A career can never be pre-planned. On the contrary, it is built on foundations of interest, spurred by curiosity, shaped by experiences and honed by failures.
Nothing illustrates this better than the career of our next pathbreaker, Rachit Jhaveri, Biomedical Engineer, whose initial setbacks and life experiences drove him to take up a career that combines his skills in Electronics Engineering with Neuroscience to help stroke patients
Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal talks to Rachit about what inspired him to take the off-beaten path into Biomedical Engineering.
Rachit, tell us about your background?
I have always been taught not to just think out of the box but to get rid of the box. The two pivotal pillars in my life for my varied upbringing have been my family support and my spiritual backing.
From early childhood, it had been engraved within me that I should pursue a path that I am most happy with, even if it meant walking on the road less travelled. A classic example of this would be during my placement season of graduation. I had an option to either sit for technical companies ( that were relatively few and higher competition to get in) or sit in for an IT company. I was at crossroads at this point since this would primarily decide my career path. I called up my mom and without a second thought, she suggested that I go in for the technical companies since she felt that I was cut out for it. And the result was that out of the 81 students who interviewed for the placement, my name was first on the list.
The corner stone for my persona today is my Spiritual Background. The true meaning of what stays permanent and impermanent helped me remain calm during trying times of my life. Spirituality allowed me to think and believe in what cannot be seen and yet strive for excellence in whatever I did.
I always enjoyed taking up leadership positions, may it be in school as Cultural Captain and Head boy or in College as publicity co-head and treasurer. Taking responsibility for all my my actions and for those whom I worked with molded me into be the person I am today.
What did you study?
I did my B.E. (Electronics) from K.J.Somaiya College of Engineering (University of Mumbai) and M.Tech (Biomedical) from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay)
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
I was always inclined towards science. A predominant inquisitiveness always remained as to why things worked the way they do. Along with this, the constant exposure to the way the world was expanding, science making massive moves, scientist exploring life on mars, new inventions, new technologies and other events influenced me. There was always an inner quest which told me that the way the world was developing, remaining in pure sciences would not be sufficient. Translational science was the key. And I was fortunate to have teachers in school as well as in college who were on the same page as me (rather I was on the same page as them) and had already begun work on those lines. One such teacher was Prof. Toral Shah. Her focused teaching skills, domain knowledge and motivation techniques has greatly influenced me to primarily head towards a technology-oriented career and to take up mentoring and tutoring as a support career.
Right after my 10th grade, I had decided that I wanted to become an engineer. Having absolutely no clue of how the engineering field functions, I decided to try out vocational studies as a part of my 11th grade curriculum. Thus instead of Biology in the 11th grade, I took up electronics to see how much I enjoyed it. And guess what!… I loved it!
I chose to prepare for the JEE in 11th and 12th but fell ill and could not cope up. I ended up clearing the 12th grade and Maharashtra Common Engineering Test (MH-CET) and went in for my graduation program in Electronics.
They say that the ability to see the silver lining in a dark cloud is an art. My graduation years were filled with illnesses. Every alternate semester, I would be absent for more than a month. Pneumonia thrice, Jaundice once and typhoid once! The hospital visits were quite a routine for me in those four years. However, what really got me inquisitive was that microorganisms, so small could so easily weaken a human. Every time I would be down with an illness, I would read up all about what was happening to me, which got me interested in biology.
When I was struck with typhoid in 2008, the disease escalated to a higher degree simply because it was not detected early. And while I was studying Electronics, deep down under, I knew that I wanted to design something for detection of these illnesses, perhaps a cure or some rehabilitation technology. And so I used my illness as a driving force and made sure that when the going got tough, the tough got going.
If you were to look back at your experiences, which were the ones that made you what you are today?
I learnt a lot from my failures. If I would fail at something, I wouldn’t let the discouragement stay for too long. My aim would be to master the skill where I have failed. To illustrate this, in Grade 9, I failed in Mathematics. Although I was discouraged at that point, but immediately then, two roads sprung up: Either I live with my failure for life or I change my failure into a success. Fortunately, I chose the latter, worked hard and excelled at my board exams. Today, 15 years later, I teach math to students of the 9th grade.
It is said that motivation helps bring out the best in people. It has truly been the case in my life. Whilst failures taught me what I should be doing differently, words of motivation gave me the power to move on!
My mentor in my life is my GURU, Pujya Gurudevshri Rakeshbhai Jhaveri. He has been constantly guiding me during the “HIGH”s and “LOWs” of life. To remain humble when I achieve a big milestone and not to let my failures get the better of me has kept me going through.
Tell us about your first break? How did you manage your transition to the Biomedical domain?
The first turning point in my life came during my third year of Engineering – The placements. The big question was whether to go for an Engineering company (often referred to as a Core company) or an IT or Non-core company. The decision of pursuing a Core company was one of the key milestones in my life.
Placements at K.J.Somaiya College of Engineering gave me my first break into L&T. My personal interview was for more than 1.5 hours where the interviewer asked me about core Electronics concepts. Some I knew, Some I did not. But i was willing to learn, keeping the basics strong, the ability to manage any question, however tough it may be. I cleared the interview and Joined L&T in the “Design and Development of Switchgear Products Team” where I worked for the next 6 years.
The next was when I was offered to pursue higher studies. To be honest, I did not get into Masters at IIT Bombay in the first attempt. A failure there too.. but decided to give another attempt the following year with better preparation.
I had heard about the MTech programme while I was in engineering as well as in L&T and kept it in mind. I took it up when L&T offered to sponsor my M.Tech at IIT Bombay.
At this point , I was very clear that I needed to translate my Electronics domain expertise into something that was close to my heart. I chose to join a Masters in Biomedical Programme which was a three year programme instead of the conventional two years ( where I had to work and attend lectures at IIT at the same time) .
How was the experience at the Masters program at IIT Mumbai
The brain fascinated me a great deal then and one of the key motives of joining the M.Tech programme was that i wanted to make Medical devices. I remember quoting these exact words to Prof. Neeta Kanekar under whom I later ended up taking my Masters project.
Just before I joined IIT Bombay, I had decided that every semester, I was going to do something different because my time was very precious and I should be using it to the best. The first semester I took up a course outside my Biomedical domain, which was “Neuromorphic Engineering” ( A semester long course to compute how the brain works through Electronics). The second semester, I took up a course from the Mechanical Engineering department called “Collaborative Engineering” , which facilitated students into Medical device innovation. I was ecstatic taking that course as I could see my dream coming true. We were walked through the entire innovation roadmap and the course culminated with a project on making a Medical device which was then reviewed by eminent doctors from India.
I continued with the project of my second semester and soon was working in the lab (Biomedical Engineering and Technology Incubation centre – BETiC) as a project manager on a Device to detect brain strokes. Thus my Masters project was on the lines of making a rehabilitation technology for stroke survivors whereas my work at BETiC was on stroke detection.
What were some of the decisions that you took that helped you transition to Biomedical Engineering?
My bachelors degree in Electronics provided the facility of taking electives in the final year which helped me know what I liked, and what I did not; what I was good at and what skills I needed to develop
The M.tech degree at IIT Bombay provided a very conducive atmosphere to expand my horizon in terms of Biology.
Finally, keeping Biomedical as the centre, the ability to cross-communicate with other departments was a very important decision. At one time,” I was an electronics engineer, studying Biomedical engineering, taking a course in mechanical engineering (Collaborative Engineering course – 2nd Semester) and on the way of developing a chemical system ( to detect brain strokes)”
What did you learn at your first job at L&T? Did that help you in your later years?
My learning curve at Larsen & Toubro Limited was fabulous where project ownership was given to those who were willing to take it. I am immensely indebted to my seniors and colleagues at L&T who supported me in my career path.
The attitude of understanding what you do before putting it into practice was emphasised.
Parallel to my studies, I always enjoyed tutoring teens in Mathematics and Science, which I explored all through my work period and am even currently doing that.
Tell us about some of the challenges you have faced in pursuing your career path
Challenge 1: Commute in Mumbai – It took me approximately 1.5hours one way to travel to L&T and back. Made the most of it… developed the art of putting my phone on silent, getting some “me” time and taking power naps. All I would need is a 15 minute Power nap to be all fresh and ready for the rest of the day
Challenge 2: To accept failure. There have been times when I have seen failures… rather many times…. The challenge at that point was the willingness to get back on my feet. Its easier said than done when one is going through that phase but believing in yourself…
I remember one thing that my mother would most often tell me when I would be hesitant in taking risks after a failure- “Rachit… what is the worst that could happen? Nobody is going to kill you for being wrong… just go for it…” And I would end up giving my best shot at it and more often, I would succeed with flying colours
What do you do currently?
I work as an Investigator at IIT Bombay on the Seed Grant for Development of Proof of Concept for a Low-cost, wearable foot insole-based balance and gait monitoring and rehabilitation system. This happens to be an extension to my masters project
I work on Neuroscience based problems, typically Impairments of balance during standing and while transitioning from one posture to the other such as sit-to-stand, and impairments of walking (gait) and related ambulatory activities such as climbing stairs which are one of the major risk factors for falls in older adults and people with neurological disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease or osteoarthritis, etc.
From the Neuroscience end: In-depth knowledge about the way the brain functions, what parts of the brain and the nervous system contribute to movement and how do these disorders emerge and contribute to disturb the normal functioning of life as a whole.
From the electronics end: Core concepts about electronics viz-a-viz circuit design, validation and testing, programming and graphical user interface design and development.
Apart from this, Regulatory needs, Government standards, Intellectual Protection Rights, Project Management.
The way to acquire these skills are two fold:
Firstly by experience. Once the entire product development cycle passes through ones hands, the experience guides as to what steps need to be taken.
Secondly by reading – Reading material can be of three sub categories:
i) Studying patents
ii) Constantly reading up on publications
iii) Doing a good time-to-time market survey as to what new technologies are presently going on and upcoming technologies.
What is a typical day like?
My typical day is spread into four sections: Early morning, Mid-morning/Afternoon, Evening and Night.
Early morning: starts anywhere between 5:30am and 6:00am. I indulge in some exercise, meditation and prayers. The early morning ends with me making a list of tasks needed to be accomplished in during the day.
Mid-morning/Afternoon: This time is again divided into reading and experimenting on the progress of my work. This section ends with a 15 minute power nap.
Evening: This time is for sewa ( selfless service) and my tuitions.
Night: This time is for family, friends or just some personal relaxation time.
My day most often ends with some form of introspection as to how my day went, based on some spiritual scriptures.
What do you love about your job?
What I love most about the job can be expressed in the terms of the three ”I” s. Impact – Innovation – Interest
Impact: According to AHA, Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability worldwide. The load of stroke in developing countries is much more than that in developed countries. Specifically in India, stroke affects the younger population (40 – 50 years of age) as well as the elderly. Out of all the post-stroke disabilities, impaired balance and reduced mobility seem to persist and take the place of a permanent disability. The impact and probable reach of my work makes me love it more every day.
Innovation: Although the application of my work is Biomedical ( specifically Neuroscience) in nature, the core remains at the Innovation level. This includes concepts of pure signal analysis and electronics
Interest: Although the brain is such a complex organ, the method of its communication is still very basic, which is electrical signal transmission. Scientists worldwide are working on replicating a fragment of the brain and the way it works which is of utmost interest to me.
How does your work benefit the society? Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!
As mentioned above, Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability worldwide, which has a greater impact in India, where younger population seem to be affected by it. My work on stroke rehabilitation is particularly close to me because although doctors in the last few years have been able to push stroke from fourth leading cause of death to fifth, the number of stroke survivors has still been on the rise, and thus the impairments (typically movement related) have still been increasing. This current work of mine caters to this group of individuals who have survived a stroke but have movement disabilities so that they can get back on their feet and move towards a normal life.
Since my passion lies in the fact that I am able to apply my electronics knowledge to biomedical application, this project as a whole is very close to my heart.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
On the basis of my experience so far, there are six key advices that I would like to share with students
1. Never give up… be patient. Although you might not see the end immediately, patience always rewards.
2. Always be open to opportunities. They may not reveal themselves according to how you want to see them… but there is always something good on its way.
3. Be sincere about your basics. If your basics are strong, no matter how tough the problem is, you will be able to tackle it. Example if the foundation of a building is strong, no storm will be able to push it down, whereas if the foundation is weak, a gust of wind and everything will collapse
4. Hard work and smart work. Nothing comes without effort. Right effort in the right direction with the right purpose will always reap fruits.
5. Have a very strong bonding with your inner self.
6. The willingness to take risks. Higher the risk, Higher the gain
What are your future Plans?
Although I am very passionate about Neuroscience, the idea of applying electronics to medical devices itself is what I wish to pursue. In the near future, I plan on innovating more affordable medical devices for the society. I will continue tapping in to my inner child by continuing teaching and give back what I have got in abundance from the society .
Can you tell us a bit about your life outside work?
I facilitate self empowering workshops for young adults (grade 5 to 10) on various soft skills like Anger Management, managing relationships, Positive Thinking, Team Building, Time management and other soft skills, including Career Counseling
Iam also involved in Personal Tutoring in Applied Mathematics, Advanced Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology to students of The Cambridge : The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and International Baccalaureate (IB) grade 7 to 10 (Total number of students tutored : 41). Including workshops on Basics of computer and Internet training programmes along with basic and advanced level training in Microsoft Word and Excel for as a part of the Human Resources and Development Department of an NGO (Shrimad Rajchandra Mission)
When i get time i read books on Self Improvement and Motivational thinking and work on different Fitness Regimes like kick-boxing, swimming, Intense Workouts as well as leisure Activities like meditation, a quite walk