Finding The Robotics Experience I Was Looking For

Lauren Hutson (MSR '18) looks back on her time in Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics program and how it prepared her for her job at Diligent Robotics.

When Lauren Hutson (MSR '18) considered graduate programs, she knew she wanted a program that emphasized robotics. After she graduated, she knew she wanted an opportunity to work with assistive robots that help improve people's daily lives.

In both cases, she found just what she was looking for.

Hutson chose Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics program specifically because of its robotics-specific curriculum. She graduated this past December and quickly found a job with startup Diligent Robotics with a role that allows her to help nurses give more time and attention to the care of their patients.

She recently took time to talk about her new job and look back on her MSR experience and how it helped prepare her for where she is today.

As you were looking into MSR, what was it about the program that appealed to you?

For me, the fact that the MSR program was robotics-specific was the main point of appeal. I wanted to work in the field of robotics and was looking for a program where I could learn robot specific skills like kinematics and dynamics and also pursue my interest in artificial intelligence.

How would you describe your MSR experience?

I would describe my MSR experience as stressful but rewarding. All of the people involved, from the advisers to my cohort mates, were some of the smartest people I've had the privileged to work with. Being able to collaborate with them helped me really maximize my experience during my time in the MSR program.

What are two or three of the most important lessons you learned during your time in the program?

The most useful lesson I've learned would be to always read error messages. The number of times I thought something was irredeemably broken but eventually got fixed after simply reading the error output is too high to count.

The other thing I learned is that asking for help from your cohort mates or Associate Director Jarvis Schultz and Program Director and Professor Todd Murphey isn't a bad thing. Over the course of my previous educational journey, it always felt like there was a lot of pressure to do everything yourself with minimal assistance. and in the MSR program that's not true.

What are your professional goals now that you've graduated?

I want to work with intelligent assistive robotics and robots that work in or around people in their everyday life. I already have a position with a small startup called Diligent Robotics that creates a nurse assistant robot, and so far the dream is coming true.  

What are you doing at Diligent Robotics?

I was hired as a robotic software engineer. I interned with Diligent Robotics over the summer and was hired full time by them after graduation. Diligent makes a hospital service robot called Moxi that helps with a few of the on-unit tasks that will free up a bit more time for staff members to give more face-to-face care to patients.

What would you say to a prospective student considering the MSR program?

I would say that how valuable your experience with the program is up to how hard you work and how much you push yourself during your time here. For an incoming student, it would be easy to just slide through by taking the easiest courses available and doing the bare minimum when it comes to project work. You might get a degree, but as far as marketable experience and knowledge, you'll be sorely lacking.

I would also say that having an idea of what part of robotics you want to work in, meaning computer vision, manipulation, navigation, front end, back end, etc., is pretty handy to have to help as a focus for when you're choosing classes.

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