An achieved MIT scholar researcher in well being care robotics, with many scholarship and fellowship awards to his identify, A. Michael West is nonchalant about how he selected his path.
“I form of fell into it,” the mechanical engineering PhD candidate says, including that rising up in suburban California, he was social, athletic — and good at math. “I had the basic selection: You generally is a physician, a lawyer, or an engineer.”
Having witnessed his mom’s grueling residency when she was coaching to be a health care provider, and feeling like he didn’t get pleasure from studying and writing sufficient to be a lawyer, “That left engineer,” he says.
Fortunately, he loved physics in highschool as a result of, he says, “it gave that means to the numbers we had been studying in arithmetic,” and afterward, his main in mechanical engineering at Yale College agreed with him.
“I positively caught with it,” West says. “I preferred what I used to be studying.”
As a rising senior at Yale, West was chosen to take part within the MIT Summer season Analysis Program (MSRP). This system identifies gifted undergraduates to spend a summer season on MIT’s campus, conducting analysis with the mentorship of MIT school, postdocs, and graduate college students to arrange program members for graduate examine.
For West, MSRP was an training in what “precisely grad college was, particularly what it will be like at MIT.”
It was additionally, and most significantly, a supply of validation that West might succeed within the larger ranges of academia.
“It gave me the arrogance to use to high grad faculties, to know that I might really contribute right here and achieve success,” West says. “It very a lot gave me the arrogance to stroll right into a room and strategy individuals who clearly know far more than I do about sure subjects.”
With MSRP, West additionally discovered a neighborhood and made enduring friendships, he says. “It’s good to be in areas the place you get to see lots of minorities in science, which MSRP was,” he says.
Having benefited from the MSRP expertise, West gave again as soon as he enrolled at MIT by working as an MRSP group chief for 2 summers. “You possibly can create this similar expertise for folks after you,” he says.
His involvement as a frontrunner and mentor in MSRP is only one method West has sought to provide again. As an undergraduate, for instance, he served as president of his college’s Nationwide Society of Black Engineers chapter, and at MIT, he has served as treasurer for the Black Graduate Scholar Affiliation and the Academy of Brave Minority Engineers.
“Possibly it’s only a familial factor,” West says, “however being a Black American, my dad and mom raised me in a method that you simply at all times bear in mind the place you come from, you bear in mind what your ancestors went by means of.”
West’s present analysis — with Neville Hogan, the Solar Jae Professor in Mechanical Engineering, within the Eric P. and Evelyn E. Newton Laboratory for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation — can be geared toward serving to others, particularly those that have suffered orthopedic or neurological harm.
“I’m attempting to know how people management and handle their motion from a mathematical standpoint,” he says. “In case you have a method of quantifying the motion, then you’ll be able to measure it higher and implement that to robotics, to make higher units to assist in rehabilitation.”
In 2022, West was chosen to be an MIT-Takeda fellow. The MIT-Takeda Program, a collaboration between MIT’s College of Engineering and Takeda Prescribed drugs Firm, primarily promotes the appliance of synthetic intelligence to profit human well being. As a Takeda Fellow, West has studied the flexibility of the human hand to govern objects and instruments.
West says the Takeda Fellowship gave him time to concentrate on his analysis, the funding permitting him to forgo working as a instructing assistant. Though he loves instructing and hopes to safe a tenure-track place as a professor after incomes his PhD, he says the time dedication related to being a instructing assistant is important. Within the third yr of his PhD, West devoted about 20 hours every week to a instructing place.
“Having lots of time to do analysis is nice,” he says. “Studying what it’s essential find out about and doing the analysis will get you to the following step.”
In truth, the kind of analysis that West conducts is very time-intensive. That is not less than partly as a result of human motor management includes a lot computerized, unconscious exercise that’s predictably obscure.
“How do folks management these advanced, unconscious programs? Understanding that may be a slow-going course of. Quite a lot of the findings construct on one another. It’s important to have a stable understanding of what’s identified, what’s a working speculation, what’s testable, what will not be testable, and learn how to convey the non-testable to testable,” West says, including, “We gained’t perceive how people management motion in my lifetime.”
To make progress, West says he has to rigorously proceed one step at a time.
“What are the small questions I can ask? What are the questions which have already been requested, and the way can we construct upon these? That’s when the duty turns into much less daunting,” he says.
In September, West will start a fellowship with the MIT and Accenture Convergence Initiative for Trade and Know-how. Hoping to encourage and facilitate interplay between know-how and trade, the company selects 5 MIT-Accenture fellows every year.
“What they’re in search of is somebody whose analysis is translational, that may have impacts in trade,” West says. “It’s promising that they’re within the fundamental, basic analysis I’m doing. I haven’t labored on the translational aspect but. It’s one thing I’d wish to get into after commencement.”
Whereas incomes prestigious fellowships and advancing human-robot interactions in well being care, West remains to be very a lot the laid-back man who “fell into” engineering. He finds time to fulfill with mates on the weekends, took up rugby as a graduate scholar, and has a long-distance relationship along with his fiancée, with a marriage date set for subsequent summer season.
Requested how he’ll counsel his future college students after they strategy sophisticated work, he has a predictably relaxed response.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for assist. There’s at all times going to be somebody who’s higher at one thing than you might be, and that’s a great factor. If there weren’t, life could be somewhat boring.”