As a soon-to-be graduate of the new Translational Master’s in Biomedical Engineering, Helana reflects on her student experience in the program

The Master’s in Translational Biomedical Engineering, a new 1-year non-thesis program offered by the McGill BME department, provides students with the opportunity to take courses taught by industry representatives and to partake in a 16-week internship. Helana Al Salek will be graduating as part of the program’s first cohort, and we reached out to her to ask about her experience in the program.

Q: First of all, congratulations on completing the program! Could you tell us a bit about why you chose to study at McGill University and why you decided to apply to the Translational Master’s in BME program?

Thank you! Indeed, choosing McGill University for my graduate studies was a deliberate choice driven by its outstanding global reputation, especially in the field of Biomedical Engineering. McGill’s prominence among Canadian institutions and its worldwide recognition for academic excellence were pivotal factors influencing my decision. I was really happy that they opened this new master’s program (before, it was just the Certificate that existed, which does not involve an internship). This program offered a unique blend of industry-based courses, courses taught by researchers, and a unique internship that seemed to align perfectly with my career aspirations.

Q: How did you hear about the program?

After finishing my undergraduate degree in Specialization Biology at Concordia University, I felt uncertain about the specific path I wanted to pursue within the broad field of Biology. I began a graduate diploma in Oncology at McGill University when I stumbled upon an advertisement for this program in the McGill news. The program’s mention of an internship opportunity immediately caught my eye. I enrolled in this program to explore potential future opportunities it could offer me.

Q: What was your favourite part about the program?

The program is intense but I enjoyed every part of it (even while working on the side, part time!). I enjoyed the topics that were discussed and the opportunity to engage with industry professionals.

Q: Was there one particular class that stood out to you?

BMDE 655 Clinical Trials and Business Models for Medical Devices, by Prof. Ahmad Haidar, was one of my favourite courses ever. It was very intensive because we had to give multiple presentations but it included a practicum at the hospital to see how clinical trials are actually performed.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the program? Was there anything you felt you had to adapt to?

Finding the internship opportunity was daunting because I am new to industry and come from a biology background but Jesse Ehrlick, our internship coordinator, really helped to find the best option for me. Students who are coming from a background in engineering may have more connections and have an easier time in finding a company that would take them on. For students who are coming from a background like mine, one piece of advice I would give is to start looking for internship opportunities early on, as this can be quite time consuming.

Q: Where did you carry out your internship and how was that experience?

Jesse helped me to connect with the owner of Precare, a digital platform that produces equitable content, aggregates data on engagement and health outcomes, and optimizes care pathways with Artificial Intelligence. It is a new company and I worked with a team on grant writing, which was my first experience in grant writing. I appreciated this opportunity as I like to learn new things, in general. The only thing was that it was 100% remote work, which made it a bit more challenging.

Q: Did the program, overall, meet your expectations?

Yes, the program personally met my expectations! The structure of the program matched what was described on the website. Pursuing this program at McGill University offered me a blend of academic rigor, practical experience, industry exposure, and networking opportunities that can significantly benefit my aspiration to excel in the field of biomedical engineering and related industries.

Q: What are your career goals? How do you think your completion of the Translational Master’s program, and/or BME in general, will help you to achieve these goals?

The program, along with the internship, has inspired me to pursue a career at the intersection of technology and health care. I would love to help fill the gap in communication that exists between patients and their health care providers. For example, AI solutions are expanding very fast. Wearables and biosensors are becoming increasingly popular to monitor patient data and provide direct feedback to doctors. This is something I am interested in.

Q: Would you recommend this program?

I would definitely recommend this program to students who are looking for a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between academia and industry!