Biomedical Engineering Pre-Grad Inter Oscar Ayala

Oscar AyalaIE Pre-Graduate Internship Reflection Essay

I first heard of the IE Pre-Graduate program through my graduate mentor. It offered me an opportunity to step into the life of a graduate student working long hours in the lab. At least that was initially what I thought before I started the internship. I soon discovered the myriad of opportunities the IE Pre-Graduate program had to offer and it was up to me to ask questions and take advantage of the IE program. Working side-by-side with my graduate mentor gave me a vivid insight of what graduate life may be like and how it would all work. Working on a clinical system for early diagnosis of Glaucoma gave me the opportunity to experience the behind the scenes work of what research life was all about.

As part of the team of engineers to design a clinical system for early diagnosis of Glaucoma, I took on developing and practicing my ideas. There was always a list of ideas for our project, whether it was to make the clinical system safer or run more smoothly. Putting these ideas onto paper then acting on them was different. When there was a high flow of ideas going throughout our meetings, I felt it was important to keep track of the ideas and what they could be used for in the project. I learned it was not only important to write everything down for records, but also to have a laboratory notebook that was accessible to all of the lab members in case they needed to reference any of the procedures. I enjoyed participating in the meetings by offering my ideas and receiving feedback from my professors and graduate students. It was not as important for me at the time to get everything right, but just to get involved and express my thoughts with a team of research scientists and engineers.

One of my favorite parts of the IE internship was the hands-on work in the lab. I learned to how to use a solder iron for mounting chips (resistors, potentiometers, capacitors) onto a surface mount board for use in the electronics part of the clinical system. It was important for me because it allowed me to see how such a small device played such a big role in handling the image processing part of the testing. Having that type of hands-on type of work allowed me to better understand what I was working with and how it would ultimately impact the clinical system. The hands-on experience provided me with a chance to apply my engineering and team skills. I learned to be more creative and think of things ahead of time, to learn to anticipate future issues I may run into during the given task. It was an opportunity for me to get my feet wet, and explore what it may be like to work as an engineer and with a team of engineers on a clinical system.

While planning ideas and working with the team of engineers and scientists was plenty, it was also important in getting involved with the action phase of putting forth your ideas. Initially, I would take an extended amount of time planning everything we needed to make sure a certain part of project went well. For example, optic shelves needed to be placed inside of the cart of the clinical system. My partner and I were given a few days to plan and assemble the shelves and screws for the optical shelves to fit with enough space for several of the other components we were planning to have in the cart. While it was important to keep track of the dimensions of the components inside of the cart, it was also important to manage our time for the assembly. By the time the deadline came by we had only assembled a couple of the optic shelves and organized a few of the electric components. The graduate students on our team and I discovered we were able to accomplish more in one day then we had the past week for assembling the inside of the clinical system. I learned that it is important to keep track of what you need to do as well as your time schedule and make sure to stay on track. It was easy to take the mistake the wrong way; however, I took this as a learning experience to prepare me for future research projects.

Organization is a key ingredient to accomplishing your goals both inside and outside of the classroom. With classes, starting a new organization on campus, and the IE Internship, I discovered how big a role organization played throughout my daily activities. It was about preparing for meetings, finishing homework, designing a clinical system, and by the end of the day setting some time to reflect back on your accomplishments and mistakes. It is important to understand the purpose of a mistake. It is not there to make you feel bad or set you behind. The purpose of making mistakes and reflecting back on them is to learn from them so they do not become errors. By understanding this connection it will be much easier to learn from your mistakes and enjoy the experience.

The IE Pre-Graduate program connected me with a team of engineers, scientists, physician scientists, doctors, and graduate students. It was this link which allowed me to explore the field of biomedical engineering applications and the people who will help you get where you want to get to in the future. It also offered me the opportunity to learn about myself and my capabilities both inside and outside of the laboratory. I have learned how to manage my time more efficiently to not only accomplish more things throughout the day but actually understand the type of issues I may face in or outside the lab. In addition, my work involvement gave me a taste of how both engineering and medicine can be integrated. Designing and engineering a part of the clinical system has reinforced my passion for taking in and applying my engineering perspective in the medical field. With my research experience this semester my professor offered me an opportunity to get involved in cardiovascular imaging. The opportunity would allow me to learn more about the optical engineering side of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and the medical side by working with Cardiologists. I hope to continue my research involvement into my degree plans for an M.D./Ph.D. I hope to not only contribute to the biomedical field, but also increase efforts for a more preventative form of medicine.

Taking time to educate our society here in America and across the world about having a healthy lifestyle is vital to our future progress as individuals and as a whole.

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