Blink. I consume my first meal in Costa Rica – Subway’s Wednesday ‘Sub of the Day,’ the Pizza Sub.
Blink. We are scribbling furiously in our notebooks as I hear the gargled call of what sounds like drowning during a bronchoscopy procedure.
Blink. I am building an award-winning bijaj.
Blink. More Subway.
Blink. Josh just laughs as I hysterically try to rid the scorpion residing by my bed.
Blink. Smile. Happiness engulfs me as peritoneal dialysis patients glean over the finished DialOasis prototype.
Blink. I pass through the glass doors on my first day at Boston Scientific.
Blink. I pass through the glass doors on my last day at Boston Scientific…and Costa Rica.
Despite the laidback ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle that I have come to embrace over the past ten weeks, it seems that my time in Costa Rica passed by faster than the blink of an eye. In some regards, it did. But to take a step back and to look at what was accomplished each week through the GMI program in Costa Rica, it falls nothing short of exemplary.
I still vividly remember how eight strangers converged upon a classroom one day at the end of May, and not only 30 hours later were they shipped off to work side-by-side in a foreign country. I was still mispronouncing most of their names, and I constantly mixed up Sanjana and Tasha every time I tried talking to one of them (I told them it was on purpose…it wasn’t). It was chaos for a person like myself: I had no idea of what we were setting out to do, we were foreigners in a foreign country…it was sink or swim.
Sure. We were destined to run into problems, but we as engineers solve problems for a living. From the moment we stepped down in Costa Rica, this manifested itself in various forms. Whether it was overcoming the language barrier, putting our final presentations together for our short courses, or finding the driving motivation to guide us through our internships, the one thing that helped us succeed to the end was the team’s ability to be there for one another.
Though this may seem trivial, I cannot emphasize this enough. To have met Josh, Anna, Karlee, Sanjana, Tasha, Ryan, and Callie a day before we traveled to Costa Rica, one misstep from the beginning could have influenced the overall dynamic of the team. But, if there is a singular reason why our trip to Costa Rica will remain as one of my favorite summer experiences, it is because we worked well with one another, and this leads to my point for any future GMI groups traveling to Costa Rica: be open to try. Everyone has different goals and interests (Callie loves to hike, Karlee loves the beach, Tasha loves to travel, Ryan loves dominos), so take full advantage of the new opportunities. The team relationship is critical for success in this trip. It worked for us, and it can work for anyone.
Over the past ten weeks, we have been writing blogs that have described our experiences, lessons, and visions throughout our time in Costa Rica. Though the entire summer may have seemed like a blur, each week taught me something new. On one end, I have a stronger understanding of the implementation process of a medical device, which requires more time and effort than the innovation process that we are often taught. On the other, I learned a whole lot more about my work ethic, and how to utilize my strengths effectively within a medical device company setting.
As an engineer, the most invaluable feature of an immersion program such as traveling to Costa Rica is learning beyond the classroom. From day one, instead of using our pens to copy notes down from a PowerPoint slide, we scribbled furiously to capture our observations at local hospitals. In class, I could always refer to slides or notes if I missed some crucial information; in the hospital, I had to rely on my shorthanded notes to elaborate an entire problem. It was tough at first, but there were tactics that I learned in the moment to help me succeed – things such as writing the time stamp of the observation down, or focusing more on a physician’s actions than his/her words, which can often be biased or incomplete. I learned more about a patient’s dialysis treatments from seeing the procedure in person, whereas much of the literature online could not provide a complete analysis of the problem.
However, there are times where the classroom gave us important insights and information that would translate well in the field. Taking part in 3 different (needs finding, innovation, and implementation) short courses in Costa Rica, I realized that the part I enjoyed the most was learning through teaching. Whether we worked with students from local universities or with engineering professionals, they relied on the GMI students to perform. This could be seen as a challenge or as an opportunity, and so I took the opportunity to provide my insights while actively learning alongside them during the lectures. Given, I did learn more about IP, manufacturing, and all other disciplines that I had not previously known, but I gained the most when I led my team through the exercises that solidified our understanding of it all.
During my internship with Boston Scientific, setting goals and developing a timeline to achieve them gave me a better structure for my work week. As a person who prefers a stricter adherence to a schedule, I learned firsthand that plans never work, but planning always does. These words, emphasized by Dr. Richardson, reflect the true nature of the medical device industry – whether it is innovation or implementation, there will always be hiccups along the way. By setting realistic goals and allowing for flexibility during these rough patches, you can still achieve your goals in the end. This was especially apparent to me during my internship, where my work to develop a fully-independent variable model of an IPG battery took much longer than I planned. However, since I had structured my time to work on from the beginning of the internship, I allotted more time in the end to reach a point where I was satisfied with my work.
Simply put, the summer in Costa Rica offers more than just an introduction into medical devices and its global impact. As a professional master’s program, Rice’s GMI bioengineering track is the jumpstart you need to be ready for any professional interaction within the medical device industry. It is easy to overlook the facts, where 85% of all medical devices in the world can only be afforded by 5% of the world’s population. This number alone leaves a lot to be desired, and that is what we at GMI look to change. This manifests itself in implementation projects, in design projects, in global ethnography – it is only as valuable as the change you can see. As biomedical engineers, we look past the individual and see the group; rather than changing one person’s life, we create ways to affect millions.
Seeing past the educational value, this experience has given me substantial insight into my goals and interests, where I now aspire to bridge the gap between the customer needs set forth by the marketing team of a company and the realistic specifications that can be designed by an engineering team. Even further, I am interested in understanding the entrepreneurial side of medical devices, which will help influence my course selection as I begin my fall semester at Rice this upcoming week. In effect, through my experience in Costa Rica, I can now cater my education to my experience, rather than catering my experiences from my education.
As I close this chapter of the GMI program, there is so much left to learn. However, my time in Costa Rica has taught me so much, and I am truly grateful for the experience. In fact, as a short summary, here is ‘Chandler’s 4 short lists of 4’ that may help future cohorts (or anyone, really)…
Valuable internship skills…
- Be confident – if you do the research, you become the expert. They tasked you with learning that knowledge because they didn’t know it previously.
- Really define your SMART goals – they set the precedent for your work.
- Always pursue more – 6 weeks is short, so make them count.
- Extend your network – meet with other departments, learn what they do, see how it all fits.
Most important lessons when in a foreign country…
- You are the foreigner, try your best to speak their language.
- Embrace the food (rice and beans, beans and rice).
- Understand and embrace the local customs and traditions.
- It’s easy to compare anything to your own home, but the world is different, so see this as a whole new world.
Favorite places to visit…
- Bajos del Toro (Waterfalls)
- Territorio de Zaguates (Dog Sanctuary)
- MonteVerde (Ziplines)
- Arenal (Volcano/Ecotourism Capital)
Suggestions for future GMI cohorts…
- Bring your own spices
- Don’t go overboard with business casual clothing
- Take advantage of every weekend, you won’t regret it
- Always carry an umbrella with you
Pura Vida, mis amigos.
To read my weekly takes during my time in Costa Rica, press here.