Niki Tavakoli: Biomedical Engineering Graduating Student Q&A

| May 10, 2021

Tavakoli has been working on STEM outreach to school age students through the USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center, and will now pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

Niki Tavakoli

Niki Tavakoli

Niki Tavakoli
Irvine,, California
M.S. Biomedical Engineering 

What first inspired you to study engineering?

I was inspired to study engineering because I’ve always had a passion for the field of mathematics in particular. I also knew throughout my undergraduate studies that I wanted to work in medicine/healthcare through my enthusiasm in scientific coursework and various internship experiences. After picking up skills in programming as well, the combination of these strengths led me into the realm of biomedical engineering (and specifically computational work and research). Even though I didn’t study engineering during undergrad, I knew that this kind of work was what I truly wanted to study, learn and grow in; so I took on the challenge with motivation and dedication. So far, as a developing engineer, I’ve continuously felt engaged, stimulated and driven to learn more, improve my technical abilities, and connect with fellow students.

What was a highlight of your time at USC Viterbi?

A highlight of my time at USC Viterbi has been the exposure to important, foundational coursework that I’ve completed during my master’s degree. This coursework has brought together my previously completed mathematical and scientific coursework and helped apply them to much more applied ideas and concepts within biomedical engineering. I’ve also been able to take computer science coursework during my electives which has improved my computing skills significantly. Although my coursework has been challenging at times, it was essential in facilitating a deeper understanding of ideas and knowledge—especially for someone who didn’t come from a traditional engineering background in their undergraduate studies.

Are there any extracurricular activities or organizations you have been part of during your studies?

So many! I’ve really enjoyed experiencing and seeing the involvement of graduate students from all USC departments/schools in the campus as a whole as it brings together the greater community. I have been working at the Viterbi K-12 STEM Center since my first semester, which organizes and plans programs that inspire STEM participation and involvement in young kids in the LAUSD. It’s been amazing to work with lots of students ranging from the elementary level to the high school level. For example, as an instructor in the mission science program, I’ve been able to remotely do science experiments/demos and lessons on core ideas within STEM each week; in the STEM perspectives program, other USC students and I have been exposing high school students early on to work in research by helping them create presentations on papers they find through research databases. This summer, I will also be a TA for the second time for Dr. Darin Gray (the STEM center co-director) for his high school level course, Explore Engineering! Apart from the STEM Center, I’ve also been a TA/course producer for BME courses and am also involved in female engineering societies such as WiSE and WiE. All in all, I love being involved in the USC community and being a part of this enriching (both academically and socially) environment.

Tell us about the research you have been working on that made an impact on you.

This semester, I’ve been working with Dr. Stacey Finley, whose lab and research I am really excited about. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a directed research project with her and really get some firsthand experience of computational model simulations (in an oncology context), which her lab is fundamentally based on. Taking her BME 530 class concurrently along with involvement in her lab through work, lab meetings and her student presentations has been incredibly helpful for exposure and insight into the world of mathematical modeling and she truly is a wonderful mentor and instructor! Having the chance to work with her and explore her work has driven a continuous deeper understanding each day of research techniques, ideas, presentation and speaking skills as well.

What are your plans after graduation?

I will be starting my Ph.D. here at Viterbi in the fall in Biomedical Engineering! After such a positive experience during my M.S., I knew that USC was where I wanted to stay for my Ph.D. with the network I’ve built and opportunities that I’ve found. I am super excited to continue navigating the computational biology work I’m currently working on/learning about to build myself as a researcher and engineer in the next several years. I’m so thankful to be at USC with the support, encouragement and inspiration it’s given to me.

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