Doctoral candidate in Biomedical Engineering
Master’s student in Public Health
What prompted you to apply for the Open Graduate Education program?
In my previous research with medicine and medical applications, no one ever asked me to consider how my research would affect the end user. In my head, I often thought, what if the results of my research went to patients? Would it benefit them in the long run or just be a quick fix to a complicated problem? I've always wanted to figure that out.
When I learned about the Open Graduate Education program, I was ecstatic. I saw it as an opportunity to obtain a different set of “tools” to answer the questions I had always thought about, but couldn’t answer. I wanted to know how my research might influence the community and patients. I went to talk to Dr. Patrick Vivier, director of graduate study and program chair for Public Health. After explaining my quest to understand the long term effects of my research, he was excited and very supportive. He put me in touch with other faculty (Dr. Charles Eaton and Dr. Zhijin Wu) who were also excited about the idea. After a few conversations and planning, I received total encouragement from the MPH program to apply for the program.
What aspect of the opportunity most appealed to you?
The ability to combine two different ideas and backgrounds, that don’t seem compatible on the surface, but can actually benefit from one another, and have an opportunity to prove this and bring it to life. As research changes and people are noticing that a synergy of diverse expertise is propitious to one another, different disciplines are being molded together. The Open Graduate Education program presents an unprecedented and non-judgmental opportunity for this synergy to bring different programs together. For example, if I am working on research for a new product, I want to know how it will affect individuals. I didn't necessarily think these two realms would mesh, but they do because you need to think about both to obtain a good end product.
How would you describe your experience in the program so far?
It has met and exceeded my expectations, including the incredible support from the Graduate School, the programs, and my advisor Christian Franck. The camaraderie from the others in the cohort was another excellent benefit I wasn’t expecting. I believe this is important since it's not the easiest thing to do; bringing two disciplines together.
Has your plan or schedule changed?
I came in with an idea to add a chapter to my dissertation that would allow me to combine my thesis and dissertation requirements. Unfortunately, that hasn't worked - they're now separate projects. Everything has otherwise gone according to schedule. My plan has changed, just as education and research topics continually change.
What have you found most challenging?
Transitioning from thinking with my “left” brain to my “right” brain. My typical day consists of morning computations and understanding engineering theories, and then a stroll to the lab for some hands-on intense experiments where I try to validate our new theories, computations and ideas. Next, I’m going from thinking about lab experiments, numbers, and controls, to an afternoon in class thinking about feelings and people's perceptions.
The program includes regular meetings with peers in the program and deans. What do you take away from the gatherings?
The support from the faculty, administrations and students. Everyone is coming from different backgrounds and we have the opportunity to think about a common problem or question and acquire so many different perspectives. The breadth of knowledge within the cohort is amazing. I might be sitting conversing to one student about ancient transcripts and to another student who can explain how one word can mean so many different connotations in four different languages.
How are you structuring your time for the master's and PhD work?
I'm learning by doing it. Google calendars are great! Every semester I sit down with my PhD advisor and the MPH program director and we set goals for each program. Then I create a weekly list of what I need to do to reach these goals.
During the semester I meet with my advisor on a weekly basis to keep track of what's expected and with the director of the MPH program on a needs basis. Both disciplines know exactly what I'm accomplishing and what each expects. I keep the communication open. It's different for each student, some may not meet as often, but setting a schedule and increasing communication has worked so far.
Do you see signs of the master's work influencing your doctoral studies? If so, how?
Yes, I also see it influencing my future scholarly work. I am thinking about experiments and results and how to transfer the research into the medical world. In my master's classes I'm contemplating how systems and future research will influence individuals. I'm thinking about real life applications instead of just experimental research and results.
Who should apply for this program?
Someone who has a crazy idea that may have been shut down in the past; someone who is determined and wants to influence different disciplines. It's probably more helpful to come to the program with an idea, it does not have to be a perfect project, but a good idea. It's not just about wanting a second degree, but about wanting to be an advanced scholar in two different disciplines.