Spring 2012 Newsletter –
We caught up with Mia Shanholtzer, B.S. 2009, to learn about life as an (R&D) Engineer at Medtronic Cardiovascular Division.
What do you like best about the work you do?
The most rewarding part of my job is the satisfaction of knowing that my efforts directly contribute to the creation of a product that will save thousands of lives. Every four seconds, a Medtronic device or therapy is used to treat a patient somewhere in the world. I feel so privileged to be a part of that!
What did you have to learn the hard way?
I have struggled with learning to be more patient with myself. As a young engineer in the workplace, I am surrounded by colleagues who have many more years of experience than I do. I have found this frustrating at times, because it bothers me when I don’t immediately understand something. But I have learned that I can’t reasonably expect myself to be an expert after only one year on the job! I try to approach each day as an opportunity to learn and grow as a young professional.
Why have you stayed in bioengineering? What is interesting or exciting about it for you?
The most exciting and interesting part about working in this field is the dynamic innovation that drives product development. Some ideas are completely novel concepts, while others apply an existing product/technology in an original way. New and improved technologies are constantly sprouting up, so companies have to work diligently to maintain their competitive edge. Ultimately, this process benefits patients, as companies compete to manufacture superior products in a more cost-effective way.
What is your background, or how did you get where you are now?
While studying at UC Berkeley, I worked as an undergraduate researcher for Dr. Anthony Chen, a physician scientist at UCSF. Under his mentorship, I led my own research project. From that experience, I gained insight into the challenge of bringing cutting-edge research into the clinical space. During my last semester, I also participated in the BioE Capstone Senior Design course; this is where I first gained exposure to the medical device development process.
After graduation, I attended a few corporate info sessions, excited by the idea of working in industry but unsure of my chances at securing a position. Through these I was recruited by Medtronic to work as a summer intern in microbiology. That experience provided great exposure to the cardiovascular business, and at the end of the summer, I had earned my manager’s recommendation for a full-time position at the company. Immediately after my internship, I was hired as a test method development engineer. After being in that role for almost a year, I accepted a position in R&D and joined my current project team.
Can you tell us about your job now? What is your position and what do you do?
I am a Research and Development (R&D) Engineer at Medtronic for the Cardiovascular division located in Santa Rosa, CA, working on the development of the next-generation stent graft system for the endovascular treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysms. I currently have a mix of technical and project management responsibilities. I assist with the in vitro testing of our prototyped devices and perform analyses on test data that enable the team make informed design decisions, I manage component inventories and coordinate build and testing schedules. As part of the R&D team, I also regularly meet with physician customers to solicit their feedback on our design.
I have also had the opportunity to travel internationally for business, most recently to our manufacturing facility in Ireland where I supervised pre-production builds for a critical phase of our project.
How did your bioengineering education prep you for the work you do?
Berkeley Bioengineering challenged me to think critically, not just memorize what I learned. Learning fundamentals, digesting concepts, and applying that base knowledge to novel and more complex situations – that is real world engineering. In my work now, there is rarely a single “correct” solution to an observed problem; instead, there are a variety of solutions from which we as engineers must identify the most appropriate one given a variety of external factors. Professor Amy Herr’s Capstone Senior Design course is a prime example of how classroom education can prepare students for engineering careers. Through that class, I experienced a condensed product development cycle and first identified my interest in medical device engineering.
Do you have any advice for students?
Focus on building a good foundation in the basic engineering disciplines (e.g. mechanics, materials science, electrical engineering). This will make you a strong candidate for a variety of engineering-related positions. It’s surprising how much of engineering comes back to the fundamentals!
Also, many companies will hire college graduates as interns. I had already graduated when I started as a summer intern at Medtronic. Working as an intern after your senior year puts you into a great position to be hired full-time after your internship. It allows a company to get to know you and your work, and vice-versa.
Is there anything you wish you had done while at Berkeley?
Overall, I am really proud of the breadth of experience I fit into my time at Cal! But considering my current profession, I wish I would have taken some mechanical engineering and business classes. A solid understanding of mechanics is crucial in medical device engineering. Additionally, I think that basic business knowledge (e.g. finance, marketing) is always beneficial in this industry.
What is your dream job?
Significant hurdles currently inhibit more effective collaboration between medical device engineers and physicians. In my ideal job, I would contribute to closing that gap, generating better medical-industry partnerships and expediting time to market so that patients can benefit from improved technologies more quickly. With globalization being a reality for our generation, companies are starting to think about how they can cut costs to make their products available in developing countries; this creates a new world of engineering possibilities. Medical device entrepreneurship is an area that fascinates me, so hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to participate in that capacity in the future.