Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A: My interests always changed with time. During elementary school, I had a deep passion for teaching. I had a mini-classroom set up at my home, where I used to pretend play teacher with my imaginary students. There was also a time when I wanted to be a fashion designer, but that desire waned, and my growing fondness for physics and mathematics inclined me toward engineering.
Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
A: During my senior year of college, I was studying telecommunication engineering, so the standard practice was to work on software-defined radios, antennas design, and wireless communication systems — which never fascinated me. In a quest for a different and unique project, I found one related to medical image processing. I began working with brain MRI scans, the enigmatic architecture of which intrigued me. I always wondered how the brain assembles its many structures to perform myriad tasks in a manner that is seamless to the outside world. And I realized that we need to develop computational tools that advance neuroscience to uncover the complex organization and functioning of the brain.
Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
A: My PhD research focused on brain MRI registration, an image-processing method that aligns multiple images. My advisor suggested that I model the brain’s nonlinear deformations as waves, a problem I tried to solve by developing different models. But none of them worked. Later, I discovered an article that I felt related to the problem and started to study the wave model in depth, incorporating it into my research. After putting a lot of effort in formulating the method — 18 months to be exact — it eventually worked. Overall, this journey from failure to success developed persistence in me.
Q: Describe your research in 5 words.
A: Brain voyage: cradle to grave.
Q: What are your passions outside of research?
A: I am obsessed with cleaning and organizing my home. I like to clear clutter and put everything in place. Being organized gives me peace of mind and increases my productivity. It also extends into my research: It helps me meet deadlines and accomplish daily tasks. Besides organization, I also like to bake, watch thriller and comedy movies, and play puzzle video games.