March 23rd, 2021

By Andrew Wang

As the saying goes, “If you feel like you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. Throughout the years I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the company of some very smart people, not just in STEM but also diverse fields like journalism, law, politics. As much as I have tried to abide by that quote, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that doing so is also a constant source of stress. I couldn’t help comparing myself to those more well-spoken, more analytical, more put-together than me, who could seemingly summon knowledge on any topic on demand and held an unshakeable image of confidence. When surrounded by such people, it’s easy for me to feel like we’re not cut from the same cloth, or that I lacked aptitude.

This was the case for me and biomedical engineering. Despite being interested in biomedical science and engineering since a formative event in my childhood (a topic for another time!), while an undergrad at Berkeley I pursued a biochemistry degree because I had doubts that I could match up to the more rigorous requirements of the bioengineering major. While there were many interesting aspects of biochemistry, there were also classes that I didn’t really care for.

As a result, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and joined a robotics club called Pioneers in Engineering (PiE) on campus despite knowing almost nothing about mechanical or electrical engineering. PiE is mostly an engineering club, but it’s one with a social mission – to help local underserved high school students become interested in STEM through robotics mentorship with low barriers to entry.

Some high school students working with their mentor (a college student) to build a robot!

I was amazed at how much working in a team to finish a larger project with wide ranging impact is different from completing a class assignment. I learned how to ask for help; to my surprise I found so many willing teachers among my peers. While not immediately useful for club work, my biological background allowed for a mutual exchange in ideas with my friends and often resulted in lively discussion on several topics on the intersection of technology and biology, such as human-robot interaction. These experiences have helped me develop my own path without comparing myself to others. I gained the confidence to pursue my interests further, leading me to take several bioengineering classes and go to grad school for biomedical engineering.

-Andrew Wang