Q&A with a Biomechanist and Accident Reconstructionist

Ave is an engineer, specializing in biomechanics. Her current focus is accident reconstruction and automotive collisions. She enjoys building things and making them efficient, solving problems involving math and physics, and working with mechanical designs.  Ave is available as a mentor with Careers Infinite for queries related to mechanical engineering, biomechanics and forensic injury analysis.

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Could you give us a brief overview of your educational background?

I did my undergrad and masters in mechanical engineering. I had a year and a half experience doing an internship with General Motors (GM) in a maintenance support role. In my final year of undergrad, I got interested in doing something in the biomedical research side. So, I joined McMaster University’s mechanical engineering program and specialized in injury and fracture biomechanics, looking at the tibia, one of the large bones in our body, under conditions simulating automotive collisions.

What is injury biomechanics and what is your work currently focused on?

Injury biomechanics was an interesting challenge for me. It is basically the attempt to characterize biological materials (in the case of my lab, bone) in a mechanical way, using strategies that have been developed for metals, ceramics and other engineering applications. We would use it to study how injury occurs. This work got me interested in forensic injury analysis.

I currently focus on accident reconstruction and automotive collisions. For example, this could entail doing failure analysis either on vehicles or checking for structural problems and determining what caused a failure or injury.

What is the timeline to get here, since finishing college?

I would say 6 years with some internship experience. This would include 4 years of Bachelors in an engineering field and 2 years of Masters.

How did you choose mechanical engineering?

From a young age, I did well in math and science, which got me interested in engineering.  At McMaster University, we have a general first year program for engineering. This allowed me to get a good exposure to different disciplines. Additionally, I had the chance to talk to my seniors to learn about the various opportunities and career paths in each field.

I went into mechanical engineering because it involved physics, and I enjoyed the practical aspect of physical moving parts. Apart from school, a lot of it was self-directed learning and real life experiences from a job, internship programs and having my car break down. I realized that I am happiest when I am solving problems in a practical sense. I enjoy mechanical designs, having to build something and making it efficient.

Who are your role models?

There are many people. Throughout my time as a student, and even more recently, I have always sought out people who have been doing things that seemed interesting and worthwhile to me. I wanted to get their perspective. For a while, I was really scared to ask for advice and mentorship outright. I cannot remember the first person I asked, but I realized people were happy to share their career experiences, because they are indeed experts in their own fields.

I sought guidance from a lot of women engineers through networking events, my internship at GM, my grad supervisor and a few other colleagues by showing them my work or displaying interest in their work. It is harder for women to be engineers, not because we are less gifted in math and science, but because there are fewer of us and its harder to be motivated after a certain point if you cannot see yourself grow. I think I have built myself a good network of role models through my undergrad and masters, and it is not fair to name just a few.

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