March Alumni Spotlight - Ryan Brown '15 ScM'16
Tell us about your background. When did you graduate from Brown? What has your career path been like since graduating from Brown? What made you choose your employer/position?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2015 and last year completed the 5th year master’s program in BME. I got my bachelors and masters from Brown in BME, mostly because of my interest in understanding and applying science. I wrote my master’s thesis on the flight mechanics and evolutionary morphology of bat flight. Then began my first (and current) job last August.I am a Product Development Engineer at ZSX Medical LLC, a small medical device development startup in Philadelphia. We are developing Zip-Stitch, a soft tissue wound closure surgical instrument for women's health. I found this position through a program called Venture for America, a nonprofit that helps set up recent grads at startups in underserved cities across America. When I began studying engineering, and even in large part when I finished my time at Brown, didn't know what an engineer really did outside of an academic environment. This pushed me towards the VFA program, which I thought would give me a novel and wide-breadth approach to applying what I know. Although my job did end up being a pretty classic biomedical engineering position, working at a small startup has given me a lot of responsibility and the opportunity to mold and improve my work.
How did your experience at Brown help you find your first position after graduation?
In my opinion Brown Engineering teaches its students how to break down, plan, and implement solutions to complicated problems in applied science. While I didn’t leave College Hill with as many marketable skills as my peers from other institutions, I think my experience at Brown equipped and encouraged me to grapple with larger strategic questions. For this among other reasons I was attracted to working at a small company with big intentions.
What experiences and/or personal qualities would you look for if you were in the position to hire new graduates from Brown?
I would look for someone who tries to keep their learning curve as steep as possible for as long as possible. No one should be expected to know everything going into a job, but being consistent and intentional about growing your capabilities and responsibilities is so important at a small company constantly looking to add value.
What is your current position? On a typical day (or week) in your position, what do you do? What are the toughest challenges you face? What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I began at ZSX as a product development engineer, which is a pretty amorphous term. I spent the first few months at work collecting responsibilities and offering help wherever I thought I could. I am now charge of all our manufacturing and activities, and help manage our clinical trial and company budgeting activities. From day to day my biggest challenge is maintaining the operational pace and priority necessary to manage all my projects. The corollary then is that my favorite part of my work is the 20-30% of my time that I spend critically thinking, brainstorming, and improving our processes. Additionally, medical device development in the United States is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. This greatly influences the way I do my job, for better and worse.
Are there any courses at Brown that you would recommend taking as preparation?
I think everyone should take more classes in which you physically apply what you are learning. I got a lot out of classes like Instrumentation design, Projects in Engineering Design, Humanity centered Robots, and classes in the BDW. I would encourage more people to put themselves in situations where they have an idea to solve a problem, and then actually go do it. Writing lab reports is absolutely important, but I think students should find more opportunities for doing both in and out of the classroom. That’s what engineering is like out here.
If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently?
I wish someone had told me to think really hard about why I was taking required classes. Engineering has a ton of requirements and convenient recommended schedule from freshman fall to graduation, but that doesn’t mean you’re not at Brown. Take advantage of the open curriculum, do shopping period aggressively, take classes that apply your engineering to other fields, take more crazy things pass/fail, and don’t worry about ABET accreditation unless you have a good reason.