Rashid Bashir, PhD

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

SEBM What is your position and what do you do?

RB I am the Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering and faculty in Bioengineering with courtesy appointments in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering. I am the department head of Bioengineering at UIUC.

SEBM Did you always wish to be a scientist in academia (industry) (government)?  What else did you want to do?  If you didn't do what you are doing now, what else do you think you would do?

RB When I was a kid I knew I liked science and engineering. i studied electrical engineering for BS through PhD. I love being a professor and i love academia but if I did not do that I would have been a physician. Well, I was part of team that conceived the idea and part of the team that is starting the first Engineering Based Medical School at UIUC – so that dream could also become a reality in an indirect way.

SEBM What path did you take to get where you are today?  What did you do right?  What did you do wrong?  Did you have any periods of time where things just didn't work out?  What did you do about them?  How did they affect your career?

RB All my education was in Electrical Engineering. In the last semester of my PhD i took bioengineering courses and many light bulbs went on! That’s what i want to be doing. Then i worked in the semiconductor industry for 6 years and during that time went back to school to take biology, organic chemistry and various wet labs. And then went back to academia to be a professor. I was at Purdue for 9 years and then move to UIUC and have been here for for 9 years.

The 2007/2008 market downturn was hard as my first startup company was poised to do well but got hit by that economic downturn. That was a rough time. But decided to move on and some years later helped launch another company that is still moving forward.

SEBM  What people can you point to who significantly helped you in this entire career path?  How?  Were there important people along the way who didn't help you at all?  What did you do about that?

RB My PhD Advisor Prof. Gerold Neudeck at Purdue University. Prof. Mark Lundstrom from Purdue who convinced me to try academia after my six years in industry.  My friend and collaborations of many decades Dr. George Vasmatzis (now at Mayo Clinic) for being a compass in general. Prof. Adesida (now Provost at UIUC) for being a mentor and Prof. Adesida and Prof. Linda Katehi (now Chancellor at UC Davis) for hiring me to UIUC. Prof. Mehmet Toner offering me a sabbatical at Mass General Hospital, an experience which opened many doors for me. Yes there were a few people who did not help or try to come in the way but i try to still engage them and if they don’t want to then let them be and ignore them and move forward !

SEBM  What advice would you give to a person, say, in college thinking about going into a career similar to yours?  What about someone in graduate school?

RB Learn how to think and learn how to learn – because the actual topics you will work on would be very different than what you will do in your PhD.
Become the world’s expert in one topic – and also expand your horizons to work and learn across disciplines.  

SEBM  What do you really love about your position?  What do you hate?

Love: Working with students and thinking the unthinkable. Helping to come up with real world solutions to solve medical and biological problems.
Hate (or dislike): keeping looking for research funding.

SEBM  What is your laboratory (office) like?  How many people do you supervise?  Describe a typical day (week).

RB My lab and research groups is in the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab (MNTL) at Illinois. My administrative office is in the Bioengineering department building. I have to run the day to day administrative matters of the department and also keep my research group moving forward. Luckily, I have some very smart people to work with both at the department and in my research group. I meet with the very talented staff in the Bioengineering department often to discuss strategic and operational matters. I also meet with my students to discuss research plans and progress in their research.  

SEBM  How are you guiding the careers of your mentees/students?  What are you doing to help those who are not thinking about following in your particular career path? 

RB I let them be the best at what they like to be and help create opportunities for them to do so. If they want to go industry then i help them get industrial experience and work with companies during their research to get a perspective of the real world problems.

SEBM  What do you feel are the most important aspects of your position?  What are the least?

RB To advance our department to higher and higher quality and to enable and serve others around me to do better and better at what they do – which is to use technology and engineering tools to address problems in medicine and biology.  Translating technologies to the real world through industrial partnerships and projects, or starting new companies is also an important element of what i like to be involved in.

SEBM  Do you feel that you have a good work-home/life balance?  What do you like to do for fun or when you are on vacation? 

RB Well my wife probably does not think so.  She is also a professor so she understands the academic pressures and lifestyle. I have three kids who I enjoy immensely. We love going to water parks and the beach and visit friends and family.  

SEBM  As a scientist, what do you feel about educating the non-scientific world-at-large about what you do and about science in general?

RB It is very important – immensely important. We must inform and educate the non-scientific world about the impact of science, engineering, and technology on our future and the role these can play in addressing grand challenges such as environmental protection, curing diseases, fighting hunger and poverty, solving the energy and water crises and many others.

SEBM Do you feel that "science" is under attack?  If so, what do you think is the best way to approach the problem?

RB I would say that Science is not only under attack it is also under appreciated and misunderstood. Funding for research is down and views about science and its impact on society have been politicized. We need to be more vocal to educate the general public and politicians – and better yet scientists and engineers need to also drive the policy and decision making. STEM is what our country needs to continue to stay in the lead.

SEBM What do you hope to be doing when/if you retire from your current position?

RB Well professors never retire  so i would like to be doing the same thing – maybe just on the beach.

SEBM  If you had to do it all over again, are there any radical changes that would you have made?  How do you think it would have made a difference in the way your life has turned out?

RB I am very thankful for my life and how it has turned out. Would not change a thing – except maybe to have learned biology and medicine earlier than later. And learning to play a musical instrument.