Meet the Team with Research Specialist Rachel Herster
The third installment of our “Meet the Team” Q&A series features Rachel Herster, a research specialist working with the Medical Modeling, Materials, and Manufacturing Lab (M4 Lab) at Ohio State’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME). Herster joined the CDME team after earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan.
As a student, Herster worked as a research assistant at Michigan Medicine. In this role, she created patient-specific 3D printed surgical guides for use during facial reconstruction in cancer and trauma patients. Those skills translate directly to work she’s now doing in the M4 Lab alongside Dr. Kyle VanKoevering, the director of the M4 Lab and an otolaryngology specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
CDME: What made Ohio State the right fit for you?
Rachel Herster: At the University of Michigan, I worked in the lab with Dr. VanKoevering, and I loved my experience working for him. When he decided to move to Ohio State to pursue more resources, expand the lab, and create a better clinical practice, he offered me the opportunity to follow him to CDME. I loved what I was working on in Michigan, and I figured this would be a great fit here as well.
CDME: Growing up did you see yourself becoming an engineer or researcher?
Rachel Herster: Growing up, my interests were primarily in math and science. Both of my parents are engineers, so I always found a fit in this field. I had an interest in medicine and eventually found biomedical engineering, which really interested me.
CDME: So far in your career, what has been the most rewarding project you have worked on?
Rachel Herster: I started a tracheostomy project in Michigan that I finished at Ohio State. We were creating medical devices called trach plugs which are a lot less bulky compared to having the entire trach. I worked with a patient who required several iterations of a trach plug to get the design of the plug to fit exactly. At the end of the process, the patient was very thankful for improving their quality of life. It made me feel rewarded that I could greatly impact my patient’s life and make it easier for them.
CDME: How did your experience help prepare you for this role at CDME?
Rachel Herster: At CDME, I oversee the biomedical engineering students in the lab, and recently coming from the same position that the students are in now helps give me a great perspective of what the students are going through. I feel like I have more ability to help since I recently worked in the same lab environment not too long ago.
CDME: What is your favorite part of the job?
Rachel Herster: There is never a boring day! I love the variety of work I get to do, from designing anatomic models for the operating room to creating a couple of patient-specific devices, lots of research projects going on, and training simulators we make for resident med students. There is a wide variety of things to work on, and I also like that I can see my work impact patients and help improve their operation and quality of life.
CDME: Tell us about the collaborative nature of the biomedical group at CDME.
Rachel Herster: I work with an awesome team who have all kinds of different perspectives to help benefit our work. Within the M4 Lab, we mainly have biomedically engineering students, but at CDME, we have many different types of engineers, from chemical to industrial design. We also work with the hospital, which gives us different perspectives from surgeons, medical students, and residents. Having a large and diverse team helps improve the work that we are doing from all the inputs and ideas we have from different people.
CDME: What are your long-term goals?
Rachel Herster: Right now, I really enjoy the environment I am working in and the direction the M4 Lab is headed in. Our group aims to be a point-of-care 3D printing group, so rather than outsourcing everything to a company, there are many things that we can create here where the patient is being cared for. I would love to continue in this field and interface more with some of the surgeons doing surgical planning. We will be developing more lab space soon at the hospital, which will carry our lab into the future.
CDME: What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
Rachel Herster: Throughout high school, I was involved in competitive gymnastics, and now I like to keep up by watching the Olympics and college gymnastics as well. I also really enjoy putting together puzzles, and during quarantine, my roommates and I also really got into board games.
CDME: Do you have any advice for recent college graduates entering this field?
Rachel Herster: I have two answers to this question. For college students interested in biomedical engineering, don’t be discouraged by people saying that it is a jack-of-all-trades major and you get an overview of engineering instead of diving into one engineering specialization. I think biomedical engineering is beneficial because you have an advantage in that you can communicate and have a strong perspective between many engineering fields. My other answer is for college graduates looking for a job, really use your network when looking and reach out to colleagues and mentors when job searching. I reached out to my mentor, Dr. VanKoevering, and he helped lead me to this position.
Ways to Connect with Rachel:
by Stephanie Smith, CDME undergraduate marketing assistant