Senior Product Development Engineer Lamis Elsawah Shares Top Tips for Navigating Your STEM Career

Lamis Elsawah is currently a Senior Product Development Engineer at DePuy Synthes Spine, working on complex deformity implants.

Here is what Lamis had to say when we asked her about navigating a STEM career: 

GenHERation®: When did you discover that you wanted to study engineering?

Lamis Elsawah: I don’t remember exactly, but I know that my freshman year of high school we had to write down our future career goals and I wrote down biomedical engineering, so at least from the age of 15.

GenHERation®: Why did you choose to pursue a master’s degree abroad?

Elsawah: My freshman year graduate assistant was a Thouron Scholar who was doing an exchange program in the U.S., so the thought crept in my brain then, but I knew it would be hard to study abroad as an engineer. During my sophomore year at Penn, I applied to submatriculate. By my junior year, I decided that I really wanted to go abroad, so I submitted applications my senior year, got in, and pursued a Master of Research in Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship in London after undergrad. This program was very niche, and the best for me, because it combined my two interests. 

GenHERation®: What does a typical day look like for you?

Elsawah: It depends on what phase of a project we’re working on. Right now, I’m doing a lot of testing. I’m writing engineering analyses, using CAD, and attending meetings. If you asked me this question two years ago, I was focused on prototyping, iterating, and designing. There are also some days when I’m working with surgeons and cadavers. 

GenHERation®: How do you embrace an entrepreneurial mindset in your current role?

Elsawah: I think it’s in my perspective. As R&D, I am working with manufacturing. In this, I have to understand consumers’ needs and make decisions based on profits. Being a part of R&D, a lot of times we can focus on the design of an implant or instrument to meet the user or patient’s needs, but don’t always think about the business side of things; however, as you progress in your career, understanding the business side is key. As part of my master’s degree, which focused on entrepreneurship, I had to learn about different regulatory bodies, which is directly related to what we do in medical devices. I didn’t necessarily see myself building my own medical company, but I like business, and I use that understanding to my advantage. 

GenHERation®: What are three skills you have developed as an engineer that you believe can be utilized across all industries?

Elsawah: Problem solving, asking questions, and communicating. Communicating is extremely important because wherever you work you have to deal with a lot of people and different personalities. In my role, I am leading meetings, and it is important for me to bring context. You have to read your audience and understand their knowledge base. You will never lose anything by explaining more. 

GenHERation®: How do you remain confident when working in a male-dominated field?

Elsawah: I think it is really about how you carry yourself. Even if I don’t know everything, I know I can look it up. You can’t think too much about it. I am a person of color, a woman, and a Muslim. I don’t let it get in the way of how I do things. You can’t think about it too much and let it debilitate you. I know that I stand out, but I take it as an opportunity to break stereotypes. 

GenHERation®: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Elsawah: In high school, I was always going, going, going. My AP U.S. History teacher said that I needed to maintain balance in my life. If you put all of your energy into your work, you will burn out. I carried that into college a lot. I made sure that every Friday night I took off no matter what was going on. 

Lamis Elsawah is currently a Senior Product Development Engineer at DePuy Synthes Spine, working on complex deformity implants. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania where she studied bioengineering with a concentration in biomedical devices. Lamis then graduated from Imperial College London where she received a Master’s in Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship. Her goal in her career is to make an impact on the medical device field. 

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