Milap Sandhu, PT, PhD, completed the Rehabilitation Science program in December 2010. He is currently a Research Scientist in the Sensory Motor Performance Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and recently received the Switzer Fellowship from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.
Tell us a little about your experience in the PhD program.
As a clinician with background in Physical Therapy, the multidisciplinary program in Rehabilitation Sciences at UF was quite appealing to me. One unique attraction was availability of research faculty with expertise ranging from fundamental basic sciences to clinical rehabilitation research. For my PhD, I was primarily interested in the reductionist approach used in basic science research to answer fundamental questions that could address clinical issues. So I joined the ‘Respiratory Neurobiology and Neuroplasticity Laboratory’ under the mentorship of Dr. David Fuller. I had the best time of my life in the lab, learning to do physiological experiments and working with the animal models. As a clinician, it was fascinating to see how various tools, models and techniques (such as knockout mice, gene therapy, stem cell therapy etc.) can be used to obtain knowledge for the applied sciences that follow. In addition to lab work, I took extensive coursework and routinely participated in journal clubs, which were instrumental in my development as a researcher. As the RSD program is located within the UF Health Science Center that comprises several colleges and research institutes, I enjoyed my interactions with collaborators from various disciplines, and access to a remarkable array of resources and infrastructure.
What types of jobs or activities have you engaged in since graduation? And how does the training in the RSD program contribute to those activities?
After graduation, I did a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. David Fuller and Dr. Paul Reier at the McKnight Brain Institute, UF. This work was an extension of my PhD work, and was funded by the Craig H. Nielsen Foundation. Subsequently, I moved to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to do a clinical postdoctoral fellowship, and was recently appointed as a Research Scientist in the Sensory Motor Performance Program. My work here is funded by the Falk Foundation and the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and stems directly from my doctoral work at UF. Specifically, I am engaged in translating my doctoral work on intermittent hypoxia mediated plasticity in the experimental rodent models of spinal injury into humans with spinal cord injuries. So far, it appears that the hypoxia-driven mechanisms could provide a clinically viable method of augmenting neuromotor function in individuals with spinal injuries. During my PhD, I learned valuable academic skills – such as professional writing, research design, and critical evaluation of manuscripts – which are critical to succeed as a researcher. More importantly, the RSD program helped me understand the role rehabilitation science plays not just in functional recovery, but also within the larger social constructs of impairment and disability.