Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
During my undergraduate program in Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, I participated in both industrial placements (in aerospace technology) and academic research experiences (in biomedical ultrasonics). After reflecting on my experiences and discussing with my mentors, I found that I was most excited about the prospect of leading my own novel scientific research work in an academic setting, especially as I want to pursue a career where I can have the independence and ability to lead research projects in engineering. As a result, I decided to pursue my Masters and PhD in biomedical engineering to strengthen my scientific training and provide me with research-oriented career options in both academia and industry.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
There were two major reasons I chose to study at UBC. First, out of all the different graduate programs that I reached out to, I felt the best fit at UBC because of my supervisors, Professor Hodgson and Dr. Guy, and my research project’s potential for clinical translation. I was also keen to have both an engineering professor and orthopedic surgeon as co-supervisors as they could provide expertise from their different fields of practice to advise me during my PhD. Second, I have a personal connection to UBC: my fiancée is from Vancouver! We made sure we could move together from the UK so she could pursue medical school while I pursued my graduate studies.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
In addition to the great fit, I felt to the project and supervisors, I was also attracted to the biomedical engineering graduate program because of its unique ‘Engineers in Scrubs’ (EiS) course. The EiS course pairs teams of engineering graduate students with clinicians to solve a real clinical problem over 8 months. During the course, I gained hands-on experience collaborating with medical professionals and prototyping a biomedical engineering solution. These skills were great for me to learn since I hope to continue doing similar projects throughout my career. I also made great friends through EiS, and we continued with our project (low-cost patient screening for scoliosis in developing countries) after the course had ended. The EiS program also gave me a chance to think about technical problems and gain inspiration outside of my graduate research project.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
BC is a very beautiful province, and unlike anywhere I have lived before! For me, the best part about living in Vancouver is the opportunity for going on many outdoor adventures. Since moving to Vancouver, I have learned to ski and love visiting BC’s interior and Kootenays in the winter. I have also gone camping, canoeing, and hiking in amazing provincial parks.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
As part of my PhD research, I found that there was a significant lack of certain standardized practices in ultrasound image analysis. To address this, I proposed a collaboration with other leading researchers in the field and subsequently hosted an international workshop that was held in conjunction with one of the main computer-assisted surgery conferences. I was excited to have found a way to collaborate with experts in my field from all over the world. Going through the process of planning and hosting my own international workshop in France was also very exciting for me! I learned (and continue to learn) a lot of skills in academic collaboration from these connections and look forward to evolving this collaboration beyond my PhD work.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
In my anticipated career as a biomedical engineering researcher, I think the biggest challenge will be successfully translating engineering designs into routine clinical practice. This is a significant hurdle in both academia and industry and is personally the most important aspect of my work, as my motivation to do biomedical engineering comes from wanting to help patients and healthcare workers improve care with technology.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
Very well! My entire PhD project is about validating and translating a surgical navigation system for orthopedic surgery, so I am experiencing the challenges of taking a research system into something that can be practically used by surgeons and patients. Although part of the challenge is this translation, it is also tricky to decide how much of the ‘research’ should be dedicated to translational versus technical developments in the scope of the thesis. Overall, it’s a great way to explore the spectrum of engineering from theory to implementation, and I feel I will be well prepared for my future career.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
I feel quite fortunate to have a broad set of technical skills which helps me quickly pick up new skills. This is mostly a result of my undergraduate degree in Engineering Science, which was a ‘general’ engineering degree as opposed to a specific stream (such as ‘mechanical’, ‘electrical’, etc.). As such, I was exposed to a wide range of technical engineering skills and knowledge. This was incredibly helpful for my graduate work because I am now able to quickly learn new advanced concepts as needed, whether they were in mechanical engineering or computer science. This is particularly advantageous in biomedical engineering, which is a very interdisciplinary field that brings together technical knowledge from biology, medicine, physics, and all types of engineering!
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I find a lot of comfort and relaxation in spending time with animals! I make time once a week with my fiancée to walk a senior Goldendoodle named Linus, who loves bacon treats. I also enjoy taking care of my cat, Aloy, who is incredibly funny and has a great ‘cat personality’. I also make time to enjoy nature by going for hikes, skiing, canoeing, camping when I can! I also enjoy painting, reading, and playing video games, although I wish I made more time for these!
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
If you have not yet started or are still considering grad school: Do not rush! What and where to study are very important decisions, and you should carefully investigate different research groups to make sure that you are going to be in an excellent, healthy, and supportive environment. You should also carefully consider why you want to do a graduate program and come up with clear reasons. It’s a long process to finishing your degree, and having the right motivation from the beginning helps, especially in the middle of your program when you might be struggling with the challenges of graduate research. For those students who are just starting out: make sure you take time to enjoy life outside of your program! This can be easier said than done because at times doing a graduate program will put a lot of pressure on your time and energy. Don’t let this pressure continue artificially by getting swept up in your work when it’s not totally necessary. Make time to enjoy your time with friends and family, and make sure you make time for yourself too. Being a graduate student is likely a very unique time in your life where you are working, getting paid, but are still a student! Try to take some time to explore your professional and personal goals now, because life could get much busier after you finish your graduate degree. Lastly, get an early start on your career goals! For example, if you already know that you want to be an academic, try to apply for grants early with help from your supervisors and inquire about postdoctoral positions in labs that you would like to work in much before you anticipate graduating. At worst, you don’t get a response, but it’s more likely you will make a professional connection that could help you get your next position or start a life-long collaboration! Don’t be shy about putting yourself out there, people are more likely to remember you for future opportunities.