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STEM job interview: Battelle medical device engineer Doug Boyd

Even during COVID-19 pandemic, the economy continues on. As many schools host virtual graduations, parents and graduates are thinking forward to future careers.

Health-related jobs were growing before the crisis and are even more in demand now. Not all are in hospital settings. One such position is held by Douglas Boyd, Vice President, Medical Device Solutions, for Battelle. He shares details about his work in this critical, STEM-related field along with advice for students – and their teachers – on how to prepare for an in-demand job:

Q: Tell us about your role at Battelle as vice president, medical device solutions: What is your mission, and what do you and your team strive to do every day?

A: In my role as the lead for Battelle’s Medical Device Solutions business line, I lead a team of talented and dedicated engineers, scientists, human factors experts and quality systems staff members who are all driven to make a difference in the world through new and improved medical devices. From therapies to help newborns breathe, to injection devices for self-administration, to systems that allow patients to regain the use of their limbs after spinal injury, it is all about improving health.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your department’s priorities and projects? How were you involved with the development of the CCDS Critical Care Decontamination System for medical masks and is your team working on anything else related to the pandemic?

A: My team is continuing to support the deployment of the Battelle CCDS Critical Care Decontamination System™, but we were not directly involved in the development of that system. Our main COVID-19 activity was to conceive, prototype and demonstrate an emergency use ventilator over a period of about two weeks. Fortunately, the ramp-up of U.S. ventilator production meant this was not needed, but I am glad we had a concept ready, just in case.

The other main impact of COVID-19 has been the shift to a work-from-home stance. In a collaborative, team-based business, this has been a challenge. Thank goodness the online collaboration tools have developed to the point they are – those have made it possible.

Q: What was your path to your current position? How did your education, previous jobs and any influential teachers/mentors/co-workers/bosses help to prepare you?

A: When growing up, I never told myself, “Doug, you would be a great leader of a medical device business.” That said, I have teetered between medicine and engineering for as long as I can remember. I’d say I kind of have the best of both worlds.

For education, I went to Ohio State University and majored in chemical engineering/pre-med. At the end of my sophomore year, I decided that I would rather stay with engineering and changed to mechanical, primarily because I liked physics way more than chemistry.

I would say that my biggest career influencers growing up were my parents. My father was an engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, and he held degrees in both civil and electrical engineering. My mother was a nurse and also taught emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic courses for Good Samaritan Hospital. I was an EMT and ran squad some and also had summer jobs at Wright-Patterson.

Q: Throughout your career, what skills, both “soft” and “hard,” would you deem most important to your success?

A: I think you hit it on the head with your question – both the soft and the hard skills are essential to whatever one does.

In a technical field, you have to be technically sharp, that kind of goes without saying. Know your fundamentals, learn your trade. The important technical skill that I think is often overlooked is the ability to do rough estimates in your head. There are times where you need a feel for something but cannot do a finite element analysis or write out a differential equation. The ability to estimate is important.

In a technical field, you also need to be able to work with teams, sell yourself or your ideas, collaborate with others, be humble and learn from your mistakes. Without the soft skills, which most of us learned in kindergarten, you cannot really flourish in the more complex, team-based situations, where the really big problems are solved.

Q: What skills/assets/attitude do you look for when seeking a new employee for your team?

A: I think that there are three main things I look for in new teammates: a solid grasp of the fundamentals of their area (e.g., mechanical engineer, human factors); a thirst for knowledge and life-long learning; and a cultural fit to a team-based, collaborative environment.

Q: What advice would you give students who might want to pursue a STEM-related career?

A: Please do it!  STEM education is so important to our nation. We must continue to grow new and ever-smarter engineers and scientists, to not only replace the dinosaurs like me, but also to compete in the ever-more-competitive world in which we live.

My second main advice would be to learn the fundamentals. I’ve been known to say that “it’s all just physics.” Having a solid foundation in the fundamentals of your area truly lets you pivot to new things, taking learning from one project to the next.

Q: What advice would you give to teachers to help them prepare their students for such opportunities?

A: First, thank you for being a teacher. It is such an important calling, and I truly appreciate what you do.

Second, make sure you are teaching your students to truly think, and not just perform exercises. In my opinion, exercises are an important aspect of building skills, but solving problems is what builds the brains and the thinking processes to truly apply those skills.

Finally, mix it up. Do math problems as you are counting the kinds of salamanders in biology; talk about the physics of a sewing machine when you are studying inventors in history. I think these types of team-teaching, or cross-subject, things really make the interconnections that will then be repeated when the software engineers are working with the human factors staff to come up with an optimized graphical user interface that is intuitive.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about working in a STEM-related field?

A: Just enjoy. I have always loved learning how things work, why things do what they do. I am very happy to have been able to do that for the past 30 years.

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