Engineering Better Health Care

Real Scientists is in Massachusetts, USA this week with Jordan Harrod (@jordanbharrod), a PhD Student and GEM Fellow in electrical engineering and healthcare applications for computer science at Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology. A strong proponent of science outreach, she was one of the lead organizers for the March for Science’s first Student Advocacy Summit, a two-day nonpartisan conference focused on educating teenaged students about science policy and developing advocacy tools. We chatted with Jordan about her journey so far.

What got you interested in health sciences?
I’ve been interested in medicine for as long as I can remember, but lost interest in becoming a doctor during high school around the same time that I discovered how much I enjoyed building things. I was concerned about accidentally hurting one of my patients, because it seemed like there were so many possible diagnoses that it would be unlikely anyone could be right every time. During high school, I had the opportunity to do research at Columbia University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering under Dr. Helen Lu, and found that I enjoyed research more than anything else I had done before.

What motivates you about your work?
For some reason, I find challenges associated with human health to be much more interesting to me than most traditional engineering challenges. I think part of it is because this field regularly positively affects average people in a tangible way, but I also think that it is because human health issues are inherently interdisciplinary in a way that I haven’t been able to find in other potential fields. I am always learning something new in order to solve a problem, whether it be a materials science concept that relates to tissue mechanics, a psychological concept that relates to user experience for medical products, and much more.

What will your PhD focus on?
I’m currently thinking that my thesis research will be at the intersection of ethical implementations of artificial intelligence for consumer medicine, wearable health technology, and neural engineering. While I don’t know what specifically I’ll be working on, my research will ideally focus on developing technology that the average person will interact with on a regular basis to make decisions about their health. My research background is all over the place, from tissue engineering to materials science to machine learning. Currently, I am doing rotations as a first-year PhD student, so while I’m sure that I’ll be doing something within the field of biomedical engineering, I haven’t officially joined a lab.

What do you want the public to know about your work and/or field?
I think that, especially when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence, the public should be interested in both supporting this research because of the improvements in quality of care and health outcomes we aim to create, but should also be a check on researchers, to make sure that this technology is developed ethically and with minimal negative biases.

Can you tell us a bit about your advocacy and science outreach work?
I work with the March for Science on youth-focused science education and science policy advocacy efforts, including being one of the lead organizers of the Student Advocacy Summit in Chicago last July. We’re currently developing a podcast series, which I’m very excited to be working on. I’m also on the Speaker Team for the 2019 Scientista Conference, which will be in March 2019. Lastly, I have my own science blog and YouTube channel. I’m hoping to get involved in ongoing science policy efforts at Harvard and MIT while I’m here.

We’ll stay tuned for sure! What is a great day off for you?
I would wake up late (around 9 AM) and have brunch with some of my friends at the Friendly Toast, ending with a nice walk back to my apartment. From there, I’d probably exercise, either by going to CrossFit, playing tennis, or going to fencing practice. I’d follow that up with a shower and a nap, and finish off the night with some takeout from Naco Taco, a good Netflix movie, and some Halo Top ice cream. Ideally, I would not check my email at any point during the day.

Jordan Harrod, welcome to Real Scientists!

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