Another Season

 

Already used to walking here pretty often. It’s only a 30 min walk from my apartment or two shuttles, but I like the walk!

Even though “Fall” has been used ever since we started the semester about five weeks ago, it isn’t until a few days ago that the season officially started on the September equinox. I can hardly believe this marks almost four months since we started the GMI program. Even though the weather has not changed too much here in Houston, I can definitely say I feel a lot of differences after being in Houston for a little over a month.

After getting used to our busy schedules, classes have now shifted from the chaotic beginnings of “oh-my-God-Grad-School-is-so-different-to-anything-I-have-experienced-before” to a more manageable routine. We are finally (almost) switching from needs finding – a process we began at the very beginning of summer – to needs selection, where we filter and determine which needs may have a better chance to be addressed within the constraints of our program. This makes the dynamics of our GMI courses a little different for a month, focusing our energy as a team to a more analytical approach. I have also found that the elective I am taking, Team Leadership and Innovation, has served useful in understanding the way our team works and how I may contribute according to what my own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of my teammates’, may be.

This week, Erica, Jeanette and Dr. Richardson were visiting Brazil – I am sure one of them will write about it in their blogs next week (plus at this point all I know is that they’re ok from a picture they sent!) but I can say we have to be prepared for these weeks where we all travel but cannot leave our responsibilities behind; time can be an unforgiving factor if we do not plan ahead as a team and perform beyond our own expectations. Speaking of travel, next week it’s BMES for a bunch of us: Michael, Guiselle, Jorge, Dr. Richardson and I will be attending. This year’s conference will be in Minneapolis, MN on October 5th – 8th. I am thrilled to be able to attend since this will be my first time attending an event related to BioE and, come to think of it, I think it will probably be the biggest event I have ever attended overall (we don’t get too many large scale events back in Costa Rica).

Now that I mention Costa Rica, I will also travel there right after BMES, from the 9th to the 17th if all goes according to plan. It just happens to be that CINDE has organized a Life Science Forum from the 9th to the 11th. As I understand it, many big names in the CR MedTech Industry will be speaking, including Dr. Richardson as a guest speaker. I will be making the most of the trip by using the rest of the days I have to talk to a few people involved with the project I’m working on (currently called VisRefr) and looking for more networking opportunities, both for the GMI program and myself. I feel lucky that Midterm Recess is actually during that week so the amount of class I will miss is very limited, thankfully.

On a last personal note, living in Houston for well over a month now, I feel like the adjustment period is over. I have overcome quite a few nuisances easily with many unexpected tools at my disposals: for example, being able to order food online saves me the trouble of depending on shuttles or buses to go all the way to the supermarket and back. The kindness of my peers has also saved me numerous Uber trips already so having no car here has not been too much of a hassle. I do miss my country, my family and friends somewhat but I get to WhatsApp & Skype with them and even visit them relatively often so it’s all good! I can’t wait for the weather to cool down now (a little, my expectations aren’t that high) now that Fall has officially begun.

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Staying busy with GMI

As the fourth week of classes comes to an end, Houston and Rice are really starting to feel like home. I’ve been trying my best to explore around the area where I’m living and the rest of Houston in any free time I have. However, classes and projects are definitely keeping me very busy.

The main implementation project I am leading is WombOx, a project started by a Capstone Senior Design team last year. Fetoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive surgery that takes place while the fetus is still in the womb to treat a variety of conditions. The WombOx device is a fetal pulse oximeter that monitors the blood oxygen level of the fetus during these surgeries. I am working to refine the design of the device and make any improvements that I can, and then secure a manufacturer of the device.

My second implementation project, which I am working on with Jeannette, is called TruVent. It is a system that works with a bag valve mask, which is used to ventilate patients with respiratory failure. It uses sensors to detect air leaks to ensure that the user successfully administers the correct amount of air to the patient. We are working to implement a clinical trial that was designed by GMI students last year.

I’m really excited to be working on both of these projects and to be getting experience with things like working with manufacturers and running clinical trials. This is the first time I am moving past the design and initial testing phase of a medical device design project, so I am looking forward to understanding this portion of the process.

In addition to working on our implementation projects, the team has been hard at work looking for needs in the medical field that we may potentially aim to solve in a design project. We’ve observed electrophysiology and cardiac surgery procedures, and have been searching the internet to learn more about the experiences of patients during different medical procedures. Additionally, Jeannette and I will be travelling with Dr. Richardson to Brazil next week to meet with our collaborators for a project and learn more about the healthcare system and potential needs there.

It’s been a busy four weeks, but that is what I expected from the GMI program! I’m happy to be involved with projects that have the potential to make such a large impact on the medical field and I can’t wait to see everything my team will accomplish this year.

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First Semester as a Grad Student

We have just ended our third week of classes as master’s students at Rice. It has been a whirlwind so far. Being back at Rice, having just graduated in May, is surreal, weird, and comforting all at the same time. I’ve had a great time catching up with old classmates, chatting with former professors, and meeting graduate students in my own department (Bioengineering) and others.

This semester I am taking 13.5 credits of classes, working as a Head TA for a sophomore Bioengineering course, and grading/mentoring for senior Bioengineers in Dr. Richardson’s Capstone Design course. Needless to say, I stay busy week to week.

 

My course load this semester is as follows:

BIOE 527 (GMI Design Course)

BIOE 528 (GMI Implementation Course)

BIOE 627 (GMI Medical Technology Industry Seminar)

BIOE 539 (Biostatistics–Elective Course)

BIOE 543 (DNA Biotechnology–Elective Course)

 

This course load is a bit heavy, especially with the GMI Implementation projects, but so far has been manageable. My GMI Implementation projects, which I act as project lead/manager for, are both very exciting and will expose me to areas of medical technology I have not previously dealt with.

My main project, called Outstenting, involves a minimally invasive, magnetic ureteral stent removal technology for use in pediatric patients who undergo surgery to remove blockage from the channel between the kidney and bladder. This project was started by classmates of mine at Rice in our Capstone Design course last school year. I will be continuing the technology development of this project, and hopefully, by the end of the semester, take it through animal studies and prepare the device for clinical studies.

My second implementation project is co-managed by me and Luis Gené. The two of us will work on PushPusle, a pressure ulcer detector for use in diabetic and geriatric patients at home or in clinical settings. This project is much further along than my other project, meaning most of our work this semester will be focused on preparing the device for clinical trials and managing the data received from those studies.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done, but the best advice I’ve gotten is to take one day at a time. You can’t control what will happen tomorrow until you are living it. Wasting time stressing about what will happen tomorrow, a week from now, or 2 months from now is unproductive and distracting. Along with that, it’s important to unplug and take a break from work to do something you enjoy. The structure of the GMI program gives you a ton of freedom to work when you want, where you want, and in almost any fashion you want. This could result in you doing work 7 days a week for hours and hours each day. If you don’t take a break from work, it will drive you mad. This program gives great experience for learning how to balance your work and personal life without a well defined schedule, which is sometimes the case with jobs in industry.

My posts will come once a month, so I’m sure I will have much more to share about life, my projects, and GMI once we are midway though the semester!

Until then,

Michael

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New Semester, Here we go

Semester Blog: 1

The semester (and the year) have begun. My class load is reasonable all things considered: a Biostatistics class, a Bioengineering Professional Development class of sorts, and then the two classes related to the GMI program specifically.

A brief breakdown of the GMI class structure:

We, as students within the GMI program, are given two primary projects (acting as “mini theses” for lack of a better comparison). One project is considered a design project. We, as a team within the GMI program, research current medical needs within both our community and the medical industry abroad, decide on a project, and design and test the potential solution(s). The second project is considered the implementation project. These projects are individual and all already at different stages of completion. It is our job to become (rapidly!) familiar with where these projects are at and carry them forward with potential design modifications, clinical trials, and implementation strategies.

For now, there isn’t much to say on the Design Project side. The team is getting to know each other on an academic level and this week marks the first major steps into identifying potential needs. Thursday (8/31) was a collaborative trip to various hospitals to observe the Houston-area medical community and more opportunities are to come.

As for the implementation projects, I’ve been given a project based in Brazil, focused on Melanoma in low-income communities. The device under question has already undergone the first round of clinical trials among potential users in Brazil but the initial design is rudimentary. My first step will be to review the mechanical aspect of this device for areas of improvement as well as analyze the market needs for Brazil.

The most challenging part so far is not the technical aspect (honestly, I haven’t even begun to look), but rather the collection of two years’ worth of data into something usable. Two different teams have worked on this project and data organization is…lacking. Finding the necessary information, prototypes, and accessing various test methods have been a small frustration but now, two weeks in, I’m glad to say I have a more firm grasp on where the project currently stands.

Blog posts will be coming once a month now so I’m sure I’ll have much more to say come October!

See you in a bit,

Jeannette

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The Second Half – Weeks 7, 8 & 9

For the second half of the internship I had a hard time coming up with things to write every single week – my projects seemed too fragmented to figure out how to reflect on them from an analytical perspective, but now that I am done with that I feel more comfortable looking back at how things went for those weeks.

On the personal side of how these weeks went by, at first I felt a little stressed out since everything seemed to crumble on the week that we were away for the GMI course. Unfortunately, it seemed like they were counting on us during the shutdown (Manufacture engineering does not take a break! Ever!) but in the end we managed to figure things out. It was definitely a bumpy restart once we came back as it was hard to meet with whomever I had to meet. Also, it seems like the anxiety from having to move to another country for a few months soon added to all the things that were going on at the office got the best of me: I caught a cold and I had to stay home for an entire day. Luckily we had a holiday which I could also use to rest and recover; the fact that I could go home to my family also helped me recover even quicker. On the brighter side of things, as the weeks went by I started feeling more confident in the projects I was working on, knowing my way around the office, knowing exactly who to talk to and even asking around whenever I got stuck. I think the fact that I was assigned a fourth project more in line with my skill set helped that final and much-needed confidence boost.

In summary what I was most busy with during the second half of the internship was figuring out how to get the RF weld project moving. I seemed to have a lot of trouble with getting the samples prepared as there were many procedures that I was not too familiar with; even when I had read a lot of SOPs about how to proceed, it is very difficult to know *who* to talk to, where to go and which things I am authorized to do or not. Having to deal with a vendor was a very enriching experience – I even got to submit a purchase order (after the due lengthy procedure). I must say I was surprised that I was entrusted with managing a purchase, but it was a welcome experience. Since I was working with money, I got to interact with my cubicle neighbors: the purchasing department. I also got to know a little about shipping and logistics since the samples had to be sent abroad. Unfortunately I do not think the test results will be out before I leave but it is still an accomplishment to have done all the research necessary to know that the tests had to be done in the first place.

Curiously  enough I was assigned a final project the week before I am scheduled to leave. However, as I mentioned earlier, I am very interested in this project since it involves something I am more comfortable with: electricity. While – as always – I cannot go into detail, it involves testing wires and their electrical characteristics. Even though I am a little tight on time, I still think I can contribute to finding a solution to the problem they’re having. I wish I had done something like this from the beginning but I guess I have learned a lot about things that are not too related to what I was used to before. Hopefully I can get some results before the closing presentation on Week 10.

My supervisor keeps pointing out how hard it is to get things done without pushing people, and she is right to tell me to push people more. I guess it is a little harder for me to be too insistent with people considering I am only an intern and it is not within my personal traits to be as pushy as I should be to get results. I hope I can improve upon that before I finish; I am aware that I am not too assertive at times and I may find it challenging as an introvert but from the start I have welcomed challenges as I believe it is the core of any learning experience.

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GMI Summer Experience – Week 10

My summer in Costa Rica is over and I am back in the US! It’s been a long and busy summer working at Boston Scientific. Though I’m sad that summer is over, I could not be more excited to be back in Houston! This summer was busy right from week 1 up until week 10. Here’s an overview of my schedule from the 10 weeks in Costa Rica:

Week 1: Three-day orientation in Houston. First week in Costa Rica consisted of “needs finding” at hospitals and clinics around the country.

Week 2-5: First 4 weeks of internship at Boston Scientific Heredia.

Week 6: GMI Short Course at Universidad de Costa Rice (UCR). This week coincides with Boston Scientific’s week long shut down, so no work days are missed. See Week 6 Blog for more information about the GMI Short Course.

Week 7-10: Final 4 weeks of internship at Boston Scientific.

My summer internship at BSCI helped me learn a great deal about myself, my career interests, and the medical device industry. I was introduced to the world of manufacturing engineering and gained experience working in the field this summer. Manufacturing engineering is a tough department to work in. Engineers maintain jam-packed schedules in manufacturing, running from meeting to meeting to discuss new projects or addressing a new issue on the production floor. The engineers I worked with this summer were some of the hardest working people I have ever met. Issues that arise on the production floor, anything from equipment failure to a material defect, are handled by manufacturing engineers. There is no routine schedule in manufacturing because you are constantly solving problems as they arise. At the beginning of the week, a manufacturing engineer may have a relatively clear schedule, but at a moment’s notice that schedule might fill up due to a new process improvement project or a need to address a newly occurring product failure mode.

Over the 8 weeks of my internship, I was involved with a few collaborative projects, including two that I was able to focus on and make significant progress. One of my projects was interested in making a current drying process more efficient, while the other was addressing a product failure mode that had recently increased in occurrence. It was great experience working on two projects with vastly different purposes and motivations. The first project was taking a well-functioning process and investigating the possibility to make it more efficient, thus saving the company labor time and production costs. The second project was focused on reducing and determining the root cause of a problem that recently developed and is resulting in lost revenue for the company. Learning how to balance and prioritize these projects was great experience for my future career in industry, and a pivotal skill to have as a manufacturing engineer. With so many projects and issues sprouting up week after week, manufacturing engineers must be able to prioritize their assignments and determine what projects they should devote the most time and energy to. Without developing this skill, manufacturing engineers risk devoting more time to a lower priority assignment that may not provide as much immediate benefit to the company as other projects.

Looking back, I learned a lot this summer. By interning at a multinational company this summer, I got a first-hand look at navigating a cross-cultural work environment, gained experience working in manufacturing engineering, and achieved a better understanding of the type of work I enjoy and do not enjoy doing in the medical device industry. The takeaways from my summer experience will undoubtedly help me in my future career, and I am so grateful to have had the experience as a part of my professional master’s at Rice. Attending Rice University for my bachelor’s degree was an incredible experience, and I have no doubt it will be just as amazing as I complete my master’s. I am so excited to see what the next year has in store for me at Rice and beyond!

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Week 10: Final Thoughts

We just landed in Houston and with that, my summer in Costa Rica has come to a close. These two and a half months have been full of new experiences, challenges, and accomplishments.

I began this summer with only a very limited knowledge of Spanish from a few years of classes in high school. It was very difficult to be in a country where I did not speak the language for so long, but being immersed in Spanish all summer has resulted in some improvement. I can now successfully order food at a restaurant or have a simple conversation with a taxi driver. Though I definitely cannot understand every word, I can usually understand the main points of a sentence in Spanish.

Aside from my internship at Boston Scientific, this summer was filled with many other eye-opening experiences. My teammates and I started out with visits to hospitals and clinics in Costa Rica, where we were able to learn about the healthcare system and identify potential projects for us and other Rice students to work on. We took a short course with students from local universities where we worked on a design project that we presented at the end of the week. We were also able to travel on the weekends to Arenal and Manuel Antonio, two beautiful tourist destinations. Through each of these experiences, I was able to see many parts of Costa Rican society and culture and meet some great people.

This summer has held many new adventures and learning experiences. I’m happy to now be at Rice and I am ready for what the rest of the GMI program brings!

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Week 10

Week 10

I’m back in Houston.

This is my hope for this blog entry: Provide you reader with a true, succinct sense of my time in Costa Rica.

The summer was broken into three fundamental parts:

  1. Research into potential projects for both the GMI team and future Rice students based on the medical needs of Costa Rica’s middle to low class population
  2. A short class with Costa Rican university under graduates on the fundamentals of design (with an emphasis on the medical field).
  3. A technical internship with an America-based medical equipment company (in my case, St. Jude Medical).

We lived for most of the internship in fully furnished condominiums, about a 0.75mile walk from a grocery store and a .25mile walk from a mall with necessary non-food amenities. For Erica and I, work was about a 30 to 45-minute drive (by a contracted shuttle service). While safety was never really an issue (we stayed in a relatively tourist-friendly part of town), walking alone at night was strongly, strongly discouraged—no different from any big city. Being a white, female also meant most people assumed I did not speak Spanish (75% correct), not necessarily a bad thing.

My internship went very well. While it was in the manufacturing division, not the type of job I am truly interested in, my primary project was modifying a process with the test and design of a new fixture. This involved detailed testing on current process, potential impact of process change, feasibility and stress dynamics of the new fixture design, and cost analysis.

While I worked at St. Jude I learned how to communicate clearly my thoughts and ideas. Most engineers were required to have some familiarity with the English language but this varied vastly. Some were fluent, others had just a passing understanding of the language. Operators, who I worked closely with for some of the testing, spoke no English at all. I was given a lot of independence at my job. This was both good in that I had freedom to do what I needed to do, but it was also hard in that at times I lacked the necessary help and resources—slowing down my project’s process through my own inability to communicate.

The short course was fascinating but perhaps not in the way you expect a course to be. Most of the curriculum covered involved things I already knew from undergraduate—the basics in product design. What was interesting was seeing how a handful of Costa Rican students, who had never before met and who didn’t know the fundamentals, tackled the hands-on projects of this course. I was proud and amazed at what they accomplished, their passion, and their diligence. It was a good experience because it showed me the power of the unexpected and how people can come together.

Overall my time in Costa Rica was hard, feeling like an outsider is never easy, but meaningful and powerful. I learned things about people, about culture, and in some ways, even about myself. I know more about what I want to do and how I want to do it.

Looking forward to this coming year,

Jeannette Nelson

 

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Costa Rica – Week 9

Just one week left at work! This week, I’m reflecting a bit on my time in Costa Rica and my takeaways from living in this country for 2 months. Next week, my blog entry will focus on my internship and the experiences I had at Boston Scientific this summer.

This trip to Costa Rica marks my first time in Central America, and only my second time in a Spanish speaking country. When I was younger, I visited Mexico on a cruise ship, but that didn’t allow me to fully experience or appreciate the culture. Prior to arriving in Costa Rica, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how I would get along without knowing Spanish. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, I am fluent in English, proficient in Mandarin Chinese, and have some knowledge of French, but I have never taken a Spanish course or practiced speaking the language before I began this summer experience. Living in a country where you don’t know the language is challenging, especially without a sense of how much of the population speaks English. Luckily, the engineers at work are required to speak English, so I have had little trouble communicating when it comes to discussing my projects with them. The same cannot be said of my interactions with other employees at work or my interactions at restaurants and shops. The 9 weeks here in Costa Rica so far have helped me in understanding a bit more of Spanish when someone speaks to me, however I do not know enough of the language to respond with complete sentences. A lot of my interactions with native Costa Ricans who don’t speak English consist of pointing, gesturing, and saying one or two words that I know relate to whatever I am trying to talk about. To anyone considering living abroad in another country for an extended amount of time, make sure that you arrive equipped with at least basic knowledge of the native language. It is not impossible to live in a foreign country without knowing the language, but it does make life a bit more complicated and, at times, more stressful.

Aside from my experiences with the Spanish language, I have come to embrace the local food here in Costa Rica. Costa Rican food is quite mild in flavor, few foods are spicy, and I’ve been told that sweeter flavors are preferred by locals. My go-to dish the past few weeks has been Arroz con Pollo (Chicken & Rice). This dish is simple, flavorful, and found at most traditional restaurants. Arroz con Pollo is actually a dish that my nanny would make for me when I was little, so finding the dish here gave me a sense of familiarity. However, the Costa Rican dish that I will miss most is the Casado. A Casado is a traditional meal prepared with black beans, rice, salad, plantains, tortilla, and a grilled meat of some sort, usually chicken or beef. This meal is perfect, it’s filling, has protein, carbs, and a nice green salad of some sort. The dish is balanced quite well, in my opinion, and tastes great! Whenever I visit a traditional Costa Rican restaurant, I will almost always get a Casado with grilled chicken. The Casado is one dish that I will absolutely try to recreate when I return to the US!

Though our internships have taken up the majority of our time in Costa Rica, the weekends have been free, allowing me and the other GMI students to fully experience Costa Rica and its unique culture. I will return to the US this coming Saturday with a better understanding and appreciation for the culture and lifestyle present in Central America.

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Week 9: Internship Accomplishments

As week 7 of 8 at Boston Scientific comes to a close, I want to reflect on my accomplishments at my internship this summer. During my first internship at a medical device company, I was able to see many aspects of the design and manufacturing processes. I have been in the midst of the development of a new product, and have been part of some of the early steps in the design process. I have also been able to talk to other engineers to learn about some of the products that are in the later stages of design, and have observed manufacturing lines to understand some of the things that must be considered there.

Much of my time this summer consisted of research about the materials that will be used in the new device I’ve been working on. I prepared a report and presentation with my findings, and was able to give the engineers on my team a better understanding of the materials’ properties and how these properties can be used to their advantage in this device and others. This research process showed me how important it is to start from the very beginning before jumping into designing and building prototypes.

I also prepared other documentation for the new device that will help the team going forward. The amount of documents affiliated with just one device is overwhelming, as even the smallest details need to be recorded. Throughout the summer I learned a lot about how this is all recorded and organized.

The things that I and the other engineers on my team have been working on for the past few weeks have been leading up to testing that will be done on some of the first prototypes of the device. I was able to research possible tests and inform the engineers of the most relevant ones that would best characterize the first prototypes. This also involved coordinating with many people that will provide the equipment and expertise for these tests, which has been challenging at times due to some very busy schedules. However, the testing will finally be performed this week, so I can be part of it before I leave. Seeing the results of what we’ve been working on will be a great way for me to wrap up my time at Boston Scientific.

During this summer at Boston Scientific, I feel that I’ve made a positive impact on my project and helped it move forward. There have certainly been challenges, but I am happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish.

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