Medical Physics Conference: My Dream Job or Not

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

My STEP experience granted me the opportunity to attend a professional medical physics conference. With nine different tracks to choose from and a week full of informational sessions, I not only left with a better understanding of global health challenges, women in physics, medical imaging, medical physics, and professional development, but my future career path as well.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

Throughout the conference I was finding that I really liked physics, but that I needed something more hands on then that. I went in to engineering physics for a hands on approach to physics yet it was not what I had expected it to be. I was convinced that I wanted to go into biophysics as a career field as I really wanted to do something medical related without going to medical school. However, as described below in some of the talks I attended, I really found that my dream field was turning into a nightmare as I was struggling to find excitement in most of the work presented for a long term career. It was amazing work yet I constantly changed my mind from on field to another, unable to find conviction in the one field I really loved.  Through this conference I was given the chance to re-evaluate what I really wanted in a job and career field and found that physics was not the right route for me. Engineering was the area I was really excited in, and the field I needed to explore more. Given this conference I was able to confidently make the switch from Engineering Physics to Electrical and Computer Engineering, opening a new realm of possibilities, enhancing my happiness and success in my academic endeavors.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

At this conference I was able to attend a multitude of talks, some of them I found very interesting while others not so much. Below is a summary of the most influential talks I went to. Why, someone may ask why these were influential? Take Radiomics: Advances in the Use of Quantitative Imaging Used for Predictive Modeling for example. This talk truly showed me that I knew nothing about the possibilities for career for me. When I first grew up I wanted to be a teacher, then a lawyer. In highschool I wanted to do engineering and by college I had no idea what engineering so I chose Engineering Physics, a field that would allow me to dwelve into the aspects of Physics I had enjoyed in high school as well as explore the possible engineering fields. I believed that the program was adapted to teach hands on physics, certain that I would graduate with the Engineering Physics degree, specializing in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Neuroscience so that I could go into the Biophysics field. I had no idea that the degree was literally two degrees compressed, and that there was no communication between the courses in which the emphasis was combining the engineering and physics aspects. I had no idea what this field of study was, but after attending the seminar I found that I was still ignorant to the multitudes of fields I could go into, and the even greater number of tracks I could take to get there. The same could be said for Practical Statistics for Medical Physicists, in which I realized that I really wanted some form of computational aspect in my work but that this can literally apply to most physics fields. All of this information got me really excited for attending the conference and the information there, however, it made me question the track I was on.

During the conference I constantly found myself switching from one career field to another based on the discussions I had gone to. The Medical Physics Workshop – Update: Journal Improvement Activities and Guidance On Writing and Reviewing Papers discussion really taught me that although I do not mind technical writing, I really did not like how paper heavy research was and the demands of technical writing and publishing if one wanted to be successful in research.

The Academic-Industrial Research and Development Partnerships- Nuts and Bolts, Pitfalls and Rewards talk showed me that maybe I was on the wrong side of the field. I liked the cutting edge research but found that the technical side may not be the only option. Industry showed a lot of potential for something I have never considered, allowing for a little more hands on approach and utilizing a bit more of the communication skills I found lacking in research.

This was then combated with the talk It Can’t Happen to Me! – My Position Has Been Terminated, Now What?, in which people discussed various situations in which their position was terminated and the fall backs they had leading them to where they are now. Some showed that losing or leaving a job was a blessing in disguise as it allowed them to branch out of their comfort zone, something they may have not done before.

Going to the Women in Medical Physics- Latin America and Africa discussion was a little more eye opening. I was very aware of the minority of females in physics in my local college; however, I had never considered women in other countries and how their cultural environment affects their ability to succeed. Not having as many constraints as them only helped to fuel my drive as I was granted an opportunity others did not have, it is my duty to pursue this passion to its fullest extent.

Real Time Imaging Verification and Tracking for Moving Targets was a very influential talk for me as it lead me back to why I wanted to go into this field: I really wanted a job that would allow me to help others without going into the medical field. I wanted to use my technical skills for a better purpose. Although my interests did not align with this presentation, it really helped to invigorate my desire to help others.

The most influential talk to me, however, was Clinical Applications of 3D Printing Clinical Applications of 3D Printing- This discussion got me very excited in a new career path as I could use the physics of medical devices, such as with neuroimplantations, and use 3D modeling to create these devices. 3D modeling has always been a passion, and being able to tie this into my career would be something I could really get and stay excited about. I found that I did love physics but changing my concentration from physics to engineering would enable me to gain a better skill set to do what I really wanted to.


Summary of Key Presentations:

Clinical Applications of 3D Printing: Monday, July 13, 2015 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM 

This talk was over 3D printing and its applications for clinical settings. There were four main aspects discussed: creating a bolus and compensators for photon machines, tools for proton therapy, clinical applications in imaging and custom phantom design for clinical and research use. For these important criteria was knowing the different type of 3D modeling software needed to make the device, file formats transferred, and troubleshooting techniques, knowing the difference in the materials for different applications (i.e. photons vs. electrons), and the quality control and assurance for proton therapy.

Academic-Industrial Research and Development Partnerships- Nuts and Bolts, Pitfalls and Rewards:  Monday, July 13, 2015 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM 

From this talk I was able to hear from both the research teams and industry leaders concerning motivations from both the industry and academia, as well as how to get research grants and research contracts. One of the other main focuses was how to manage the relationship effectively as to allow for a healthy relationship to foster and be the most beneficial for both sides, specifically how to avoid certain pitfalls that can derail the project.

Women in Medical Physics- Latin America and Africa:  Tuesday, July 14, 2015 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM 

This talk went over how the roles of women in Africa and Latin America has been increasing, such as women in Latin America were increasing into leadership roles. Overall it was a discussion fostered to go over how women’s work was being valuable and that the challenges to lower the gap between men and women in the field were being addressed.

Radiomics: Advances in the Use of Quantitative Imaging Used for Predictive Modeling:  Tuesday, July 14, 2015 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM

Here was very useful to learn about basic image features for radiomic models as well as their requirements for their models in the terms of robustness, generizability, and the ability to predict results. Radiomics are studies that look at large amounts of quantitative information taken from medical imaging studies to use as a basis for characterizing specific assets for patient’s health. A lot of approaches were discussed, to include longitudinal radiomics, radiomics with other biomarkers, various imaging modalities, etc.

Practical Statistics for Medical Physicists:  Wednesday, July 15, 2015 1:45 PM – 2:45 PM

I gained knowledge on common experimental testing, including the clinical trial designs, the questions they are allowed to answer, and how to interpret the results. The common pitfalls of statistical tests were discussed and why one is preferred over others, as well as the ever present issues with error and uncertainty for biological modeling. It was discussed as well that academic physicists can produce some unclear writing as a result of their lack of understanding for design and analysis, furthering the importance of knowing what to use and when.

It Can’t Happen to Me! – My Position Has Been Terminated, Now What?:  Wednesday, July 15, 2015 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM 

This was a really nice informal talk going over personal experiences for medical physicists when they found that their positions had been terminated. Some people had knowledge in advance to attempt to make alternate plans while others had no heads up. They discussed ways they tried to mitigate their termination as well as advice given for others to look at the implications for a non-complete clause for employment versus employment contracts with an emphasis on the termination provisions.

Medical Physics Workshop – Update: Journal Improvement Activities and Guidance On Writing and Reviewing Papers:  Thursday, July 16, 2015 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM 

This discussion went over how to write good scientific papers as well as responding to critiques in a productive and conducive way. It also went over improving manuscript quality using structured reviews for enhanced scientific category taxonomy. It also went over ways to improve this with the recommendation for implementing a structured template review form and then submitting these articles to those best fit to review it in order to gain the most constructive feedback.

Real Time Imaging Verification and Tracking for Moving Targets: Thursday, July 16, 2015 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM 

This talk discussed the opportunities and challenges for real time imaging and tumor tracking as well as understanding the advantages and limitations associated with different tracking techniques.  It also discussed the clinical impact for real time tumor tracking and how increasing the number of studies would enable for research to be furthered and to gain a better understanding of the limitations that need to be addressed and overcome.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This conference enabled me to figure out what I do not want to do with my life. I found that I probably would not want a full time research position in which there was little collaboration and a sole focus on publications.  I would not want a job in which there are no hands on applications, such as with 3D printing or testing devices or creating objects versus simply data crunching and simulations. I also found out some things I really want in my career path. I would like to switch companies every once in a while in order to gain new experiences as well as foster new relationships. I would like to have collaborative efforts in which I can work on both the technical aspects as well as the communication and administrative sides. Overall this conference helped me make the choice to switch from Engineering Physics to Electrical and Computer Engineering so that I could really gain skill sets for practical applications versus the theories behind them.  Although I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up, I have a better understanding for the attributes I want it to contain and some attributes I want to ignore all together.