“What’s keeping me going now is that drive to want to know more, or be able to gain knowledge to then figure out what I want to do with that knowledge.”
Dance, graphic arts, robotics and neuroscience may sound like an odd mix of interests, but Pioneer Scholar Journey is using them all to get as much as possible from her first year at Stanford, which is, of course, online. Journey, who is studying from her home in Florida, honed the skills of combining interests and adapting to new circumstances through her Pioneer Research Program. She chose the research area of neuroscience, because “I knew that I was interested in engineering as a whole, but I also knew that I was interested in the relationship between engineering and life science and I was trying to combine the two in different ways.” Pioneer provided an opportunity to work with both and to do creative independent research that brought the two together in a unique way. Journey’s research topic was about the development of a robotic hand with sensory motor capabilities—an artificial hand that could actually send the signals of “feeling” to the user’s brain.
Trying new things is something that Journey learned at a young age. She credits her mother with encouraging her to try out anything that seemed to interest her long enough to discover how deep the interest was, and to be comfortable with deciding something didn’t work. “Getting things wrong and failing isn’t a bad thing because that’s how you learn. You ask questions and you learn through that and even if you don’t get it right, now you know what the right answer is, and you know where to take it further from that.”
For Journey, the point in learning is what one is going to do with the knowledge. “Will you make something happen? Are you going to change something?” Thinking creatively, asking “What is the next option? How can we make something better?” is, in her opinion, what research is all about.
The process of being involved in research of any kind is also, for Journey, part of a journey. She understands that once a project is completed and something new has been made, or a new concept has been understood, it is not an end but a building block for the next study. “It’s a good mindset to have because someone else, if it’s not yourself, will come along and say, ‘hey, we can make this even better.’”
Journey hopes to use this mindset in her future work to help create better prosthetics. Again, Pioneer gave her some tools for seeing possible directions for this work. Her experience with her international cohort of peers, learning that people’s different interests lead them to focus on different aspects of assigned readings, made her open to the possibility that people may have different visions of what a prosthetic should do and look like.
And having the experience of an online Pioneer Research Program was “highly beneficial,” giving Journey some familiarity with online study and interactions, so her Stanford studies from her home in Florida are not as strange as they might be.