Meet Dr. Hall’s student, Sarah. We interviewed Sarah over a video call to learn what it is like to work in Dr. Hall’s lab. Learn about the skillset she brings to Dr. Hall’s lab and the products she is creating with the rest of Dr. Hall’s team.
Tell us About Your Educational Background.
I completed my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, which is a comprehensive degree. I began by studying engines, specifically cars and other vehicles. I even had an internship with General Motors. I thought to myself, “I hate it here. I can never work with cars. Vehicles are not for me.”
So, in my senior year of college, I joined a lab in our biomedical engineering department. We worked on exoskeletons for the lower extremities of people who had strokes. I became interested in the medical aspect of mechanical engineering. With a new understanding of how I wanted to use my knowledge, I applied for grad school. The rest is history!
Now I am in my second year as a Ph.D. student in the mechanical engineering department, with a focus is on, you guessed it, biomechanics!
How Did You Start Working with Dr. Hall?
The way I began working with Martha is funny. In the mechanical engineering department, we find our advisors through rotations during our first semester. I was bouncing around from lab to lab, looking for an advisor.
I was not in each lab for very long. While I was doing the rotations, there was one name that kept popping up, “Oh, talk to Dr. Hall… Talk to Dr. Hall.” I thought, “Who is Dr. Hall?” because I was only rotating in labs in my department, mechanical engineering, and she is appointed faculty.
My second rotation was, coincidentally, was with Martha’s advisor, Dr. Michelle Lobo; she asked me about my interests. Once I explained, she said, “Oh. You should probably talk to Dr. Martha Hall.”
I thought, “All right. You’re not the first person who’s mentioned her to me. I’ll email her.” So, I did. It was funny because I wrote the wrong name in my first email to Martha; I addressed it to a different professor. She wrote back, “You have the wrong person. Have a good day.”
Well, it wasn’t such a terrible impression! I responded, explaining that I want to help people by creating cost-effective prosthetic devices. She was on board, “Yeah, that would be a cool project for the lab!”
I started working more with the lab as a side project while I finished my rotation and realized how much I like it! I haven’t left since; it’s been a little over a year.
Tell us About the Work You are Doing for Dr. Hall.
I’m currently finishing my first product, an orthopedic walking boot to treat people with an Achilles tendon rupture. I am designing it based on findings from different interviews with patients. It must be as functional as possible but also fitting their needs in terms of breathability and appearance. The goal is for them to be comfortable and like wearing it. For my dissertation, I am building a wearable device for children with cerebral palsy; it will be an exoskeleton for their hands.
What is Dr. Hall like as a Mentor?
Martha is understanding, which makes her a great mentor. When I joined her lab, she told me, “Sarah, to be completely honest with you, I’m not an engineer. But I will do my best to support you. If you need to find outside resources, I can help you with that.”
She understands that I am juggling so many different projects that it is challenging to meet my deadlines. She teaches me work-life balance. If I’ve dropped the ball because of classes and my teaching assistant responsibilities. At first, I would think to myself, “Oh, my gosh. I didn’t do my work for the lab. I’m going to get in trouble!” When I told her my work was late, she responded, “It’s fine. Life happens.” Her response is such a relief.
How Does Dr. Hall’s Lab Compare with Others?
Her lab is very different compared to the other labs in my rotation. The other professors are strict, “I expect you to complete your tasks by this time. If you do not, there will be the repercussion,” as opposed to Martha. She always says, “No, I get it. You have a life. I can’t just expect you to be perfect.”
Over the summer, I had COVID. I was very sick, and I couldn’t do any work. Still, I was trying to complete my tasks. I explained that I had COVID. She said, “Why are you working? I don’t want to see any work from you for the next two weeks. I don’t want to hear from you.” I was grateful for a break to recover.
She trusts us to do the work that we’re supposed to be doing. And as long as we deliver, then Martha is happy with us.
Sarah’s mechanical engineering background and her expertise in biomechanics make her an asset to Dr. Hall’s lab. Dr. Hall shows her the importance of work-life balance so that she can live up to her potential in innovating orthopedics and sports medicine solutions. Learn more about the other students in Dr. Hall’s lab and her work by subscribing to her blog.