December 2023- BME Blaze: Xiaoxiao Sun

Jan 03 2024

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni and students of Columbia's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups and other career successes. We enjoyed catching up with Columbia BME Graduate Research Assistant, Xiaoxiao Sun as she discussed her experience at Columbia BME. Read below to get to know Xiaoxiao!



  • Ph.D., BME, in progress, Columbia University
  • M.S., BME, 2021, Columbia University


Where are you from?

I’m from Chongqing, China, which happens to be the birthplace of the famous hotpot cuisine!


What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

The primary motivation that drew me to the field of Biomedical Engineering is the strong desire to make a meaningful impact and help people through innovative solutions and advancements in healthcare. During my post-baccalaureate period at New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), I worked on analyzing decision- making in at-risk children from low socioeconomic status families, where we uncovered insights into the cognitive processes and socioeconomic determinants shaping their choices and behaviors, with the goal of improving their well-being and prospects. This experience drove my passion for using advanced techniques to address complex medical challenges and improve the well-being of individuals.


What is your current role?

I’m a Ph.D. student at Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing.


Why did you choose Columbia BME?

I chose Columbia BME because of its interdisciplinary environment and collaborative nature. I believe these aspects will provide a rich and dynamic learning and research experience, allowing me to explore the intersections of various fields and work together with experts from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, I was drawn to Columbia BME due to my advisor Dr. Paul Sajda, who has been incredibly supportive of all my research initiatives. He is an esteemed expert in multiple fields and their intersections, so his guidance aligns perfectly with my research interests and goals.


What were some of your favorite projects/memories from the program?

I've really enjoyed the annual BME holiday party, where students and faculty come together to share valuable moments outside of research. Another favorite is the Annual Engineering in Medicine Symposium, which offers insightful presentations and networking opportunities at the intersection of engineering and medicine, fueling my research inspiration.


What was your proudest moment at Columbia?

One of my proudest moments was being awarded the Young Scientist at the Northeast Bioengineering Conference (NEBEC) this year. Additionally, I take great pride in being part of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers and contributing to community outreach efforts that support my peers.


How has your experience with Columbia BME contributed towards your goals?

I consider myself fortunate to have joined a project that aligns perfectly with my research passions from the beginning of my journey at Columbia. This allowed me to acquire essential skill sets for my research and build a strong foundation for my career. Additionally, the school program offers valuable resources that have contributed to my overall development, such as Columbia Technology Ventures and the Professional Development and Leadership (PDL) program.


What are your thoughts on the strength of Columbia BME's alumni network and how has that influenced your career path?

Even though I'm currently in school, I've found the annual Alumni Panel to be incredibly valuable. Listening to talks from accomplished leaders in various fields who graduated from Columbia BME has provided me with valuable insights on building my career. I believe this network will continue being beneficial after my graduation.


Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

I've always believed that you are shaped by your experiences, so don't be afraid to explore new things and don't let the fear of making mistakes hold you back. Personally, I wasn't originally trained in BME, but my passion has brought me this far. Finding and pursuing your passion is never a waste of time.


What are you excited about?

I'm thrilled about our recent clinical study that used rTMS triggered by EEG features indexed by functional MRI to induce “entrainment” in patients with resistant major depressive disorder (MDD). The study showed that better entrainment correlated with greater treatment improvement, highlighting the potential for personalized rTMS therapy. This project has also led to a new DARPA program, led by my advisor, focused on advancing research in MDD and suicide by guiding neuroplasticity and forming new neural connections in the brain.



I consider myself fortunate to have joined a project that aligns perfectly with my research passions from the
beginning of my journey at Columbia.

Xiaoxiao Sun

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