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Robotics in college, and as a career?

Hey, Misty Community! Been a little while.

This thread is definitely unconventional, so I apologize if this isn’t precisely the right place for it! Regardless- I joined this forum at the beginning of my freshman year and have continued to be inspired by the engineering at Misty Robotics, so I figured I’d come to the experts.

To cut to the TL;DR- Robotics is my passion and something I want to continue to pursue into adulthood, but navigating this interest in the context of rapidly approaching college admissions has proven difficult. Robotics is obviously a multidisciplinary field, so in that respect not finding a document on a college’s website that clearly outlines “What You Have To Do To Become A Roboticist, Step By Step” makes sense- even if it’d be pretty convenient to have something like that available!

My search for robotics at college has resulted in a few things- first, that robotics at educational institutions seems to tend into the “graduate research” sector, that robotics clubs at engineering colleges aren’t a guarantee, and that when colleges do hone in on robotics in their descriptions of their majors, it tends to fall into the category of artificial intelligence, which I’m not complaining about- but it does make me wonder where to go next if AI doesn’t completely encompass my interest in this field. I’ve always loved doing everything with robotics- the programming, the electronics, the practice behind how people can interact comfortably with robots… and that’s difficult to tackle in the scope of an education, or in a job, in all honesty.

I’m not asking for college search advice, but I did want to ask those of you that ended up working with robots as a profession about how you got to the place you did. Is “doing robotics” more about picking the section of engineering you like the most and then job hunting to relevant companies? Are internships the most important for getting the necessary array of experience? Or is it really just about continuing down the path you’re interested in and winding up at the right place eventually? :slight_smile:

Thanks for taking the time to read my essay! I’m worried by nativity might be showing through a bit too much here, but I’d really appreciate any anecdotes you might have. I hope everybody’s safe and healthy!

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This is a great place for this kind of discussion :slight_smile:

As a humanities-major-turned-teacher-turned-self-taught-programmer-turned-technical-writer, I’ll just post to say there are many paths that lead to interesting careers. Will be keeping an eye on this thread & hope that some of Misty’s engineers & other community members share a bit about themselves.

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Greetings @apt.
I am currently the main firmware engineer for Misty, meaning I do most of the motor control and intake of data from most of the lower level sensors. I can tell you from my experience, the most important thing moving forward is that you WANT to work in robotics. If you decide that is what you want, then nearly any path you go down will get you there. Which college you choose, and which major you focus in, will just change the trajectory and potentially what aspect of the robot you are hired to work on in the company. If you’re interested in the mechanics aspect, go into mechanical engineering. Want to focus on electrical and power systems? Focus on electrical engineering. Only interested in taking a complete robot and programming it to do something? Go into computer science (or EE with a focus on digital systems as I did).

In the end…your quote:

Is very apt. I earned an electrical engineering degree from a university with no robotics program but did have classes on motors and motor controls, though my main focus there was in digital electronics, microcontrollers, and embedded programming. I picked up the rest of my understanding of robots (mechanics, structures, power systems, etc…) by doing my own projects on the side. I have friends who graduated with computer science degrees, in programs that had NO robotics-based classes, and yet they also did robotics as projects on the side and thus are now have careers in robots. I think it is far more common for people working in robotics to have one of these main degrees and worked side projects to get into robotics than it is that they went through a dedicated robotics program (not to make light of the dedicated programs though).

My experience suggests that most places building robots will hire you based more on the projects you have completed than the college classes you took that teach robotic concepts.

As for internships…I have a belief that it is less important how you got the experience than just that you have it. However, I think the advantage of getting internships is that it demonstrates to the company you can work in a team, on a project given to you, likely with some level of deadline.

If you end up in a college without a specific robotics club, or even a supported extracurricular project happening…make your own. I know for a fact that engineering professors love, and highly support, people who start their own projects, especially if you have a group that comes together to do it. There are plenty of robot challenges out there that you can form your own clubs around. Take the effort to do that and I promise it will be a rewarding experience.

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I think you need to decide for yourself which aspect of robotics you like more and are best suited for (don’t discount this part) and then pursue that path while still dabbling in the others. My advice for any college bound student who has a deep interest in an interdisciplinary field is to do a major in one of the classic major subject and minor in another related field rather than doing a major in a hybrid major. I have found over my career that you have a much better chance to get hired where you want with a classic major and you will always have more options.

There are 3 main majors I would consider for a career in robotics: Computer Science, Electrical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering. Most robotics programs in universities are usually in either CS or MechE or both. If you don’t know now which of these you prefer more than use the first year in college to figure it out. Highly recommend you reach out to the professors that do robotics research and see if you can do an undergraduate research study or something. Internships are also extremely important. Clubs are also good, especially if you have a goal in mind (like the old DARPA autonomous car challenges).

I too was into robotics from a young age, though there were fewer opportunities in the 90s. But I knew I wanted to do something with robots in school. When I went to school I wasn’t yet decided between EE and CS. I reached out to robotics professor about the robotics class and he told me he wasn’t teaching for another year but I should check out the undergraduate research opportunities. My school does an open house of all the research labs for students in the spring and it just happened I really enjoyed the Computer Vision group presentation, and more importantly the professor was extremely welcoming of undergraduate students doing research. I started doing a project with him and that morphed into more and it eventually morphed into me starting a PhD program with him. Robotics companies were pretty non-existent in the first 10-15 years of this century so I did the next best thing work at research labs where I got to work on lots of state of the art robotics and vision applications. That work is awesome and you get to do lots of different things, but you never get to see something through to completion because it’s an R&D project and by definition it’s not a product. So when robotics started to pick back up in the last 5 years or so and more robotics startups sprung up I decided to join one and build a product.

It’s never been a better time for robotics. There will be ups and downs, but I firmly believe there will be more and more robots and robotics companies over the coming years. But even if there aren’t, you can’t go wrong with one of the majors above :slight_smile:

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Thank you, steven and Vlad, so, so much for your insanely thoughtful responses! Your replies answered some of my unspoken questions/thoughts directly.

Electrical engineering edges out computer science for me as far as college majors at the moment, but I want to keep exploring both paths leading up to college and in college. I was planning on looking into a minor, so it’s good to hear that that is a reasonable thing to be thinking about as far as the field of robotics. I’m also happy to hear that personal experience/projects helps- that’s motivating, too! And consoling, honestly. I’ve had a lot of (probably unnecessary) anxiety surrounding my path into college and my passion for robotics, so hearing from people who really have ‘been through it’, so to speak, is amazing. I’m going to continue thinking about your advice- thank you again!