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Final Words: Ara Alexandrian

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Final Words... | Radiological Sciences (Ph.D.) | April 04, 2018

Your name, program, dissertation title.

Ara AlexandrianRadiological Sciences (Therapy Medical Physics), Advancements In Radiotherapy Plan Evaluation Using Quantitative Scoring Methodology

Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health Science Center, and your program.

I was born in London and raised in Southern California, where I also completed undergraduate work in physics at Cal Poly Pomona. After undergrad, I finished a masters at Oregon State University in medical physics. During my time in graduate school, I coincidentally met and collaborated with some medical physicists and radiation oncologists that were alumni from UT Health San Antonio. All the alumni I met were impressive in terms of their strong fundamentals and their leadership roles in the clinics they work at. I aspired to be like them, so it was a natural decision to go to UT Health San Antonio.

Please provide a few sentences summarizing your dissertation. What was the experience like for you?

For my dissertation I have developed an algorithm that quantifies radiotherapy treatment plan performance. This algorithm can aid radiation experts in forming a decision about the quality of a plan prior to treatment. I also developed a scoring scale that can show you how well the plan performs compared to past performance.

It has been a challenge to implement this project, as it combines an understanding of clinical data science, physics, and programming. I had to pick up a gamut of skillsets to execute this project that will serve me for the rest of my career as a researcher.

Why are you passionate about your research topic? How did you first become interested in it?

When I came to UT Health San Antonio, I pitched a database related project to my advisor. He was onboard with the idea; however, we ultimately could not pull off the project the way it was intended due to some limitations. A year later, my advisor worked with me to design a project that was similar, but in a way better because it was more relevant to the career path I chose.

What has been the highlight of graduate school so far? Have you won any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?

The highlight of graduate school is the people I’ve met. Interacting with so many brilliant people at work, on campus, and at conferences has a positive effect on one’s perspective. The achievement I’m most proud of is the series of codes I produced for my dissertation. They are by far the most advanced and complex codes I have developed in my career so far. There is still room to improve, but that is okay since I am passionate about the project and will continue to work on it.

What’s next?

I’ve matched with a two year residency program at The University of Washington where I will receive clinical training in therapeutic medical physics. The primary focus is clinical, however, there is a research component built into the program. I am looking forward to the change of pace from full time research position to a clinical routine.

Any advice for your fellow graduate students?

Balance out work and play. The balance is different for everyone, but make sure you find yours. If you’re constantly cutting ‘playtime’ short because you have guilty thoughts about not working enough, there could be an issue with balance. Similarly, if you’re relaxing and having fun non-stop without obsessing about work to some degree, you’re not going to be very productive. 

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