Lessons learned from the job market after the Berkeley MEng
By Bradley Los, MEng ’18 (BIOE)
The process of advancing one’s education can sometimes have more complexities than what meets the eye. As a student, you are expected to excel academically while also balancing the other half of the equation, including relationships, finances, and overall vitality. Students should be given everything they need to succeed so that they can one day become outstanding citizens, but reality has an alternate way of working.
My hopes are that by reading about my experience at UC Berkeley you can improve the quality of time you have at one of the world’s top universities, as well as avoid the hurdles that I faced along the way. Ultimately, the goal of attending school is to learn how to learn so that you can excel in your personal life and professional career(s) after graduating, but maneuvering between this delicate interface can sometimes be more of a convoluted process than deriving the Navier-Stokes equations or spending countless hours searching for the bug in your MatLab code for this week’s homework assignment.
In August of 2017, my best friend, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Crystal, had their first child, Aubrey; the same month I began my own ten-month adventure into Bioengineering as a Master of Engineering (MEng) student at UC Berkeley. As much as I wanted to be there to watch Aubrey’s first year of development, I knew that I had signed myself up for an academic journey that would require 100% of my mental and physical energy. I imagined it being my own “new beginning,” marked by submitting my “Statement of Intent to Register (SIR) to UC Berkeley. Fast forward almost two years, I am now a full-time engineer at a prestigious company. This is how I got there.
Let’s start by rewinding to the time between when I read my acceptance letter and arrived on campus. First, I was able to quit my job (score!). Second, I was finally able to move out of my parents’ house and live on my own (double score!). Third, and most importantly, I was given the opportunity to attend graduate school at one of the most advanced academic institutions our world has ever known. It was literally a dream I’ve had, as a native of the Bay Area growing up in South San Francisco, and that dream had come true.
“I was given the opportunity to attend graduate school at one of the most advanced academic institutions our world has ever known.”
The Berkeley MEng program
The fall semester came and went as fast as any semester in my 17-year academic career. I can still reminisce on the rush of endorphins while sitting in Moffitt Library as I derived Cauchy Stress Tensor equations for my Orthopedic Biomechanics course. I was in my natural habitat. No one could pull me away from my studies, because I was fully committed to the intense engineering work. I regularly stayed up until sunrise as I processed information on the captivating new technologies that are taking our world by storm. My sleep debt accumulated to insurmountable levels and my overall goal for attending school in the first place was silently passing me by.
Instead of being well-rounded and attending all the quintessential networking events provided by the MEng Program, I let the engineer in me miss out on opportunities that lead to the development of a healthy and successful social network with peers, professors, and industry professionals. And although my academic and personal life was thriving at the time, I was slowly missing out on the resources that help make life go smoothly after school is said and done.
As the cliché goes, time flies when you’re having fun. Months went by into the spring semester as the academic rigor continued to test my mental limits, and I continued to use my intense academic schedule as an excuse to avoid making appearances at a majority of the networking events. Next thing I knew it was May 2018 and I was walking across the infamous Greek Theatre stage to receive my Master’s Degree, completely blind to the struggles that were to come. I planned out a well-earned vacation (at least what I thought at the time), and then I had planned on focusing on hunting for a job in early June. As soon as I returned from my trip, I gradually experienced a level of stress that I didn’t know existed.
Fast forward three months and 200 job applications later, I found myself sweating profusely as I approached the halfway mark to the beginning of my loan repayment period. I began doubting myself like I had never had in the past as my stress evolved into a sense of hopelessness. I tried every method of job hunting imaginable and I was only called in for one single interview, which I was notified immediately of being declined for candidacy.
It was difficult to open my laptop as I looked back on my time in the MEng program and all the job resources I failed to utilize. I reached the point where I wanted to give up and sleep all day when I received an email response about an open position at an early-stage medical device start-up in Berkeley. I cynically replied and set up an in-person interview, and on that gloomy mid-August day I had landed my first job as an engineer and my professional industry career had finally begun.
C. Light Technologies
From August to December 2018, I worked at C. Light Technologies as a Regulatory and Mechanical Engineer on the development of a Class II ophthalmoscope medical device that tracks the movements of the retina to aid in the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease.
My boss and co-founder, Christy Sheehy-Bensinger, had given me the opportunity to expand my field of knowledge as I worked on tasks from FDA documentation to mechanical prototyping and process validation testing, as well as the lead mentor for four MEng students in the new class of 2019 that joined our team as part of their Capstone Project requirement.
Although I was hired on a temporary contract with a limited number of paid hours, there were more important aspects of the job that I benefited from that were not monetary: the opportunity to prove myself as a professional engineer, exposure to the engineering industry, and a new network of industry professionals to help catalyze my career.
The simple act of updating my LinkedIn profile with this new position skyrocketed my profile views and suddenly recruiters and industry professional were messaging me multiple times per day. My confidence as an engineer and overall feeling as a human being was suddenly restored, and the stress of paying my loan subsided as paychecks became a regular piece of mail that I received: something I hadn’t seen in a long time.
All I can do now is look back and analyze my actions in order to possibly help someone else in a similar position. It’s crucial that we all remain persistent in life no matter where we find ourselves, whether we’re taking the final exam to receive a Master’s degree or working our way around a traffic jam on the Bay Bridge. As I continued growing and conquering the hurdles life throws at me, I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me by C. Light Technologies, and I hope that one day I can trade places with Christy and help that same kid just trying to prove his worth in life.
Thermo Fisher Scientific
Finally, in November 2018 I received a response from Thermo Fisher Scientific about a Field Service Engineer II role, and suddenly I found myself signing a contract for a full-time engineering position at a world-renown biotechnology company. The sacrifices made over my seven years of higher education — from skipping meals during 12-hour study sessions at Starbucks to missing Aubrey’s first year of life to not being able to visit my Grandma regularly or go fishing with my Dad, I have finally conquered the obstacle that every American living in our capitalist society strives for: Achieving financial freedom.
I now have the ability to not only begin paying back my student loans and help loved ones in financial distress, but I have also been given the opportunity to enjoy the simple things in life that billions of people around the world either take for granted or simply do not have the resources provided to make that possible. These are things that I had forgotten along the way but can now cherish to the fullest extent, and now I plan on motivating those willing to listen to do the same.
The Bigger Picture
I always pictured academia and industry as two separate entities, but this interpretation is flawed because the student and future employee are actually one simultaneous entity. Ultimately, finding a job can take anywhere from a 5-minute conversation to a 12-month frenzy of submitting online applications, which makes it essential that optimize our resources when they are available so that we can avoid stress in the future. After all, we are engineers, and optimization is in our blood.
So, for those of you reading this, I hope I can help you succeed in finding a job and setting up your financial stability for your future. And for those of you that are like me and get caught up in deriving equations at 2 AM for purely academic homework assignments, I cannot stress it enough: Put your book away, get some rest, call your mom, cook a healthy meal, and attend that career fair or networking event you planned on skipping so you can meet people that will help you in the “real world.” Otherwise, you may find yourself back at your parents’ house with your prestigious degree hanging from your wall just weeks before your first loan payment is due and a sore index finger from submitting one of your 45 resume versions to your 239th job application. Don’t let this be you, because I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.
Bradley Los is a biomedical engineer at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Before this position, he worked as a regulatory and mechanical engineer at C. Light Technologies. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering from San Jose State University. He went on to earn a Master’s degree in Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Connect with Brad.