Infinite Careers is a collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.
- MIT, SB in Mechanical Engineering (2008)
- MIT, MS in Mechanical Engineering (2010)
- MIT, PhD in Mechanical Engineering (2013)
Michael grew up in Dallas, Texas and made the journey north to MIT in 2004. At MIT, he enjoyed walking back and forth across Killian Court between the Mechanical Engineering and Math departments. After nine years in Cambridge, he returned to Texas to do a post-doc in the Physics department at the University of Texas (UT). He is now across the river at Northeastern University teaching Mechanical Engineering and pursuing research in ocean modelling and dynamical systems.
What influenced you to choose your major and career in Mechanical Engineering?
When I was a junior in high school, I saw a NOVA special on TV featuring 2.007. I was hooked when I found out not only would I get to design and build my own robot but it would get to participate in a class wide competition. Despite my robot getting eliminated early in the competition, I really enjoyed the math and physics application to understanding the world around us.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I really enjoy the chance to apply some very theoretical concepts to try and better understand how the ocean works. A major bonus in studying the world is the chance to (travel to) all corners of the globe to make measurements in person.
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
With over 2/3 of the world covered in water and over half the world’s population living within 100km of the coast, the ocean and coastal processes play a big role in our daily lives and our long term future. The chance to interpret what is going on below the surface is exciting.
What is the biggest challenge you encountered in your career?
The biggest challenge in my career was learning how to communicate science and technical details in a way the people can understand my research.
What professional development activities did you participate in when you were in school and early on your career?
Both written and oral presentations of my work were important as a grad student. I also had the chance to guide the projects of a couple undergrads while at MIT.
What professional development activities do you participate in now?
Learning how to run large teams of people is a skill that I am doing my best to improve in. Having both a big picture perspective and a detailed understanding of the work is a juggling act that I work on regularly and discuss with mentors at my school.
Looking back on your experience at MIT, what advice would you give yourself if you knew then what you know now?
Learn how to code well (and that doesn’t include Matlab). Coding has become essential both in research and in industry and having a background in basic computer science is invaluable.
What advice would you give to current students that are interested in pursuing a Mechanical Engineering major and career?
Make sure to take courses in all the different disciplines within Mech E. I would not have envisioned going into fluid mechanics when I first arrived. I came in thinking I would go into robotics, but the combination of math, physics, and practical applications drew me in to researching fluid mechanics. Do both a UROP and an industry internship. Experiencing both research and industry is so valuable when making a decision on which direction you will take after graduation.
Do you have any tips for networking or job searching for current students and recent graduates?
Networking for most people is awkward. Networking for many scientists is painfully awkward. That said, the best work I have done has come through collaborations with scientists from other universities. Make sure to smile.
What is the best career advice that you have ever received?
If you find something you are interested in and passionate about to study, keep an open mind, things will generally take care of themselves.
What does “work-life balance” mean to you and what do you do to maintain a work-life balance?
I do my best to make sure I am regularly engaging in exercise, church, with family and friends, and work. I have found that when one of the three non-work components starts to slide, work quality suffers. This often means losing a bit of sleep, but that’s been the case since I got to MIT.
What do you like to do outside of work (e.g., to relax, for fun, as a hobby, on your free time, etc.)?
My wife and I run road races occasionally. I like to cycle outside of Boston.
Do you participate in any extracurricular or volunteer opportunities? If so, how do you manage your time and balance your professional and personal responsibilities?
We do our best to help out at church and any of the outreach programs that they have.
Last edited 2018