Please tell us about yourself
Abhinaya Uthayakumar is a Georgia Tech alumna who graduated in May 2017 with an undergraduate Biomedical Engineering degree and is currently working for Abbott (formerly St. Jude Medical) in their Regulatory Affairs Rotational Program. As a former Editor-in-Chief of The Pioneer, she has helped shape the organization into what it is today.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
Originally from Milton, GA, Abhinaya fell in love with healthcare technology and medical devices during high school through Science and Technology Fair competitions. “While I have great respect for both physicians and engineers, I gained a stronger desire to become the behind-the-scenes person connecting newly innovated medical devices to patients more than implanting them into patients.”
Being an in-state scholar with a natural propensity to pursue a bioengineering degree, she chose to attend Georgia Tech in the fall of 2013. Due to her flexible schedule with transferred AP college credits, she was determined to take classes outside her BME curriculum to gain a more well-rounded view of the world around her. As an Honors Program student, she did just that; she took classes ranging from Leveraging Social Networks to Medieval Atlanta. With this positive and proactive attitude for learning more, she believes that students will naturally learn essential sustainable problem-solving skills that will assist them with their future careers.
“One advice I would give any day is to be open to taking classes outside your major discipline. You’ll be surprised how well these fields are connected. Each fun class I took at Georgia Tech was a great opportunity to meet students of other disciplines and gave me a new perspective of my own major.”Abhinaya Uthayakumar
How was the experience at Georgia?
Within our BME curriculum, the two classes that have shaped her current career path were: BMED 2300 (now BMED 2310: Intro to BME Design II) and BMED 4602 (Senior Design). BMED 2310 introduced her to all different divisions of bioengineering and their roles in the design process. The class gave her freedom to reverse engineer any medical device, which encouraged her to look more closely into sports medicine – more specifically, an athletic mouthguard. Along with her teammates, they added a temperature detecting system (a digital sensor thermometer and a wireless Arduino Bluetooth connection to a tablet) to ensure detection of hazardous temperatures while keeping the athlete safe from injuries. This project exposed her to many different engineering disciplines, which contributed to her decision to stay in BME. Moreover, Senior Design further allowed to develop a prototype that addressed the issue of finding a quicker diagnosis for Crohn’s Disease – a topic sponsored by Boston Scientific in Ireland.
“A class I would go back to without any hesitation is Senior Design with Professor Rains. From day 1, I immediately wished we were offered more of these design courses throughout our BME curriculum – more than BMED 2300 and BMED 4602. I learn by doing. I began to enjoy failing, then analyzing, and having iteration #2 ready to go – without any penalties. It is all part of the process and to get closer to the end goal. That’s how the real world is, and I was prepared to handle it primarily due to this class.”
Outside of academics, she was actively involved on campus through student organizations and research. Since she wasn’t entirely sure of post-college plans, during her time at Tech, she experimented with all her plans to get a better idea of what she would truly enjoy doing. She spent researching at three different labs of various disciplines (Nanomedicine, Mechanical Engineering, and Learning Sciences) and credits her documentation skills and meticulousness to these positions. She interned as a Project Manager at Health Connect South and as a Strategy Intern at McKesson – a start-up and a Fortune 500 Company respectively. The contrast in these internships gave her exposure to different styles of leadership, delegation, and work ambience. By the time her search for full-time careers outside of these two offers came around, she had an idea of which work cultures would suit her personality and work style more.
“While most of my technical skills are from courses at Tech, I credit most of my leadership and interpersonal skills I learned in college to the extracurricular activities I engaged in.”
There are four primary organizations that have made a positive mark on her life at Tech — India Club at Georgia Tech, BME Learning Commons, President’s Council Governing Board, and The Pioneer. All four of these organizations and the people have pushed her to achieve feats that she believes, five years ago, she could never possibly do.
“Unless you open up and talk to them, you never know what they’re doing outside of their BME degree. I’ve met some really cool people through my Pioneer journey, and I’ll always be grateful for those memories.”Abhinaya Uthayakumar
What did you do as a writer for Pioneer?
Abhinaya joined The Pioneer her freshmen year as a writer and moved onto Senior Writer, and then Editor-in-Chief. What drew her towards The Pioneer was her passion for communication, especially writing. She was interested in learning more about the BME community around her and all the unique activities the students and faculty engage in outside BME.
As the Editor-in-Chief, she aspired to make some time-demanding changes – by making sure more people were reading the news in an effective manner and those on the Pioneer staff were given more freedom with their articles. She eradicated the hierarchy and expanded the writers’ scope. Switching to an online platform was effective as more elements, such as recent posts and podcasts through the Learning Commons, could be added. She had an opportunity to conduct social experiments at the BME FASETs, to represent the organization at departmental events, and to serve as a panelist to talk to parents and students about the importance of being involved in our BME department. An idea that began when she was a Senior Writer was Pulses (Humans in BME) which gave her and others in Pioneer to talk to peers about their personal stories and inspiration to continue in our rigorous curriculum.
“Georgia Tech has had such a huge impact on my life. This is the place that made me lose sleep, but it is also the place that became home.”
Your career path?
When it came to finding new full-time opportunities her senior year, she was clear on working for a medical device company or start-up. Initially, she was solely interested in Product Development roles, but when an interview invite had come for St. Jude Medical’s Regulatory Affairs Rotational Program (now Abbott), she decided to learn more about that field.
“While our curriculum focused more from ideation to creation of a prototype, there was not too much focus on connecting a new device to the people. A successful biomedical engineer needs to understand the entire product developmental process, and that’s exactly what I am working towards in my current role.”
Currently in San Francisco, California for her second rotation in the program, she spent her first rotation in St. Paul, Minnesota working in the Structural Heart division. While her first rotation gave her exposure to operational regulatory affairs, her current role in Mechanical Circulatory Support handles the most regulated medical devices in the field – implantable devices. She is part of a multidisciplinary core team working on worldwide submissions of many new significant product innovations.
“Choosing to do a rotational program with Abbott is the best decision I have ever made. I am continuously learning about the medical device industry, meeting new people, and developing my leadership skills while getting to live and travel around the nation – and soon, the world.”
Abhinaya works with many biomedical engineers both in and outside of Regulatory Affairs, and she is a strong advocate for having the right engineering background for properly understanding how the medical devices work to understand if the new change is implementable and sustainable. For her, the most rewarding part of working at Abbott is the knowledge that her and her team’s work affects millions of people daily through their medical devices. She credits the BME curriculum for instilling in her the passion to work with devices that help patients live longer and more fulfilling lives.
“Georgia Tech has had such a huge impact on my life. This is the place that made me lose sleep, but it is also the place that became home.”Abhinaya Uthayakumar
Abhinaya is a textbook example of someone setting goals for themselves and accomplishing them to lead a positive and happy career and life. Her current position has given her a sense of fulfillment that she desires to carry forward throughout her career.