photo of David Fuentes
Assistant Professor, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Clinic

Job Title

Assistant Professor in the Department of Imaging Physics


The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Clinic


Houston, TX

What are your career goals?

To make it through the food chain in academia. The goal is to become an associate professor, then go from there, then professor and more specifically research funding and publications. 

What student project/organizations were you involved with ASE/EM and how did your experience in these groups help prepare you for your career?

I was a part of Sigma Gamma Tau for a little bit. It was good meeting people with similar interest and establishing the network of how people are pursing their career and their goals, and what job and research opportunities are available. The peer networking was a very strong and important part.

Do you recommend any particular focus for students other than academics to improve themselves as potential candidates for jobs? 

Social skills are equally as important when you are interviewing. Any opportunities to go out and socialize with people SGT and various organizations are very helpful in that regard, to show balance as opposed to purely academics. Anything that improves mature social skills is very helpful in order to talk to the interviewer about things other than academics.

Why did you choose one track over the other (atmospheric/space)? Do you feel this has made any difference in your career?

I chose space and looking back I wish I had taken the atmospheric because I use the fluid flow equations a lot more. I’m using those equations on some of my current applications so having that exposure earlier would have been helpful so I basically have to go back and teach them myself. The space flight I don’t use at all.

What are your career goals?

Make it through the food chain in academia. For me the goal is to become an associate professor and then go from there and then professor and more specifically research funding and publications.

What kind of projects are you working on at MD Anderson?

One example of a quantitative image related project I am working on is developing a computer vision of medical images to identify diseased tissue. We are using machine-learning techniques to create a mathematical model of the human eye. A highly specialized radiologist manually creates a training database that characterizes diseased and healthy tissue. Machine learning algorithms are able to scale this characterization to larger patient cohorts in significantly less time than would be possible with the human cognitive process alone. 

How is your educational background in computational engineering important to this work?

My educational background has provided a rigorous mathematical framework to develop and explore ideas of model validation. This provides a methodology to establish and, more importantly, quantify prediction confidence of a mathematical model for clinical use. For example, any algorithm will give you a number. However, my background has provided a methodological process to provide meaning to that number.

What is the foundation that your work is laying regarding cancer treatments that are less invasive? 

There is a well-recognized need to develop novel treatment options that assist clinicians in balancing management of presenting symptoms, primary site treatment, as well as treatment of extra- and intra-cranial metastasis. MR guided thermal therapies are low impact, repeatable procedures ideally suited for non-surgical candidates or candidates that have reached maximum radiation dose limits.

What do you enjoy most about your position at MD Anderson?

I enjoy working with the talented and hard-working faculty on challenging clinical problems that significantly impact patient care. It is very interesting to observe and learn from others within this highly interdisciplinary environment.

Who was your most influential ASE or EM professor and why?

There are so many. First there is Professor Tinsley Oden who was my PhD mentor and who taught me to be academically rigorous. I will always be thankful for that. Then Professor Leszek Demkowicz who taught me a new level of math and understanding. Ivo Babuska really forced me to think of all the problems from a different perspective. Professor David Littlefield was the one that first introduced me to computational aspects and gave me the opportunity to do computation research. Professor Serge Prudhomme was one of my mentors going through the program. Professor Yusheng Feng motivating me to get publications and work done.

What has been your most influential ASE or EM course and why?

The heat transfer course because I still use the analytical and numeral methods quite a bit of my research.

What is one piece of advice you have for our students?

Work hard is the most important aspects; I don’t think I was ever the brightest of the smartest. The work ethic makes a big difference.

List three things that most people don’t know about you.

1. I was 205 lbs. in high school. I ate a lot.

2. I wish I knew better Spanish.

3. My favorite food is pizza.