oscar ayala5 Questions with Oscar D. Ayala, 
R&D Scientist at Cynosure

Oscar D. Ayala earned his B.S. in biomedical engineering in 2012 and went onto get a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University. At UT Austin, Ayala was a go-getter. He co-founded GURU, an organization that still exists and connects undergraduate student researchers with graduate student mentors. He also started a diabetes student organization and was heavily involved with research. Later, he leveraged his UT connections to get into graduate school and find a job as a scientist with Cynosure, an energy-based aesthetic and medical treatment company in Boston. While at UT Austin, Ayala also met his wife Sujata Ghosh, who earned her B.S. in biomedical engineering a year before him.

What type of work do you do at Cynosure?

Cynosure creates treatment applications for hair removal, skin revitalization, and body contouring to name a few. I’m at the intersection between R&D, clinical applications, and engineering. I conduct early-on feasibility and pilot studies and interact with physicians and clinical managers to help make changes to devices and ensure they work.

How did you decide to major in biomedical engineering and how did you get involved with biophotonics?

I entered UT as a petroleum engineering major. After a few months I realized it wasn’t for me and switched to biomedical engineering. Cindy Zimmerman, an advisor at the time, encouraged me to join the Biomedical Engineering Society to connect with other BME students before I entered the major the next year. It was a nice community to find.

After joining BME, I was eager to join a lab. I didn’t exactly know how to get involved with research, so I sent an email blast to BME faculty saying I was interested in working in labs, but that I had zero experience. Dr. Thomas Milner looked at my resume, saw I was eager to work, and added me to his group on the spot. I worked with him and Dr. Grady Rylander, and it was such a positive experience for me. I connected with my first graduate mentor, Dr. Badr Elmaanaoui in Dr. Milner’s lab through the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate Internship Program, which exposed me to life as a graduate student and potential opportunities.

How did you decide on Vanderbilt for graduate school?

Dr. Milner suggested Vanderbilt because they have a great biophotonics group. Dr. Duco Jansen, a 1994 UT Austin BME Ph.D. alum, visited campus and gave a talk. I attended and learned more about Vanderbilt. I didn’t have a super competitive GPA, but they saw that I was heavily involved with research and student activities, and that my outstanding letters of recommendation from Dr. Milner. I ended up getting accepted to Vanderbilt and worked for six years in Dr. Anita Mahadaven-Jansen’s lab, who is Duco’s wife and another UT Austin BME Ph.D. alum.

I was also a part of the McNair’s Scholar Program, which helped me throughout my grad school application process and prepared me for interviews and my personal statement. The program helps increase the number of students earning a doctoral degree from low-income and first-generation backgrounds or individuals who are underrepresented in graduate education.

How do you think BME prepared you for where you are today?

The research aspect and good instruction helped mold me. Drs. Milner and Rylander guided me and told me if I was really interested in research, I should pursue graduate school. No one in my family had gone to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. No one in my family had gone to college before me and my siblings. My family was supportive, and I definitely received guidance from UT faculty and mentors.

Later on, when I was looking for job opportunities, I again reached out to my network. Dr. Milner gave me the heads up about Cynosure and let me know they were looking for a replacement for Bo Chen (who earned his Ph.D. in BME from UT Austin in 2007). I took the job in June 2018 and for the first 6 months, I was known as the new Bo Chen.

What other experiences at UT Austin were memorable?

One of the most important activities I participated in was founding the diabetes awareness organization Hook the Cure, with three other undergraduates, including my now wife, Sujata. The organization connected type 1 diabetics with each other and with resources on campus and in the community that could help them transition to treating their disease while attending college. The organization supported a diabetes awareness walk and hosted a research conference where UT Austin professors, scientists, and clinicians gave attendees perspectives on the effects of diabetes in the community.