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BME student finishes undergrad degree in two years

Portrait of Michael Quan

This spring, UIC student Michael Quan will graduate with a biomedical engineering degree before heading off to a PhD program at Vanderbilt University.

That’s a success story in and of itself, but Quan did it after just two years on campus, and all before his 20th birthday.

So how did he do it?

“I did everything,” Quan said.

Specifically, he took every single AP class he was able to in high school and took free community college classes after school, including calculus 3, differential equations, and physics. But his dedication to his studies was not without sacrifices.

“Prom, no. Homecoming, no. Football games, no. That was all a no,” Quan said. “I had to focus; I didn’t really have a choice. Most people have that privilege of being able to do those things, but I wasn’t raised in that kind of household. I was always told to work hard, and we didn’t come from much, so I didn’t have much of a choice to begin with.”

Though his family encouraged him to become a doctor, he realized that while he was interested in the medical field, he also had a passion for math and physics and the best way to combine them was with biomedical engineering.

He decided to attend UIC and join the Richard and Loan Hill Biomedical Engineering Department because it was the best value and gave him the best bang for his buck. Once he was enrolled in the fall of 2020, he found that his classes were engaging and challenging.

“I’ve really loved my experience at UIC. The professors were great, and I never had a bad experience,” Quan said. “I honestly feel like I’ve been trained well, and I think I’m genuinely really prepared to go to grad school, and that’s the best thing I could have asked for from an undergraduate institution.”

He arrived at UIC with 76 credits, then averaged around 20 credits each semester. Two years later, he had a biomedical engineering degree with a concentration in bioinformatics.

Moving forward, Quan will begin a mechanical engineering PhD program focused on cardiovascular pressure distribution and hemodynamics to non-invasively diagnose heart disease. He won’t be straying too far from his biomedical roots, as the program is a hybrid mechanical and biomedical track and his advisor has a joint appointment in the college of medicine at Vanderbilt.

Quan hopes to finish up his PhD program in three or four years, but definitely before he turns 25. Ultimately, his goal is to become a full-time professor so he can mentor students and encourage them to follow their dreams. (And, he says, being a younger professor will help him connect with students.) And with his mind never far from his fascination with learning and knowledge, he is also excited about being able to continue conducting research.

“The biggest part about doing science is you are on the edge of discovery,” Quan said. “And if you are always there, it’s going to be exciting, because you never know when you are going to see something new.”