Why I want to get a PhD

The following is a modified version of the statement of purpose I submitted to various universities while applying for PhD programs.

In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first long-term implantable continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM). The organization designing the device engineered a CMOS integrated circuit that combines optical transducers, a fluorescence-based biosensor, and near-field communication-enabled readout circuitry, to create a sensor and transmitter that measures glucose in people with diabetes [1]. Fundamentally, however, the design of the CGM does not belong only to one organization. The design is influenced by, and references, a well-cited earlier paper published in the Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems (TBCAS) [2].

Would it be possible for a fully implantable CGM to be available today had this earlier paper [2] not been published? My initial hypothesis, which I think taps into the nature of research, is that such a device, an attempt to remove the necessity of frequent finger pricking in the treatment of diabetes, could hardly be conceived without the environment of collaboration, the freedom of information, and the spirit of curiosity available in academia. I have begun to experience these virtues first-hand, through experiences as an undergraduate research fellow in the University of Pennsylvania SUNFEST program, and as an undergraduate research assistant in the University of Maryland Integrated Biomorphic Information Systems Lab. I came into my first research experience not knowing what research entailed nor whether or not I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. Through all my research experiences, I was both challenged with new concepts and given autonomy to explore a large solution space.

That being said, I have not been alone. I have had not only the guidance of my principal investigator, but of the graduate students in my group. My creative efforts did not start at square one; through publications, I have had access to the cumulative knowledge of researchers in the field. As an undergraduate student, much of my coursework left me with the feeling that although I had acquired the fundamentals of a particular area of engineering, many details had been left unexplored. As a novice researcher, however, I finally have had the opportunity to explore some of these concepts, whether novel packet-switched network-on-chip topologies, olfactory-based source localization algorithms, or semiconductor device modeling methodologies. Pursuing a doctorate degree in electrical engineering would allow me to both benefit from and contribute to the collaborations that enabled a fully implantable CGM to be available today. Just as the fully implantable CGM depended on the publication of a ten-page paper in the IEEE’s TBCAS nine years ago, I would like to both conduct research in bioelectronics and biosensors and publish to contribute to future advances in healthcare.

As a UMD undergraduate student, I have been able to observe research projects such as a Lab-on-CMOS-Chip capable of monitoring cell proliferation [3], and even contribute to a gas source localization drone project with potential health applications [4]. The multi-disciplanary research at numerous universities inspires me to think about how I can apply my microelectronics background, and my growing experience, towards innovating technologies that remedy human ailments. As a doctoral student, I could transform my inspiration into practice.

[1] A. DeHennis, S. Getzlaff, D. Grice and M. Mailand, "An NFC-Enabled CMOS IC for a Wireless Fully Implantable Glucose Sensor," in IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 18-28, Jan. 2016.

[2] M. M. Ahmadi and G. A. Jullien, "A Wireless-Implantable Microsystem for Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring," in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 169-180, June 2009.

[3] B. P. Senevirathna, S. Lu, M. P. Dandin, J. Basile, E. Smela and P. A. Abshire, "Real-Time Measurements of Cell Proliferation Using a Lab-on-CMOS Capacitance Sensor Array," in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 510-520, June 2018.

[4] A. Castro, N. Magnezi, A. Quinto, and P. Abshire, "Odor source localization on a nano quadcopter," IEEE Biomedical Circuits and Systems Conference (BIOCAS), October 2018.