Shirin Biswas

Shirin Biswas
Class Year: 
2015
Job Title / Company: 
Mechanical Design Engineer, Carotek Inc.

Undergraduate Degree: B.Tech., Mechanical Engineering, Sharda University (India)

Why did you choose your program and area of study?

I am a Mechanical Engineer specializing in product design, and I choose MEM to acquire knowledge and hands-on experience in the field of commercialization of new products or inventions. MEM allowed me to tailor my program specific to my needs by letting me choose courses relevant to commercialization, and various practicums, projects, and internship opportunities scattered throughout the academic year enabled me to implement the theories learned in class in real-life scenarios, thus preparing me for a career in Product Design and Development.

Briefly describe your Duke Experience.

"Get out of your comfort zone, unlearn, learn, and re-learn" was my experience with MEM at Duke in a nut-shell. Coming from an engineering background in an Asian country, Duke University was a radical change in pace, to say the least. As an introverted engineer I found adapting 'networking' into my daily routine quite challenging, and it proved to be equally rewarding in the end, all thanks to Duke. I arrived at Duke with an expectation of learning about marketing, and sales pitches, and successfully bringing new products to market, and while Duke did teach me these things, it also taught me how to be more strategic and opportunistic in my thinking, more forward and outgoing in relationship-building, and most importantly more efficient in managing time - if you can balance classes, homework, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, part-time job(s), practicums/projects, and a social life at a fast-paced accelerated program like the MEM, then you are prepared for all your career challenges that lie ahead.

What impact has the degree had on your career?

Duke is a powerful brand, and the network I built here played a vital role in placing me where I am today. While the Duke name distinguished me from competition, it was the novel curriculum of the MEM program that got me across the finish line. The combination of practicums I participated in at Duke allowed me to build a unique profile for myself that was significantly distinct than my fellow design engineers. Irrespective of the industry you work in, a potential employer will always ask you, "What do you bring to the table that is different than your peers and useful to this company?" Prior to MEM my range of expertise was limited to mechanical product design - the sales team told me what was needed and I designed it, as is typical for a design engineer. In my current role, I lead Product Development projects where I interface directly with clients, identify their needs, and pitch engineering solutions that meet said needs. This proactive approach of identifying opportunities means I can offer solutions before a competitive engineering firm even gets a chance to look at the problem, thus putting my company ahead of its competitors. To summarize, MEM accelerated my career and put me in a position that would have otherwise taken me 7 years to achieve.

What advice would you give to prospective applicants - those who are just beginning to explore graduate options at Duke?

Talk to a person, it could be a faculty member, an admissions officer, or even a current student. When exploring graduate options, it is easy to get lost in a sea of university websites that offer general information, data that is almost identical across all grad schools. Of course, do not bombard them with questions whose answers you can find on the FAQ sections. If you truly want to learn about a program and determine if it is the right fit for you at this stage in your career, then do your online research and then talk to an actual person who represents the graduate program you are interested in. Think beyond the academics, ask questions about typical campus life, opportunities for industry projects during an active semester, platforms for extra-curricular activities and hobbies, etc. Have a set target for what type of career you want to have for yourself at the end of the graduate program, then work backwards from there and figure out the best program that efficiently gets you where you need to go in your career.

What advice would you give to admitted students who are considering Duke?

Be rigid about your goals and flexible about the means of achieving them. Higher education is a challenging (and expensive) journey, it is only logical that you must have a set destination in mind before you board the flight. However, as you enter the academic year and progress through the semester you'll receive additional information and new data that you did not have before, and you will find yourself changing plans more frequently than ever before. This will make you feel very uncomfortable; remember we are engineers, we like planning things, and we like sticking to those plans, and we are very resistant to sudden changes. MEM will teach you to break-free of this rigidity, embrace it. Over time you will realize that it is okay to change plans, as long as the end goal remains the same. You might have planned to take a flight from 'A' to 'B', but in the end it may be more like taking a flight, a bus, then a train, followed by a long and tiring walk to reach your destination. Be flexible and receptive to these changes, nothing else matters as long as you keep moving forward and reach point 'B'.