BME hosts first Rising BME Scholars Conference

The conference is designed to recruit, strengthen and diversify the next generation of academic researchers in biomedical engineering

Molly Olten 
Rising BME scholars, sponsors and plenary speakers in front of Brookings Hall.
Rising BME scholars, sponsors and plenary speakers in front of Brookings Hall.

To recruit, strengthen and diversify the next generation of academic researchers in biomedical engineering, 14 scholars from institutions nationwide came to Washington University in St. Louis for the first Rising BME Scholars Conference.

Hosted by faculty and staff in the McKelvey School of Engineering, the three-day event gave participants the opportunity to learn from faculty and peers about pathways to professional success in academic careers.

“We see that BME trainees have some unique obstacles to preparing for research careers because of their duality as life scientists and engineers,” said Lori Setton, the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We find that engineering schools, and even institutions more broadly, don’t prepare BME students to understand that next step after graduation. We partnered with seven other universities in this region to provide mid-stage doctoral students with multiple perspectives to best inform their decisions about next steps in their career.”

The conference was co-sponsored by University of Arkansas, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The conference helped scholars build connections across institutions and provided guidance on navigating academic careers through plenary talks, panel discussions, networking sessions and poster presentations.

“As someone who wants to pursue an academic career, but is also from a marginalized and underrepresented background, the idea of academia seems daunting,” said rising scholar Jamie Benson, a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. “This conference seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about what options exist for me within academia.”

Plenary speakers came from multiple institutions and backgrounds:

  • Tyrone Porter, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, presented “It’s A Wonderful Life: Navigating Academia as a URM”;
  • Evan Scott, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, presented “Societal Impact of BIPOC Researchers in Engineering”;
  • Cassaundra Sigaran, executive director of new media strategy at Washington University in St. Louis, presented “Leveraging Your Digital Footprint”;
  • Farshid Guilak, professor of orthopaedic surgery and of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, presented “Branding Yourself, Your Science, and Your Lab”;
  • Joshua Gray, principal consultant, Lukman Consulting Group and leadership professor at Rice University, presented “Making It to Degree Completion: Developing assertiveness and resilience when getting feedback or criticism.”

The talks illustrated the multiple paths that can arise from a research career as well as highlighted the opportunities for broader impact and rewards through engaging with the community in academia and beyond. Of particular interest to many scholars were the presentations on leveraging social media for one’s professional identity.

“My favorite part of the conference were the talks and panels. All of them tackled a specific aspect of an academic career, and it was great to hear experiences and advice from different people,” said Ariel Mundo, who recently earned a PhD at the University of Arkansas. “Hearing all the positive comments makes you realize that an academic career is possible and that it can be tailored to your needs and interests.”

The small size of the conference allowed scholars to network closely with faculty and each other. The conference also included social outings, including bowling and a visit to the Saint Louis Zoo to encourage connection and support.

With the success of the first Rising BME Scholars conference, the McKelvey School of Engineering and co-sponsoring institutions plan to offer the program again next year.

“I would 100% recommend this conference to others,” Benson said. “This conference gave me the opportunity to gain valuable advice and insight from folks with vast and unique experiences that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise ever received.”

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