Making The Most Of Every Opportunity, From Researching T-cell Therapy to Co-leading UBC Bionics

"Indigenous engineers have the background knowledge and can offer insight, but it’s crucial that everyone takes the initiative to learn."

Emily Flaschner

Emily Flaschner

Why did you want to study engineering?

I was interested in studying stem cells and regenerative medicine, so when I applied to UBC I listed the Faculty of Applied Science as my second choice. However, when I looked into it further, I saw that biomedical engineering had the course material I was interested in learning. 

I am so glad I had the opportunity to join this program as I realized prior to accepting that I was more interested in the application side rather than the pure science. 

Biomedical engineering

Why engineering is a versatile and future-proof degree

How did you decide on UBC?

I’m from Calgary and I knew I wanted to go away for university. My high school band came out to BC in grade 12 and we performed at UBC. As soon as I arrived, I loved the campus and knew I wanted to study here.

One of Canada's Best Engineering Programs

Why engineering is one of the most rewarding careers

Any highlights from your program that you’d like to share?

I really enjoy working on a team, so the capstone project this year has been tons of fun. 

My team designed and 3D-printed a hypoxic chamber for tumour cell cultures. This project was done through an industry partnership, and we were working with a very supportive client that we met with bi-weekly throughout the term. It’s been rewarding to apply the design process on such a tangible product and to be able to develop this design with stakeholder input throughout the year. The capstone project has given us good insight into what it is like to work with industry partners as engineers. 

Capstone Project

Tell us about your co-op experiences.

I’ve done my co-op entirely in academic research rather than in industry. This included doing ultrasound research at a clinic in Calgary and working for a year full-time in the Zandstra lab at UBC on T-cell therapy development. More specifically, I was researching how we can make blood stem cells into T cells so they can be more widely distributed as a form of therapy. 

I also did a co-op in Switzerland at a lab at ETH Zürich. During this work term, I was looking at a specific type of blood disease and the cell signalling that’s involved to see if we could find targets for later therapeutics as well as better characterize the disease to improve patient care and outcomes.

Co-op  Zandstra lab  ETH Zürich

Why Co-op? Launch Your Career While Still A Student

What do you like about academic research?

I am somebody who really enjoys learning so I appreciate that the work is always changing and that you are constantly learning while you’re on the job. 

I’m planning to go to graduate school in Spain to do a PhD in September.

That’s exciting. Will your PhD be in engineering?

No, I haven’t settled on a specific PhD program yet, but it will probably be in biomedicine.

Have you been part of any clubs or teams at UBC?

Yes, since my first year I have been part of the biomedical engineering design team UBC Bionics. I have held roles as an electrical-software member, administrative lead, team captain, co-captain and now an advisor. Our team is a prosthetic design group, and we’ve worked on two major projects. The first is a bionic hand and forearm for individuals who have an amputation, and the second is a brain-computer interface for people who are paralyzed. 

This experience has been incredibly valuable, and I have met people from various faculties, learned about project management and the logistics of running a team. 

It’s a cool way to gain a lot of experience.

UBC Bionics


Engineering might not be what you think it is

Your background is Anishinaabe Ojibwe. Is there anything you’d like to share about being an Indigenous woman in engineering?

Being an Indigenous woman in engineering has involved learning about how the values that come from the Indigenous cultural part of my life can intermix with engineering as well as how to balance them. 

For instance, when we talk about inclusive design, we need to ensure that space is created to listen to all voices and proper consultation occurs with all implicated parties. This means including Indigenous people within these conversations and throughout the design process. 

Indigenous engineers have the background knowledge and can offer insight, but it’s crucial that everyone takes the initiative to learn. 

Overall, it’s important for space to be created to improve representation. 

I have also had fun opportunities through my involvement in the School of Biomedical Engineering Indigenous Engagement Committee (SBME IEC) and with the UBC AISES chapter. This last year, I organized and participated in a panel discussing Indigenous peoples’ realities and experiences in Canadian health care. I was also able to participate in the national AISES conferences and connect with more of the Indigenous STEM community.

UBC AISES chapter  Indigenous Student Experience

Do you have any thoughts on the contributions you’d like to make in your field?

I really enjoy research, and there are two fields I’d like to focus on long term. 

The first is endometriosis, which 10% of women have worldwide and yet it is just a blank spot in terms of our current understanding. 

And the other is the prevalence of diseases within underrepresented populations and communities. An example is diabetes. Indigenous people are more at risk because of their genetics, especially on the western diet, because it’s different from what they used to eat. I the research that I do to have an impact on society by improving quality of life and I’d like to assist in developing new treatments.

A career that stems from STEM

Any advice for students considering engineering?

Just go for it! If it’s something that interests you, engineering will prepare you very well for whatever it is you want to do in the future and will open the door to so many opportunities.

Biomedical Engineering student looking at a medical imaging scan

Biomedical Engineering

As a Biomedical Engineering student, you’ll take a series of core courses aimed at building a strong foundation in engineering, biology, math, chemistry, and design.

Biomedical Engineering

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