Julia Barry began her journey at Limbitless in Spring 2019. Since then, Julia became an integral part of the internship program, acting as a mentor and team lead for the new engineering students. On Dec. 17, 2021, Julia will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in both mechanical engineering and biology. Recently, I sat down with Julia and asked her to reflect on her experience over the last three years.
As you look back on your three years at Limbitless, are there any memories that stand out as pivotal moments in your internship?
Julia: At the old lab one time, we had a bionic kid come in on my birthday. I was in the back working in the manufacturing area, and I heard from the front, “Julia! Julia! I heard it was your birthday.” She came and gave me a big hug. It was so cool to be able to connect with one of our bionic kids. It was my first real Limbitless moment.
Do you have a favorite memory from working with the team?
Julia: On the day before one of the clinical trials started, a bunch of us stayed until past midnight in the lab. We were gluing foam into cuffs and making sure everything was ready for the next day. I joke that it was the latest and the earliest I’ve ever been in the lab.
Are there any major lessons you learned from your time here?
Julia: I learned so many lessons at Limbitless, but the biggest one I’ll take with me is to think about everyone I’m designing for having different levels of ability. Accessible design is so integral as an engineer, and from now on, I will always be thinking in that frame of reference for people with all ranges of ability.
What were some of the special projects you worked on?
Julia: I worked on a whole mess of projects over the past couple years, but I remember my first ever project was the arc reactor, where engineering students make a replica of Tony Stark’s arc reactor from the Avengers movie. That was my first experience making a CAD (computer-aided design), 3D printing it, and then seeing how the dimensions came out. The first one I made actually shattered after I dropped it because of weak points in the frame. The second rendition was much better. It was a big point of pride for me because not only did I have to design and program it, but I also got to print, sand, and paint it. It gave me a new appreciation for the entirety of the design process from start to finish.
How have the people you’ve met at Limbitless had an impact on you?
Julia: Being able to interact with leadership so closely and comfortably has made me much more confident in my ability to talk to professionals. It’s so much easier to be honest and ask questions. I know imposter syndrome has an impact on a lot of people in the [engineering] field, especially me. Limbitless has made me feel more like an actual engineer than I ever did working solely in my major. It didn’t fully dawn on me that I am an engineer until people came to visit and saw me as the expert. Even other interns look to me for projects and advice now, which has validated a lot of my work here. And then, obviously, the bionic kids have had a huge impact. You get to see the fruits of your labor genuinely impacting lives for the better.
What has it been like being a female in a traditionally male-dominated field?
Julia: I actually feel pretty lucky. Limbitless has a large female presence. We have a 2:1 ratio of female to male engineers on the team, which is pretty unusual in this industry, and even in my classes. Out of a maybe 300 person class, there may be 20 girls. This is the opposite to biology, which usually has more females, so I really get to see both sides. I like to surprise people. The shock factor of being a female and an engineer almost feels like beating expectations.
Why did you choose biology as a second major?
Julia: I always get the question, “why biology?” when it comes to my second major. A lot of mechanical engineers hate biology, but I see bodily systems as just squishy machines. My joints work like machine joints, and vice versa. Engineering and biology really overlap more than people would expect. Biology has always come naturally to me. A lot of manufacturing came from replicating biological systems.
Do you have any plans for the future?
Julia: I would love to go into industry, especially biomedical engineering. What we see here at Limbitless is a small-scale version of a lot of the industry day-to-days of manufacturing. A lot of people don’t like to do desk work. But sitting down to plan, design, and get projects ready is the part I love. I love being able to see the big picture and how all the components have to fit together. I’ve always loved working with my hands and being on my feet, talking to people, and seeing the finished project. My favorite part is looking back on a project and being able to say “I did that.” That’s always been why Limbitless has felt so rewarding to me. I work primarily on the hands, and seeing a bionic kid come in with a piece I worked on and recognize makes me really proud.
Do you have any advice to give to future Limbitless interns?
Julia: If you want to do something, you have to ask the leadership team because they won’t know until you make it known. Also, if someone offers to train you, take them up on it. Even if it has nothing to do with your major. It’s free and it’s valuable, and this may be your only chance in life to have that cross-field communication and collaboration. Take advantage of the bright minds you have around you. The Limbitless culture is so great at creating interdisciplinary teamwork. Anywhere else, I would probably only have talked to engineers. Now I can go talk to an artist or a researcher or a game designer and just ask: “whatcha doin?” and have the comfort to be curious about it. Also, show enthusiasm. I came into the lab twice before I even applied. I got a tour and checked it out, and I talked to Albert [Manero] and he gave me his card, and it was only after I left that day that I looked at the card and realized he was the CEO. He was so down to earth I would’ve never known! And that’s how the entirety of the Limbitless team is. I showed I wanted to do the work here, and I was rewarded. Even if you don’t know anything, the passion and willingness to learn is the most important part.
Julia Barry will be dearly missed at Limbitless, but her journey is only beginning. She made her impact on her fellow interns and on the bionic kids. We can’t wait to see all the incredible things she will accomplish.
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