Ask Me Anything: Dr. Marissa Gray’s Event Supports Students Finding BME Career Pathways

May 7, 2024
Ciara Meyer

Last month, Dr. Marissa Gray led “Ask Me Anything: BME Careers,” an informal event and discussion aimed at answering students’ questions about job opportunities in Biomedical Engineering. Targeted at all students – from first-year undergraduates to Ph.D candidates – Gray offered advice and strategies ready for immediate implementation.

“I’m trying to get students to think about (careers) early,” said Gray. “So you’re not scrambling to do it all at once.” After having several students ask her about co-ops, internships, and job opportunities, Gray decided it would be a good idea to host an event where students could get guidance about the career world.

The BME department “does a lot of one-on-one advising and mentoring, but I think it is helpful to have a broad range of perspectives,” Gray said. Not every student at the event had heard from Gray before, and at the event, they were able to garner a new outlook on BME job pathways. 

Gray’s insights into navigating the career world come from her experience exploring various directions before settling as the BME Master’s Program Director and an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Brown. “When I was a first or second year at my undergraduate institution, I was certain that I was going to go into industry and be a tissue engineer,” said Gray. “That’s not at all what I do.” 

After landing in a Ph.D program at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, Gray hoped to work in a lab with a military focus, but “wasn’t finding exactly what I was looking for.”  To “buy herself a bit more time,” she entered an entry-level assistant teaching position at Stevens. There, Gray realized “I love working with students.” Since entering teaching, she continues to explore her military interests with the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, MA. 

Gray secured those opportunities through networking – a concept that initially intimidated her. “I’m a natural introvert,” Gray said. “But I think with practice you get a lot better at it.” While the discomfort of approaching new people may never fully go away, “you get better at being in awkward networking situations.”

Gray wanted the event to serve students’ practical needs, so she started the discussion by asking students to take out their laptops and open LinkedIn. She pulled up her profile on the projector screen and walked students through editing their “about” sections to better attract their ideal jobs. 

Stefan Lütschg Espinosa, a second-year master’s student, updated his “about” section to specify that he was seeking “entry-level positions.” Gray asked him to report back to the group about how the suggested jobs changed based on this update. Immediately, he noticed that there were fewer suggestions for entry-level openings. 

“​​I appreciated that it was less like a lecture or workshop and more of a discussion between all the attendees,” wrote Espinosa in an email following the event. “I really enjoyed the session with Dr Gray.” 

Gray also advised students to use LinkedIn to find Brown alumni at companies they are interested in, sharing that she would be happy to help connect students with people she knows in the industry. “Talk to professors – we like to help! That’s why we’re in academia,” she said

Once students get past submitting applications, Gray noted that networking and connecting with alumni at companies can help their applications get into the hands of hiring managers. She added that it is important to prioritize “quality over quantity.” Creating a few specific applications that use “keywords” from job descriptions, rather than applying to hundreds of openings, will get applicants a “better response rate.”

Especially with the increased prevalence of artificial intelligence, Gray said it is important to “understand how we can use AI as a tool” in applying for jobs, instead of submitting applications fully created by AI. 

Students in the audience shared ways they have found AI useful, such as creating cover letter templates, summarizing information for resumes, or scanning over material for clarity. Entirely AI-generated material is often vague, Gray said, which hiring managers don’t have the time to bother parsing through for concrete information. 

Gray also encouraged students to apply for jobs when they can do about “two-thirds” of the required tasks, instead of only seeking out applications for which they are the perfect fit. “Sometimes the ideal candidate doesn’t exist,” Gray added, and students can pick up some of the required technical skills after securing a position. 

BME students are uniquely suited for versatility and adaptation. “You can do a lot of different things and put the system together,” said Gray. Students can “leverage that” and advertise themselves as systems engineers who “see the bigger picture.” “That’s a skill set that a lot of companies hire,” she added. 

Gray hopes to host more “Ask Me Anything” career events with other Professors to allow students to hear different perspectives about what is available to them. “I love working with students and … linking them to different opportunities,” Gray said. “I hope (from “Ask Me Anything”) they take away advice and strategies that they can immediately start using.”