The quality of the BME grad program continues to attract award-winning students who are driven to make a difference in the field Biomedical Engineering. With world-class researchers and faculty, the program is constantly evolving to ensure that the best and brightest who want to have a positive impact are given the means, education and skillset to pursue their goals.
We had the chance to speak with both recipients about the Vanier Scholarship, the potential impact of their research, and their involvement in the field of biomedical engineering.
What does it mean to you to be awarded a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship?
Rohit: It’s a tremendous honour. Vanier scholars are recognized as the most promising of Canada’s emerging young researchers. It makes me feel like I’m on the right path in my career.
Prashant: I feel very lucky to have been chosen as a Vanier scholar. It’s such a competitive process during which many excellent doctoral candidates are considered!
What will this scholarship allow you to do?
Rohit: It’s no secret that the Vanier Scholarship is fully funding me for the next three years. It provides academic freedom and the ability to focus on research. Specifically, my research is about creating “intelligent ultrasound” for the kidney.
Prashant: The value of this scholarship is the time it buys for completing my PhD, as well as giving me more freedom to pursue other related projects that I am interested in. I believe completing projects outside of your thesis is important during your graduate studies, as it lets you explore other topics and puts you in a better position to decide what you find exciting when considering the next steps of your career.
What research are you currently pursuing?
Rohit: I’m investigating how we can improve the care of patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). With rates of diabetes and hypertension on the rise, as well as an aging population, CKD currently impacts an estimated 3 million Canadians. Of those, many will require dialysis or a kidney transplant. However, only about 10% of those patients needing a kidney will receive one.
In my PhD I’ll be exploring how early we can detect a failing kidney, how to predict if and when a transplant is needed, and how we quantify microstructural changes in a diseased kidney. Answering these questions may in turn reduce the burden of CKD and transplant for Canadians.
Prashant: My work researches the feasibility and impact of using ultrasound imaging and surgical navigation for improving pelvic fracture surgeries. Currently, to reduce prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation from X-rays, surgeons, nurses and other healthcare workers must wear heavy protective equipment that has been shown to be both ineffective and a source of long-term physical discomfort and harm. Using X-ray images can also lead to inaccuracies in surgeries, because they are 2D images and are difficult to interpret for performing the three-dimensional (3D) task of surgically repairing a bone fracture.
Fortunately, there are alternative imaging methods that are safer and that improve on current technologies. Ultrasound imaging does not use harmful radiation, and new computational methods have shown that this technology can perform accurate 3D imaging at a fraction of the cost. My research project is to study how using ultrasound during pelvic fracture surgeries improves the surgical accuracy and reduces the overall procedural radiation exposure. The findings could have significant impact in Canada’s operating rooms: fracture surgeries could be completely free from radiation, free surgical staff from burdensome lead protection, and patients would receive higher quality treatment.
What impact do you hope to have on the field and on the world at large?
Rohit: I’m hoping to set myself up as an active clinician-engineer. I want to be someone who provides compassionate care for their patients, who guides patients through their healthcare journey and supports them through each step.
The goal is to constantly be asking, “How can I empower patients in their healthcare?” and seeing where that takes me. By identifying gaps and limitation, I’ll hopefully be able to support healthcare that is more proactive and patient-centered than what currently exists today.
Prashant: One of my goals in the field is to standardize and unify works in the ultrasound bone imaging field. I started an initiative to curate several ultrasound datasets by collaborating with other researchers in the field, and I hope to soon publish this as a benchmarking tool which researchers can use to assess their methods and so provide results from a common perspective.
On a clinical level, I’m hoping that I can develop a safer and more accurate ultrasound-based surgical system which can be adopted by surgeons and hospitals to improve the current state of care for orthopaedic fractures.
The two of you are ranked 1st and 3rd of 172 NSERC-stream applicants, putting you in rare air. Does this come with a sense of obligation to translate science to real-world impact?
Rohit: I do have a sense of obligation, although not from the ranking itself. It’s part of what defines a biomedical engineer. It’s easy to be someone creating prototypes in the lab. It’s harder to be someone who has a vision of how to translate those prototypes into real-world settings.
Prashant: I do feel a certain obligation to try my best to maximise the clinical impact of my work, as I believe the ultimate purpose of biomedical engineering is to directly improve patients’ lives. However, it can be quite challenging to achieve this during a PhD, as the academic world is not always poised to address this translation
What advice would you give up-and-coming young scientists who are taking a path similar to yours through the SBME program?
Rohit: Pack a lunch; it’s a long one! Talk to people. Either those already doing an MD/PhD or grad students in general. We’re very friendly and love to talk about our training and research interests.Be ready to embark on a new experience. Allow yourself the chance to explore current or new interests and you’ll be a better researcher (and person) for it.
Don’t rush. Running headfirst into grad school without having any idea of why you’re doing it will more likely leave you frustrated or disappointed. Take the time to know what you’re interested in and what you think you can focus on for multiple years.
Prashant: If you haven’t yet started or are considering grad school, don’t rush! 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 and having the right motivation from the beginning helps. Make sure you take time to enjoy life outside of your program. Make time for yourself and try to take some time to explore your professional and personal goals.
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!
What was your path to Biomedical Engineering? What inspired you to pursue it?
Prashant: Going into my undergraduate ‘engineering science’ program at the University of Oxford, I had no idea which type of engineer I wanted to be. However, that program exposed me to several sub-fields in engineering, and I always found that the professors who taught our biomedical engineering courses had the most exciting research to teach us. This piqued my interest, and as I explored further, I strongly felt that biomedical engineering as a field has the most research potential and would allow me to make more of an immediate real-world impact.
In your own words, what is a Biomedical Engineer?
Rohit: An “engineer” is someone who can produce an elegant solution to a complex problem. Biomedical means applying an engineering approach to biology and healthcare. Biomedical engineering as a field covers a wide breadth, much of which overlaps with other disciplines. Prosthetics, medical devices, diagnostic tools, therapeutic tools, rehabilitation technology, pharmaceuticals, tissue-engineered organs, bacteria creation — the list goes on. It’s a rewarding field and one that focuses on the betterment of others.
Prashant: A biomedical engineer is someone who creates technologies to further healthcare in a way that ultimately benefits patients. They use their analytical and design knowledge to develop solutions, but they must also be scientifically minded to critically and objectively judge the most suitable answers to the question.
Did you have a career in mind when you chose biomedical engineering?
Rohit: By no means did I have a grand overarching plan that led to where I am now. I pursued ideas that interested me — which transitioned from engineering to software engineering, medical imaging research, and med school — which led to new opportunities as they arose.
Prashant: I did not have a specific career in mind, but I have always wanted engineering research to remain a core component of my future career – whether in academia or industry. Directly after graduating, I am interested in completing an industrial placement at a company that develops surgical devices, as this will give me a more complete (and necessary) perspective on how researched technologies are taken through the next steps of real-life implementation.
How has your SBME experience helped you learn, grow, and connect to leaders in the field?
Rohit: It’s been an exciting time to be part of SBME. I was very deliberate about choosing SBME to be where I did my PhD. It offers a diverse set of research opportunities with its intensive collaborations with academic hospitals and healthcare practitioners and is dedicated to innovation and clinical translation. It hosts some of the world’s leaders in their respective fields, which allows access to invaluable mentorship. It’s not often you find one place to talk about molecular engineering, medical imaging, computational biology, and more under one roof.
Prashant: My research group has helped me grow and learn tremendously during my time with the SBME; in particular, my supervisors have always supported my ideas, offered me opportunities to attend conferences, and actively connected me with leaders in the field. Furthermore, it’s been great to be part of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility research facility because it’s a unique hub for engineers, scientists and clinicians to work together and share expertise.
Completing the Engineers in Scrubs (EiS) program, I gained hands-on experience collaborating with medical professionals and prototyping a biomedical engineering solution. Since I want to continue doing similar projects throughout my career, it was great to learn and practice these skills during EiS.
Thank you to the both of you for speaking with us. Anything else you’d like to add about winning a Vanier Scholarship?
Rohit: Congratulations to all applicants and recipients for their successes thus far. I’m thankful to the Government of Canada and NSERC for the Vanier scholarship.
Prashant: I would strongly recommend all students apply for the Vanier scholarship. Even though it’s competitive and the application process is involved, there is a lot to gain.
I’d also like to say that I’m very grateful to my referees and supervisors for supporting my scholarship application, and of course to the SBME and UBC for nominating me as a candidate
From everyone at the SBME, congratulations to these two scholars, blazing the path to advancements in healthcare for a better world.
This story is part of the SBME’s Building Today, Leading Tomorrow series. Follow along as we Discover, Invent, and Translate for the future.