Achieving a ‘well-above world standard’ rating for biomedical research laid the foundation for UTS’s new School of Biomedical Engineering. As the school begins to take shape, so too do its students who are quickly realising the endless possibilities.
“Can I tell a story?” asks Associate Professor Gyorgy Hutvagner.
“On Open Day this year, all the students who showed up and were interested in the biomedical engineering course asked exactly the same question: ‘What are my future job possibilities?’”
As Acting Head of the newly created School of Biomedical Engineering, Hutvagner was keen for them to understand that the field of biomedical engineering is continually expanding.
“I told them that biomedical engineering is not necessarily just working on individuals or part of individuals or imaging, like MRI. It's going down to the molecular and atomic structure of human beings and extends its realm to the population level,” says Hutvagner.
“So now they can do genetic engineering, they can do drug targeting at the cellular level, we can actually visualise single molecules in your body. The possibilities for biomedical engineering students are multiplying.
“Our biomedical degree extends on the traditional with novel biomedical engineering fields, which includes going into the unseen.”
UTS’s strength in biomedical research was affirmed in late 2015, when it became the only university in NSW to attract a rating of 5 – or ‘well-above world standard’ – the highest possible rating in the Federal Government’s Excellence in Research for Australia report.
Acting Deputy Head of School, Teaching and Learning Nham Tran says the new school was formed “to reflect this expertise, but also to support the students”. While the biomedical engineering course has been taught at UTS since 2013, the establishment of the school has opened up opportunities to take the curriculum in new directions.
The course will be restructured in 2018, informed by consultation with academic stakeholders and industry representatives. Students will have the flexibility of choosing two from four different streams, each representing a subfield of biomedical engineering.
“The course emphasises practice-based education and incorporates industry driven studio-based subjects,” says Senior Lecturer Ahmed Al-Ani, who led the redevelopment of the degree.
It’s the studio aspect that’s generating the most excitement among academics, students and industry partners alike.
“I think the studios will be fantastic,” says Tran. “Students will get to work in small groups – the entire studio has 20 to 30 students and they're broken up into groups of four or six. They get a really cool industry project to work on for 12 weeks.
“The industry partners are excited about this, too, because they get to pitch their problem to the students and they get a potential solution at the end.”
Tran says communication and problem-solving will be key. Exams will only form a minor part of the assessment for the studios; students will predominantly be marked on how they solve the particular problem their team has been tasked with and present their solution to industry experts.
“There's a lot of mentorship,” says Tran. “Not only is the academic mentoring you, but you also get assigned an industry mentor so they can guide you on a weekly basis. I think that's good because the students then form a connection or relationship with the industry mentor and that creates opportunities afterwards.”
First year student Daniel Gill agrees that the opportunity to work directly with industry is a big attraction – both in the studios and the two industry placements that form part of the degree.
“It should get my foot in the door and I'll have a chance to network, which may result in a potential career. So I'm really looking forward to that.”
“Our biomedical degree extends on the traditional with novel biomedical engineering fields, which includes going into the unseen”
Gill says he also appreciates the business-orientated nature of the degree. “There are subjects such as Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation, and Engineering Economics and Finance. I think this is essential to students in engineering who want to pursue their dream to have a start-up or run their own business or project one day.
“It’s a degree that allows me to dream big.”
Hutvagner emphasises that the opportunities extend beyond biomedical engineering. “The skillsets we're providing increases students’ chance to have a job – not only in engineering, but in any role. They work with industry for almost five years and they do problem-solving subjects. This knowledge is valuable in any field.”
For biomedical research students, the new school brings a different set of benefits. In addition to facilitating access to free-thinkers, mentors, colleagues and business networks, PhD candidate Samantha Khoury says the school also provides a sense of identity – which has important practical implications.
“I work on solving biological problems,” says Khoury, whose research focuses on improving diagnostics for oral cancer. “I'd give presentations or apply to medical funding bodies for grants, and people would question why I was in the Faculty of Engineering and IT.
“For two and a half years I was always fighting that perception. So in that regard the establishment of the school provides a steadfast identity.”
Having just submitted her thesis, Khoury has some advice for potential students: “If biomedical engineering is something you want to pursue, you’re certainly placing yourself in a school where there are researchers working on breakthroughs that will have a huge impact on health care and longevity.
“It’s a good choice of school for anyone with a passion for discovery.”
To learn more about the new School of Biomedical Engineering, visit uts.ac/2z23pV8