Alumni Profile

Ryan O'Hara

Biomedical Engineering, BS '16, PhD Candidate of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Ryan O'Hara sitting at this desk at his job.

Ryan O'Hara PhD Candidate of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Briefly summarize your current job and/or educational pursuits and describe what you like most about it.

In pursuit of my PhD, I have been working in the Computational Cardiology Lab led by Dr. Natalia Trayanova at Johns Hopkins University. My research uses personalized virtual heart models, a type of digital twin, and machine learning to identify and treat patients at risk of sudden cardiac death from ventricular arrhythmias. I really enjoy the translational nature of my work, which has given me the opportunity to collaborate with some of the top cardiac electrophysiologists and researchers in the field from around the world.

What inspired you to pursue a career in your specific discipline?

When I was in high school, I was very passionate about math and science. I joined the UB BME program with every intention of going to medical school after graduating. I really enjoyed the BME curriculum at UB, but I was truly inspired by my translational research experiences on the medical campus. At Gates Vascular Institute, I worked with Dr. Ciprian Ionita to 3D print cardiovascular models of the brain and the heart for treatment planning and medical device design. I had the opportunity to see my research output used by the clinicians, researchers, and medical device representatives in the lab and the operating room. By my senior year, I realized I wanted to continue working on technology driving the advancements in personalized medicine, while still being able to contribute to patient care. These experiences led me to apply for PhD programs in biomedical engineering to further my education in the translational research field. Upon completion of my PhD, I aim to work on medical device development and continue teaching the engineers of the future.

Why did you choose UB, and how did your education prepare you for the next steps in your career/education?

I chose UB because of the opportunities and experiences the institution had to offer, along with being affordable and close to my family. The undergraduate BME coursework and opportunities to do clinical research and technical internships helped me to refine my choices for the next steps of my career. My professors, courses, and extracurricular activities prepared me well for the competitive environment at Johns Hopkins University.

What clubs or organizations were you a part of during your time at UB? How did they influence your career choice or opportunities?

Ryan O'Hara.
“As a younger student, I was definitely nervous about moving to a new city and finding a new support system, but now I realize how valuable it is to adapt to the unknowns in life and challenge your comfort zone. ”
Ryan O'Hara, Alumnus
Biomedical Engineering

I was a member and on the leadership board of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) at UB. BMES brought together BME students from each class year to organize STEM outreach events, learn about new research opportunities, and learn about potential careers for BME majors. In addition, I was a member of Tau Beta Pi (TBP), an engineering honors society. TBP is a national society and provides the opportunity to meet with other BME students and professionals in the Northeast region of the U.S. I also worked as a student assistant for both the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with graduate students and faculty, including the dean of the school. These experiences helped me develop professional and leadership skills that I think are just as, if not more, important than the technical skills required of an engineer. 

What lessons and skills have you learned in your career so far?

Your technical skills are just the beginning step of your career. You need to help yourself stand out by being your own champion. Network: A connection can be more valuable than specific technical skills and no one can sell your abilities and passions better than you. Seek and welcome criticism: No one is an expert in more than a handful of topics and you should seek people with more experience than you to critique your study design, review your code, edit an application, etc. Improvement does not have a time limit.

Any specific projects or achievements that stand out?

During my senior year at UB, I was awarded two competitive graduate fellowships (National Science Foundation, Tau Beta Pi) for my academic and research achievements. During my PhD, I have published three first-author, peer-reviewed papers, designed a master's computational cardiology course that I teach every year, and most recently won a Young Investigator Award at an international conference. 

Looking back, is there anything about your career that you would change? Anything that you wish you’d known earlier on?

As a younger student, I was definitely nervous about moving to a new city and finding a new support system, but now I realize how valuable it is to adapt to the unknowns in life and challenge your comfort zone. I am happy with the choices I have made thus far and would not change a single thing!