In any career, success depends on a combination of both hard and soft skills. Hard, or technical skills, are important for obvious reasons: You wouldn’t hire an accountant who has never seen a spreadsheet before, for instance. Nor would you hire a professional engineer who hasn’t taken the professional engineering exam or the fundamentals of engineering exam.
Soft skills, though, are more intangible. There’s no objective measurement for them, and it can be challenging to determine which are most important in any given situation. And in some fields, it may appear that soft skills aren’t really an issue at all. Case in point? Biomedical engineering. Most people, including prospective engineers earning an online biomedical engineering degree, believe that technical skills are most important and deficiencies in other areas don’t matter.
To an extent, that’s not too far of base, since in a field like engineering, technical skills must take priority. However, as the field evolves and expands, the need to possess certain characteristics is becoming more important. While different employers will have different specific requirements and priorities, the following are the most commonly cited characteristics in job listings.
Attention to Detail
Biomedical engineering relies on precision and meticulous attention to detail. A single oversight or error in calculation can set a project back — or even lead to a dangerous situation. A biomedical engineer must be able to maintain focus, and have excellent organizational skills in order to manage every project down to the smallest bit of minutiae. Some might even call a biomedical engineer obsessive or perhaps even anal retentive due to their focus on details, but in this field, nothing can be overlooked, and nothing can rely on guesswork.
Creative Problem Solver
At its very core, biomedical engineering is about problem solving: Engineers design, develop, and test biological systems and products to find solutions to health issues, and improve solutions that already exist. While the work is very heavily focused on mathematical and scientific concepts, it also requires a great deal of creativity and the ability to come up with new ideas. Many of the problems addressed by biomedical engineers are highly complex, so anyone working in this field needs to be able to not only identify and understand problems, but also evaluate potential solutions based on the information available.
Good Communication Skills
Very few fields today don’t list communication as a key skill, and biomedical engineering is no different. Engineers need to be able to communicate their work and their findings to disparate audiences, including those who don’t have the same knowledge and background. In other words, they need to be able to translate complex technical concepts into plain English so that others can understand. Written communication skills are also vital, as engineers will often need to report on their findings and explain their work in writing.
Willingness to Learn
Biomedical engineering is constantly changing, with new technologies and ideas in development all the time. Successful engineers are those who are willing to continue learning, and building their skill base so they can make the best use of new ideas and continue to advance in their careers and develop new products and solutions.
Most biomedical engineers work in diverse teams. While there is some independent work, typically it’s done in connection with other engineers and stakeholders. For that reason, it’s important for prospective engineers to be able to develop strong interpersonal relationships with others, including those from other disciplines and educational backgrounds. This doesn’t mean that you must be a social butterfly to succeed, but being able to build strong working relationships and having empathy and emotional intelligence can go a long way toward successful partnerships.
Again, in many cases, your scientific and technical knowledge and experience will be the factors that most influence your career. That being said, your success and career trajectory will be profoundly influenced by your ability to work with others, being creative, and having a willingness to grow and learn within your field. While there is some disagreement as to whether these skills can actually be taught, you can develop them by being more aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and taking action to improve.
For instance, taking a writing or interpersonal communication course can help you improve your skills in those areas. Regardless of your plans, though, biomedical engineering is an exciting career with a great deal of growth potential, and ideal for someone who wants to make a positive difference in the world.