LSU Ph.D. Candidate Lydia Wilson Works to Improve Patient Health


BATON ROUGE - While earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. at LSU, Lydia Wilson combined her love for physics and medicine. Her research has taken her around the world and she hopes to improve the quality of healthcare for every person. Below she shares her love of problem solving and collaboration.
Where are you from? 
I grew up just outside of Chicago, Ill., but have been a bit of a gypsy since I graduated high school in 2005.

Lydia Wilson conducts research at LSU as part of her Ph.D.

Ph.D. candidate Lydia Wilson studies medical physics at LSU.

Why did you attend LSU for both your masters and Ph.D.? 
Well, I decided to come to LSU for my master's program because the medical physics master's program is arguably one of the best in the country. I really liked that it is a three-year master's that includes didactic coursework, clinical training, and a research project, which gave me a firm basis for a variety of different careers moving forward. I fell in love with research during my master's thesis and went on to do an independent project as a Fulbright Fellow. It was during that year that I decided to come back to LSU to pursue my doctoral training and I came back to LSU 100% for the research I was able to participate in here. I feel very passionately about my advisor's research program and he was willing to work with me to tailor my doctoral experience around the exact skills and experiences I wanted to gain to help me achieve my long-term career goals.

Why did you choose to major in medical physics? 
To be honest, I feel like the field of medical physics was made just for me! I always wanted to be a medical doctor when I was younger. In fact, my dream job in high school was as a pediatrician at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I also fell in love with physics in high school and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in physics. When I finished the bachelor's degree, I knew I did not want to pursue astrophysics, which had been the main focus of my undergrad university, and remembered my previous interest in medicine, so I actually started preparing to apply to nursing school. I quickly realized that what I really loved about physics was the analytical problem solving, which was entirely missing from nursing, so I knew I wouldn't be fulfilled there. After spending some time at a loss as to what I should do, feeling totally torn between my love for physics and my desire to make a real difference in the lives of those who need it most, the terminally ill, I stumbled upon medical physics on some university's website. I was dumbfounded that this field that was exactly the combination of medicine and physics that I had been searching for even existed, and somehow I had never come across it through four years of undergrad! 

Was there a faculty advisor who had an impact on your studies and time at LSU? 
So many of the faculty have had a huge impact on me throughout the course of my graduate studies here. I'm worked the most extensively and closely with my thesis advisor, Dr. Wayne Newhauser, who supervised both my master's and doctoral projects. That being said, the program as a whole is incredibly collaborative. All of the faculty work together to ensure all of the students have all of the tools they need to become good medical physicists, so I don't think there is a single faculty member who hasn't contributed to my development in an important way.

What are you researching? What do you hope to accomplish? 
My doctoral project was about developing a framework to combine all of the various effects of a medical intervention (beneficial and detrimental, fatal and non-fatal, long- and short-term) in a way that enables the direct optimization of the patient's projected health outcome. I hope that this research is implemented into clinical practice someday so that it can enable a more objective and holistic approach to medicine where treatments are decided upon in consideration of all of the various effects and how they relate to the patient's personal preferences, not just the probability of cure. 

Why did you want to participate in research? 
I love the wide-open frontier aspect of research. I don't think I'd ever be happy just dealing with the status quo. I'm driven by the excitement of identifying a problem or need and then attacking that problem head on. Research gives me a space in which to be a big kid: I get to be creative, make mistakes, and get my hands dirty, all towards actually making the world a better place!

Where has your research taken you? Why was it important for you to travel, teaching others?
My drive to make a difference has taken me all over Croatia and Mexico (so far ...), and my passion for collaboration has taken me to Germany. I think it's important to travel because everyone's perspective is unique and important, and I firmly believe that learning about those unique perspectives will propel us to better, more effective solutions to the biggest problems facing the world today. I think it's just as important to teach others about my unique perspective as it is to learn about theirs from them. The talks I've given in other countries have produced some of the most interesting, fruitful conversations that really challenged me to look at my research and field in a different way, and I think have made me a better researcher. 

What is next for you? 
Next I'll be working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

What do you ultimately hope to do? 
Save the world? Be happy? Make a difference in somebody's life, somewhere, sometime. I feel like that sums up what I ultimately want to do. What I will do to achieve that is still changing and morphing and solidifying as I continue down my career path.

How has LSU helped you on your path? 
LSU has totally and completely rocked my world. Growing up in Chicago, then living in California and Australia, I never in a million years expected to find myself living in Louisiana (and for nearly 10 years)! The faculty at LSU have given me more than I ever could have asked/hoped/expected to help make me a better medical physicist and researcher. And greater Baton Rouge community has shown me the acceptance, support, and compassion necessary to get through this wild ride we call graduate school.

Why should others attend LSU? 
Honestly? Because you'll find a crazy combination of advanced resources, cutting-edge research, mind-blowing experts, and a massive dose of southern hospitality that I just don't think you'll find anywhere else in the world.


Contact Rachel Holland
LSU Media Relations



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