Seeking a PhD to expand her career opportunities, Megan (O’Brien) Chrobak discovered WPI’s NSF-funded IGERT program in biofabrication.

With an undergrad degree in chemical and petroleum engineering from the University of Pittsburgh (’09) and an MS in bioengineering from Temple University (’12), Chrobak did R&D work at the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation for several years before noticing that the jobs she aspired to were held by folks with PhDs. “I was worried that my lack of credentials would hinder me in the future,” she says, “and I made the decision to go back to school.”

She noticed that WPI offered an NSF-funded IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) program with a focus on biofabrica­tion. With that, she thought, she could learn how to translate benchtop research into what might be meaningful innovations in the marketplace. “As someone whose goal is to end up back in industry, this was perfect for me,” she says. “The program allowed me to take business classes, culminating in a business certificate. It gave me a fresh perspective that I’m sure will benefit me in the future.”

Research is funny. It’s definitely discouraging at times when experiments you believed were well thought out end up failing. But when things start coming together, it’s such a great feeling!
Megan Chrobak

Now that’s she’s in, Chrobak is making the most of every minute. Partner­ing with her advisor, biomedical engineering associate professor George Pins, and collaborator and fellow BME professor Glenn Gaudette, she’s been working on a cardiac patch that could help regenerate damaged heart tissue after a heart attack. “We are hopeful that our work can con­tribute toward the development of better treatment options for patients,” she says. Since heart attack victims are often left with scar tissue that can prevent the heart from working at full capacity, it can ultimately lead to further heart failure. That, along with the fact that cardiovascular disease is currently a leading cause of death with limited treatment options, gives Chrobak much inspiration for her work toward a PhD in biomedical engineering.

It both deepens her existing research experience, and allows her to return to her career with stronger leadership skills and a higher level of impact. “I want to be able to contribute to discussions at a company that ultimately influence the projects that are pursued,” she explains.

So far, the most challenging aspect of her graduate program was simply figuring out where to begin her journey. Tackling a topic very different from anything she had previously researched, Chrobak says she’s had “a wonderful network of supportive staff and fellow students that helped along the way. WPI has definitely challenged me mentally and emotionally, and has pushed me to become a better researcher.” She says she’s lucky to have an incredible support system.

Megan's Honorable Mentions

  • NSF IGERT Fellow
  • Competitive Innovation Fund Recipient (Co-PI with Katrina Hansen) 
  • Alpha Eta Mu Beta Honor Society member
  • 1st Place award in bioengineering in WPI’s Graduate Research Innovation Exchange (GRIE) poster competition (2016) 
  • Overall People’s Choice Award recipient for GRIE poster presentation (2016) • 2nd Place GRIE poster  presentation for bioengineering (2015)
  •  Mentor to SURF, REU, RET, MQP, and undergraduate students.