Biomedical engineer driven to create a better life for her sister
Dominique Tanner is the second Black woman to earn doctorate in biomedical engineering at UC
Dominique Tanner, a biomedical engineering doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati, finds motivation from her sister. Diagnosed with epilepsy at just a few months old, her sister has experienced seizures all her life. Tanner became determined to learn about the condition and dedicated herself to a career in helping her sister and others like her. She is the second black woman to receive a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering at UC and was named Graduate Student Engineer of the Month by the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
What drew you to UC?
The great reputation of the College of Engineering and Applied Science — and the biomedical engineering department — drew me to the University of Cincinnati. Prior to applying, I explored the research projects and initiatives that they were involved in, and I found them to be amazing! I also saw that many of the graduate students were engaged and successful both inside and outside the program – from then on, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of.
Another major thing that made me choose UC was the African American Cultural and Resource Center. Coming from a Historically Black College and University, I knew that UC was going to be very different. But when I learned about the AACRC, I knew I would find community there. With the initiatives, events, and overall positive representation of Black people and Black culture at UC, I had no doubt it was the top school for me.
Why did you choose your field of study?
I get this question a lot. I studied biology in undergrad, but after a while I didn't feel connected to it anymore. I wanted something different and more challenging. One day I was in my college library browsing graduate school programs and I came across one called biomedical engineering. After learning about this field and what the program offered, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to pursue next. The idea of applying the principles of engineering, biology and medicine to improve health outcomes and benefit society was right up my alley.
Briefly describe your research work. Why does it inspire you?
My research centers on using machine learning techniques to create non-invasive methods to predict seizures for people living with epilepsy. Ultimately, I want to make easily accessible, affordable, non-invasive and fast-acting seizure prediction methods to be used in both clinical and non-clinical environments.
The inspiration behind my research is my younger sister, Myles. She was diagnosed with epilepsy as an infant and has had unpredictable seizures all her life. I can recall memories of witnessing her seizures at five years old and when I got to graduate school, I decided to do something to help her.
What problems do you hope to solve with your work?
I want to create a device that could predict seizures early and provide a strategy for intervention. With this device, I want to improve the quality of life and reduce anxiety around when the next seizure is coming for my sister and others living with epilepsy. I also want to create something for my mom to have better means of catching seizures early for Myles.
What are some of the most impactful experiences during your time at UC?
One of the first and most impactful experiences was becoming the first Black President of the UC Graduate Student Government (GSG). For the 2020-2021 academic year, I served as the campus ambassador of GSG. I enjoyed it so much that the next year, I decided to run for president, and I won! I was pretty shocked. I had never been a president of anything before, so the experience definitely had a learning curve, but I felt honored to be the first Black president of the organization. Rather than waiting for representation, I took a chance and became the representation. I hope that one day, someone else who looks like me will also take a chance.
Another impactful experience is being the second Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from UC. It's crazy to even say that today. When I started matriculating through my program, and up until recently, I was the only Black student pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. I experienced moments of loneliness and lacked a sense of belonging, which was hard for me. Nevertheless, I persevered, and I am very happy to have made it to the end! I'm also excited that we now have another Black student within the department pursuing their Ph.D.
What are a few of your accomplishments of which you are most proud?
Honestly, I am most proud of earning my Ph.D.! It has been a long time coming. Growing up, I enjoyed school and loved learning about science, but when I got to college, I started to struggle with it (microbiology, organic chemistry, calculus, etc.). In undergrad, I expressed to a faculty member that I was thinking about graduate school and they tried to dissuade me from pursuing it. Despite the discouragement, I was not deterred. I persisted and now I am graduating with a doctoral degree!
I am proud of this major accomplishment, but most of all, I am proud that I persevered and never gave up. What kept me going was my sister, Myles, and my mom. They are my “why.” I always knew that no matter what, I had to see this Ph.D. to the end to help my family and others like them.
I also had to do this for myself as a reminder that no matter how many times I am told that I can't do something, I will always prove that I can!
What are your plans after earning your degree?
This summer, I'll be starting a postdoctoral position at New York University Grossman School of Medicine. I'll be continuing my endeavors to enhance seizure prediction while also examining racial disparities in epilepsy treatment within underrepresented communities in the New York area.
I will have the chance to expand my skills and engage in meaningful research that benefits people, especially people that look like me. I'm both nervous and excited to be taking this next, major step in my journey!
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Featured image at top: Dominique Tanner giving a presentation. Photo/provided.
Biomedical engineer driven to create a better life for her sister
March 29, 2023
Dominique Tanner, a biomedical engineering doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati, finds motivation from her sister. Diagnosed with epilepsy at just a few months old, her sister has experienced seizures all her life. Tanner became determined to learn about the condition and dedicated herself to a career in helping her sister and others like her. She is the second black woman to receive a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at UC and was named Graduate Student Engineer of the Month by the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
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