Filipinos in Boston: An Interview with Biological Engineering PhD Candidate Aaron Dy

By Trish Fontanilla

We’re halfway through Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and thanks to everyone nominating themselves / their friends / partners / colleagues, we’ve had a wonderful response. Keep em coming!

One of the awesome Filipinos that did respond to our call for more Filipino stories is Aaron Dy, profiled below. I hope you enjoy hearing his story as much as I did!

Aaron cheering on the Red Sox at the 2018 ALCS game 2 // Photo provided by Aaron

Aaron cheering on the Red Sox at the 2018 ALCS game 2 // Photo provided by Aaron

Where are you and your family from?
: My dad is from Cavite City and my mom is from Indiana. They met while both serving in the U.S. Navy and originally settled around San Francisco, which is where I was born. My dad still lives in South San Francisco, but my mom moved back to Indiana. I mainly grew up in Indiana, but spent many summers and school breaks in the Bay Area. I came to Boston for graduate school at MIT along with my wife who came for optometry school. We both love it here and have jobs lined up to be able to stay in the Boston area after our graduations this year.

Where do you work and what do you do?
: I am currently working to finish my PhD at MIT in Biological Engineering, and this fall I’ll be starting as a healthcare strategy consultant working for Health Advances. My PhD research has been on developing new kinds of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases like HPV that causes cervical cancer, C. difficile infections, or antibiotic resistance.

In my free time, I do quite a bit of running and volunteering with local civic or political groups. On the running side, I’ve run 5 marathons so far including the 2019 Boston Marathon. On the civic engagement side, I was an Organizing for America fellow and president of College Democrats at Indiana University in college. Now I am a part of progressive political groups such as the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee and Young Democrats of Massachusetts.

Can you tell us more about how you first found out about biological engineering or what led you down that career path?
I probably first heard of biological engineering some time when I was in college. I’d always been torn between interests in science and public policy. I had actually enrolled as a journalism major at first, but pretty quickly switched to a physics major when I started college. I reached out to older students and learned you could get professors to let you do part-time research in their labs and even get paid. I ended up working in a biophysics lab for most of my time in undergrad and got exposed to what it’s like to do laboratory work and come up with independent research ideas. I was interested in going further with biomedical research after graduation, and I hoped to contribute to projects improving human health. Once I decided that next move was to go to graduate school, I tried to look for departments where exciting work was happening, I would have the skills to make an impact, and I could learn the most. In biological engineering I saw so many new technologies being developed that could help prevent or cure diseases, and I thought my background in physics would be good enough preparation while still being far enough out of my comfort zone to push me to learn a lot.

Aaron running the 2019 Boston Marathon // Photo provided by Aaron Dy

Aaron running the 2019 Boston Marathon // Photo provided by Aaron Dy

On Boston…

How long have you been in Boston?
: I’ve lived in the Boston area for five years now, with one year in Cambridge and four years in Boston. Currently I live in the Fenway neighborhood near where it intersects with South End and Back Bay.

What are your favorite Boston spots:
A lot of my favorite Boston spots are from my running, and Boston is definitely a great running city. I run a lot around the Esplanade, the Emerald Necklace, Jamaica Pond, Fresh Pond, and Minuteman Bikeway. I lived near the Boston Common for three years and now live by the Fens so I’ve been fortunate to have such great green spaces to walk or run around.

Fenway Park was one of the first attractions I ever visited when I came on a graduate school visit, and I still love seeing a game there. Last year we even got the chance through the random drawing process to buy face value ALCS tickets and it was one of the best sports fan experiences I’ve ever had. I’m also fond of the Museum of Science where I’ve been able to visit, volunteer, and attend hosted events. In terms of food and drink, there are places all over greater Boston I like including Tanám (Somerville), Friendly Toast (Back Bay or Cambridge), The Beehive (South End), Dumpling House (Cambridge), Hot Pot Buffet (Chinatown), Pho Pasteur (Chinatown), Democracy Brewing (Downtown), and Lir (Back Bay).

What’s your community superpower?
I think I’m someone who consistently shows up and gives time for a wide range of issues I care about. I’ve volunteered with lots of different groups from STEM outreach, to food banks, to science policy advocacy, to political causes. Sometimes I can get far out of my comfort zone, but I think these differing experiences help me find the work that’s important to me and puts me in contact with so many people that I wouldn’t have met through just my day job.

Aaron enjoying some Filipino food at Tanám in Somerville // Photo provided by Aaron

Aaron enjoying some Filipino food at Tanám in Somerville // Photo provided by Aaron

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
: My favorite Filipino dish has to be lumpia. Lumpiang Shanghai to be specific. Our nanay’s (my grandmother’s) lumpia to be even more specific.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
: My best Filipino recipe is probably Filipino BBQ (recipe below). It’s easy to make and can be scaled up on the grill to make plenty for a get-together with friends.

Filipino BBQ Recipe

  • 3-4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and bamboo skewers

  • Cut chicken into ~1 inch cubes

  • Stab chicken pieces with a fork

  • Make marinade

    • 1/2 cup soy sauce

    • 2 tbsp of ground black pepper

    • 1 cup Sprite or 7UP

    • 8 cloves garlic, minced

    • Juice from 3 lemons

    • 1 12 oz bottle of banana ketchup

    • 1/2 cup brown sugar

    • 1/2 cup white vinegar

    • 2 tsp. kosher salt

  • Marinate chicken in the fridge for 1-3 hours

  • Soak bamboo skewers in water for >1 hour

  • Cook chicken on grill on low for 25-35 minutes

  • Baste with marinade 6-8 extra times as you flip

On staying in touch…

Aaron and his wife Mary at a Celtics game // Photo provided by Aaron

Aaron and his wife Mary at a Celtics game // Photo provided by Aaron

How can people stay in touch?
: You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @AaronJDy. I’m usually more active on Twitter with some mix of science, politics, running, cat photos, and local Boston stuff.

We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at