Christine Schmidt

Christine Schmidt

Title
Biomedical Engineer
Organization
University of Florida
Location
FL
Christine Schmidt
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Biography

I am Pruitt Family Professor and Chair of the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering at University of Florida. Prior to this, I was a professor in chemical and biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. As a university professor, I teach one course every semester to either graduate students or undergraduate students (usually 40 - 50 students per class). I also supervise a research group consisting of six graduate students and four undergraduate students. Our research is focused on: (1) the development of biomedical therapies that can help repair damaged nerves (e.g., nerves in the leg or face that may be damaged from accidents) and (2) the development of living blood vessels in the laboratory that could ultimately be used to repair damaged arteries in the body (e.g., coronary arteries in heart bypass procedures). When I was in high school, I was always interested in math and science. I participated in the science fair for two years, and it was during this time that I realized my true passion for research. Two of my high school teachers (Ms. Long, my biology teacher, and Mr. Journeay, my chemistry teacher) were extremely supportive of student involvement in science projects. I remember many late afternoons working side-by-side with Ms. Long and Mr. Journeay on various after-school science projects. This involvement and encouragement on their part made a huge impact on my decision to pursue a career in chemical and biomedical engineering (combining my interests in chemistry, biology, and math). I chose engineering over the pure sciences because of the applied nature to the field. In other words, I want to be able to see the actual impact or product of my work. Engineering provides me with these tools. Since I was a native of Austin, TX, I chose to obtain my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas. Engineering was a difficult discipline that required much self-discipline, and on many occasions, I thought about changing majors. However, with the support of my family and with a belief that I could do anything, I obtained my B.S. degree in 1988 with high honors. During my undergraduate years, I performed research in the laboratory of Dr. Georgiou doing bioengineering research. This experience was extremely valuable and reconfirmed my passion for engineering research. After I obtained my B.S. degree, I then received my Ph.D. degree, also in chemical engineering, from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1994. I subsequently conducted postdoctoral research in biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1996, I realized that cold weather was not for me, and I headed back to Texas to join the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. The warm climate was not the only factor in my choice of schools, the engineering school at the University of Texas is ranked in the top 10! I specifically chose to work as a university professor instead of working as an engineer in industry because of my love for teaching. I thoroughly enjoy working with and teaching students, and this passion has been a huge driving force for my career decisions. I am also actively involved in many student-based activities and with outreach programs to help young women and minorities learn more about engineering careers. This interaction with students is the best part of my job! In addition to my interactions with students in classes and through various student-based programs, I also work very closely with the students who are a part of my research team. Together we plan ways to improve various biomedical therapies. This is the purest form of the problem solving process (and is much like being a private detective). For example, we are working to create devices that can "stimulate" nerves to re-grow using biomaterials that can conduct electricity. My students and I face the challenge of trying to make this material more compatible with the body, and thus better able to encourage nerve growth. How is this done? This requires many years of research and "detective work". We hope that this material or similar materials will someday be used to help patients with nerve damage. Thus, my short-term career goals are to excel at my teaching and research, and to enjoy myself at the same time. In the long-term, I would like to eventually be in a more senior leadership role (the dean of engineering?). In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying my life as an engineering professor. The students are wonderful, and I find the time to truly experience life. I enjoy the lakes near Austin, gardening, home improvement projects, taking care of my three cats, and scuba diving in Florida and Cozumel (and soon, Hawaii). Finally, I should mention that I am presently the only female tenure-track faculty member in the department of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, so I have my job cut out for me! However, I have never felt at a disadvantage being a woman in the engineering profession. The key is to focus on your work and to be confident in your abilities. In addition, it is important to maintain integrity, to strive for balance between your career and home life, and to always be true to yourself. Engineering is a wonderful profession, and I hope that more and more women will consider this as an option when planning their careers. Above all, it's important just to get out there and try, and my favorite quote along this line is: "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for..." If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can find out more information about my research at: http://www.engr.utexas.edu/che/directories/faculty/schmidt.cfm

Answers by Christine Schmidt

Hi Stacy. My feeling is that extra education and degrees (or minors) never hurt and you never know where those skills will benefit you later in life. If you have the financial stability and flexibility to seek an additional degree or a minor in another area now, I say do it. With the globalization of all industry and research, including engineering, it certainly is useful to have the ability to speak a second language (speaking is great, not sure if you really need this as a major or minor though). As for business, those skills can also be useful – having a business sense does not hurt in any profession, including engineering. So, either option you propose would likely come in handy. If you already have a lot of French under your belt (which you can list as “language fluency” on your resume), then perhaps a minor in business might add more to your current skill set and make you more marketable in the long run. However, you could not go wrong either way! Good luck!

Dear Daisy,


These are certainly valid concerns that you raise. Nationally and also here at UT Austin we find that 1/3 of BS Biomedical Engineering graduates go on to graduate school or law school, 1/3 enter medical school, and 1/3 get jobs in industry. Thus, a significant fraction of graduating Biomedical Engineers are going into industry with a BS degree (usually in the medical device industry). Many BME graduates do choose to pursue advanced education (medical school, law school, school of public health, graduate school, etc.); I think this is because BME students tend to have much broader interests. So, I would say that there are good job opportunities at the BS level in BME, particularly if you are proactive during the job search process.


As for getting a masters in a traditional engineering program after getting a BS in BME, that may be tough, since you would not have all of the course pre-requisites for those traditional degree programs. You might be able to do this if you take a few extra background courses. Most students with a BME BS degree go on to graduate school in other BME programs. However, students with ME, CHE and EE degrees go to graduate school in BME programs. If you choose to pursue a BS in a traditional engineering program, then you can always take specialty/elective courses in biology and bioengineering.


Good luck!

Christine


Not sure if I am the best person to answer this, but here are my thoughts…

Most of my experience has been with students who have a more specialized degree from a larger university. I have had one graduate student in the past who came from a smaller school with a general degree, and this person ended up having to take many additional “specialty courses” as pre-requisites before starting their graduate program. In general, I think for engineering, the specialized degrees and the larger more “engineering” or “technical” schools are the better option for later jobs and graduate programs.

ENGINEERING - MECHANICAL: BS
ENGINEERING - ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONIC: BS

Mechanical Engineering is probably a better match if you are interested in Biomedical Engineering. Many ME programs have courses in biomechanics. In addition, if you choose to go to graduate school in BME, then most programs accept UG degrees in Mechanical Engineering. The next option would be Electrical Engineering (many EE's are used to design instrumentation for hospitals, etc.). EE is also accepted as an UG option if you choose to go to a BME program for graduate work.

Hope this helps some!