Student Spotlight: Sonal Gahlawat

Sonal Gahlawat is a 2023 biomedical engineering doctoral candidate who shares her thoughts on her academic interests, Rutgers experience, and future plans.

Why did you choose Rutgers for your doctoral education?

After earning my BS in biotechnology from Jaypee Institute of Information Technology in India and my M.Eng. in bioengineering from Rice University, I worked for two years at Texas Medical Center. Eager to apply engineering solutions in medicine, Rutgers became the perfect destination to pursue a doctoral degree in BME.

What attracted you to BME?

I had always wanted to become a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force, although women weren’t recruited by the defense forces in India to serve during combat. As I was starting high school, my father forced me to study biotechnology, a new and exciting field at the time in India. Now, a decade later, I should thank him for changing my life, since otherwise I would never have picked this subject.

What really drew me to BME was the possibility of producing functional replacement tissues that could save millions of lives. This means that I can actually make a difference in someone’s life during my career.

As the incoming president of the Rutgers Graduate Student Association (GSA), what do you most hope to accomplish?

After a gratifying experience as president of the Biomedical Engineering Student Society, I decided to join the GSA. During spring 2020, when Rutgers was shut down because of the pandemic, I started exploring ways to connect to the greater graduate student community at Rutgers. As president, I hope to continue to create new opportunities for graduate students throughout the university, to support each other as we all grow personally, academically, and professionally.

You have been accepted for the Pre-Doctoral Leadership Development Academy (PLDA). What are you most looking forward to?

By gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges confronting higher education, I hope to build a culture of transparency between the university administration and the graduate student community to improve graduate student life on campus. And, as I dive deeper into my research, I want to work further on my “soft skills” that are a pillar for a successful career and personal development. The PLDA program can reinforce my leadership, teamwork, and organizational skills – and prepare me to become a better scientist. In the outside world, we need to constantly challenge ourselves and enhance our leadership capabilities to become effective leaders and influencers.

What do your leadership positions mean to you?

I feel fortunate to hold leadership positions that give me the opportunity to inspire people to work towards a common goal. I have met fantastic people through the GSA who are equally passionate about science and the graduate school community. Without them, this wild, weird graduate school journey would be a lot harder to navigate.

You hope to earn your PhD in December 2023. What do you plan to do after that?

My dream job would be to work as an R&D scientist at a company where I can utilize my engineering skillset to meet clinical challenges and bridge the gap between engineering, medicine, and global health by working in the medical device industry – especially in the sector of implantable devices such as arterial conduits and bioresorbable scaffolds.