This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 Harker Quarterly.
Many Harker alumni are applying their scientific know-how to contemporary issues, including improving women’s health, understanding obesity and helping to make commercial space flight a reality. Although their career paths differ, the desire to make the world a better place is the tie that binds these three Harker graduates.
Ruchi Doshi ’08: Receiving Recognition as an Early Career Physician
Back in April, as spring came into bloom, so too did the medical career of Ruchi (Srivastava) Doshi ’08, a student at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Doshi is currently pursuing a master’s of public health in epidemiology and biostatistics at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and was a corecipient of the annual Junior Investigator Awards, a prestigious honor sponsored by the Annals of Internal Medicine and the American College of Physicians (ACP).
She was recognized for her article, titled “Efficacy of Commercial Weight-Loss Programs: An Updated Systematic Review,” published in the Annals’ April 7, 2015 issue. Doshi was presented with the award, given to early career physicians who are new to publishing in the journal, at the ACP’s annual scientific meeting in Washington, D.C., in May.
She said she was both surprised and delighted to receive the recognition. Established in 1927, Annals of Internal Medicine is the flagship journal of the ACP, the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. The publication is one of the most widely cited and influential medical journals in the world.
“As a result of winning, I had the privilege of being able to present my findings at the ACP conference, which was my first major presentation,” recalled Doshi, who received the award along with her mentor and co-author, Dr. Kimberly Gudzune, an assistant professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Their article provided a systematic review of commercial weight-loss programs available in the U.S.
“Several million Americans try to lose weight each year, and as a country, we spend billions of dollars on the weight-loss industry. Our review aimed to look at which commercial programs had evidence supporting them – which programs actually resulted in long-term weight loss,” reported Doshi. To that end, she and Gudzune looked through thousands of abstracts and more than 1,500 articles before including 45 in the study.
Ultimately, they found that a few programs (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig) had some evidence of long-term weight loss and other programs had evidence of short-term weight loss (Nutrisystem, Atkins), but the majority of the programs didn’t have enough evidence to determine conclusively if they are, in fact, helpful.
Doshi also has conducted research regarding bias against obese physicians and other health professionals. She is currently working on a project regarding obesity treatment and medical education. I’m obesity-focused, but I’m still working on finding my niche!” said Doshi, who took this year off from medical school to pursue her master’s and explore the topic – a pressing public health and medical problem – in greater depth.
After graduating from medical school next year, Doshi plans to train in internal medicine-pediatrics, with the ultimate goal of becoming a clinician investigator at a teaching-heavy academic center. She credits Harker with giving her many tools necessary for success.
One learned lesson she would like to pass on to other alumni interested in going into medicine is to work hard but also to be sure to have a balanced, well-rounded life. “I started college believing I needed to major in biology/biochemistry, do clinical or basic science research, volunteer in a hospital and be the top of my class in order to go to medical school. Instead, I majored in psychology and classical studies.
“So when I entered medical school, I had other interests outside of medicine,” she said.
Surbhi Sarna ’03: Winner of the 2016 Outstanding Alumni Award Surbhi Sarna ’03 has dedicated her career to using STEM research to improve health care for women.
Recently, in recognition of her groundbreaking efforts in that arena, she was named recipient of Harker’s 2016 Outstanding Alumni Award. “The award honors a prominent alumna/ alumnus who exemplifies the very best of Harker,” said Karri Baker ’84, director of alumni relations, “whose contributions have led to extraordinary advances that benefit the greater good, who gives back to the community and to Harker, and who inspires others by his or her professional leadership and commitment.”
Sarna fits that bill as a previous keynote speaker at Harker’s annual research symposium, along with her past inclusion in Forbes magazine’s prestigious “30 Under 30” list of young movers and shakers in the fields of science and health care.
It was Sarna’s personal experience with painful ovarian cysts in her early teens that left her determined to create better conditions in the field of female health. To this end, only six years out of Harker, she founded venture-backed nVision Medical in 2009 to develop technology to help gynecologists more quickly detect ovarian cancer.
In November 2015, the company received FDA approval for its device, following a successful clinical trial. “It was lots of work, but it couldn’t be more worth it. … From a dream, to a slide deck, to a prototype, to raising money and hiring a team, to first use in a person, to 90 patients successfully treated, to FDA approval!” she said, reflecting back on her whirlwind of achievements.
Crediting her time at Harker with helping pave the way for her current success, Sarna said, “I know Harker has a lot do to with my drive to be an entrepreneur and I’m grateful for all of the teachers who inspired me while I was there. It has been a fantastic journey.”
Offering advice to other recent graduates interested in pursuing STEM and research education, she stressed the importance of seeking out mentors and advisors. “Take meetings with everybody, even when you don’t understand the direct benefit in doing so. Cast your net wide to open up doors,” she said.
It is also important to follow your own passions, she added. “I started out as a patient, and I had to believe there were better options out there for women like me. I wanted to make a mark, and at the end of the day you have to follow your passions.
It’s extremely rewarding to now be in a career providing service to others.” According to Sarna, STEM careers for women are advancing, but as a woman “you still have to up your game. When you walk into a room, you have to do so with the knowledge that nobody knows their subject material better than you. Harker set the stage for future success, because the view at Harker is that a girl can do anything!” she said.
Evan Maynard ’09: Making Commercial Spaceflight a Reality
The life of a rocket scientist is just another day at the office for Evan Maynard ’09, who works as a propulsion development engineer for Blue Origin, a privately funded commercial spaceflight services company. Maynard works at the company’s headquarters, a development facility near Seattle. Owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin is making headlines by developing technologies to enable private citizens access to space by dramatically lowering the costs and increasing the reliability of spaceflight.
“To that end we have successfully launched, landed and reused our entire vehicle on several journeys past the Karman Line [the “line” at 100 km above Earth that defines the beginning of outer space]!” said Maynard.
Named because the blue planet, Earth, is the point of origin, Blue Origin is developing a variety of technologies, with a focus on rocket-powered vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, for access to suborbital and orbital space. In April, the company enjoyed a widely publicized third successful landing of its suborbital rocket named New Shepard. A video is on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1TvrmuW.
Maynard graduated two years ago from Purdue University, a major research university located in Lafayette, Ind., known for discoveries in science, technology and engineering. There he obtained his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics, with a specialty in propulsion.
In his master’s thesis, he wrote about creating experiments to supplement more traditional rocket injector design techniques to better allow for quick performance prediction. “While at Purdue’s Zucrow Laboratories, I also gained experience in cryogenic and gaseous test stand integration and operation while training new students in the lab,” he recalled.
It was Maynard’s thesis and work at the Purdue lab that caught the eye of Blue Origin, which was using the lab to do research of its own. “There are not that many propulsion labs in the world,” explained Maynard, adding that many leading companies use the teaching labs at Purdue, providing incredible learning and networking opportunities for students.
Back when Maynard was a student at Harker, he had no idea he would go on to become a rocket scientist or work at a company on the forefront of making history with commercial spaceflight. However, he believes the strong work ethic he learned at Harker has contributed toward his current employment. That, and “being exposed to critical thinking and coding early on,” he added. He also cited “learning from the ground up and being allowed to make mistakes” as a catalyst for future success. His advice to current Harker students and recent graduates interested in a career off the beaten scientific track is to “just go out and start doing it … you don’t have to an expert in the beginning.”