Meet Devaki! Devaki is a 1st-year Bioengineering PhD student here at UCLA!
Could you tell us about your current research and lab?
I work in Dr. Ajijola’s lab; we are the neurocardiology lab in the UCLA Arrhythmia Center. We mainly focus on studying the relationship between the heart and cardiac neurons, but the lab is very open to other ideas and exploring other realms in neurocardiology and cardiac electrophysiology (EP). Currently I work with mice and am studying sympathetic nerves in the heart, specifically the left ventricle. It’s difficult to isolate each individual type of nerve so I am trying to figure out a way to isolate them and study them individually instead of grouping them as sympathetic nerves. I am also now working with some cardiac electrophysiologists and research scientists on a pig study where they are looking at function of certain nerves under cardiac EP conditions such as myocardial infarction and loss of sensory nerves. From a biomedical perspective, it is important to keep in mind how research findings can result in a therapeutic or advancement in healthcare. Ultimately, what we do with the research matters.
As a first year PhD student, I am still in the phase of exploring different areas of the lab and figuring where my interests lie. I do want to focus on the cardiac EP side. I’ve been tackling different projects, reading lots of papers, and deciding where to take my PhD. Maybe if you ask me in a year, I’ll be doing something completely different!
What was the most valuable aspect of a research/internship/job experience that you would like to share?
My first internship was in high school. I did an internship for two summers at a chemical engineering company where they worked on the films and substrates that go into test screen technology. I gained experience learning how to test different samples, going through the pipeline of testing, and realizing product ideas. Of course as a high school student they didn’t give me that much work, but it was cool to be in that environment and have a chemical wet lab experience. Through this, I knew I wanted to be in science.
I kind of got into bioengineering by chance; I was decent at math, calculus was making sense. Biomedical engineering came up on a high school interest test, so I decided to try it out. I went to the University of Utah where I got my bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering and that was where I had my first research experience. I worked in a cardiac electrophysiology lab with a graduate student to create patient specific models that predict recurrence of atrial fibrillation. We would take in MRIs of patients who have had ablation procedures and MRIs of patients who had recurrent arrhythmias to create the models. That broadened my view of what you can do with engineering and research. There was always the goal of how we can make the current technology better and actually help people with this. I wanted more of my own project, so I took that model and tried to incorporate different anti-arrhythmic drugs. Based on the recurrence of arrhythmia, can we see a pattern for the best drug to prescribe? I got a lot of my own experience out of it and it helped me learn how to write proposals, present my own work, come up with my own ideas, and talk to others about my research.
I had some time before I started grad school so I worked at the MedTech division at Johnson & Johnson where they were creating surgical robots to make surgery more non-invasive. I worked on the clinical engineering team as a lab assistant and was able to work with a variety of different engineers and business people. As someone with an engineering background and an understanding of biology, I was in the unique position to act as a bridge between the engineers and people on the business side.
The different types of engineers that I got to interact with was crazy. One thing that I would do was that everyday, I would meet with a random person. I would just send them an outlook invitation and we would sit and talk for 30 minutes. Just learning about their journeys was amazing. I got to meet a lot of different people and through these experiences, I really saw myself in industry. I want to bring my skill set out in the world in an actionable way.
How have you been involved with BGA?
So I just started with BGA in Fall 2022. I wanted to get to know people in bioengineering and interact with faculty since I am new to the school. Since my lab isn’t in the bioengineering department, I thought this would be a great way in. I have met some really cool, interesting, and smart people. I am currently a BGA board member and our mission is to make the opportunities available to bioengineering graduate students more known and to interact with BMES. It’s a really great organization and more people should get involved!
Favorite memory at UCLA so far?
I can’t say that I have one favorite memory but my cohort is awesome. I have made amazing friends here and they are like my family away from home.
Where in the world would you like to travel the most right now?
Honestly, anywhere but here, anywhere without work haha! But I’ve been wanting to go to Italy or Spain for a while! Not necessarily backpacking but country-hopping throughout Europe would be nice.
If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
Hmm I have always wanted to do a triathlon. The amount of mental power you need to have to do an Iron Man (THE triathlon)! I would love to do one. Running, swimming, and biking back-to-back!
** transcribed from interview **