Peaceful mind, intellectual curiosity key to success for BME student
by Gabriel Chen, written in 2003
They come every year with brilliant test scores, grades and resumes, drawing accolades without breaking a sweat. Then, when the semester draws to a close, many of them start to fret, as they do not make straight A's for the first time. Some of them become nerve-wracked, and they are pressured relentlessly by their parents and professors to perform.
Sounds all too familiar? The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on, and if senior Joe Crawley could share a few words of wisdom with the incoming freshman class, it would be to stay cool and that everything will sort itself out. But, this biomedical engineering and electrical engineering major is not implying that students should sit back and let opportunities pass them by swiftly. Although opportunities abound at Duke, Joe said people must motivate themselves to seek them out actively.
"The opportunities need to be found because they won't find you," he said. "Our engineering curriculum must, however, allow for intellectual stimulation by encouraging more student-driven work. The administration often complains about the lack of intellectual discussion on campus. The solution, I think, lies in changing the curriculum."
Though more engineering classes are incorporating hands-on learning opportunities instead of just theory, and students can take independent study courses to focus on areas of interest, Joe hopes to see is an increase in the number of student-driven classes for engineers.
It is not surprising then that while he has had a plethora of courses including electromagnetic fields, biomechanics, electrobiology , and genetics, his favorite class still is the independent study he did with electrical and computer engineering professor Rhett George last semester. There, Joe had the chance to work with four other students to assemble a controller adaptor that allowed people to operate a Nintendo game cube console using a Sony play station controller.
As the project's coder, Joe was responsible for writing pieces of binary code, and for deciphering the codes sent out by the controller and the codes received by the console. Since the game cube and the play station machines differ in computing language, the difficulty became that of translating security codes for each individual device to understand, or simply put, to make for example, a X-button press on the play station equal to the A-button press on the game cube.
"He [Rhett] was a good mentor to have," Joe said. "He wanted to make sure our plans were feasible, and yet at the same time, he wasn't too overbearing. He had faith that we would get our project done well."
In the summer of 2002, Joe interned at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he worked with Dr. Kyle Furge to develop a new technique for identifying regions of frequent chromosomal gain and loss. Joe also co-authored a paper with him, titled "Identification of Frequent Cytogenetic Aberrations in Hepatocellular Carcinoma Using Gene-Expression Microarray Data," [http://genomebiology.com/2002/3/12/research/0075], which was published in the peer-reviewed, web-based journal, Genome Biology.
Initially, Joe found it hard to adjust to the intellectual demands of the cancer research lab because he had no prior knowledge about molecular biology. So he had to play the catch up game by putting in tons of research and extra work. Joe was eventually rewarded when he was tasked to write up the skeleton of the paper, which he said was a strange experience, considering that as an engineering student, he hardly did any writing, but often worked on quantitative problem sets and computer data instead.
"Our technique was revolutionary," Joe said. "People from all over the world like researchers in Mexico were soon telling us that they were using our technique, which saved them lots of time. It was a good feeling to have our technique accepted, as there is often a fear that most people who use the old technique might reject the new one."
Ever to seek out further opportunities, Joe worked over the summer of 2003 as a test engineering intern in Smiths Aerospace at Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he designed a power management system for a new test platform compatible in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Smiths Aerospace, a private defense contractor, is a global provider of innovative solutions to builders and operators of military and civil aircraft and engines, from fighters and transport to large civil, regional and business jets.
Joe said that while working at the lab with Dr. Furge was more "glamorous" in the sense that he got to publish a paper and to present it at numerous conferences around the country, he would rather work at a place like Smiths.
"I don't want to go into research. Working in a hardware-oriented design place like Smiths, where you have to set up your goal immediately, is something that appeals to me. Also, I would rather work in the private sector," said Joe, who accepted a position with Smiths Aerospace and will be working there in 2005.
When Joe is done with work for the day, he often de-stresses himself by going for invigorating runs. The ex-Duke varsity track team athlete loves the weather here, which is definitely much warmer than that in Michigan, where he resides.
"Duke has been a good time. The weather is fantastic and the faculty is excellent. The people in the engineering department seem to be committed to innovation. They have a lot of instructors who have no problem with you doing something that hasn't been done before," he said.
Joe Crawley graduated in the spring of 2004. His hometown is East Grand Rapids, Michigan.