How and when did you first become interested in the biomedical field as related to engineering and science?
I first became interested during a summer internship I attended at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Throughout the internship, weekly seminars were given to the students on various topics of engineering and applied physics. One of the seminars described how protons were utilized to treat patients with specific types of cancer. I immediately found this quite interesting and realized that my passion for engineering and physics could be applied to improve the diagnosis and treatment of people with illnesses. Ultimately, I decided that this would be my career path, and I applied to graduate school in this area of study.
Briefly describe your work.
My work focuses on the area of radiation oncology. Radiation oncology is a specific field where various cancers are treated with radiation. The goal is to deliver a high radiation dose to kill the tumor and minimize the dose to the surrounding healthy tissues. My specific research supports this goal by developing a technique which can be used to treat abdominal and pelvic cancers. The technique consists of a surgical operation to place a saline-filled bag that isolates the tumor. The bag can be inflated to push away healthy tissue while the radiation is being given to the tumor. This allows a large dose of radiation to be delivered to the tumor while the adjacent, healthy tissues are spared.
What are your ultimate career goals?
I will be finishing my Ph.D. in the coming year and will be taking a position as a radiation oncology physicist in a radiation therapy clinic, preferably in an academic/university teaching hospital. Long term, I hope to become board certified by the American Board of Radiology and continue to better the field by developing research and implementing it in a clinical setting for the benefit of cancer patients. I also aspire to have the opportunity to develop or further develop the field of radiation oncology in Central American countries.
How did your SMU Engineering education prepare you for your current research and what you hope to do in the future?
The problem solving skills and critical thinking one learns at SMU in engineering classes and labs are unmatched and last a lifetime. SMU engineering courses teach students to use creativity and apply the scientific method in problem solving. In research with any field of study, a fundamental understanding of the scientific method and a little creativity are vital components for success. SMU engineering classes also promote the development of interpersonal skills through student group projects and presentations. In research, collaboration with other individuals is inevitable, and one must be able to work in a group environment and clearly express one's ideas. SMU engineering has provided me with a unique skill set that has given me success to this date and continues to do so.
What advice would you give to a high school student related to engineering and the biomedical field?
Engineering is a wonderful field of which to become a part because of the many branches of study. Even within a certain branch of engineering such as biomedical engineering, there exists a multitude of areas with which one can become involved. As you start an engineering program, enroll in an introductory course that will provide you with a flavor of what is available. This will help you narrow down where your interest lies. Once you obtain an interest for a given area, become involved in that field either through research or an internship.
Anything else you want to add?
Find your passion. Once you do, never give it up.
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