Alexis Applequist is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. In summer and fall of 2019, she spent five months researching abroad in Bengaluru, India. Below, she reflects on her experiences and discusses what she has learned.
Traveling to a country with a rich and diverse history and culture to live for almost half a year has been, by far, the most eye-opening, thrilling experience of my life. Seeing the pictures and living the day-to-day life is incomparable. I’m so thankful to have had this humbling opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone to solo travel, research, help others, and learn countless valuable life lessons.
India’s mini Taj Mahal in Aurangabad
On July 4, I began (what felt like) my never ending flight to India. My family could see the excitement radiating from me the minute I had decided to go to India nine months earlier, but I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when it came time to leave them at the airport. One of the most amazing things about India to me was the number of languages spoken throughout the country. Hindi is the national language, but each state also has their own language, bringing the total spoken languages in India to 780. While the traffic was crazy and the amount of people constantly surrounding you could get to be a bit hectic at times, after a while I became comfortable with my daily routine traveling to and from work. Negotiating with the auto drivers for prices in the little Hindi I had picked up, getting to know my way around parts of the city, and acquainting myself with my favorite coffee shops and restaurants, I started to assume the culture and settle into my life in India. This cultural adjustment was made possible by the local friends I made. I also met people from countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Africa, China, London, Dubai, Kuwait, and others.
Though I did not take any classes during my time abroad, I earned credits by conducting research as an intern at a local medical technology startup, InnAccel. My research began with a small team interviewing cardiologists throughout India to determine the country’s most prominent needs in the cardio field. After wading through heaps of literature for weeks, the team decided to focus on a rechargeable pacemaker, Flexpacer. Our design includes a piezoelectric crystal which converts the heart beats’ mechanical energy to electrical energy to charge the pacemaker battery. After 500+ hours of research, our work was published with IEEE (see publication here). I am currently researching further with this company remotely from the US.
Kid’s innovation & 3D-printing camp in Bengaluru
In addition to my research, I attended seven engineering conferences, an IEEE workshop, and worked with a local NGO (non-governmental or non-profit organization). With the NGO, Aarogya Seva, I traveled to a government school outside of the city for a kids camp. Here, we talked with 1st-7th graders about innovation, 3-D printing, and how to use the skills they learned and talents to help others. Interacting with these bright, young, curious kids was definitely a highlight of my trip.
Alexis being blessed by an elephant in Coorg
While I spent five days a week in the office or at my flat in Whitefield (a subsection on the outskirts of Bengaluru) researching, I traveled most of South India on the weekends. My travels included Mysore, Nandi Hills, Chikmagalur, Belur, Yercaud, Pondicherry, Shivanasamudra Falls, Coorg, Ooty, Gokarna, Pune and Aurangabad. Some of these places had the crowded city vibe like Bengaluru, but most were a nice escape from the nearly constant envelopment of people. Some were quieter beach towns with gorgeous sunsets/sunrises while others had breathtaking hiking and waterfalls. A few highlights of my time abroad included being blessed by an elephant at Dubare Elephant Camp in Coorg, the tea and coffee plantations in Ooty, and spending Diwali (The Festival of Lights), India’s most celebrated holiday, with a friend’s family in Pune. The diverse landscapes across the country were nothing like I had ever seen before; it felt like I was in a painting.
Alexis in a traditional, Indian saree
After returning to the US, I will finish the last year of my bachelor’s degree and continue on to my doctorate. I plan to study cardiovascular device development with a focus on low-cost solutions. While designing for the Indian market, I learned there is a large focus on device development for areas with unlimited resources such as medical supplies, power, funding, and skilled medical personnel. Unfortunately, these cutting-edge devices being produced often cannot be used in many places, such as India, due to lack of resources. As an American, I find myself taking for granted the medical technology we already have that unreached populations so badly need, let alone, so many other basic “needs” (e.g., hot water, a showerhead). Overall, India helped solidify my passion for low-cost medical research, opened my mind to future international travel, and most importantly, showed me just how blessed I am to have been given the life I have here in the US.
“What lies ahead of you & what lies behind you is nothing compared to what lies within you.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Sani Tripathi is a second-year biomedical engineering student. This past summer he earned a fellowship to participate in Yale’s Undergraduate Medical Research Program. Below he recounts his experience, including application process and eventual acceptance, as well as plans post-graduation.
As a freshman attending the University of Arkansas, I was initially unaware of the countless opportunities that students have. Having completed many research projects in high school, I wanted to continue that during my undergraduate career. Being part of the First-Year Engineering Program (FEP) and taking the Honors Research Experience course, I was fortunate enough to start working in a lab (Rajaram Lab) about a month after I moved-in on campus. Having heard about REUs and other summer research fellowships pursued by previous honors students, I was motivated to begin my search.
I vividly remember sitting on my bed working on homework when I received an acceptance letter from the Yale School of Medicine inviting me to participate in their summer undergraduate medical research program. I was beyond ecstatic to be in the position I was and ultimately chose to spend my summer in New Haven, CT for 11 weeks. The program, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), was designed to give students a “hands-on” research experience in clinical and basic science labs focusing specifically on kidney, urological, and hematological diseases.
For 11 weeks, I was placed in Dr. Lloyd G. Cantley’s lab in the Section of Nephrology where the research focus was to look at the most intrinsic renal cause of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI): Acute Tubular Injury (ATI). The lab’s current work is dedicated towards determining mechanisms of renal tubular development and repair following ischemia/toxin exposure. Being intimidated at first, I was mentored closely by a Postdoc Fellow (Nikhil Singh, M.D., Ph.D.) and a 4th year medical student (Zachary M. Avigan) who helped me learn the ropes of important techniques I would need for my project. My daily schedule consisted of arriving to lab around 8:30 AM every morning and on some days attend meetings in the middle of the day and typically leave at 5:00 PM. I had the opportunity to attend weekly Internal Medicine and Nephrology Grand Rounds which lasted 1 hr. each where physicians, medical students, residents, fellows, and other faculty members all met to discuss cutting-edge research in the field and talk about cases seen at the Yale New Haven Hospital during the previous week. In some of the meetings, physician-scientists from other notable schools would come to discuss their research. Through these meetings, I saw how some of the research in labs at Yale were directly translated to the hospital setting and used to treat patients. Outside my work hours, I was also able to shadow a nephrologist and witnessed the physician-patient interaction. Finally, I also attended our lab group meetings to stay up to date on what others were working on as well as met with Dr. Cantley 1 on 1 to update him on my progress. He was always willing to help me grow scientifically as well as personally by giving me valuable advice!
My project was about looking more closely at cellular senescence, a mechanism linked to AKI, and studying the expression of a specific marker (p21). By performing immunostaining on Human Kidney-2 (HK-2) cells, I utilized immunofluorescence qPCR, and Imaging Mass Cytometry (IMC) to perform tests on my samples. IMC was an exciting technology that I got a chance to use which allows for the detection and quantification of more than 40 protein markers on a tissue section. The Cantley Lab is the first lab in the country to use IMC to look at kidney biopsy specimens specifically and answer basic questions regarding injury and repair.
At the end of the program, I along with 15 other students presented our posters at the KUH Summer Undergraduate Research Conference at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Our program along with 10 other KUH programs from Harvard, Mayo Clinic, Emory, Wake Forest, UT Southwestern, and others also presented their projects.
All in all, I am thankful for this experience and would like to express my gratitude to my mentors here at UARK as well as Yale School of Medicine for their consistent support. Looking forward, I am now leaning towards pursuing a Ph.D. degree after graduation due to the excellent experience this past summer and am hoping to possibly participate in another research program this summer!
Pranav Suri is a biomedical engineering honors student at the University of Arkansas. During the summer of 2019, he participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship – Physician Scientist Program at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York. Below, he describes research experience, med-school shadowing, and solidified ambitions post-graduation.
I vividly remember the morning I received the email inviting me to the SURF-PS program at Upstate Medical. I was absolutely elated, to say the least. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to research under an MD/PhD student, shadow physicians, and work alongside some talented, driven students also interested in biomedical sciences. My project resulted in the generation of two new fusion proteins, made by linking one protein to the N-terminus of another. I learned some valuable experimental design skills, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had such an opportunity. In the future, I intend to mentor other talented young students and pass on all that I have learned.
I was placed in Dr. Richard Wojcikiewicz’s lab in the pharmacology department, and after being shown around for the first week and learning the ropes, I began work. I got to the lab every morning at around 8 AM, and, in the beginning, while it was pretty overwhelming, I learned a lot not only about conducting research, but also about how to operate a lab. Meetings and staying up to date with the lab’s aims kept me focused and made me feel that I was part of a team working towards the same goal.
My first experiment was the transfection of human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells with green fluorescent protein. I imagine the other lab members had done this many times before, but when I saw my cells fluoresce for the first time under the microscope, I was absolutely mind blown. Each subsequent experiment was a little more difficult than the last, and I learned to record everything. The coolest experiment I did was a Gibson synthesis, which is just another way of ligating two DNA fragments into one large vector that can be grown in bacteria and then transfected into human cells. These new DNA vectors transcribed and translated into my new proteins. I completed my project before the program ended, and, during the last few weeks, my mentor let me conduct research independently! I was able to design experiments and carry them out myself, all while maintaining my own cell lines and reagents.
In addition to research, I got to shadow an orthopedic surgeon as part of the physician-scientist track. I observed as he consulted patients in the clinic, and as he performed complicated surgeries such as total knee arthroplasties and lipoma excisions. I also got to speak with residents, medical students, and senior physicians about their paths through medical school and how they eventually got to where they are now. My experience only reinforced why I chose to go to medical school, and I gave me an invaluable outlook of what it was like at every stage of the medical journey: student, resident, and physician.
Throughout the program, I met once a week with a journal club, in which each member would present an article of his/her choosing. The member would present the paper, and then we discussed the paper’s strengths, weaknesses, theories, and further directions. This sounds so boring, but it was actually kind of awesome. I learned how to critically read journal papers and understand what makes a paper strong and weak. I learned about the process of publishing an article in a reputable journal, and how to condense information from my research into something that is presentable to an audience.
On the weekends, I got to explore Syracuse and bond with all of the other students there. We went hiking in Ithaca, swimming in the lakes around the area, and even kayaking along a stream. Overall, my experience at SUNY Upstate was absolutely amazing. While I learned a lot, I also learned about the important balance between work and life. The program was demanding, but it was always important to make time to relax with a walk in the park or movie with friends. I’d highly recommend the program to all of our students.
Gianna Busch is a third-year biomedical engineering student. This past summer she acted as a research intern for the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center. Below she discusses departmental guidance, research experience, and aspirations to pursue a PhD post-graduation.
I have been planning to go graduate school since I was a freshman in college. Both of my parents have engineering degrees, and my mother went on to get her masters. However, I was only planning to get my masters degree. After spending my summer working as a research intern in the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center, my plans for my future changed.
I first heard about this opportunity through Dr. Rao’s weekly emails to the BME Department. I had been on the hunt for a summer opportunity – either an internship or a research program – and I still wasn’t sure of my plans so I decided to just go ahead and apply. I ended up getting into the program and I was very excited! However, although I work in Dr. Quinn’s lab and many of our projects involve multiphoton microscopy, I had never actually worked on those parts of the projects and I was very unfamiliar with Biophotonics in general. I was definitely a bit nervous moving to Nashville and starting my program, but I was also very excited to learn more about a new field of biomedical engineering and hopefully get some more insight into what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
At the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center, I worked in the lab of Dr. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen with one of her grad students, Sean Fitzgerald. Her lab’s main focus is applying optical techniques for use in diagnosis and neuromodulation. The three main research areas of her lab are optical diagnostics, neurophotonics, and image-guided surgical techniques. I was assigned to work on the Scanned Oblique Plane Illumination (SOPi) microscope. The Biophotonics Center is building the SOPi microscope with the assistance of the Kozorovitskiy Lab at Northwestern University, where it was first developed. Eventually, the Vanderbilt SOPi will be used in a similar way to the Multiphoton Microscope here at the University of Arkansas, with other lab groups and researchers able to come and image their samples with it. While I was at Vanderbilt, the microscope was not yet ready for use by other researchers. However, I spent the summer learning how it worked, practicing how to image with it, and conducting image analysis on some of our test samples. Although I love my research and lab at the University of Arkansas, it was valuable to experience different projects and technologies, as well as working under a different PI in a different lab culture.
In addition to the research aspect of the program, the Biophotonics Center also organized weekly professional development sessions for all of the research environments. We covered topics ranging from financial responsibility to applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to what to expect from life as a grad student. It was through these sessions that I learned about the job opportunities available to me if I decided to pursue a Ph.D. Although I was already planning to go into Research & Development after college, I learned about how earning a Ph.D. would enable you to successfully manage projects from start to finish and lead teams of other people. I am now planning to earn my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering after I graduate from the University of Arkansas. I absolutely love getting to be a part of biomedical research, and I am looking forward to pursuing a career path that will allow me to take on more of a leading role in my projects. I plan to use the rest of my time at the University of Arkansas to further my research, determine what I would like to specialize in for my graduate research, and hopefully participate in another research program next summer to get an even better idea of the opportunities available to me.
Kristianna doing the signature Edwards’ heart hand sign outside on of the testing labs
Kristianna Jones is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. During the summer of 2018, she was a Quality Engineering Intern for Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine, California. Below, she describes what a typical day was like, what surprised and impressed her, and what she took away from the internship:
This past summer I was fortunate enough to work as a Quality Engineering intern on the Pilot Operations team with Edwards Lifesciences! I got this amazing opportunity from attending the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 44th National Convention this past March. My internship lasted for 10 weeks, May 21st through August 3rd, in Irvine, California and every day was like a brand-new adventure. Of course, working for one of the top medical device companies seemed a little nerve-wracking at first, but I was honestly a lot more prepared for industry than I originally thought.
Kristianna Jones outside the Irvine Campus during her first week at her internship
As a quality engineering intern, I got to experience how they ensure the safety of each product before it was sent to the market. I learned how thorough the process is—from checking the quality of the raw goods to the checks built into the manufacturing process to the final inspections and tests conducted after the product is completed, everything is truly done with a “Patients First” mindset.
A typical day for me started at 7:30am with the daily manufacturing meeting. Even though I’m not a morning person at all, I always found these meetings interesting and insightful because I was able to get a quick overview on ALL of the transcatheter heart valve (THV) products, not just the one I was supporting. Besides the morning meeting, two days never really looked the same. One day, I even got to be a surgeon and implant an aortic valve into a pig heart! My manager was mostly hands-off besides our weekly one-on-ones, so I decided what I did on a daily basis and that just depended on what projects I needed to work on that day.
Tasha Repella snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef with a large wrasse fish
Tasha Repella is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. In early 2018, she spent five months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia. Below, she reflects on her experiences and discusses what she’s learned:
A year ago, if someone had told me I would be sitting in Sydney, Australia, writing about the last five months I spent in one of the most beautiful countries, I wouldn’t dare believe them. Looking back at this semester, I am so humbled by such an incredible opportunity I was given and the valuable lessons that helped shape me.
Because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons there are opposite from the U.S., so their school year doesn’t begin until March, which is late summer for them. So at the end of February, I took a leap of faith, and I boarded a plane headed for Sydney. I was thrilled, but the nerves also stuck with me. While I have grown up with a deep love for travel, I knew that leaving the comfort of my Fayetteville community of three years would be tough, but it was the best thing I have ever done.