Human Movement is an incredibly complex process achieved through a highly coordinated mechanical interaction between different constituents of the biomechanical system (bones, muscles, ligaments, joints etc.)

Subham Badhyal, our next pathbreaker, PostDoctoral Fellow at the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, University of Maryland, works on the design and development of a musculoskeletal biomechanics rehabilitation system for applications in clinical settings, injury prevention, and sports.

Subham talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about working in an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of biology and mechanical engineering that has applications not only in the field of orthopedics (implants and prosthesis) but also in sports science (performance enhancement, and injury rehabilitation).

For students, especially those interested in the applications of biomechanics in sports, check out the role of biomechanics in determining illegal bowling action in cricket !

Subham, Your background?

Hello everyone! I am Subham Badhyal. I was born and brought up in Rajpura, a village in Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. My father is a priest and astrologer, and my mother is a homemaker. I am very fortunate to have their support and encouragement throughout my studies and career. I have been interested in physics and mathematics from my school days.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I pursued Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and then completed PhD in Mechanical Engineering with specialization in Biomechanics (Mechanics and Design).

What were the drivers that influenced you to pursue such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

There are a couple of influencers who motivated and helped me to achieve all that I have accomplished today. First and foremost, I thank my parents and sister for always being there and supporting me throughout this journey. I got unconditional support from Mr. Anirudh Chandel (family friend) and his late mother, starting from my high school days till date. Their teachings not just taught me how to excel in life but also how to survive adversities in life.  

I completed my high school education at my native place and then completed secondary school education in non-medical from the Government Sri Ranbir Model High School, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India. Until secondary school I was keen on joining the armed forces as an officer and subsequently appeared for NDA and the Technical Entry Scheme. But unfortunately, I could not make it through the selection process. 

From my school days, I was inclined towards Physics and Mathematics. This motivated me to pursue bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and provided me with opportunities to gain entry into the armed forces through University Entry Scheme and Technical Graduate Course. Even after trying a couple of times, I was unable to make it through the selection process. During the 3rd year of my bachelor’s course, I started looking for alternative career options and made up my mind to pursue higher education. I qualified for GATE and joined IIT Ropar to pursue PhD from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path

I was interested in Design and Mechanics while pursuing my bachelors. My motivation increased after I completed my first internship at the Steam Turbine Manufacturing Unit, Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited, Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India. In addition, I improved my skills in three-dimensional parametric modelling using packages such as Solidworks, Inventor and Catia.

Being interested in Design and Mechanics, I joined a direct PhD program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Ropar after qualifying GATE examination. During my PhD coursework, I was formally introduced to Biomedical Engineering and it motivated me to pursue research in an area which involved both mechanical engineering and biology. I defended my thesis on the design and manufacturing of an intramedullary implant (orthopedic implant) for the pediatric population (children). I actively participated in extracurricular activities and sports while pursuing PhD and developed interest in the field of Sports Biomechanics.

I took one year leave from PhD to work as a Tutor-cum-Biomechanist at CSS, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. I assisted the Illegal Bowling Assessment Team for ICC and BCCI. 

Bowling in Cricket involves the coordination of various joints such as elbow, hip, knee, and ankle. The timing and coordination of various joint movements helps to attain maximum ball release speed. However, this coordination can be achieved through various mechanisms. The whip action at elbow joint will be  advantageous to attain maximum ball release speed, which is considered as illegal in cricket bowling.  The tools available in biomechanics such as video analysis and motion analysis will help to identify the timing and coordinated movement of different joints. This detailed and informed analysis helps biomechanists to identify the illegal bowling action.

Next, I worked as Senior Research Officer (Sports Science) with Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) Secretariat, Sports Authority of India (SAI). The biomechanists can help athletes to optimize their technique for improved performance and reduce the incidences of injury. In addition, they help injured athletes to rehabilitate and get back to sports as soon as possible. I was involved in the biomechanics testing of Khelo India athletes and TOPS athletes. I also assisted the high performance committee for the upgradation of infrastructure and equipment for improved sports science facilities throughout India. 

How did you get your first break?

In June 2017, I presented my work at the 26th Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics, Brisbane, Australia and met with a team from CSS Chennai. We discussed my work and interests. After a few months, I received an interview call from them to work as Tutor-cum-Biomechanist. I qualified the interview and accepted the offer by availing one year leave from PhD to gain experience and strengthen my knowledge in the field of Sports Biomechanics. 

The Center for Sports Science (CSS) is a training and educational facility, equipped with advanced sports science facilities. I worked as Tutor-cum-Biomechanist at CSS. I assisted the illegal bowling assessment team for ICC and BCCI. In addition, I taught bachelor’s and master’s level courses focusing on biomechanics. 

I was involved in various in-house research projects related to multiple sports.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

I completed my early education (till High School) in a village and was not very good in verbal communication. I realized this when I moved to Jammu city to pursue my secondary school education. To overcome this, I started reading newspapers, magazines and started listening to the news. This helped me to increase my vocabulary for verbal communication and gave me confidence for better communication skills.

Challenge 2: 

Being a non-medical student, learning biology at graduate school was challenging. I addressed this challenge by discussing the concepts with my course mates (study groups), asking for help from my seniors and colleagues, and doubt clarification sessions with my course instructors. The support from peers, friends and professors helped me to understand the basics.

Challenge 3

Accepting rejections/failure is one of the biggest challenges we all face in our lives. During my PhD and job search, I learnt to accept the rejection/failure and use it as a feedback to improve upon the shortcomings/mistakes that had resulted in rejections/failures.   

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

Presently, I am working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. I am working on the design and development of a fall detection and training system for the elderly population, funded by Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center (RERC) program, Administration for Community Living (ACL). Broadly, I am working in the field of biomechanics. It is an interdisciplinary field of research. I am specifically working on musculoskeletal biomechanics with applications in clinics, rehabilitation, and sports. The complexity of the problems varies from basic science studies to understanding a typical sequence of movements to understanding the mechanism which helps us to find the physiological loading; to design and development of devices for rehabilitation and surgical applications.

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

To enter the field of biomechanics, one needs skills from varied specializations such as mathematics, physics, biology, engineering, etc. My background in Mechanical Engineering provided me with the knowledge and skills required from non-medical fields and my PhD training covered the concepts and skills required from biology and allied fields. 

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day for me includes responsibilities such as reading the latest research, planning and finalizing experimental data collection protocols, writing/updating research protocol approval, research subject/participant scheduling, data collection, data analysis, data reporting, and discussion with the research team.

What is it you love about this job? 

Any kind of research has an impact on peoples’ lives. But being able to see the impact/application of your work is one of the most satisfying things I love about my job. 

How does your work benefit society? 

I am working in an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of biology and engineering. It has direct applications in the field of orthopedics (implants and prosthesis), rehabilitation (device development, training protocols, mechanism of injury and recovery), and sports (design of sporting equipment, performance enhancement, and injury rehabilitation). Hence, the products, solutions, and services provided by biomechanists have wide applications and requirements.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

It will be very difficult and unfair to choose one specific work as all the experiences taught me different skills and helped me to attain the position where I am today. Being a first-generation PhD, the work I did during my PhD has a special place in my memory. My PhD work was focused on the design and development of intramedullary telescopic implants for Osteogenesis, Imperfecta patients (a group of genetic disorders that mainly affect the development of the bones). The work focused on the design and development of an improved and economical implant as compared to the implants available in the market. The work concluded with an improved telescopic intramedullary implant and a proposal for a hybrid manufacturing process for cost effectiveness. This work will be helpful for all the pediatric patients suffering from compromised skeletal strength (long bones) and specifically Osteogenesis Imperfecta patients.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Curiosity to learn and willingness to accept your mistakes can help each and everyone of us to attain our goals. Sometimes you might not succeed but that will teach you how not to attempt that problem. 

Future Plans?

Continuing research and projects in biomechanics specifically for clinical, rehabilitation and sports in academia and/or industry.