November 2021 - BME Blaze: Alexander Shields

Nov 08 2021

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni, students, and scientists of Columbia's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups and other career successes.

We enjoyed catching up with Columbia BME alumnus Alexander Shields (BS '18), as he reminisced about his experience as a Columbia BME undergrad, and told us about his current role as a human factors engineer at Genentech. Read below to get to know Alexander!

 

Alexander Shields

  • M.S., Biomedical Engineering – 2020 – Duke University
  • B.S., Biomedical Engineering – 2018 – Columbia University

 

Where are you from?

That 773/312 baybeeeee Chicago, IL

 

What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

I read the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page description of “biomedical engineering” when I was 16 and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I remember the description sounded cool and said you basically just use science and medicine to help people, so it felt like a no-brainer.

 

What is your current role?

I am currently a human factors engineer at Genentech, a biotechnology company in San Francisco.

 

Why did you choose Columbia BME?

It seemed like a great chance to go to a good school to study what I was interested in, and live in NYC for a few years!

 

What were some of your favorite projects/memories from the program?

My favorite memories are the times I spent with my BME Lab and Senior Design teams! I had the same team for both because we got along so well in Lab that we figured why not stick together in Senior Design? Shout out to Nicholas Cho, Kaiyan Cai, Gabby Ramil, and Tom Bernhardt!! <3 They were undoubtedly the key to some of my happiest BME memories.

 

What was your proudest moment at Columbia?

Being with my Senior Design team at the showcase and presenting our final project to all the people who stopped by our poster. It was probably the first time in my life I actually felt like an engineer, and I was just so proud of the effort and hours we put into making that moment a reality as a team.

 

How has your experience with Columbia BME contributed towards your goals? 

Columbia BME introduced me to people who helped me really consider why I was in BME and if it was a field I thought I could make a difference in. My BME Lab / Senior Design team (Nicholas Cho, Kaiyan Cai, Gabby Ramil, and Tom Bernhardt), and my advisor Dr. Aaron Kyle, are the parts of the program that really helped shape me into the confident engineer I am today.

 

Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

I have a lot but I’ll stick to my top 3:

  1. Understand that failing a problem set / midterm / final doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful biomedical engineer and get a good job or get into a good graduate school. I got put on academic warning while at Columbia because my grades were so low (and almost got put on academic probation), but I turned out just fine! Grades really matter a lot less than you think.
  2. Explore all the facets of what biomedical engineers can do with our degrees, because we can do more than just R&D. There’s a whole world of job titles you may have never heard of that look for biomedical engineers, so make sure you do your research!
  3. Never forget you’re a person first and a student second. Make friends, join sports or clubs, go to parties (responsibly!), explore the different areas of NYC, and just live. School and assignments will always be there, but the opportunities to form memories won’t. And it sounds super cliché but I’m 25 now, so graduating from Columbia wasn’t too long ago for me; when I look back at that time, I don’t think about a single assignment, night in the library, or “the grind.” I look back and remember the nights I spent at concerts with friends, camping out for midnight game releases at the nearest Gamestop, trips with friends...you get it. No grade will ever make you feel as good as spending time with your friends.

 

What are you excited about?

I’m most excited to learn who I am outside of school. I finished graduate school (and school in general) in November 2020 and I’m working on discovering and shaping who I am outside of the academic environment we’re all in for much our lives up to this age.

  

Columbia BME introduced me to people who helped me really consider why I was in BME and if it was a field I thought I could make a difference in. My BME Lab / Senior Design team...and my advisor Dr. Aaron Kyle, are the parts of the program that really helped shape me into the confident engineer I am today.

Alexander Shields
B.S., Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University; Human Factors Engineer, Genentech

Images (clockwise from top left): 

1. Made it out of my first-ever escape room!

2. My Duke BME team and I after winning the Duke BME Design Symposium!

3. First day on Duke's campus, just after messing up a handstand

4. Pre-COVID I promise!! Me in lab at the Hospital for Special Surgery performing biomechanics research