Q&A with NIH Grant Recipient Jordyn Schroeder

Nov. 2, 2020

Graduate student Jordyn Schroeder was recently awarded an NIH R01 Research Supplement that will support her professional development and conference travel for the next two years. The award supplements her parent grant, which she has with PI and advisor, Greg Sawicki, titled “Dynamic imaging to guide wearable robotic intervention for enhanced mobility in aging.”

We took this opportunity to talk to Jordyn about what brought her to Georgia Tech, what she has learned during her four years in the Woodruff School, and what she wants to do after she completes her PhD.

Jordyn in the Wepfer Design Commons

Where are you from, where did you do your undergrad, and what led you to choose Georgia Tech for your PhD?

I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and got my undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Georgia Tech has been on my radar since high school, but I was drawn to UMBC because of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. As an undergrad, I did summer research at Tech through the SURE Robotics program. After a summer of research, using the Montgomery Machining Mall and hearing about plans for expanding human augmentation research, I knew Tech was my first choice for graduate school.

What is your research focus within the PoWeR Lab?

In the Physiology of Wearable Robotics (PoWeR) Lab, I study the long-term impacts of exoskeletons. Through modeling and human experiments, I am investigating musculoskeletal and neuro-mechanical adaptations to frequent wearable device use.

How did you get into your research area?

As an undergrad, I found interest in wearable robotics because let’s be honest, it sounds awesome. I sought out research experiences through both the clinical/rehabilitation lens and through the device/control lens. As I learned more about the field, I began to question what happens when these devices are adopted in real-world settings. Early conversations with my advisor, Greg Sawicki, helped me identify a knowledge gap that we were both interested in. Not only are my questions important for translating exoskeleton research, they can be used to ask basic science question about how humans move.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

Very little is known about the long-term impacts of exoskeletons. Through my research I get to ask practical, translational questions about exoskeletons in “real world” settings. At the same time, my work will provide building blocks for many more questions to come. As exoskeleton research in academia and industry expands, understanding long-term impacts has implications for many populations and types of wearables, like augmentation devices and rehabilitation robotics.

As you approach the end of your PhD, what do you want to do next?

Over the years I’ve been involved in programs, as both a participant and a mentor, where I have seen successful components that work to make academia more diverse and inclusive. However, on a large scale, academia’s roots in structural racism and capitalism act to diminish these DEI efforts. Science, as we know it, is built upon and relies on systems that exclude and disenfranchise many groups, which inherently limits the quality of science.

Throughout my time in graduate school, I have been immersed in these structures as a student and faced barriers for implementing change. Addressing these issues at the root takes a capacity to ask interdisciplinary questions, combined with both conceptual and practical thinking; all skills I’ve developed in and out of the lab. My development as both a scientist and an engineer has helped sharpen my critical thinking and problem solving skills.

My larger career aspirations are to study the history and ongoing impacts of white supremacy and capitalism on science, develop foundations for better systems, and implement and assess these structural changes on a wide scale. As I approach the end of my PhD, I am seeking opportunities to further develop and apply my critical thinking and problem solving skills, in order to prepare myself for my long-term goals.

Jordyn at the foot of the stairs in the Wepfer Design Commons

What activities and/or organizations have you been involved in outside of your lab?

Outside of research, I invest a lot of time into mentoring. At Tech, I’ve worked with high school students through the DREAM and ENGAGES programs. I’ve tutored undergraduate students through the OMED office. I’ve also mentored undergraduates in the PoWeR Lab. I serve on the Graduate Student Development Committee and the College of Engineering Graduate Advisory Board working to improve the experience and environment for graduate students at Tech. I also serve on the American Society of Biomechanics Diversity Committee.

What other funding awards have you received, and what advice do you have for students looking for additional funding?

I was a Georgia Tech FLAMEL scholar in a traineeship supporting students at the intersection of materials science, mathematics and computing.I am currently a GT Sloan Fellow. My advice to students looking for additional funding is to start early and to be persistent. Applying for funding can seem daunting and time consuming, so I recommend using each application as a chance to build skills such as writing, scientific communication, literature review and hypothesis generation.

What has been the most challenging part of your Georgia Tech experience so far, and what has been the most rewarding?

The most challenging part of graduate school has been being physically away from my support system in my family, my partner and my closest friends. Nurturing these long distance relationships and building a support system here has helped. The most rewarding part of this experience is the room for creativity and self-development. It’s been gratifying to recognize how my career goals align with the skills I am developing now. I love looking back on early stages of my experience and realizing how much I have developed as both a scientist and an engineer.

As we kick off grad student recruitment season, do you have advice for students trying to decide where to go to grad school? Why should they consider Tech?

I encourage anyone who is deciding where to attend grad school to find a research advisor who will genuinely support you and your development. The path to a PhD looks different for everyone so it’s critical to choose a mentor, not just a boss. My advisor, Greg Sawicki, is a great mentor and has built a supportive lab culture. Tech is also a large community where I’ve found support and mentorship from people outside of my lab. There are a lot of collaboration opportunities, resources, flexibility in curriculum, and chances to be involved in activities on campus.