In an effort to create more opportunities for students, increase interdisciplinary research, and gain visibility for a first-of-its kind program, Caltech is creating a new graduate education track that combines medical engineering and electrical engineering.
When Caltech and the Division of Engineering and Applied Science created the Andrew and Peggy Cherng Department of Medical Engineering (MedE) in 2017, it was the first such department at a university in the United States. Its curriculum takes a traditional engineering approach and applies it to the field of biomedicine, says Lihong Wang, Bren Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering.
As the department enters its fifth year, it is looking to grow, and a joint track with the Department of Electrical Engineering (EE) is a good path forward, Wang says. Half of the faculty with a MedE appointment are members of the EE department as well, and students from each department have been asking for a joint program like this.
"All my students from both departments have a strong interest in this joint track," he says. "This will be good for them because it will broaden their horizons by exposing them to both fields. This will also allow MedE to recruit students from the EE track, and EE will be able to recruit from MedE."
Students entering the joint track will be eligible to earn a single PhD in electrical and medical engineering, and would perform research in each field and, ideally, in a combination of the two fields, Wang says.
The joint track would also help MedE with visibility. Because dedicated medical engineering programs are so new, they are inconsistently categorized sometimes as biomedical engineering, bioengineering, or medical engineering. Because of that lack of across-the-board consistency, organizations that produce rankings, like U.S. News and World Report, do not rank medical engineering departments, and those rankings are an important recruitment tool.
"The Department of Electrical Engineering at Caltech, with its 110-plus years of legacy in groundbreaking research and education programs, is internationally recognized and consistently ranks among the top four EE programs in the nation," says Azita Emami, the executive officer for electrical engineering, Andrew and Peggy Cherng Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering, and director of the Center for Sensing to Intelligence. "This ranking and legacy has been very helpful in attracting the best minds to Caltech. Many of the students who apply to our EE graduate program are interested in medical devices and medical imaging. The joint MedE-EE PhD program will allow them to pursue their passion by being active members of both departments."
The joint track is expected to begin admitting students in the 2022–2023 academic year. Wang says the plan for now is to look at the outcomes after about a year and evaluate how the joint track can move forward from there. A joint track with mechanical engineering is another possibility for the future, he says.
For more information about the joint MedE-EE track, visit https://mede.caltech.edu/academics/mede_ee_track?