EECS perspective from Research Assistant Elena Glassman

Elena Glassman, a former 6-1 undergraduate in MIT EECS, who initially experienced EECS as one of the first Womens’ Technology Program participants, is now working toward her PhD in CSAIL’s Robot Locomotion Group as a research assistant under Prof. Russ Tedrake.

EECS PhD candidate, Elena Glassman, next to the 'shoulder' joint of the Robot Locomotion Group's Acrobot

EECS PhD candidate, Elena Glassman, next to the 'shoulder' joint of the Robot Locomotion Group's Acrobot

Q. How have you found while at MIT in EECS that the divide of the ee and cs disciplines has blurred?

Elena Glassman: When I was an undergrad, there was a very clear distinction between the 6-1 (EE) and 6-3 (CS) sides of my graduating class. The CS kids tended to bemoan needing to take 6.003 (Signals and Systems) and would delay taking it until their senior year. They relished their required lab, 6.170 (Laboratory in Software Engineering), which was famous for being so intense and dependent on code composition that it seemed to regularly give students carpal tunnel syndrome. On the EE side, there was 6.101 (Analog Circuits Lab), otherwise known as “Analog Death,” and of course its sister lab class “Digital Death.” While many EE-focused students took the CS lab and many CS-focused students took the EE labs, the two halves of the department couldn’t look any more distinct.

Since I joined CSAIL’s Robot Locomotion Group, first as a UROP and then as a graduate student, it has become increasingly hard to tell into which domain our projects fall. My Master’s thesis was focused on augmenting a randomized motion planning algorithm (the product of CS professors and students) using a distance metric derived from the EE discipline of optimal control! My research advisor, who falls into the CS subgroup of the department, heads a lab made up of mechanical, electrical, and aero-astro engineering graduate students working alongside computer science grads.

Q. In what ways does this kind of meshing of these two disciplines have significance for you as you proceed in robotics

Elena Glassman: Working in the Robot Locomotion Group is a bit like training and completing one’s first triathlon. Most beginner triathletes seem to have one or two sports that they’re quite comfortable with: perhaps they were competitive swimmers and recreational runners, but have never challenged anyone to a bike race, or maybe they’ve dabbled in cycling and trail running but, when thrust into a pool, are more accustomed to a doggie-paddle than any formal type of stroke. Everyone in our group has their “native knowledge base” and must work with and ultimately learn from people of other disciplines in order to achieve their own project goals. What could be better training for being a researcher working on today’s increasingly interdisciplinary projects and initiatives?

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