June 2021 - BME Blaze: Kevin Burt

Jun 04 2021

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.

In this special Pride Month edition of our BME BLAZE inerview, Prof. Henry Hess enjoyed catching up with Columbia BME PhD candidate Kevin Burt, as Kevin discussed his experience as a Columbia BME grad student, and told us about what Pride Month means to him. Watch the video interview and read below to get to know Kevin!

As the name suggests, Pride Month is a reminder that I need to be proud of who I am, how I identify, and how I got to this point in my life. Seeing people from every walk of life celebrating Pride, and seeing queer stories being highlighted and broadcasted on such a wide scale is something growing up I did not get to experience, but I am extremely grateful exists now.

Kevin Burt
Columbia BME PhD Candidate

Watch as Columbia BME Prof. and Co-Chair of the DEI Committee Henry Hess interviews PhD Candidate Kevin Burt!

 

      

Kevin Burt

 

Education

  • BS in Civil Engineering – Montana State University - 2017
  • MS in Biomedical Engineering – Columbia University - 2019
  • PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering - Columbia University

 

Where are you from?

Butte, Montana (Yee-haw)

 

What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

During my senior year of undergrad, I took a cellular biology course for fun–huge nerd energy–and realized cell biology and the human body was a tiny bit more interesting to me than structural engineering. From then on, I set my sights on the top Biomedical Engineering graduate programs in the country and decided to try to switch things up a little.

 

What is your current role?

I am currently a graduate student researcher within the Chahine Lab. Under both the Biomedical Engineering and Orthopedic Surgery departments, the Chahine Lab and my research focus on the biological and mechanical drivers of intervertebral disc degeneration.

 

Why did you choose Columbia BME?

Being new to the field of BME, I was less familiar with the different aspects of research, so I chose Columbia BME primarily due to its location. I knew that I wanted to get as far out of my comfort zone as possible, and moving across the country from a town of 30,000 people to NYC seemed like it would do the job. I did visit the campus and the city one time prior to committing and immediately knew it was the right choice.

 

What are some of your favorite projects/memories from the program so far?

My favorite project would probably be starting two genetic mouse models within my lab. This was a new venture for myself and my lab as a whole, so a LOT of trial and error in the beginning. In vivo genetic manipulation comes with seemingly endless possibilities and avenues of exploration. With this, I can confidently say that no two days in the lab look exactly the same for me, which I love. 

Shifting from the lab to the BME program in general, my favorite memories would have to be the socials, specifically the BME boat cruises. I served on the Graduate Organization of Biomedical Engineers (GoBME) as the social chair, and I now like to say I part-timed as a party planner while at Columbia.

 

What are your proudest moments at Columbia so far?

My proudest academic moment at Columbia thus far would probably be recently passing my thesis proposal. The proposal was definitely a turning point in my academic career where I began to finally start to feel like the expert in my research. I still have a long way to go, but getting to showcase my previous years of work was very validating.

Additionally, another one of my proudest moments would be taking on the role as President of Columbia Engineering’s qSTEM (queer in STEM) graduate student organization. From being afraid to even talk about being gay as an undergrad in a STEM field, to now speaking at new student orientations and working directly with engineering faculty about LGBTQ+ issues, it feels very 'full circle'.

 

What does Pride Month mean to you?

As the name suggests, Pride Month is a reminder that I need to be proud of who I am, how I identify, and how I got to this point in my life. Seeing people from every walk of life celebrating Pride, and seeing queer stories being highlighted and broadcasted on such a wide scale is something growing up I did not get to experience, but I am extremely grateful exists now.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

If given the chance, I would tell my younger self that it all works out. You will stop being ashamed of who you are, you will come out and the world won’t end, and you will eventually be confident expressing yourself to your family, your friends, and in your career.  Ignore the people who hate you for being queer and focus your energy on those who love you for it.

 

What are you excited about?

I am excited about my future! I am excited to become a PI/professor and to be the representation I didn’t have, and I am excited and hopeful that the world is going to continue to become gayer and more inclusive.

   

Images (clockwise from top left):

1. A break from feeding cells to take advantage of golden hour lighting ;)

2. Getting a photo for Instagram, post thesis proposal

3. Completing an intervertebral disc injury surgical study

4. First week at Columbia!

   

Queer in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (qSTEM)