Choosing Between an MEM and MBA and Finding the Right MEM Program for You

Tina Chang is a 2009 MEM graduate and currently a Regulatory Compliance Engineer for Lab126 in Cupertino, California. She graduated from Duke University with a Bachelors degree in biomedical and electrical engineering. Tina also earned a Japanese Language and Literature degree from Waseda University in Tokyo and speaks Mandarin and Japanese.

My MEM experiences have enabled me to do so much more with my career that I can ever could have imagined! After graduating from Duke, I knew I did not want to go straight into graduate school without exploring my career interests. By the third year of working I started looking into MBA programs when I came across the NUMEM program. I was immediately attracted to the three year work experience requirement for admission, which is different from most other MEM programs.

When deciding between an MEM or MBA program, I would say that an MEM degree is for people who have solid engineering backgrounds and still want to stay in the technical industry. MBA degrees are for those interested in marketing, banking, investment and financial areas. MEMers are of course also capable of landing a job in those fields but realistically it is much easier for companies to recruit candidates with engineering backgrounds in engineering fields. They see this as a better chance of success and engineers have a better chance of landing an engineering-related jobs than those who don’t. Simple math.

From talking to MEMers from other schools after I graduated, I can tell you that NUMEM will expose you to peers who have an incredible amount of industry experiences. If you are interested in doing a thesis or something more theoretical, do not apply. If you do not have three or more years of experiences, do not apply—you will not benefit as much from the program. This program is for those who already have engineering background and want to acquire business skills like project management, product marketing, optimization, accounting, and marketing to continue building on top of a strong foundation in engineering.

Class discussions were my favorite experience because they provide real life scenarios that happen day-to-day at work. For example, in one simulation class we had to come up with different marketing, engineering, and sales strategies to increase revenue and reduce the costs of the companies that each team was running. Each student comes from different industries and backgrounds and is able to bring fresh ideas to the table. In my current job, I need to work with cross functional teams such as industrial designer, product designer, program manager, commodity manager, and product marketing people. In meetings, some care about the design while others care about the reducing the cost and marketing to certain group of end customers. The simulation class gave me a good handle on working with different aspects of business and has proven helpful in my real experiences in the business world.

Coming out of this program, not only you will think and act like a business person, you will also be able to offer a more holistic view on everything you encounter. I currently work in the electronics industry and many engineers who help realize a design concept, regardless of software or hardware engineer, work in their lab or cubicle with very minimal interactions with the outside world. They excel in designing the most robust and error-free products but very few of them know how to put their skills in broader perspectives, such as communicating their ideas to other teams and explaining the impact or value of the concept which is important when convincing other team member why their ideas can benefit customer’s.

I am in the eighth year of my career and I have already leveraged my MEM degree and the skills to a create successful career in engineering, quality, sales, and account management, and procurement. MEM had enabled me to explore my interests in so many ways and I feel that the sky is the limit. I would recommend the NUMEM program to those out there who do not settle but incessantly pursue their dream careers. Going through the MEM program will take you to where you want to be!


  1. Tina this is a great article and it brings up a lot of good issues when you are looking to get a MBA or a MEM. It also is important to decide where to go to for your specific area you wish to get into. I do not think people should go into any graduate degree without knowing about where they would like to go as of a career. Have a plan and pick the best path!

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