Haley Marks - 2019 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA
Country of Birth: USA
Biomedical engineering is a hybrid of three of my favorite concepts from basic STEM courses. First, the idea that ‘seeing is believing’ that comes from visualizing biological interactions with advanced optics in microbiology and medical imaging; second, the self-gratification that comes from building something you designed yourself in physics and engineering; and last, math as the universal language of STEM and how it beautifully interconnects everything else.
Now, I work in the field of ‘translational biophotonics’, aka bringing new light-based technologies into the medical realm. As an engineer in a hospital I act as the physician’s ‘pit crew’ during clinical trials to help develop medical devices that are both technologically sound and ergonomic for the clinicians and patients alike. My current project investigates a new bandage material that glows red or green in response to oxygen levels in the skin, providing visual feedback on how well a wound is healing.
My biggest challenge in my career so far has been to stop comparing myself to others, which may be a side effect of a competitive educational system. I remind myself that while there will always be a person more successful than me, there will also always be a person who is content with much less than me. Being happy is more important than being the best,and it is often what allows success to flourish in the first place.
Looking back, I wish I had known the numerous different career paths that I could take as a STEM major earlier on. I started out thinking I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but then realized I need more stability in my life, so I turned to industry looking for a steady income. However, once I entered the corporate world, I saw I would always work on someone else’s brainchild. It was the freedom to make my own research decisions that I realized I actually craved all along, so finally I took the academic route.
Remember: Code. Code. Code. Programming language is now as important as formal mathematics for STEM, and I think it should be required for everyone, not just STEM majors! Just like with any language, the earlier you start coding, the easier it is to pick up later in life.