#BEHuman (Bioengineering Human) is a series that profiles the academics, researchers and students that make up the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College. Our aim is to give you an insight into the ground-breaking work that takes place in the UK’s leading bioengineering department through the eyes of the fantastic bioengineers that are advancing research frontiers, solving life sciences-related problems and creating future leaders.
The next BEhuman to be profiled is Amna Askari, a fourth-year undergraduate student on our Biomedical Engineering (MEng) course. Amna is also a singer-songwriter and performs at gigs and open mic events. Amna also performed at this year’s Imperial Festival.
How did you become a Bioengineer?
Quite randomly actually. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and hence was adamant on going to the US for university. When I didn’t get into the schools of my choice, I was left with my UK options (I went to high school in Pakistan). I had selected ‘Natural Sciences’ as my course of choice as it had the most versatility but Imperial was the only place that didn’t offer it. I had recently volunteered at a Cancer Ward and visited their Molecular Biology lab, which inspired me to pick ‘Biotechnology’ as my course choice at Imperial. However, around a month before receiving my A level grades, I researched more into the course and realised it was quite narrow and didn’t involve any Maths. After link hopping and opening several tabs, I stumbled upon the Bioengineering page on the Imperial website which immediately reeled me in. It seemed to have a theoretical introduction to everything, had a decent practical side to it and involved Maths too. I got a great vibe and decided to email the department and change my course choice- 4 years later I feel like it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Probably making ‘Therabuddy’, a prototype for an assistive device that we made as part of the HCARD course in third year. It started off just as an idea, but the four of us worked together to make into something tangible that could potentially be used by stroke patients to optimise their recovery process. It essentially integrates carrying out resistance band exercises with an electronic interface which includes a video game and a progress growth bar, which can be sent to your therapist/doctor.
What is your proudest personal achievement?
I think learning how to filter the noise and listen to myself. This may sound cheesy or silly, but it really used to hold me back. I used to be very influenced by how other people felt, what they thought, or what I assumed they thought based on what they said. Over these four years at university, I’ve really learnt how to shut that off and confidently follow my own intuition. It’s obviously not perfect but by implementing this in even the littlest of things, one starts feeling a lot more in control and everything seems possible.
How has being a woman shaped, influenced and impacted your career?
I think that being a woman has allowed me to develop empathy and patience, which have been quite useful when dealing with people on the professional side of things or networking. Also, the fact that women are thought to be taken not as seriously as men in technical fields really pushed me to go the extra mile in proving myself or getting better at technical tasks – even the most basic ones like fixing or assembling something completely on my own without scrambling to get my brother, father, the ‘electrician’, or another guy to help me.
How has being a part of the Department of Bioengineering shaped your career?
I don’t think I would’ve been as happy at Imperial if I wasn’t part of the Bioengineering Department. It really made me feel like I had somewhere to go in times of distress, happiness, boredom, and sadness – all of it. Everyone is so supportive and is always willing to listen/share your excitement when you’ve come up with something cool or read something interesting. The research topics are so incredibly fascinating and multifaceted that you learn something great from everyone that you talk to in the department. Therefore, I have been quite confident in approaching various different kinds of companies and job opportunities, ranging from a Neuroscience PhD to Consulting. Also, every time someone asks me what I do and I say Bioengineering, their reaction is always something along the lines of “Oh Wow” or “That must be tough”, so it by default has given me a head start in most interactions.
What piece of advice would you give a 17-year-old girl that is thinking about studying Bioengineering?
It’s an epic field – super interesting and loads of job prospects so good call! Make sure you do your research about what actually happens in the Bioengineering world and how you would fit in it. Imagine yourself doing some of the things that Bioengineers do and concentrate on how you feel when you do them. Basically, Google is your best friend and I would tell you to read up as much as you can on the different courses/options/modules offered at Bioengineering departments worldwide – you can start with Imperial because the department here is awesome! You need to be ready to work very hard, and switch quite quickly between different sciences e.g. Physics, Biology, Computing and Math – and in a lot of cases, use all of them at the same time.