How to start a bioengineering club
This article addresses the base steps for getting a bioengineering club up-and-running on your campus. The article takes the group Engineers for Sustainable Medical Development (ESMD) as an exampl,e and will attempt to outline the steps taken by the group in their journey to get started. A few special notes are included for those not on a campus as well-connected as the ESMD.
Engineers for Sustainable Medical Development is a group started at the University of Pittsburgh by a small group of undergraduate students. An excerpt from the ESMD website describes the organization as follows:
"Engineers for Sustainable Medical Development (ESMD) is a multi-disciplinary, multi-school, student-run organization comprised of students in the fields of engineering, pre-medicine, and business. ESMD is directed toward providing students with the skills and resources necessary to design and implement novel, low-cost healthcare technology and processes suitable for markets on a global scale.
ESMD organizes multiple workshops on key engineering topics including Solidworx, Arduinos, circuits, and soldering. In addition, our design projects are really starting up, and one group recently took their prototype to a design competition at Rice University. Every week members are working to move forward to produce potential low-cost sustainable medical devices for developing countries. Currently, one of the design projects is working with the University of Pittsburgh Ear and Eye Institute to design an ocular microscope mount in order to reduce vibrations for ocular surgery. ESMD also has a regular volunteer program at Global Links refurbishing broken wheelchairs to be sent to countries in need. EMSD is working with Global Links to create an international immersion experience that would provide EMSD members with an opportunity to work directly with health care providers in developing countries."
Need and Goal
ESMD was started because the founders wanted more real-life experiences for bioengineering students. The goal was (and still is) to provide industry exposure and real-life work and connections for undergraduate students of any major, while simultaneously picking up a few skills and talents ahead of their course load along the way. Pittsburgh University happens to be located in an area already rich in biomedical research and practice, including hospitals, spin-off startups and bioengineering-focused university programs. Pittsburgh was already conducive and ripe for such a program. The founders recognized this, made the right connections, and got off to a running start.
Note: It is quite apparent that ESMD is incredibly fortunate to be located in an area so rich in biomedical science. Difficulty of obtaining necessary starting resources and networking for a functional group will scale with the scarcity of local talent and interest in the subject - it may be up to you to generate that interest yourself!
Academic Permission and Support
Clearance for starting ESMD was granted following Pittsburgh University's standard rules and procedures for starting up a club or ogranization on campus. The University of Pittsburgh requires a faculty advisor for every group founded; ESMD was fortunate enough to have founding members in close contact with the head of the bioengineering department and secured their patronage through this.
Being an official university club, ESMD received start-up funding and continually receives day-to-day operational funds from the University system. The group deals with project costs on a project-by-project basis. Because the group commonly recieves projects (or inspiration for projects) from its close cooperation with clinicians and medical industry, cost for expensive equipment is generally subsidized by the cooperating group. Being a student group, ESMD also receives donations and functional samples from companies.
Note: While not all campuses have access to local industry that will aid in project cost or a university to fund activities, many large companies are more than willing to assist student groups working in bioengineering fields - up to and sometimes including donations of otherwise prohibitively expensive equipment.
Initial leadership was provided by the co-founders of the group. When the time came for succession, the successor was chosen by the co-founders. The student chosen gained the position based on his demonstrated capabilities, interest in the organization and by merit. The group operates with a formal leadership structure (President, VP, Tresurer, Public Relations Officer, etc...) with informal responsibilities. Group members have leeway to work on their own interests and are provided with the responsibilities that suit their position and capabilities.
Launch and Promotion
Launch aid and promotion of ESMD was achieved by networking with the College of Engineering faculty & leadership. This allowed the group to receive large amounts of publicity through in-class promotion and presence at student involvement events.
Access to a large network of industry professionals allows the group to self-promote on a word of mouth basis, as well.
Note: Again, not all campuses have access to as rich a variety of resources as ESMD's. An opportunistic founder-to-be may find immense value in attending city/state/regional biomedical, medical, or engineering development conferences. Networking, inspiration, recruitment and sponsorship may all be found at such events. If in doubt, draw from all available resources, including friends, faculty, community leaders, etc.
Lessons Learned and Tips for Others
- Use all available resources! Don't leave any stone, resource, college or company unbothered on your quest for success!
- Reach outside of engineering & biosciences for talent that may not be applicable to research work, but still have interest in helping. These folks are perfect for handling PR at events, promoting your group, etc. They may have more time than an engineer, as well.
- Secure the right people in the right places, and don't be afraid to ween out or relocate unproductive members. It may be difficult, especially at first, to confront such an individual or team, but it needs to be done in order for the group to progress at an efficient rate.
- Ensure all group members have the resources and motivation to get their tasks done, and encourage communication and accountability within groups to ensure the work gets done.
Biomedical Engineering, Biomed, Bioinnovation, BME, Health Technologies