Alumni Profile: Eric Tan, First PhD Graduate
Eric Tan has the distinction of being KGI's first PhD in Applied Life Sciences graduate. Today, he is a concept manager in New Product Development at Kinetic Concepts, Inc. (KCI) in San Antonio, Texas, where he is responsible for what he describes as "the front end" of product development.
KCI is an industry leader in the development of new technologies, medicines and therapies designed to make wound healing more manageable for caregivers and more comfortable for patients. In 1995, the company became the first to commercialize Negative Pressure Wound Therapy upon the introduction of their ActiV.A.C. System.
Tan assesses the technical and business feasibility of KCI's new product ideas, often working with doctors and scientists to understand their needs.
Tan speaks with great enthusiasm about his company's innovative products, including an application that will have groundbreaking potential for the military — a device that can handle altitude and be used on the wounds of injured soldiers' as they are being transported by plane to military hospitals around the globe.
KCI sponsored a year-long Team Masters Project at KGI, and Tan was not only instrumental in making it possible, he also returned to campus to serve as the corporate liaison.
The son of an engineer father and physicist mother, it is no surprise that Tan had the aptitude, and interest, to first complete his Master of Bioscience degree at KGI before tackling his PhD. While working on his doctorate degree, Tan also completed the Master of Business Administration program at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. A Southern California native, he received a BS in mechanical engineering and a BS in biology from Stanford University in 2002.
"I have a lot of respect for Eric," says Angelika Niemz, KGI's Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor. "He was a star student. When he's into something, he's very serious, very focused, and has a lot of stamina."
According to Niemz, Tan's research was largely responsible for a $2.4 million multi-investigator NIH grant awarded to her and others.
Tan spent nearly five years on the KGI campus in pursuit of his advanced degrees.
"I felt like I could talk to anyone on the staff," he said. "The professors' advice was invaluable in teaching me about the real world."
Tan described the "shared bond" among students who have earned their PhDs: "It definitely teaches you humility."
A trained pianist, Tan often performed at KGI events, including the commencement ceremony at which he was honored as KGI's first PhD graduate.
By Debbie Carini