Joaquin Batista is a graduate student in the Masters of Applied Bioengineering (MAB) program with the Department of Bioengineering. He is currently working on a project applying augmented reality to neurosurgery for neurosurgical navigation using 3D imaging modalities. Aside from watching La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) on Netflix, his favorite activities during quarantine have been baking bread, fixing a 55-year old French bike, and learning how to use his new espresso machine!

“I always thought of biology and engineering as completely different fields. Biology was for soft things, and mechanics and engineering were for hard things. I was going to go into mechanical engineering as a freshman at UW, but then, I got interested in Applied Math and Applied Physics. I originally got into these fields thinking about how to apply them to robotics and mechanics, but I later learned that they could be applied to biological structures. I liked how efficient systems are in the body and how things have evolved to become so efficient. And once I registered for classes in physics, I learned that I could apply those theoretical concepts to medical imaging and other medical applications. 

In the UW MAB program, I realized that my background was incredibly different from the “normal” bioengineering background. In my physics classes, students always liked to think about things and how they worked, and I liked how in BioE, you could take your theoretical understanding and apply it to something completely different that was hilariously out of the ballpark. I think this is the coolest but also most challenging part of bioengineering.

Something I struggled with was asking questions in the first place–it’s an art that you have to figure out. You have to hold hands with your curiosity but still stay with the subject. You might learn some things but they might not all be necessarily helpful to what you’re doing. You have to keep perspective of what your goal is. If you ask a question and keep going down a rabbit hole, you’re not going to get much out of it. In BioE, we’re trained to be generalists and learn a lot of things but we don’t go very deep. That’s tricky when we apply that knowledge to something else, like applying concepts you learned a while ago in class when writing a grant. We’ve done so many different things and this is tricky for everyone in BioE. But I think this is really cool and fun since we are applying what we’ve learned to specific prompts and problems.

To me, culture is perspective–your little window from your little fort into the world around you. It’s how you see life around you and how you balance things around your life. You learn what matters and you learn that through the people around you, as well as your childhood and your peers. I would describe my culture as Puerto Rican Texan. I’m from Puerto Rico and I was raised in Texas, but I ended up coming here after I kept moving north. During my upbringing, my mom would always make Puerto Rican food. Puerto Rican food doesn’t have many vegetables, so while helping out with my mom, it would be a lot of baking and pastries with massive amounts of powdered sugar. A lot of Puerto Rican cuisine takes ten hours to make, and I always think it’s fun to try to make something like that. My favorite thing I’ve made is pastelitos de guayaba (guava). I’m also a climber and skateboarder who likes woodworking, whittling, and generally things made out of wood. I like 3D printing and making whacky wooden devices. I also like to collect pencils–I am part of the pencil culture. I like to use them for studying, since they make it a little bit more bearable, or writing a to-do list with some whacky French-Canadian pencil. 

I am proud of how I try to somehow balance everything. I’m not just stuck on one team on one side of the fence. It’s about taking all the tidbits of culture that make you you and balancing them so you’re a whole person. It’s a hard thing to do. I am most proud of how my background is such a different thing from what the rest of my family became. It’s a fun amalgamation of my family–my grandparents were in medicine and parents were in engineering. I got to do both, which is really fun.

Culture is super important in pretty much everything, and it is a big factor in engineering. I like how BioE has such a wide variety of people and perspectives. Because that’s the case, providing your own perspective is actually really useful and helpful in solving a problem. Everyone else has a different perspective, background, and culture. All those tiny cogs make up a really cool solution at the end. Creativity and design at the core of engineering are such cool cogs in the wheel of solving a problem. Especially in BioE, the problems are so complex that you’re going to need as much background and perspective as you can get in a team. In mechanical engineering, everyone takes pretty much the same classes and has a lot of similar backgrounds. If you go into BioE, you’ll see someone who’s working on proteins, someone who’s working on biomechanics, someone working on something else, and they can all come to a problem and solve it in their own wacky ways. 

I like that BioE already thinks about adding as many different perspectives and cultures as it can. I think that, at least in physics, everyone had the same mindset, but in BioE, everyone has a different one. Thankfully, this leads to interesting solutions. The more collaboration and the more multicultural, the better the result. Accepting and showing other peoples’ ideas, philosophies, and thought processes is definitely a plus. That’s an awesome thing that BioE is doing right now and can keep doing better. Combining all of those different perspectives together is so cool.” 

Humans of UW Bioengineering is a student led group that aims to bring together the UW BioE community through individuals’ stories. During the 2019-2020 academic year, Krithi Basu, Nathaniel Linden and Hannah Redden took over the project as a senior honors project. Their goal is to incorporate a focus on personal and community cultural backgrounds. They hope to promote cultural awareness across the community and in the engineering design process.