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Career Development And Professionalism Within A Biomedical Engineering Capstone Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Careers and Professional Development in BME

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.278.1 - 13.278.10



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Paper Authors


Timothy Allen University of Virginia

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Dr. Timothy E. Allen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. He received a B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering at Duke University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Allen's teaching activities include coordinating the undergraduate teaching labs and the Capstone Design sequence in the BME department at the University of Virginia, and his research interests are in the fields of computational systems biology and bioinformatics.

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Shayn Peirce-Cottler University of Virginia

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Dr. Shayn Peirce-Cottler is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. She received a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. Dr. Peirce-Cottler's teaching activities have focused on developing and teaching the undergraduate Capstone Design course in the BME department at the University of Virginia, and her research is focused on using in vivo and computational models to elucidate the mechanisms of vascular differentiation and the efficacy of stem cell-based therapies for wound repair.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Career Development and Professionalism within a Biomedical Engineering Capstone Course


Many facets of professionalism in addition to technical skills are critical for engineers as they seek to put their knowledge and problem-solving experience into action in the workforce. The so-called “professional skills” necessary for productive career development (e.g. effective written and oral communication, networking, etc.) are especially important in biomedical engineering (BME) due to the rapidly evolving nature of the field and the diversity of students attracted to BME – and the correspondingly broad range of careers that they choose to pursue, including biomedical and biotech industries, academic research, intellectual property, FDA regulation, consulting, finance, and other professional tracks. To address the need for undergraduates to possess adequate non-technical skills prior to graduation, BME curricula typically use capstone courses as vehicles for teaching professionalism. In the BME Capstone course at the University of Virginia, we have instituted several mechanisms for instilling a wide array of non-technical professional skills in BME majors. An emphasis on career development begins at the outset of the course with a formal project selection process that features a BME Capstone “Project Fair,” which is similar to a job fair where the students submit resumes and interview with potential advisors and then submit formal cover letters to apply for their top- ranked projects. Interactive workshops and lectures throughout the year cover topics such as interviewing, negotiations, giving constructive feedback, and effective leadership. The Capstone course also employs periodic corporate-style progress reports, “Solutions Workshop” small- group discussion sections that require students to succinctly summarize their project and respond to in-depth questioning, and individual accountability meetings. Preliminary assessment of these enhancements to our BME Capstone course has revealed that students, on average, have greatly improved in their ability to: verbally communicate the details of their projects concisely; convey the overarching problem that motivates their work; speak confidently about what they have accomplished and where their projects are headed; recognize when they require additional expertise and guidance; understand better how to use their existing networks and build on these networks to find such additional expertise when necessary; and consistently communicate with their advisors and collaborators in a timely and professional manner. The initial successes observed after applying these methods in our BME Capstone program indicate that a strong emphasis on a broad array of non-technical skills enhances student professionalism, thus more effectively empowering graduates to embark upon successful careers.


Almost invariably, engineering curricula heavily emphasize the development of technical skills: knowledge of mathematics and the sciences, problem solving, engineering practice, experimentation, and design. However, non-technical skills – the so-called professional skills – are increasingly seen as essential to the complete education of a modern engineer, thus leading to these skills’ explicit delineation in ABET Criterion 3, Program Outcomes d, f, g, h, i, and j.1 However, there has been considerable debate as to how such skills (sometimes less favorably referred to as “soft skills”) are most effectively taught and assessed.2

Allen, T., & Peirce-Cottler, S. (2008, June), Career Development And Professionalism Within A Biomedical Engineering Capstone Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4316

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