“For me, majoring in bioengineering didn’t come easy. When I entered college, I majored in business. I’m Vietnamese, and I never thought that I could do engineering because of my culture’s stigma against women being engineers. I considered studying BioE when a friend of mine was diagnosed with HIV and skin cancer at the same time, and also losing friend to colon cancer. At that time, I felt really helpless and I wanted to know what I could do to help. I discovered BioE when I started researching programs that allow you to get involved in the medical field. I also liked to work with my hands and solve problems, so I thought it would be a good match.
When I first entered BioE, I thought I would do tissue or cell engineering, so I joined a tissue engineering lab at the beginning of junior year. I really loved the idea of growing new tissues or organs, but I ended up not liking the work. After working in the lab for two quarters, I decided to switch to Dr. Wendy Thomas’s lab to start a more computational project.
I ended up being really interested in the computational side of bioengineering. In high school, I liked computer science but I was told it was not a major for girls. I didn’t think about it for a while until I got here and learned I had the option to combine BioE and programming. I took a risk switching labs, but I ended up enjoying the work a lot more and was happier with the project.
During junior year, the department sent out an email about a simulation engineer internship position with Takeda Pharmaceuticals. The opportunity was interesting to me because it was computational, and it was a remote position so I wouldn’t have to go to the office or lab. I felt like it was a unique opportunity, and I just went for it. It was the first time I had an industry job; previously, I had just worked in labs on campus.
I think a lot of people unnecessarily worry about the technical skills and requirements listed on job descriptions. I’ve learned we don’t need to remember everything we learn in class, but to know why we are learning it. In my interview, I was asked a question about Fourier transform. I said that I wouldn’t know how to solve the problem without consulting a book or looking online, but I was able to talk about what it was used for and why it was needed. They said that this was a good answer. They weren’t looking for someone who knows how to do everything, but who would know how to find resources to be able to start solving problems
My favorite part about the bioengineering department is the close relationships students and faculty develop, and the bonds students form with each other. Taking core classes was a really intense time, but that’s when I made a lot of friendships. We went through difficult times together but it made us bond better than if it had been easy.
There was one point when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I remember walking out of an exam and thought about going straight to an advisor to drop out of the major. The peer advisor, Julio, encouraged me to stay. That quarter, I was really stressed out because the coursework was difficult and I was also working full time. I thought I wasn’t good enough and that I wasn’t as smart as everyone else. But when that time passed, I felt like nothing could defeat me anymore. I discovered that I wasn’t alone because a lot of other people also felt the same stress.
Outside of BioE, I like to volunteer. When I was at community college, I was the president of the Red Cross chapter of Seattle. We would go to homeless shelters, or educate low-income families how to deal with natural disasters and use resources to find jobs or receive help. When I came to UW, I had to work and go to school full time, so I didn’t have much time to volunteer. When I graduate, I’ll have more time and I’d like to volunteer again. I also love hiking, taking road trips and camping. In Seattle, we’re surrounded by mountains and nature, so hiking over the weekend is something I can do even when I’m busy. If I just go out hiking for 3-4 hours on the weekend, I’ll come back feeling refreshed and can finish my work faster.
After graduation, I will be working with the company that I’ve been interning with. I want to do more school later, but I don’t know if I want to do a Masters, PhD, or MD. I want to take some time off to work, enjoy life, travel and volunteer to help figure out what I want to do next.
My advice for future students is to find what you actually want to do and to do it. Doing something you enjoy is so much better than trying to force it. For me, majoring in business was easier, but I didn’t like it so I couldn’t do it. I was able to get through core and work full time because I enjoyed what I was doing. Some people immediately know what they want to do and it might take others longer to figure that out. But at least try something in order to figure out what you want. Don’t just stick with something because you are afraid to change. Don’t be afraid to try something new because the reward will be worth it. Make good friends while you can because the friendships you have now will be the ones that last. And one last thing: don’t try to be a perfectionist.”