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Dean of Engineering Tejal Desai ’94 elected to National Academy of Engineering

Desai discusses career path, research following election to 2024 class of engineers

<p>Tejal Desai encouraged current engineering students to be resilient as they pursue a career in the field.</p><p>Courtesy of Brown University School of Engineering</p>

Tejal Desai encouraged current engineering students to be resilient as they pursue a career in the field.

Courtesy of Brown University School of Engineering

Earlier this month, Dean of Engineering Tejal Desai ’94 was among 114 engineers elected to the National Academy of Engineering’s class of 2024. 

Desai began as dean of the University’s School of Engineering in September 2022, The Herald previously reported. Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest distinctions in the field of engineering. 

“The National Academy of Engineers is a group of engineers who I always looked up to that were amazing and made a tremendous impact in the field,” Desai said in an interview with The Herald.

Desai started her academic career at Brown, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. During her time as an undergraduate, she said she received “various messages” that she should “not stay in the field.”


“I certainly struggled in my first year, trying to figure out how to do problem sets and how to work through these courses that I had never seen before,” she said, noting that internal doubt led her to question “whether I should stay in engineering or whether I should leave.”

Desai thanked her mentors who encouraged her to stay in the field, and she is grateful for those who helped “open up doors when doors weren’t open.” After her time at Brown, Desai pursued a PhD in bioengineering at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco, where she worked on small scale biomedical nanotechnology.

Her academic career continued as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, helping develop both undergraduate and graduate programs in its then-new bioengineering department. Soon, she found herself back on the west coast to help start the bioengineering department at UCSF, before returning to Brown in 2022.

“I came to Brown to make sure that I could make engineering at Brown the best that it could be,” Desai said, adding that she hoped to “make it a field that embraces all perspectives, and encourage students who want to be an engineer to thrive in the field.” 

The Desai Lab at Brown focuses on applying “microscale and nanoscale technologies” in order to “deliver medicines to target sites in the body and to enable the body to heal itself,” according to the lab website. A few members of Desai’s lab talked to The Herald about their experiences in the lab and working with Desai.

Audrey McCarthy GS, a first year PhD student in Desai’s lab, said that Desai was the reason she had chosen Brown for her doctoral career. 

“She started asking me about my experiences in the lab work that I had done, but what really stuck out to me is that Tejal asked about my experience as a Wellesley undergraduate,” McCarthy said, noting that Wellesley is a women’s college. “That really struck a chord with me, because it told me that she is a woman for other women.”

McCarthy mentioned she had the opportunity to visit Desai’s lab at UCSF prior to her move to Brown. Talking to the graduate students in the lab gave her a “sense of the type of environment she wanted.”

“She is able to put together a group of people who can go nonstop all day doing animal work, then doing flow cytometry on the cells that they extracted from the animal work, and then go get hotpot at the end of the day,” McCarthy said. “That's what I’m excited for — to watch the lab grow and evolve over the next couple of years.”

Currently, McCarthy is focusing on how the lab can “put cells into polymer devices” and find shapes and materials that the cells can adhere to and survive on. She also mentioned she has undergone a lot of “personal growth” during her time at the Desai lab.


Kareem Ebeid, a postdoctoral research student, also talked to The Herald about his experiences working on drug delivery in Desai’s lab. 

“She’s so busy, but she can meet with us every two to three weeks and discuss the fine details of our research,” Ebeid said.

Ebeid is working on gene delivery systems, which he started studying while pursuing a PhD at the University of Iowa. There, he formulated an idea for a potential new delivery system, but wanted to bring the idea to fruition after earning his degree. Ebeid saw an opening for postdocs in Desai’s lab after graduating from Iowa and pitched his idea to Desai, which she received enthusiastically.

“She is very good at research,” he said. “I feel like those who are really good scientists and researchers are those who are very humble because it gives them this push to do more research.”

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Claire Song

Claire Song is a Senior Staff Writer covering science & research. She is a freshman from California studying Applied Math-Biology. She likes to drink boba in her free time.

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