David Goertsen, BASc '17, Chemical and Biological Engineering

David Goertsen
Through engineering, I have been able to try a variety of different fields I was interested in and get my questions answered by professionals with first hand knowledge.

David Goertsen has consistently shown a dedication to engineering advancement through his leadership in student teams and his research in multiple labs on campus. His academic excellence is reflected by being among the top academic students in Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE), where he won the Dean’s Award, along with his capstone design team for the best Biological Engineering design project. He held a leadership role with the UBC International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team in his last year of undergrad after being a team member in previous years. In his last year under his leadership, the iGEM team was nominated for best manufacturing project and won a gold medal at the competition. During his final year of undergrad, Goertsen was the Co-Safety and Sustainability representative for the CHBE undergraduate club. After graduation, Goertsen began working as a project manager with Metabolik Technologies, a biological engineering start-up developing genetic engineering solutions for industry, as well as working at STEMCELL Technologies in the research and development department. Goertsen aspires to obtain a PhD in genetic engineering to contribute as much as he possibly can to the growing field.

Why did you choose engineering?

When I was looking at careers that I’d like during my year off after high school, the careers that seemed the most interesting to me were all engineering and science. I initially wanted to work as an analytical chemist but after seeing the job description, I realized I wanted to do something less static — I didn’t want to solve the same problems repeatedly for my entire career. I also wanted to take scientific research further than knowledge expansion and find solutions to the big problems society faces. Engineering was exactly what I was looking for, providing me with a way to apply scientific research to creative solutions for a wide range of problems.

What have you learned that is most valuable?

An engineering education is what you make of it; the workload, classes and projects aren’t easy, but are manageable when you enjoy what you’re studying. Many professors are passionate about student mentorship and provide opportunities to undergraduates, making it easy to gain practical experience. If you aren’t passionate about problem solving or are just getting an engineering degree for a lucrative paycheck, you probably won’t enjoy it.

The most valuable thing for undergraduates is working on student teams, getting relevant work experience and volunteering. A lot of careers and positions sound perfect on paper, but when you get into the lab or field they aren’t what you thought they would be. I initially wanted to do work with clean water engineering, but in practice, found that the problem solving involved was more economic and political than technical, which was not at all what I had expected. While this position made me more diverse in my experiences and helped me improve as a communicator, it lacked the technical demand that I wanted in a career. Conversely, I didn’t expect to enjoy positions that involved a lot of lab work. After working with complex biological systems like stem cell culture or microbial genetic engineering, I realized that the experimental design that went along with biological engineering was exactly what I wanted to do long term.

By working with student teams, you can test a variety of industries with minimal risk. When I wanted to try synthetic biology and genetic engineering, the iGEM student competition allowed me to get hands on experience with this industry. When I was interested in consulting, the BC Water & Waste Association (BCWWA) student design competition let me attempt anaerobic digester design for the industry without the long-term commitment of a career. Additionally, student competitions let you practice the science that you’re passionate about and push you to be relevant in your industry.

How do you feel a degree in engineering has benefited you compared to a different field of study?

The amount of mentorship provided by engineering professors and the emphasis on acquiring work experience during undergrad provides most students the opportunity to get what they want out of their education. On top of that, there are many student teams, initiatives, clubs and competitions to allow anyone to get involved with topics that interest them. Through engineering, I have been able to try a variety of different fields I was interested in and get my questions answered by professionals with first hand knowledge. In UBC Engineering, it isn’t difficult to participate in a variety of student leadership or volunteer positions and get leadership experience.

Another benefit of studying applied science is that engineering students share a comradery that most other departments don’t have, making it easy to expand your personal or professional network. In my experience, students who are further in their degrees are willing to help new students with their classes or prepare for an interview at a familiar company. The encouragement and mentorship older students offer is one of the main advantages of the applied science faculty.

What advice would you give a student considering engineering?

Engineering isn’t as impossible as people make it sound. I remember being intimidated by the workload that engineering students complain about when I was first thinking about applying to engineering. I worried that even after working hard I wouldn’t be able to keep up and was anxious that I would fail due to the stories I heard. Engineering hasn’t been the horror story that is advertised. Hard work and dedication go a long way in engineering, and if you enter the engineering program with that in mind, you’ll be able to succeed.

To get the most out of your engineering degree, participate in as many student teams as possible. Student teams allow you to get hands on experience, work in a team, and practice leadership. You will learn way more from practical projects than you will from most classes, you will make friends with dedicated people that will push you to succeed, and usually it will be a rewarding experience.

Surround yourself with other people that are motivated and that have set high standards for their academic achievement. It’s a lot easier to do well when you have people around you that are dedicated and motivated to succeed.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Any one of my friends will tell you that I’m competitive. To take advantage of this, I try to surround myself with people that set ambitious goals and push me to work harder. I’ve been lucky to have mentors that encourage me to push my own limits and achieve more than I initially aimed for. While it’s important to work on projects that inspire you, surrounding yourself with people that push and encourage is just as essential.

I always get inspired by people who love what they’re doing, whether that is researching genetics, teaching a woodworking class, or studying the brain. That passion is contagious, and it always makes me motivated in my own interests.

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?

I hope that I can make a difference both in my community and in society through the field of biological engineering. In my community, I aim to use my leadership opportunities to encourage diversity and mentor those with an interest in math, science, and engineering. In society, I want to make a difference by developing creative solutions using genetic engineering and synthetic biology. The field of genetic engineering is growing rapidly, and as we further understand how to harness the power locked within the DNA of the many species around us, we will be able to create novel solutions to problems that previously seemed impossible to solve.

I would also like to use any influence I obtain to be a positive influence and mentor on those around me. UBC has taught me more than just engineering — I’ve learnt about politics, economics, human behavior, and the environment during my education, and I strive to influence my social circles to be sustainable and to approach these topics with an informed point of view.