If you’re passionate about engineering, have strong science and math skills, and are looking for a career that will allow you to improve the lives of others, then becoming a biomechanical engineer could be the perfect career move for you.
Below, we explore the field of biomechanical engineering, answer key questions about the role, and outline the key steps to break into the field. Read on to determine whether or not a career as a biomechanical engineer aligns with your personal and professional goals.
What is biomechanical engineering?
According to Jack Dennerlein, professor in Northeastern’s Department of Physical Therapy, Movement & Rehabilitation Sciences at Bouvé College, biomechanical engineering is a subdiscipline of engineering in which mechanics principles are applied to biomechanical systems.
The biomechanical engineering field seeks to understand how biological systems work. For example, in the study of human movement, biomechanical engineers seek to understand how the human body moves and then use that understanding to achieve various goals. These goals could include: achieving more accurate and realistic virtual depictions of moving bodies in animations and video games, designing life support systems for first responders, developing artificial organs and prosthetic limbs, and many more.
What does a biomechanical engineer do?
Biomechanical engineers leverage their understanding of both biological systems and mechanical engineering to solve challenges related to biological systems.
If that sounds broad, that’s because it is, says Dennerlein.
“Biomechanical engineering is so much larger than just one field of practice,” Dennerlein says. “Some biomechanical engineers work on tissue-level challenges, trying to understand how human, animal, and even plant tissues behave mechanically under different conditions to translate that knowledge into a product. Some study organs in order to understand the stresses that an artificial implant will experience over its lifespan. And then, of course, some study human movement and how this movement impacts products and systems.”
In the field of human movement and rehabilitation science specifically, biomechanical engineers can work on many different types of projects, including:
- Designing, engineering, and developing artificial organs, valves, and limbs
- Evaluating, troubleshooting, and maintaining these products as they age
- Developing the equipment or systems which will then produce these products at scale
- Designing, engineering, developing, and maintaining sensors and other equipment used to diagnose or treat movement disorders
- Designing, engineering, and developing life support systems that move with the body for first responders, members of the military, and aerospace professionals
- And more.
How much do biomechanical engineers make?
According to Zippia.com, the average biomechanical engineer makes approximately $82,000 per year, with the top 10 percent earning more than $106,000 per year.
A number of factors, including years of experience and geographic location, will also impact pay. For example, biomechanical engineers in Massachusetts earn an estimated $88,869 per year—$6,000 more than the average salary in other markets.
Key Steps to Becoming a Biomechanical Engineer
1. Earn an undergraduate degree in engineering.
The first step to becoming a biomechanical engineer is to earn an undergraduate engineering degree. During your program, you will gain the fundamental engineering and mathematics knowledge you’ll need to leverage throughout your career.
Some options include earning a:
- Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering
- Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
- Bachelor of Science in Biomechanical Engineering
“Biomechanical engineers spend a lot of time doing analysis,” Dennerlein says. “It’s very math-heavy. That’s why it’s so important to really lay a solid foundation in your undergraduate studies.”
While programs exist in biomechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, and bioengineering (as noted above), Dennerlein also notes that these programs are not common. If the university you enroll in does not offer such specialized degree paths (but you know you eventually want to work in biomechanical engineering), Dennerlein recommends considering a minor in these specialties, which may be available even if a full degree is not. If this is not an option, taking multiple elective courses to gain that experience and background can be another alternative.
2. Gain experience in the field (optional).
Having earned your undergraduate engineering degree, you will likely be able to perform many entry-level biomechanical engineering roles. As such, you should have no trouble applying to, and being hired for, entry-level positions.
With this in mind, most aspiring biomechanical engineers will take some time to work in the field and gain real-world experience after earning their undergraduate degrees. Depending on where you work, you’ll likely be exposed to various tasks and new forms of engineering that will help you understand where you’d like to specialize as you advance your career.
While it’s not required to take time off between your undergraduate and graduate degree, Dennerlein notes that it’s often during this time that many individuals who had not previously considered a career in biomechanical engineering discover their love for the field.
3. Seek advanced education.
One of the surest ways to advance within the field of biomechanical engineering is to earn an advanced degree, which will enable you to qualify for more senior-level positions. This is why many undergraduates choose to go straight into their graduate degrees after completing their bachelor’s.
Which degree is right for you will depend on how you wish to advance in your career, Dennerlein says.
If you want to conduct research, you will typically need to earn your master’s degree in a field related to your research areas. On the other hand, if you desire to lead research, you will typically need to earn your doctorate. Both degrees can also prepare you for a career in academia.
Biomechanical engineers specifically interested in working with the human body, or those who are interested in the way that the human body moves and responds to stress, might consider earning a degree like a Master of Science in Human Movement and Rehabilitation Science. Those related to other aspects of biomechanical engineering, on the other hand, might choose a different field of study.
First Steps Into a Rewarding Career
Pursuing a career as a biomechanical engineer can be extremely rewarding. High average salaries, strong job demand, and the personal satisfaction that comes from performing a job that directly improves the lives of others are all top reasons that individuals go into this field. By following the advice outlined above, you can take your first steps toward becoming a biomechanical engineer.