Faculty Highlight: Deepak Vashishth

Seeking the Secret Sauce of Graduate School Success

BME Faculty Highlights Series
Professor Deepak Vashishth and the Success Stories of his Former Students

This article is the third in a series aimed at spotlighting the faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at RPI. In this series, we will highlight biomedical research areas, cutting edge engineering techniques, student and trainee successes, as well as the broader societal impacts of the work in BME. Stay tuned each month of this academic year for more features, and follow us on Twitter @RPI_BME (https://twitter.com/RPI_BME).

As another cycle of graduate applications begins, potential graduate students often wonder what formula leads to success. Although ultimately the definition of success varies person by person, especially in as interdisciplinary field as Biomedical Engineering, Professor Deepak Vashishth believes that a supportive yet challenging training environment can go a long way towards preparing graduate students to take their next career steps.

Vashishth, who has been at RPI for almost 18 years, has led a continually funded research group, even as he’s held administrative roles including Department Head of Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Sciences, his current position. His research success has stemmed in part from a philosophy on training graduate students within a strong culture of grant writing with a focus on societal impact.

In addition to the technical and research skills learned in graduate school, Vashishth’s students are exposed to the art and science of grantsmanship. As a team, he and his research group internally evaluate and critique grants that are submitted, allowing graduate students to be intimately involved with the processes and procedures of academic research. This process, Vashishth says, teaches his trainees to place “emphasis on strong, fundamental research with an eye towards translation and public health.”

This approach has permitted some perspective on the many paths that graduate students trained under this broad perspective can take. Beyond the “traditional” academic position at research-intensive universities or hospitals, alumni from the Vashishth lab have also gone on to successful careers in engineering education, entrepreneurship, industry, and medicine.

Among the many successful alumni, Ph.D. graduates, such as Winson George, a physician at Mainline Health in Philadelphia and Simon Tang, an Assistant Professor in Orthopaedics at the Washington University of St. Louis, bring their engineering strengths to clinical practice and research. Tamim Diab has built a successful career at Johnson and Johnson doing Research and Development in implant design and medical devices. Bringing engineering principles and biomedical discoveries into the undergraduate classroom are Colleen Janeiro, at East Carolina University, and others. And, back in academic research, alumni Lamya Karim, now an Assistant Professor at UMass Dartmouth, is applying her scientific background from RPI towards tackling problems with bone fragility in diabetes and related diseases, and Captain Brian Bradke, USAF, at Norwich University working on vertebral collapse and bone loss in microgravity.

Vashishth acknowledges that training students to use their solid foundations in basic science and engineering towards biomedical applications that improve public health is most successful when this philsophy coincides with the strengths and ambitions that graduate students bring in.

So, what does Vashishth look for when he recruits a new generation of students? A motivation for research and translation is foremost, Vashishth states. “The ‘why?’ question [must] come easily for them.”