is math - especially on the digital signal processing, communications side of things.. I assume the LEAP program gives you any prereqs you might have missed like circuits or electronics..

You must be pretty smart and capable to get into a PhD program at Johns Hopkins. Frankly, that's a lot more impressive than my educational background, but by shear happenstance I'm at a point in my career where I make decent money and am not worried about job security. I think the unfortunate thing all around is that no matter what you major in or what credential you have nothing is for certain these days and you need a good bit of luck to never get laid off or be out of work for any period of time.

But an MSEE should certainly help. There are likely some jobs you could get with that degree that you couldn't get with a math degree. In fact, my current job is one of them. It requires an engineering degree in order to apply. You could have a PhD in Aplplied Physicis from MIT and they wouldn't hire you without that engineering sheepskin.

#3 benbo

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 03:04 PM

One other thing - I looked at the LEAP program and that looks pretty interesting. If it were me I would choose something at least tangentially applicable to the energy or petrochemical industry for my phase 2 concentration. Not every EE has to work for Apple, sometimes it's better to take the road less travelled, especially when it looks less out-sourceable (if that's a word). YMMV.

#4 presequence

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 03:34 PM

Thanks for the response!


At this point in my life, yes I am absolutely considering employability and job prospects as part of the package. I'm sick and tired of being underemployed, unemployed, and staying in fields with worsening prospects. The reason I chose BME is because I not only have a math background, but also one in chemistry. I keep reading about the never ending layoffs in Pharma though and I really don't see where else I could work in BME since my concentration would be in drug delivery and tissue engineering. Pharma is losing tons of work overseas and tissue engineering work remains almost solely a realm within academics (academics is not something I want to do). BMEs in general seem to have awful times finding work from what I've been gathering.

I'm feeling as though I made a mistake. I've never struggled with course work before, but am getting crushed right now with the biology. I feel as though I probably should have gone for something that requires more analytical skill since math is my forte. I've been looking at EE and prospects seem to be better than for BMEs. I know that EE requires much more mathematics too, which is maybe something I should have pursued all along. I'm sure I would probably find the work interesting too. I thought about ChemE, but the chemical industry is getting absolutely hammered. So you think ChemE related to petroleum work may be better?

Yeah, I thought about being an actuary, but it is definitely not for me. I'd hate to crunch endless hordes of numbers all day behind a desk. Plus, I'm not so sure if it is quite the gravy train it is always made out to be.

Edited by presequence, 12 November 2011 - 03:36 PM.


#5 benbo

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 04:11 PM

I really don't see where else I could work in BME since my concentration would be in drug delivery and tissue engineering.

A guy that works with me (former Chemist) worked in drug delivery and quit to get his EE degree. Of course he did that back during the dotcom boom because he thought he would strike it big. And although he has a decent job, similar to mine, he didn't end up being a dotcom milionaire.

I know that EE requires much more mathematics too, which is maybe something I should have pursued all along. I'm sure I would probably find the work interesting too. I thought about ChemE, but the chemical industry is getting absolutely hammered. So you think ChemE related to petroleum work may be better?

I have no special insight into this. EE and CHE are probably both reasonable choices. I think it is just tough all over without a bit of luck. I do know that it is likely tougher to completely outsource things that have some local infrastructure component. Back the last time I was looking (late 90s) everything was mixed signal and RF design and VHDL. If you could design an integrated circuit or program certain drivers you could write your own ticket. Now I think they just send all that stuff to a grad student in India.

In my state (California) they are really pushing on the smart grid and renewable energy, so that may create some opportunities.

It seems a shame that a person with your background can't find steady work. If you get that engineering degree post back here and folks might be able to steer you to employment opportunties.

Hopefully others will chime in, and good luck with your decision.

#6 maryannette

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Posted 12 November 2011 - 04:29 PM

Hey, presequence. I can't offer much advice related to BME, EE, etc. But, I can offer encouragement. Like benbo said, you've got to be intelligent to be where you are. Seems like what you need to focus on is making yourself marketable. The right degree helps, but in this economy there are a lot of qualified people out of work. There's more to it. You need to have people skills. You need to show that you have the ability to survive in a workplace, not just a classroom. Just some thoughts. Regarding career, I agree that ChemE in petro/energy has a very good outlook for the future. In the end, listen to the good advice you get, but you have to make the decision.

#7 loannie

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Posted 13 December 2011 - 10:47 PM

Personally, I am a ChemE. It is definitly a chemistry and math based field. However, you need to look into other factors, such as where do you want to live. When I have been looking for a job, it seems Houston is the only place I find one. Currently I am in Houston and working in the Oil & Gas industry. Very employable, with plenty of room for advancement. There is a serious gap in the engineering workforce I have noticed. Everyone is 60-sothing or 20-something. I have advnaced very quickly and don't have near the education clout you do. I also see plenty of room for movement into other industries, therefore more stability. I've worked on a solar power plant, chemical plants, and oil production platforms. There is a wide range of things you can do as a ChemE. I haven't tried polymers and pharm yet. Who knows, maybe I'll do those too.

#8 solomonb

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Posted 09 January 2012 - 03:45 AM

Let me provide a different perspective. Graduate school should be fun and challenging. If you are having no fun and all challenge, then you probably took the wrong turn in the road. I too recall a PhD program that was no fun and all challenge-- I was one stressed guy for 4 hard years, however, I gutted it out and earned a very honorable PhD from a top notch engineering school. However, if you think that you made a bad decision, you are going to continue second guessing yourself until you make a change. There is no reason to continue to "gut it out" and struggle, hell, you'll end up with ulcers, heart trouble and become a walking Zombie before you are through the second semester.

At this stage of life, there is no silver bullet. If YOU are not happy and don't see a future, change course again. Sure, the program that you are currently in pays a stipend,but if you have determined that it is not for you, then bail out and find something else.

Today you cannot forecast or guess tomorrow. We don't know what we'll need in 5 years from now. What we do know is that an individual with great analytical skills, outstanding reasoning skills and the ability to communicate and work with others will be in great demand. We don't know what career areas will be hot in 5 years from now. What you do know is that you are miserable, you hate getting up everyday and are incurring a great deal of stress just thinking about it.

There is nothing wrong with saying "I goofed" and took the wrong turn in the road. Stop, regroup and start again. You have mentally decided that you need to make a change and you are asking for our approval/support. Although we cannot give you approval, only you can do that, we can give you support. That is what this post is about.

Don't be scared by the professors who tell you that you are a failure, you are dumb, were never cut out for this work, etc., etc., etc. Just walk in, tell your supervising professor that after a semester's worth of work, you have deciced that this discipline is not for you and you are leaving. Get your stuff and be done-- don't look back and beat yourself on the wrong decision you made. You were able to see some things, do some things and meet some folks that you never would have if you had not gone to John Hopkins. That is the benefit of the program.

I would take 6 months off and really think about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Get a job as a barista, a server, a bartender, golf course mx dude, something that gives you some thinking time, but also allows interaction with people. You may find that what you really need/want to do is to become a welder, an electrician or a lathe operator. There is nothing wrong with any of those positions either. Maybe you want to be a long haul truck driver-- I don't know, however, what I do know is that you are one miserable SOB now and things are NOT going to get any better on this path.




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