Genna Smith

Genna Smith, PhD '18

Having the opportunity to teach several high school summer classes at Stanford, Genna Smith (PhD '18) discovered her love of teaching. She plans to become a professor at a small, teaching-focused institution, where she will engage undergraduates in research projects that will hopefully help them discover their desired career path.

Program: PhD '18


How did you become interested in your research area?

I've always been interested in solving health-related issues. I considered pursuing medicine but when learning how to start an IV, I fainted. That's when I realized that maybe an MD wasn't for me. Even though I wasn't going to be a doctor, I still wanted to solve health problems so I decided to do it from the engineering side. As an undergraduate I interned at Sandia National Labs and was very fortunate to work on a point-of-care tuberculosis detection device. It was this project that really turned me on to low-cost diagnostics and that's what I'm still pursuing today.

Explain a project you're currently working on.

One of the projects that I'm working on is making a low-cost, portable urinalysis system. The first step in the project was to make urine dipsticks more user-friendly. Dipsticks were designed to be a cheap and at-home medical technology, but because of the high rate of user-error they never met their potential. Instead, dipsticks are only being used by trained technicians in the clinic. To solve this problem we designed and built software and an all-acrylic housing, which couples with the commercially-produced dipsticks, that remove all the sources of user error. Currently, I'm working on expanding the device to include more functionality. Ultimately, I hope the device will be capable of performing all the routine urinalysis of the clinic either at home or in a low-resource area.

Why did you choose Stanford EE?

There're a lot of reasons that I chose to study EE at Stanford. First, you can't beat the quality of the people – faculty, researchers, staff, students – and the resources. Second, the interdisciplinary nature of the research performed here is unbeatable. The research that I do draws from many different areas and the collaborative environment at Stanford has made it easy for me to reach out to many different people for advice on a wide range of topics. This collaborative environment also extends to the clinic. Being in such close proximity to the hospital and having doctors that are excited about research provides an amazing opportunity to translate research to the clinic. Next, I knew that the family housing at Stanford was going to help my son flourish. The housing consists of several apartments, which surround a communal courtyard. Since we've been here, my son has made so many friends from all over the world through our courtyard. It also gives him a place to play outside without us ever having to leave campus.

What other activities are you involved with on campus?

The main group that I've been involved with is the Stanford Optical Society. There is a large optics and photonics community at Stanford but the research groups are spread across many departments including electrical engineering, applied physics, chemistry, and biophysics. The Stanford Optical Society aims to bring students from these diverse departments together to collaborate and support one another. I have been particularly involved in the society's outreach events, which included co-chairing the committee dedicated to outreach. I am also in my second year of being a mentor for the EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) program. EDGE aims to support doctoral students who have the potential to contribute to the diversity of academia. In addition to mentoring incoming graduate students, I have also participated on mentor panels to help students adjust to graduate school and make the most of their time here.

What are your career plans?

Ultimately, I'd like to be a professor at a small, teaching-focused institution. I've been fortunate to teach several high school summer classes at Stanford and it has really shown me how much I enjoy teaching. At a teaching-focused institution I would be able to pursue my love of teaching, and also engage undergraduate students in research. My undergraduate research experience taught me so much and helped me define my career path. As a professor, I want to provide a similar experience to undergraduate students.