Student Leaders Today, Professional Leaders Tomorrow

Student Leaders Today, Professional Leaders Tomorrow 150 150 IEEE Pulse

One of the core missions of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) is to be a platform for enhancing the personal and professional development of its members. This month we focus on two related priority areas of the IEEE EMBS Student Activities Committee (SAC) [1], namely Leadership Development and Professional Development Portfolios, and bring you up close to the student and professional leaders actively building these programs. The Leadership Development Portfolio, currently led by Agnieszka Łach from Silesian University of Technology, Gliwice, Poland, focuses on nurturing and supporting student leaders of the EMBS globally. The Professional Development Portfolio, currently led by Josée Rosset from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, aims to help EMBS student members develop their skills and experiences in the practice of biomedical engineering.

Developing leaders

Our incumbent EMBS president, Prof. Metin Akay, the founding chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA, shared with us his top six qualities of a good leader: visionary, inspirational, trustworthy, knowledgeable, transparent, and unselfish. These qualities often do not come naturally but are developed through deliberate and focused effort.

Agnieszka, for instance, shared with us that her personal experience with leadership began with many failed student president elections in primary school. While she was never chosen for the position, she never gave up on becoming a leader. Instead, she considered why other students did not vote for her and honed her leadership skills by volunteering for many student and academic clubs. Through these experiences, Agnieska condensed her understanding of key leadership qualities into the following: first, have the humility to listen to others, as a listening leader is better equipped to make informed decisions; second, build a strong team around a vision, as one would burnout easily without sufficient support; third, be prepared to embrace failures, because mistakes are a crucial part of learning and growth; finally, be firm and realistic while allowing room for others to contribute, so the team may move optimally towards a common goal.

Now, given the opportunity to lead the Leadership Development Program at EMBS SAC, Agnieszka hopes to support the development of fellow student leaders by building a global student leaders network. EMBS Presidential Lecturer Erika Ross, director of Applied Research at Abbott Neuromodulation, USA, shared that in her leadership journey it has been really important to: “seek out opportunities to learn from (other) leaders in your field, if you feel like you do not have (the right) opportunities, create them.” With the global student leaders network, the EMBS SAC hopes to create such a beneficial learning environment for all current and aspiring student leaders of EMBS.

The significance of such a network also goes beyond personal leadership skills development. The EMBS, as the largest international community of bioengineers, has the important role to help its members expand their professional experience and the impact of their work beyond their immediate environments. Whether a member is from a developed city with prominent universities and a vibrant industry, or a developing town with smaller institutions, one would have unique challenges that may draw upon resources and ideas from others. Yet, without a strong leadership network to facilitate exchanges, it would be hard to connect the diverse global membership to fully realize the potential of the society. Therefore, building a strong leadership network is fundamental to enriching the experience of each and every member.

From students to professionals

In a scientific discipline like bioengineering, the ability to influence and make an impact is fundamentally based on solid engineering skills and knowledge. For leaders, these are essential for crafting a daring yet realistic vision, creating a roadmap for realizing the vision, while retaining respect and trust from their team members. For those who simply enjoy the craft of bioengineering, the skills and knowledge are enablers to transition from being a student to a professional bioengineer. Therefore, the EMBS SAC is also investing heavily in creating a strong Professional Development Portfolio for its members.

Currently, the main flagship program under the Professional Development Portfolio is the International Student Conferences (ISC). These are an annual series of five student-led IEEE-style conferences, one to be held in each EMBS region, namely: North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Africa, as well as Asia–Pacific. Student members of the EMBS can apply to host these conferences or look forward to participating in them throughout the year. We envision ISCs to become regular checkpoints for bioengineering students around the world to connect, exchange ideas, and obtain peer feedback for their work in a low-pressure environment.

Ahmed A. Metwally Ph.D., senior AI/bioinformatics scientist at Illumina AI Laboratory, shared that he was motivated to help found the ISC program to help “young BME students get involved in research as early as possible” so that they can “publish their first paper, … start graduate degrees, … and develop international collaborations.” On the last of these three goals, Subhamoy Mandal, Ph.D., a clinical applications scientist at Maxer Endoscopy GmbH, Germany, and a visiting faculty member at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India, who served as the IEEE EMBS Student Representative for 2012–2014, said, “A sustained motivation and ability to communicate with people across diverse research areas and geographies … [are] helping us develop great products with a strong focus on patient care and improving patient outcomes.”

As international collaboration is becoming commonplace for impactful work in bioengineering, our Professional Development Portfolio will also aim to find ways to help our student members develop the skills to communicate and collaborate effectively internationally. With these efforts, we hope to give our student members an opportunity to start engaging with their future colleagues at a younger age, to better define their careers, and to maximize their potential.

Apart from the above, EMBS SAC initiated various programs in 2021 to enhance student membership experience within the society. We hope that more students will get engaged, leverage these opportunities, and develop professionally to grow as future torchbearers of the amazing field of bioengineering. More information about the EMBS SAC can be found here.


  1. J. An and S. Dutta, “Crafting the future—Opportunities for students by the reinvigorated IEEE EMBS student activities committee,’’ IEEE Pulse, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 38–40, Apr. 2021.