What’s your current research focus?

Stem cell bioengineering. Specifically, the generation of human blood vessels from somatic and pluripotent stem cells.

What was your path to Biomedical Engineering and what inspired you to pursue it?

I began my BME academic career working in the Zandstra Lab (Donnelly Center, University of Toronto) under the supervision of Dr. Himanshu Kaul. The late nights, long days, and stem cell experiment troubleshooting was exciting and quite rewarding. Stem cells, especially the pluripotent variety, have fascinated me for a long time, and nearly every day I think about their potential (no pun intended) for the future of medicine.

“I see a biomedical engineer as one who combines an engineering skillset with a diverse palate of experience and biological knowledge to the health challenges of our time.”

Nico Werschler

For those who don’t know, what’s biomedical engineering?

It’s the application of engineering principles to advancing medicine, biology, and healthcare. I see a biomedical engineer as one who combines an engineering skill set with a diverse palate of experience and biological knowledge to better understand and solve the health challenges of our time. Given that the BME field is broad, a biomedical engineer can occupy a wide variety of roles.

Can you describe how the program combines engineering, computer science, math, medicine, and more?

The UBC SBME graduate program includes course selections and requirements in nearly all fields of STEM. Rotation placements in research/laboratory settings give you a taste of different areas of study so that you can select the one that works best for you.

In this program, you will often find yourself working on a project that demands a multidisciplinary approach. For example, using computational and mathematical modelling to better understand experimental data or using AutoCAD and machining experience to engineer a solution to some clinical problem. It kind of combines everything.

Did you have a career in mind when you chose Biomedical Engineering? Has that career goal changed?

No, I didn’t have a specific career in mind. I was contemplating everything from medicine and healthcare management to landscaping, private contracting, and masonry. It’s obvious my career goals have changed now that I am working towards a PhD from the UBC SBME. Additionally, I am considering an M.D. following my PhD so that I may apply my experience and knowledge in stem cell bioengineering towards the development and implementation of new clinical cell therapies.

Nico in the outback, and a glacial lake.
What’s been your favourite part of the program so far?

The diverse student body and community it attracts. Each friend I’ve made through the program has a unique set of qualified characteristics that really blends well with SBME’s mission.

What do you think a student needs to be successful in the program?

A passion for creation and innovation! Also a strong interest and background in life sciences and an understanding of key engineering principles are well-suited for this program. Given the flexibility and breadth of the field, it’s definitely advantageous to bring with you the skill of abstract thinking.

Is Biomedical Engineering something you’d encourage other students to pursue?

I encourage all students to look into biomedical engineering as a potential career option. It has an incredibly promising outlook—it’s one of the fastest growing occupational fields with great job prospects and a flexible working environment that opens doors to positions in universities, hospitals, industry, labs, and regulatory agencies—all in the work to make the world a better, healthier place.

Are you part of any teams, groups or clubs on campus?

I help lead the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Association (BMEGA) as Industry Liaison and I’m part of the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC). Leadership in the academic environment is fun, but not much beats the trips into the B.C. outback. Traversing glaciers, summiting 11,000+ft. peaks, visiting natural hot springs, and more! The B.C. backcountry is a world-class adventure playground no more than a one-hour drive from the Lower Mainland.

“Each friend I’ve made through the program has a unique set of qualified characteristics that really blends well with SBME’s mission.”

Nico Werschler

What do you do to find balance?

Moving far (3000km+) away for long-term studies can be challenging. I’ve relied on extracurriculars developed in my childhood such as music and sports to help establish myself here at UBC. Intramural sports, jam sessions with friends, freediving, and bi-weekly swims at the UBC aquatic center help maintain my work-life balance. That extracurricular time helps reset my weekly learning and workload.

Any pleasant surprises for you in your time at SBME? Anything you didn’t expect about the field?

The field as a whole was a bit overwhelming at first. I was surprised by how complex mathematical and computational processes are integrated with biology. Now, after three years exposure to it all, my understanding, appreciation, and excitement for the potential of this field has only grown.

Anything else you’d like to share about the SBME?

SBME helps students build foundational understanding in engineering, biology, math, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, design, and the healthcare system as a whole. What sets the program apart from others is its partnership with clinics and hospitals, and what those ties offer students. The Engineers in Scrubs (EiS) program is great example of that. EiS emphasizes hands-on, impact-driven collaboration with clinical stakeholders, giving students the chance to focus on a project outside their current area of expertise. The SBME program builds really strong student-student and student-mentor relationships—that’s so valuable both during your academic career and after.