This is the seventh part of a series titled ‘Up Close and Personal’ covering the career path of several steering committee members of LebNet communities, spread across the US and Canada.
In this part, we feature Shadi Dayeh, a Professor at the University of California, San Diego and a recipient of several awards including the NSF Early in Career Award in 2014, the Jacobs School of Engineering Teacher of the Year Award in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2015, the ISCS Young Scientist Award in 2018, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award in 2019, and the LebNet Bireme Technologist of the Year Award in 2021.
Dayeh received his B.S. in Physics and Electronics from the Lebanese University in Beirut, Lebanon in 2001, M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2003, and PhD in Electrical Engineering from UC San Diego in 2008. He did postdoctoral studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory and then joined the faculty of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego in November 2012, where he directs the Integrated Electronics and Bio-interfaces Laboratory.
During his Ph.D., Dayeh received a best paper award at every conference series and technical society where he presented his graduate work on InAs nanowires. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, he was appointed as a Director’s Fellow in 2008, and was promoted to a Distinguished Oppenheimer Fellow in 2010 where he co-led and mentored with Tom Picraux a group of dozen postdocs whose work resulted in a scientific renaissance in the Ge/Si nanowire material system and its applications. At Los Alamos, Dayeh received the Distinguished Postdoctoral Performance Award and Achievement Awards for every year he was at the lab.
1- How would you describe your career path and what do you enjoy most about your current job?
I was fortunate to experience many opportunities and challenges while meeting individuals throughout my journey that shaped in part who I became and what I currently do for my job. Like many of my generation in Lebanon, early on, I found joy in sciences and an opportunity to grow beyond my circumstances. My path was somewhat unconventional. While my undergraduate study was in Physics, my graduate degrees were in electrical engineering, and my postdoctoral studies were in nano-materials and nanotechnology. For the last few years, I have been doing research and development on biomedical devices. Throughout, I committed to train myself as deep and as focused as possible without losing perspective of the bigger picture; this armed me with the background to make career jumps into new domains. As my work continues to mature with gained experiences, I feel that my contributions in my field are becoming more meaningful. I would like to think that I am still exploring what I can learn, exploring what I can do and trying to mentor the next generation when possible. This exploration of new possibilities and mentoring are the most rewarding parts of my current job as a Professor.
2- What were some of the challenges you encountered in your career and how were you able to overcome them?
Switching domains comes with periods of uncertainties. It took me sometime to have someone to take me on as a graduate student during my PhD studies. During this time, I focused on what I could control- diligently studying and doing my best in any job opportunity that came my way until the right one arose. Eventually, I found a graduate advisor and finished my PhD with 20 published articles, 14 of them were first authored with multiple best paper awards.
Upon taking my faculty position and starting work in neural interface technologies as a relative newcomer to the field, and over the course of many years, I sent in many grant applications that were not funded. My group maintained a solid work ethic throughout this period and kept refining our ideas and maintained our resolve to succeed. A polished version of one particular application got accepted in its seventh submission; this was a $12M grant. I learned that there is always a lesson when things do not go our way and on such occasions I quickly shift my focus to find out that lesson. I also learned that if something is worthwhile pursuing, then the circumstances will adjust as long as we continue to stay flexible and continue our work within the available resources.
3- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
My hope, within the next five years, is to conduct two clinical trials: one for a wireless epilepsy monitoring system and another for brain and spine mapping to assist neurosurgical procedures and to disseminate the technology for broader use and access. Through a startup I cofounded with my clinical colleagues, I am also working with partners on initiatives for facilitating the regulated manufacturing of implantable medical devices.
4- How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
It appears to me that this type of balance is dynamic and goes by seasons very much like a balanced calendar year. I believe in recurring cycles where one can be fully devoted to work and then fully engrossed in life activities and interactions, though one must, to a certain extent, alternate these on the timescale of a single day. Time allocation and focus can lead to a healthy overall outcome and I continue to pursue strategies to create this balance.
5- What are you looking to achieve or excited about as a San Diego steering committee member?
The San Diego Lebnet community is one of the most active and one of the most welcoming to new members. Talent is abundant and the willingness to serve the community and participate in events is outstanding. My goals are to have a healthy comeback for community events, to increase the engagement of the community to serve its needs, and to expand the reach and impact of LebNet to involve and support the younger generation of community members.
6- Can you share a unique experience or a specific event that led to where you are today?
One of my Professors, who was very strict with me in the early years of my PhD, at some point observed my relentless attempts to succeed and gave me an opportunity to become a teaching assistant (TA) for his class, offering what seemed at the time like a life-support in the middle of my PhD studies. This gave me another chance to continue my PhD and I always wanted to be someone like him who can help well-deserving students have a chance at their dreams. This professor eventually became my informal mentor and championed my hire a few years later at UCSD. I strive to impact others in the way that he impacted my life and career.