Priyanshi Porwal, MEng ’22 (BioE):“I envision a world where healthcare is easily accessible and affordable to everyone.”
On developing medical devices and healthcare with her background in mechanical and biomedical engineeringGrowing up in a middle-class orthodox Indian family with meager sex education in school, it was only in college that Priyanshi interacted with women from diverse backgrounds. It was there that she learned about the taboo around menstruation and the further suffering that Indian women endure. She discovered that 23 million girls drop out of school and 40,000 women die of cervical cancer every year in India due to low awareness and little access to affordable sanitary products. Becoming one of her biggest driving forces towards her path, Priyanshi wanted to contribute towards building affordable and accessible healthcare solutions, especially in low-resource settings. This is her story.
Can you tell us about yourself and your journey into the MEng program?I am a biomedical and mechanical engineer interested in medical device design and affordable healthcare. I currently work at Intuitive Surgical as a Clinical Development Engineer to define, develop, and validate the clinical function of new surgical robotics products to improve patient outcomes by making surgery minimally invasive. I trained as a mechanical engineer at Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), Varanasi for five years to complete an integrated dual degree (B.Tech+M.Tech). While working on my thesis project there, I was introduced to computational thermal modeling of tumor ablation surgeries. The idea of putting my education to use somewhere where I am directly impacting human lives was addictive for me. Since then I have never looked back. I ended up spending a whole summer in 2019 at the University of Tokyo, Japan learning about the physics of cell migration and designing an image processing algorithm to analyze the experimental image data. My time in Japan made me realize that I not only enjoyed working on the complexity a living system brings to an otherwise well-defined physical problem but also thriving in multi-cultural environments. By the time I ended my internship there, I was confident that I wanted to pursue graduate studies in Bioengineering. I graduated from IIT(BHU), Varanasi in 2020, ready to fly to the US for my next adventure, but who knew we were going into a global pandemic. This gave me a year to explore my interests a little more. I interned as an early team member of a women’s health startup called HERdle.health (now acquired) working on providing access to accurate health and wellness information on highly stigmatized issues related to sexual and mental health. I also worked as a data analyst at Mastercard Advisors where I handled massive amounts of transactional data to produce insights and used them for targeted marketing campaigns. I learned programming in Python and also the basics of Artificial Intelligence. This apparent digression from my ambitions actually proved to be very rewarding. With interests and experiences as diverse as mine, it was really difficult for me to find a graduate program that would provide me with ample opportunities and resources to thrive.
I chose the MEng program because of its flexibility to pursue technical electives of one’s choice, emphasis on building leadership skills, and the highly driven individuals it attracts.Another attractive factor for me was that it was in the heart of Silicon Valley and being an entrepreneurship buff, there wasn’t a better deal for me.
How has your undergraduate experience in Mechanical Engineering informed your current work in Bioengineering?Mechanical engineering is one of the oldest and broadest branches of engineering and lays the fundamentals for how any mechanical system is designed, analyzed, and manufactured. During my undergraduate studies, I focused on fluid mechanics and thermal engineering. Coming into the MEng program, I had strong fundamental knowledge of flow and diffusion physics, thermodynamics, and how mechanical systems work and are modeled. At Berkeley, I found a direct correlation of my skills with the field of medical device design. I learned how to fabricate BioMEMS including microfluidic devices, design printed circuit boards (PCBs), model biological transport in medical devices, etc. I used the skills I gained through the program at my previous role with Neuralink on the microfabrication team.
Can you tell us about your capstone project?I worked on a capstone project sponsored by Blue Goji, a start-up in the neurorehabilitation space. Our team of five consisted of mechanical, biomedical, and data engineers tasked with integrating electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors in their treadmill which already offered physical rehabilitation treatments using numerous games and gait analysis, or one’s manner of walking. Our project aimed to capture brain activity in real-time using EEG sensors while patients play the games on the treadmill. We used python to analyze the game performance and get the brain wave patterns of each patient for further clinical evaluation. These personalized evaluations would provide a more efficient path to rehabilitation, revolutionizing the way neuro-rehabilitation is delivered to a billion people who suffer from neuro-cognitive impairments.
What have you taken away from the MEng program since you graduated?The most important asset I have gathered from the MEng program is the people I have met — peers, faculty, and alumni. I attended a lot of networking events on campus, went on trips with my peers, and reached out to faculty and alumni for informational interviews. I made tons of memories in one year and the connections and friendships I built are going to stay in my life for a very long time. The peer learning culture at Berkeley is amazing. During the program, apart from technical electives I also signed up for two DeCal courses. I learned very useful fabrication skills like 3D printing and laser cutting during the Biodesign in Action course taught by Aaron Kirby, an undergraduate student passionate about bio-inspired design. I also learned how to design PCBs and made a device for early detection of Carpal Tunnel syndrome during HOPE DeCal, taught by EECS students members of the IEEE society. Having hands-on experience in these skills turned out to be very useful during my capstone project and job interviews. Another highlight of the MEng year was when I participated in the John E. Martin Healthcare challenge jointly organized by the Haas Healthcare Association and Google. We were the only team from UC Berkeley amongst the 15 teams selected from leading graduate business schools and health programs around the world. The case competition focused on the intersection of business innovation, diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI), and mental health. We developed a business strategy for large organizations to help them design and implement culturally informed mental health and wellness programs for employees. Our team won the Most Innovative Solution award. Another rewarding experience was to work as a graduate student instructor (GSI). I had the opportunity to teach two different undergraduate courses in the two semesters — Intro to Cognitive Science (Fall 2021) and Biological Mass Transport Phenomena (Spring 2022). This experience not only gave me the opportunity to practice my communication skills but I also gained insights into the art of teaching which I realized is a very useful skill to have. Since I was teaching out of my major, I made friends with both graduate and undergraduate students from other departments like Public Health, Psychology, Economics, etc. and enjoyed my time having really interesting conversations with them.
What are some hobbies and passions of yours?I am still working on rediscovering my hobbies after a year long hiatus from anything pleasurable because the MEng program had little scope for any leisure time. One hobby that I was able to retain even during the program was my love for the outdoors. I would go for runs and hike almost every weekend. Running has always stuck with me, and I have come to love it. I have been training for a half-marathon recently. One thing that running has taught me about life is that,
“It never gets easier, you just get better!”
— Coach Bennett, Nike Run Club
Was there something that you were working on/feel interested in that you’d like to share?I previously worked on building a first of its kind brain implant at Neuralink and have been getting more interested in implantable devices and design considerations. I attended a weekend course on Systems Thinking at Haas during the program and then read a book called “Design Thinking in Systems.” The subject is fascinating to me and has given me a new way of thinking.
What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?I envision a world where healthcare is easily accessible and affordable to everyone. I want to contribute towards this vision by using my knowledge of engineering to build novel medical devices which are designed with affordability and accessibility as guiding principles.
Share a favorite quote:If I were to pick a quote to define my MEng experience it would be this:
“No risk, no story.”
Fun fact:I started collecting fallen leaves and flowers and pressing them in a notebook during the course of the MEng program from various spots on campus and the Bay Area and the habit has still stuck with me. I have an amazing collection now and I proudly boast about it! Connect with Priyanshi. Edited by Armaan Mumtaz & Mary Tran.
Priyanshi Porwal, MEng ’22 (BioE):“I envision a world where healthcare is easily accessible and… was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.