Let’s talk about McMaster iBioMed

Have a passion for problem-solving through design, solving the world’s biggest healthcare issues, and even bringing some business into the mix? Then McMaster iBioMed may be the right choice for you!

But what’s this program all about? We’ve got everything from what makes the program unique as well as how to apply and some drawbacks.

Before we dive in, I’d like to thank Saakshi Arvikar, Fatim Kalogo, and Helen Peng who took the time to meet with me and share their experiences!

What makes it unique?

Integration of Engineering, Health Science, and Business

As mentioned above, the program blends together the concepts of engineering and health sciences. If you choose the Health, Engineering Science and Entrepreneurship (HESE) track (more on that below), then you’ll learn business, entrepreneurship and commercialization as well.

But what does this actually mean? Well, you’ll be required to take some regular courses like math, physics, and chemistry in your first year. But in addition to those, there will be courses specific to iBioMed students that combine these. A student favourite is IBEHS 1P10, a course focused on getting students hands-on experience with designing solutions to real-world healthcare problems.

This course in particular includes lots of group work. There’s a lecture component as well as a design studio component which involves working in groups to solve real problems. Some examples of problems students have tackled in the past include wildfires, driver fatigue, coronary artery disease, and opioid overdoses among many others.

A great blend of disciplines for anyone who wants to combine both!

Image by author

Co-Ops in iBioMed

This is something that isn’t talked about very often from my experience but is rather rare for health science programs (though iBioMed isn’t strictly focused on health science). The opportunity to get hands-on experience through your university is one that is indispensable and can help you a) build your resume and b) find where your passion lies specifically.

For example, students in the health sciences stream (again more on that below) got the chance to have clinical placements at Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and worked in various departments including Cardiology, Perioperative Care, Radiology, Emergency and Nephrology.

As well, those interested in biomedical engineering disciplines can seek out biomedical engineering and healthcare internships to enhance their skills and their applications for future jobs, schooling, and more.

Assessments

Here the distinction is pretty clear in first year: “regular” courses that aren’t specific to the iBioMed program have conventional tests and quizzes as you’d expect. But when it comes to the design projects course mentioned above as well as an innovative cell biology course, things get interesting.

The group work in the design projects course actually contributes to your mark. In fact, according to one student, most of the work is in groups. The process for group work was as follows: students are put into groups, they’re given a physical problem and work with their team to create a tangible solution. This includes brainstorming, prototyping, and ultimately presenting their work. And the process is done a few times throughout the course with different people.

As for the cell biology course, there’s a strong self-guided nature to it where you learn how to research and are then given topics to explore and present on.

Engineering or Health, Engineering Science and Entrepreneurship Focus in Upper Years? You Choose

We’ve now reached what many consider to be the most unique aspect of the program: the ability to choose between a more biomedical engineering-focused approach and a more health science-focused one in your second year. All students are required to complete a common first year, after which they apply to either the Biomedical Engineering (BME) or the Health, Engineering Science and Entrepreneurship (HESE) streams.

There are 90 spots available for the BME stream and 50 for the HESE stream. The BME stream also has “sub streams” ranging from Chemical & BME to Software & BME, with lots in between, depending on your interest. To date, iBioMed students have received their first choice of their second year stream.

However, you aren’t guaranteed your program of choice. You are guaranteed a spot in second year though; it simply may not be the one you had applied to.

In addition, if your high school average is high enough, you may get something called Free Choice where you are guaranteed your choice of stream upon going into your second year. This average is rather high though and was 98% for fall of 2021.

A schematic of the two streams and “sub streams.” Image by author.

Things to Consider

All the students I talked with were very happy with the program but there are a few things they mentioned that are worth noting.

Very Young Program

One mentioned that due to the young age of the program, the program was still in an experimental stage. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing as it can mean you have a bigger say as to what the future of the program will look like.

But it can also have consequences like some course outlines being rather vague. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether this is a big deal.

First Year Heavily Focused on Engineering

Something else a few students interested in the HESE stream mentioned was the heavy focus on engineering during the first year. After all, 5 out of the 8 compulsory courses for first year are math or physics courses. Though going into the iBioMed requires a love for these subjects, some students would like to see a bit more balance and the addition of some more health science courses into the first year before the specialization comes along.

From Current Students: Who Do You Think Would Love This Program?

One question I asked from students to give some insight to you, our readers, is: “If you had to describe the person who’d absolutely love this program, what would they be like in terms of their likes, dislikes, and personality?”

The answers were rather similar so let’s unpack them. They should be creative, love hands-on experiences, someone who likes to express their ideas, and someone who loves math and physics (especially for first year).

How to apply

With all that knowledge now locked into your brain, it’s time to see how you can apply!

General Requirements

The general requirements for the program are as follows…

  • You must have completed or complete ENG 4U — English, MCV 4U — Calculus, SCH 4U — Chemistry, SPH 4U — Physics, SBI 4U — Biology
  • Note: if you haven’t completed all three sciences, you need to email the Admissions Office at macdocs@mcmaster.ca when you apply and they’ll students on a case-by-case basis
  • You’re expected to have completed Advanced Functions — MHF4U as well
  • You must have a minimum cumulative average of 90% (though the entrance averages over the past few years have consistently been around 95%)

Supplementary Application

This part gets pretty wacky compared to many other programs so get ready!

There are 4 questions in total, one written and three video responses. For the written response, you’ll receive 10 minutes as soon as you’re given the question to complete your response.

As for the video responses, you will be given 1 minute for preparation and then 2 minutes for your response per video response. For video responses, you’ll also be given practice questions for which you have unlimited sessions.

Here are a few sample questions provided by McMaster to give you a taste of what it’ll be like:

  • What does being resourceful mean to you, and why is it important?
  • Tell us about a time management strategy you used. Why does it work?
  • How do you create a balance for yourself when working in a stressful environment­?
  • Give us an example of a time you acted with integrity.

You may be a bit freaked out by these video responses so here are some tips from iBioMed students to keep in mind as you prepare.

  • Before you start the application, have a few extracurriculars, strengths, and weaknesses that you want to highlight and if it fits with a question that comes up, pepper it in
  • Multiple students mentioned that the practice questions aren’t very similar to the real questions. For instance, one of the practice questions was about your favourite flavour of ice cream whereas the real questions were more so about topics like teamwork
  • As well, they ask quite a lot about your general involvement in your community and how you’ve made a positive impact alongside leadership skills
  • So be sure to have a story to tell; take everything you’ve done over high school and craft into a compelling story

Resources for You!

These are resources I came across and found super helpful for any students considering this program so be sure to check them out!

TL;DR

  • McMaster iBioMed offers a rather a unique experience through its integration of health sciences and engineering (as well as business), its specialization in second year, its co-ops, and the ability to learn hands-on
  • There are a few drawbacks depending on your goals such as the young age of the program and the strong focus on engineering in first year
  • The program is best suited to someone creative who loves hands-on experiences, expressing their ideas, and math and physics
  • To apply, you need a 90% cumulative average on your top 6 courses, must have completed ENG 4U — English, MCV 4U — Calculus, SCH 4U — Chemistry, SPH 4U — Physics, SBI 4U — Biology, and must do well on the supplementary application

About the author

Parmin Sedigh is a 15-year-old stem cell and science communications enthusiast as well as a student researcher, based in Kingston, ON. She’s also the Director of Writing at Superposition and is working with the University of Guelph on a research project. You can usually find her on her computer following her curiosity. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at parminsedigh@gmail.com.

Sources

https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/ibiomed/programs/ibehs-1 https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/ibiomed/programs/ibehs-1#FAQ-s https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/ibiomed https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/ibiomed/programs/ibehs-1#Common-First-Year
https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/ibiomed/programs/course-listing https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/sites/default/files/ibiomed-year-end-report-2019-20-web.pdf

Want to meet with an iBioMed Ambassador? Contact ibiomed@mcmaster.ca for a tour of iBioMed and a chance to meet current iBioMed students!

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Ontario Youth Medical Society is a student-led, non-profit organization focused on educating youth and making a difference in medicine.