Student Spotlight: Smruti Deoghare

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

Smruti Deoghare posing for a portrait in a coffee shop.

Smruti Deoghare spends much of her day working with computers. More specifically, she works with an artificial intelligence-based tool (AI) to detect tumors in the livers of children. Smruti is a biomedical informatics PhD student whose research focuses on developing this AI to successfully detect tumors in the pediatric setting, which is especially difficult due to the size of the patients. “The baby is so tiny, the liver is so tiny, and the tumor is so tiny,” she says. “It might seem insignificant in size, since everyone is used to looking at the adult tumors, which are huge, but that insignificant-looking tumor may be life threatening to the child.”

Misdiagnoses, while being something that nobody wants to claim, do happen. Smruti’s tool aims to fix this by streamlining the work of radiologists who detect tumors. Her AI, while still in the development stages, could be a gamechanger for how hospitals operate. For example, rather than have radiologists methodically pick through data in search of signs of a tumor, they could oversee the AI, which would fill in this role instead, and supervise that it makes correct decisions. AI, when properly trained, can enhance the outcomes and take any element of human- or system-error out of the equation. “Artificial intelligence is, in simple terms, pattern recognition,” Smruti says. “It is where all the big companies – Apple, Google, IBM – want to go,” she says, “which is why it’s such a hot topic, especially in medicine.” 

The general population likely does not associate AI with medicine at all. AI is something that is popularly seen in sci-fi movies, where it rapidly gets out of hand and threatens to overthrow humanity in the classic ‘robot takeover’ tale. Smruti, through a smirk, is quick to dispel this misconception, saying, “My AI cannot differentiate between a cat and a dog. It has one task: detect tumors.” 

Smruti did not begin her academic journey working with human subjects; her background is in biochemistry, zoology, and entomology (the study of insects). After completing degrees in India, Canada, and the UK, she shifted her focus towards human data when she came to UC to pursue her doctorate. “UC has given me a great opportunity to explore the different roles I can be in,” she says. While the time spent developing her AI eats up a lot of her day, she is sure to not waste any time pursuing her other wide-ranging interests when outside the lab.

Smruti standing next to a few of her book sculptures.

Smruti is a passionate teacher, which she received recognition for with the UC Excellence in Teaching Award for graduate assistants, as well as dancer (she specializes in Latin and Bollywood), Health Sciences Graduate Student Association vice president, and returning 3MT participant. She also gets her hands dirty with the arts, which helps her unwind after a long day of working with computers. Smruti’s love of the arts stems from her parents, who had a studio where she could experiment with different mediums. “I’m the odd duckling in my family, the only one in the sciences,” she says of her upbringing. “My entire family is fine artists, so I like to do things with my hands.” 

A sculpture made of an old book that resembles TUC.

In India, she had a small business where she created jewelry from organic products and paper that she made herself, a difficult process that gave her complete control of every aspect of her pieces. “It was a great hustle, I loved it,” she says. Paper has been a medium she has continued to explore; her most recent foray into the arts has been creating book sculptures, one of which, a sculpture modeled after TUC, was recently on display at Langsam Library. These intricate sculptures are comprised of carefully planned folds and creases that ultimately amount to incredible, fully realized works that change the shape of the original book entirely. “Whenever inspiration strikes me, even if it’s in the middle of the night, I will get up and do something.”

Smruti is well on her way to mastering the art of balance. All aspects of herself that she explores, whether they be as an academic or as a creative, add to her collective experience and inform how she conducts herself in any of the settings she works. “Once I enter a dance studio, the scientist in me does not leave. When I teach in a traditional classroom or I’m in a lab, the dancer in me does not leave,” she says. “These parts of me are always there.”

Smruti's Teaching in Action video, submitted as part of her Excellence in Teaching Award application for the Midwest Association for Graduate Schools.