Chris Matthew Cyril

Photo of Chris Cyril, M.Eng. M.D.E Alumni 2022

Describe your background
Tinkering and daydreams of entrepreneurship littered my childhood. In high school, I was fascinated by the intersection of chemistry and physics through millions of years of evolution to create biology. This led me to major in Neurobiology at UC San Diego, minoring in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

As a generalist, I found that Neurobiology had exactly what I wanted. A broad range of courses to choose from, covering Physics, Chemistry and Biology. I originally intended to go to medical school, but upon attending a MEDS conference at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, I realized that path would not be conducive to my tinkering mind.

Thanks to AP Credit, and plenty of hard work, I was able to graduate early, in 3 years instead of 4. Unsure of how to channel my energies, I turned to Bioengineering. Providentially, UCSD's Bioengineering Department began the new M.Eng. MDE program the very year I graduated from Neurobiology! I reviewed the course catalog, and decided to apply, and was accepted.

What led you to choose our Bioengineering Master's Program at UC San Diego?
In my third and last year at UCSD, I realized that I was always a tinkerer at heart.

Unlike my friends in engineering, it dawned on me that my path into a traditional engineering (computer science, mechanical, electrical) degree would be difficult because of my undergraduate degree in a biological science. Worse, I wouldn't get a chance to use biology in those programs.

After graduating Neurobiology and deciding against medical school, I was at a loss of what to do with my life.

I knew I liked biology, but I also liked creative pursuits, design, and business.

Providentially, the very year I graduated, Bioengineering opened the MDE M.Eng. program. I seized this opportunity, knowing this was my chance to fulfill those dreams. I'm glad I did.

Describe your area of research and/or your area of specialty
My area of specialty was Medical Device Engineering. Coursework covered everything of interest to me, and the electives were broad so I could explore to my heart's content. Everything from business and finance basics, patents, physiology, machine learning, CAD modeling, a cardiology-focused patient-centered medicine class, as well as a course on regulatory requirements taught by an industry-expert to name a few.

I even took a Quantum Physics course!

Describe your involvement within the department and UC San Diego (were/are you involved in student orgs, recreation, certificate programs, internships, etc. outside of curricular requirements?)
During my time as a Master's student, I was a tutor for the San Diego Tutoring Tree Program which pairs underprivileged students with tutors, who offer their services for free.

I had the privilege of tutoring a 13 year old struggling in Trigonometry.

Inspired by the adage "Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," I decided to empower him to think for himself. I would instruct him on the topic of the day, but quickly stepped back, encouraging him to work out problems on his own before asking me for help.

I assured him of my support if he needed it, reminding him that asking for help is a valuable life skill, and that there was nothing to be embarrassed about.

This he did, and he surprised me with his rapid progress. His confidence grew and he solved problems even faster than I could! Ultimately, he didn't need my help anymore, he was ready to think for himself.

This was perhaps the most gratifying experience of graduate school – empowering a struggling youngster to hone his abilities, have faith in himself, and excel.

Have you received any outstanding mentorship or guidance during your time in the program that made an impact on your research and/or the trajectory of your career?
Professor Sameer B. Shah of my Neuromuscular Physiology class was instrumental in giving me timely feedback on my papers. He embraced the socratic method, emphasized freedom of thought, allowing me great leeway in deciding on topics. My mind was free to think wildly different, something I longed for in my undergraduate experience. Thanks to his approach, my final paper was personal and remarkably unique – I addressed Hydrogel therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome, a problem I struggled with as a pianist.

Sandra Marqas was key in clarifying program requirements, and the general mindset of graduate school. Graduate school is quite different from undergrad, since greater freedom is afforded to students to encourage them to explore what interests them. This I did not immediately understand, and was a little unsettled by the general lack of assisted-structure typically found in undergraduate courses. Luckily I had Sandra to help me understand this paradigm shift, easing my transition into, and eventually enjoying, my Master's program.

What has been your favorite part about your graduate experience in the program?
This is a tough one, but I must say both Dr. Sameer Shah's and Dr. Friend's Class were my favorites. Having already commented on Dr. Shah's class, I'll focus on Dr. Friend.

Dr. Friend is one of those engineers who has a style of engineering. When he speaks, engineering goes beyond the textbook, it's something more innate, intuitive. I suspect lots of people are engineers and they don't even know it. It's not the fancy titles, or the clout surrounding the degree.

It's about using your intuition and drive to solve problems around you in elegantly simplistic ways. Knowledge can be acquired along the way.

Dr. Friend made encouraging comments on my work, correcting me as he saw fit. These included CAD assignments, memos, patent summaries and more. Perhaps his most important contribution was teaching us the Monte Carlo method of approximation, which is a cornerstone of engineering. The CAD skills I learned in his class were of great help in my first internship.

Any thoughts or advice you'd like to share with prospective graduate students?
Know yourself. That's deep, but try to figure out your way. Your why is the single most important thing in your life, and there's great leeway there.

Don't take classes just because your friends are taking them.

Be yourself. Do what you like. There's safety in numbers and familiarity, but the best experiences are on the other side of fear. Sometimes, those best experiences come solo.

That attitude made a difference in my graduate school experience. I only focused on what I wanted to do, never taking classes to only be with my friends.

Take classes which align with your interests, and don't be afraid to experiment. Reach out for help as needed – plenty is available if you look hard enough, I promise. Sandra is a great resource, talk to your classmates and professors, lose yourself in Geisel Library if you have to. The basement has every core science textbook under the sun, and the answers you're looking for will be in there.

If you are an Alumni from our program, what is your current role, or what are your career prospects and plans for the future?
I recently completed an internship at a medical device startup, working as a manufacturing engineering intern, employing CAD skills I learned in Dr. Friend's class at UC San Diego. The company offered me a full-time position, but I declined in the interest of expanding my horizons.

I am now at a crossroads, learning about and deciding on paths within bioengineering which interest me.