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Careers in Biomechanics

Careers in Biomechanics

by Dr. Joseph Hamill
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Major Point: Undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in biomechanics can broaden their understanding of the field by taking courses in mathematics, physics/engineering and exercise science, assisting with laboratory and field research and communicating with current biomechanics professionals.


What is biomechanics?

Biomechanics is a sub-discipline of kinesiology that is generally defined as the application of the principles of mechanics to animate motion.  The sub-discipline can be viewed as both a basic and applied science.  Biomechanists work in many different disciplines and fields of application such as biological sciences, exercise and sports science, health sciences, ergonomics and human factors, and engineering and applied science. 

What types of careers are available?

For most careers in biomechanics, either an MS or PhD graduate degree is required.  The positions that are available to those trained in biomechanics can be divided into two levels based on the terminal degree.  The positions available to MS graduates involve working in:

  1. Gait Analysis research labs
  2. Research and design in sports companies
  3. Work related strength and flexibility testing
  4. Design of man-machine interfaces
  5. Research and testing of athletes

These positions are also available to PhD graduates who will have more senior responsibilities as a researcher.

What preparation do I need to get a job?

To begin, a student must obtain a kinesiology degree.  The degree should feature kinesiology courses in Anatomy and Physiology, Functional Anatomy and Biomechanics as well as preparatory courses in physics (or engineering) and mathematics.  After completion of an undergraduate degree, there are no certifications that can be gained from societies or organizations that would show an employer and its clientele that you have the specialized knowledge base and skills required to perform a particular job.  To gain more experience needed to become specialized in biomechanics, it is necessary to pursue a graduate curriculum in biomechanics either in kinesiology, engineering or biology departments.  The choice of department will depend on your particular area in biomechanics.  An MS degree should give you the background to work in the area of biomechanics in the capacity of a junior researcher or as a laboratory technician.  However, in order to procure a position as a senior researcher, a doctoral degree is necessary.

A list of graduate programs in biomechanics is available on the American Society of Biomechanics web site (www.asbweb.org)

Where can I find out more?

There a several North American societies with biomechanics as a focus that aim to inform students about biomechanics as a discipline and biomechanics as a career.  These societies include:

1)    International Society of Biomechanics (www.isbs.org)

2)    American Society of Biomechanics (www.asbweb.org)

3)    International Society of Biomechanics in Sports (www.twu.edu/kinesiology/biomechanics.asp)

4)    Canadian Society of Biomechanics (www.health.uottawa.ca/biomech/csb)

There are also a number of biomechanics societies in other countries (i.e. Brazil, Germany, England, Australia, Greece, Czech Republic, etc.).

Several of these societies offer scholarships to attend their meetings, to travel to other laboratories or to conduct research.

Get Experience

Besides coursework, practical experiences are valuable for introducing you to biomechanics.  It is essential that you gain as much experience as possible by assisting with projects in the biomechanics laboratory at your university.  One way to gain experience is to volunteer to assist a faculty member or a graduate student at your university who is conducting biomechanics research. Faculty members and graduate students are usually more than happy to have an undergraduate research assistant to help with tasks such as data collection and data entry.  Although research may not first come to mind, it is an important aspect of the field. Having research experience will make you more attractive to graduate programs, and prepare you for graduate-level work.  

Make Connections

One of the most important things you can do as an aspiring biomechanics professional is to establish contact with other biomechanists in other geographic locations.  For example, as a student member of the International Society of Biomechanics or the American Society of Biomechanics, you can enroll in the mentor program available to student members.  This program will allow you to make contact with faculty and senior researchers at many different laboratories who have similar interests to you.  You can e-mail or call these mentors who seem interesting based on their profiles. Ask them questions about graduate school, career opportunities, and what they look for in a graduate applicant.  Another way to make connections is to attend biomechanics conferences.  There are generally three or four conferences each year in the United States and in other parts of the world.  Not only do conferences expose you to the wide variety of research done in biomechanics, but it will provide great opportunities to network with other students and biomechanists from around the world.  A conference schedule is generally part of most of the web sites of the biomechanics societies.  If you attend a conference, if possible, search the conference program for biomechanics professionals who will be attending, and e-mail one or two of them to find out if they would be willing to meet with you for 15-20 minutes at some point during the conference.

Summary

Biomechanics is a growing field with much to offer society.  The steps to take to have a career in biomechanics involve taking relevant undergraduate and graduate coursework in related fields such as mathematics, physics or engineering, gaining practical experience in the form of assisting or doing research, and making connections with biomechanics professionals.  These are three valuable strategies for learning about and gaining entry into the field.  Although implementing these strategies will require a high level of commitment and dedication on your part, in the end I am sure you’ll find that it is a worthwhile journey.

 




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