Milestone Achieved: Mojtaba Zarei Earns Doctoral Degree

Dr. Mojtaba Zarei’s doctoral journey at Duke University was a captivating exploration of machine learning’s potential to revolutionize medical imaging, empowered by the innovative tool of virtual imaging trials. His research pursued two key objectives: optimizing scanner protocols for specific applications like cardiac and lung cancer screening, and developing AI models to enhance and harmonize image consistency. Additionally, he delved into the fascinating realm of material decomposition AI for spectral images and novel liver lesion detectability index.

We asked Dr. Zarei to share some memories about his doctoral experience with us.

Dr. Zarei, how the Center for Virtual Imaging Trials enhanced your Duke graduate student experience?

Reflecting on my PhD experience, I am deeply grateful for the invaluable lessons I have gained. Participating in diverse group meetings, ranging from TRD2 with Dr. Abadi to TRD3 with Dr. Lo, honed my critical thinking skills and equipped me with valuable research development strategies. I mastered the art of managing research projects, navigating challenges with agility and adaptability, and independently taking ownership while seeking guidance when needed. Most importantly, I discovered the transformative power of collaboration, witnessing firsthand how diverse perspectives can synergistically create groundbreaking results. Additionally, I learned the crucial value of being a valuable and contributing team member.

Your PhD path was strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How challenging was adapting to remote working and studying?

Beyond the technical aspects, certain moments resonated deeply on a personal level. As an extrovert, adapting to the virtual interactions of joining Railabs during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique challenge. However, the subsequent return to in-person meetings and reconnecting with colleagues face-to-face was a truly special experience. While I did miss the casual camaraderie of lunches at the Railabs kitchen, the joy of reconnecting in person was truly profound.

Graduate studies are not simple factual knowledge. How did the PhD experience impact you personally and professionally?

Next to these technical skills, my PhD journey instilled in me the crucial value of perseverance. Countless moments of frustration, where results diverged from expectations, tested my resolve. However, I learned to remain committed, viewing setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. This unwavering resilience is a valuable asset that I carry not only in research but in all aspects of my life.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite moments?

My PhD journey was woven with memorable moments that fostered growth and connection. My first-ever improv experience at Second City improv after my first RSNA, with Dr. Samei, Dr. Ria, and colleagues where performers hilariously targeted me, cemented the memory! Engaging with brilliant minds at conferences like RSNA, AAPM, and SPIE broadened my horizons, while reconnecting with former colleagues thriving in industry and academia sparked joy. Besides, the sunrise run with Dr. Samei at AAPM at DC, CVIT’s 5K run at “angle among us” and being “unofficial” member of the CVIT soccer team were unforgettable memories I have. And during all of this 4 yours of research, as an international student navigating a new country, Dr. Samei’s unwavering support was a constant anchor during challenging moments. The graduated neuron doll he gifted me right after my defense will always be a cherished reminder of these times!