APSC Rising Stars 2017: Rohit Singla, MASc ’17, Biomedical Engineering

Applied Science Class of 2017

…engineering is the application of the theories I found interesting to develop practical and elegant solutions to complex problems.

Rohit is a MASc candidate in Biomedical Engineering (BASc Computer Engineering 2015), supervised by Professor Robert Rohling. His research is at the intersection of medical imaging, augmented reality, and surgical robotics with applications in kidney cancer surgery. He actively collaborates with local surgeons and international researchers at Imperial College London. Being a strong believer in the revolutionary role of technology in medicine and patient care, Rohit is also in Engineers in Scrubs, a clinically immersive medtech program. In addition, he was the co-director for Hatching Health, a medical innovation event that brought together the fields of medicine, engineering, and design from across Vancouver. Rohit has a diverse set of roles in the community, including hosting a radio show, developing mini-satellites, advising student teams, leading workshops and guest lectures, coordinating a mentorship program, organizing a global health conference and coaching a high school football team. He is also a recipient of the UBC Faces of Today award for numerous contributions and achievements.

Why did you choose engineering?

In my last year of high school, I knew I wanted a career that improved people’s lives in a meaningful way. I was considering a few different options – sciences, the arts, or engineering. I didn’t really know what engineering involved to be honest. I discovered that engineering is the application of the theories I found interesting to develop practical and elegant solutions to complex problems. It was a perfect fit! I haven’t looked back since. In fact, I came back to do a graduate degree!

What have you learned that is most valuable?

My experience in engineering has been a blast! It’s modern day magic — I get to take the crazy ideas that I’ve only imagined and make them a reality. Engineering has changed my entire perspective. By far, the most valuable thing I’ve learned is that there is always time to take care of yourself first. Engineering can get stressful and overwhelming at times. I think almost every engineering student will experience a course where, regardless of how hard they work, they feel like that they just don’t get it. And that’s a really discomforting feeling. For me, learning to take a break and spend my time doing something I personally find fulfilling is how I best dealt with it.

What has been your most memorable or valuable non-academic experience studying engineering at UBC?

There’s just so much. I’m quite appreciative of the resources we have that enabled me to do so many different things – from radio shows to rocket science. I’ve also travelled to the UK and Switzerland as part of my studies, meeting brilliant researchers from all over the world. There is also the numerous hours I’ve spent in scrubs shadowing clinicians in the operating room to gain insights into their world. It’s all pretty outstanding. Most recently, I was the co-director of Hatching Health. We held a medtech innovation event with 100 people (students and professionals) from all sorts of difference disciplines. They tackled a whole array of self-identified health care problems in fields like depression, the fentanyl crisis, mobility or vision or musculoskeletal challenges, and so on. We added in some prototyping materials, and threw in some mentorship from doctors, professors, designers, CEOs, and engineers. By the end of a weekend, we had some really promising, well-defined problems and initial prototypes. A good portion of the teams are continuing on with their work to this day. It was a great demonstration of the strength of the local biomedical community. I was honored to have a role in this event.

How do you feel a graduate degree in engineering has benefited you compared to a different field of study?

There are two parts to that answer.

First, I get to do some tremendous cutting edge work in a unique field. My work brings augmented reality and surgical guidance to help doctors perform cancer surgery. This brings in ultrasound imaging and surgical robotics. That’s insanely cool (to me at least)! It’s been particularly awesome because I have a strong collaboration with a local surgeon in Dr. Christopher Nguan, and I get to work with the brilliant researcher Dr. Philip Pratt, of Imperial College London.

Second, the people I’ve met in this degree have been outstanding. Even more than my undergrad, the cohort of people I met and studied with blows me away. These are individuals who are emerging to be at the top of their fields. I’ve gotten to know people that are improving how we understand spinal cord injury, applying machine learning to guide epidurals, and improve how machines are used in the operating room.

It’s hard for me to envision the same educational experience in other fields as the one I’ve received in engineering.

What advice would you give a student considering a graduate degree in engineering?

To be honest — graduate school is not for everyone. Take the time to research different supervisors and labs. The relationship you have with your supervisor is arguably the most important one in graduate school. Find something that you feel passionate about first, and then surround yourself with others who share that passion. Other than that, once you’re here, lean in. Graduate school is about taking ownership of a project, and seeing it through. It’s great fun to know you have a direct impact on the research.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I’m inspired by the conversations I have with people. Everyone has their own background and their own story. There are many raw and personal motivations that people bring – and their passion is often infectious. I’m also inspired every time I walk into the hospital to do work. It’s a subtle but humbling experience. Definitely something that motivates me as well.

What are your plans for the future?

By the end of July, I’ll have defended my thesis. Immediately after, I’ll be taking some time off! Long term, I’ll be engineering medical devices and systems. Whether that’s through my own company or not remains to be seen.

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?

I’ll continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible. I see  myself tackling some of the most complex problems in health care, and pushing to make the biggest impact I can. Really — whatever I can do to help people!

Original Article: APSC News