Men at Yale are expressing less interest in designing artificial heart valves, but their female counterparts seem to find it more interesting, according to members of the Biomedical Engineering department.
The presence of the XY chromosome has been diminishing in BME lectures and throughout the hallways of the department’s Malone Center, which opened last fall. Although biomedical engineering is stereotypically a male-dominated field, professors at Yale’s department said the opposite is true among Yale undergraduates.
Professor James Duncan, the director of undergraduate studies for the department, said that traditionally, approximately 40 to 50 percent of graduating students in the major have been women. But last year, about 75 percent of the graduating class was female, and a similar trend seems to be developing throughout the major, he said, not just the Class of 2006. The freshman seminar taught by professor and departmental chair Mark Saltzman, “Frontiers in Biomedical Engineering,” is also approximately 75 percent female.
“In general, it seems as though it’s been a very popular major for girls,” Saltzman said.
BME major Andrei Javier ’08 said most fellow majors in her residential college are also women, and attributed the trend to the major’s utility.
“What draws them is that it is not straight engineering and it has aspects of the biological sciences as well,” Javier said. “Women in the field tend to go into industry and the medical field. Biomedical engineering has practical applications, and you can see where your research is going.”
Javier said the technological aspects of her major will help her as she plans to pursue an M.D. or an M.D./Ph.D. after earning her undergraduate degree.
Some BME majors, also said they have noticed a disproportional number of women in the major compared to the other fields of engineering. Kelly Karns ’07, who is double-majoring in biomedical and mechanical engineering, said the difference in gender ratios for the two majors is jarring. While she said there are consistently more women than men in her BME classes, Karns is the only female junior currently majoring in mechanical engineering.
Katie Johnson ’07, who is also majoring in biomedical engineering, said that field could serve as a segue into the health sciences. She said that she plans to attend medical school, where having a solid base in this area will be beneficial as technology advances.
Johnson also said biomedical engineering is a growing field nationwide that is increasingly immersed in new innovations.
Yale’s department has managed to maintain its edge as this upward trend has developed by increasing its resources primarily in the form of a new building, the Malone Center, located at the corner of Prospect and Temple streets. Duncan said the site — which is named for its principal financier, engineering alumnus John Malone ’63 — is part of Yale President Richard Levin’s campaign to improve science and engineering facilities campuswide.
Saltzman said the Biomedical Engineering Department has benefited greatly from the move to the state-of-the-art facility, which contains numerous faculty research labs as well as labs for junior researchers.
“It is a great environment,” he said, “Yale is really investing in its science and engineering programs.”
The recent University investment has convinced some students to remain in the program.
“I knew I was going to major in biomedical engineering when I came to Yale, but all the new changes have definitely helped to keep me in the major,” Javier Lapeira ’07 said.
Lapeira said he plans to pursue a doctorate in biomedical engineering after graduating from Yale.