February 2023 - BME Blaze: Kaveri Thakoor

Feb 01 2023

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni, students, and scientists 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 loved catching up with Columbia BME graduate Kaveri Thakoor as she told us about her experience at Columbia BME and her exciting plans to change the world.⁣ Read below to get to know Kaveri!

Kaveri Thakoor


  • Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, 2022
  • M.Phil. in Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, 2021


Where are you from?

I am from Southern California; I grew up in the cities of Covina, Pasadena, & La Canada Flintridge, CA.  I spent time in Northern California, where I did my undergraduate studies (Stanford University, B.S. Honors), and I worked at Caltech in Pasadena, CA.


What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

I was drawn to biomedical engineering due to my fascination with human vision; it’s one of the few areas of research which gives one the opportunity to explore all fields of life/physical sciences and engineering: from understanding the biochemistry of phototransduction in the retina to the optics of the human eye all the way to state-of-the-art computer vision and artificial intelligence approaches that take inspiration from human vision and the human brain.


What is your current role?

I am an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmic Science in the Department of Ophthalmology within the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where I am launching the “Artificial Intelligence for Vision Science” (AI4VS) Lab. 


Why did you choose Columbia BME?

I chose Columbia BME, because I found the perfect team of advisors/mentors (Prof. Paul Sajda and Prof. Don Hood) who were passionate about the same things I wanted to pursue for my PhD research: (1) human brain-inspired artificial intelligence/deep learning algorithm development and (2) human vision!


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

There have been a lot of great memories, mainly related to the feeling of satisfaction and pride that comes with completing projects or submitting conference/journal papers after successfully solving challenging problems whose solutions were not always clear along the journey, but by working steadfastly and cohesively as a team, we managed to overcome those challenges every time.  My most recent favorite Columbia memory was receiving Best Paper Award at the Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Interventions (MICCAI) aFfordable AI for Resource diverse global health (FAIR) workshop in Singapore in September of 2022 for my team’s work on developing deep learning techniques to improve downstream AI-based eye disease detection even on low-quality, portable imaging data; this work has the potential to make such AI technology available to the broadest populations.


What was your proudest moment at Columbia?

My proudest moment at Columbia (so far) was graduating with my BME PhD and earning the Morton B. Friedman Memorial Prize for Excellence, because it represented for me acknowledgement for doing the things I love most: working with a team to do exciting new research and teaching/mentoring others about the work that I’m most passionate about.  I’m also excited and proud that my work (along with co-investigator Dr. Steve Feiner from Columbia CS) on “Creating an Expert-AI Team for Eye Disease Detection Driven by Expert Gaze Data” was recently awarded a Data Science Institute Seed Funds Program grant.


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

My experience with Columbia BME has been invaluable in helping me gain the confidence and resourcefulness to launch toward my childhood dream of becoming a professor.


Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and learn from those smarter than you, as this is how the best teams and collaborations start.  You’ll know when you have found your ‘passion’, because when you do that thing, it will not feel like work but instead will be energizing, fulfilling, and fun!


What are you excited about?

I’m excited about the results coming to fruition soon on our most recent project using expert eye movements to train artificial intelligence systems for improved eye disease detection with enhanced accuracy and interpretability for clinicians.  I’m also super excited to be speaking at the Engineering in Medicine Symposium coming up and to meet the new cohort of Columbia BME PhD student recruits at Interview weekend!!



My experience with Columbia BME has been invaluable in helping me gain the confidence and resourcefulness to launch toward my childhood dream of becoming a professor.

Kaveri Thakoor
Ph.D. Columbia Univeristy; Assistant Professor, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

From left to right (clockwise): 

1. Faculty Headshot

2. AI4VSLab: AI4VS Lab group shot (along with 2 visitors from the Sajda lab!) at our first annual Holiday Potluck, Dec 2022.

3. Potluck: AI4VS Lab members enjoying some holiday food at our first annual Holiday Potluck, Dec 2022.

4. Hard at Work: AI4VS Lab members hard at work collecting pilot eye tracking data!


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