MIT Engineering Systems Division (ESD) brought together alumni, students and faculty on Friday, Sept. 16, for a celebration of ESD’s “first 100 doctors.” The first-ever ESD PhD Alumni Symposium, organized by a committee of current ESD PhD students, featured panels of alumni offering their perspectives on their diverse experiences in academia, industry or government — and the role that their education at ESD has played in the development of their careers. In addition, some ESD faculty members discussed the history, current work and future of ESD.
A full agenda detailing the day’s events can be viewed here. All talks and panels from the day will soon be available for online streaming on TechTV.
Richard de Neufville, professor of engineering systems and civil and environmental engineering, welcomed the ESD PhD alumni, describing them as “important to MIT and to our goal of making the world a better place,” particularly in the sense that their skills and interests address some of the fundamental limitations of the field of engineering science to make positive change in the world. de Neufville described some of the limitations of traditional engineering approaches — which don’t always account for changes in regulations, technologies, user patterns and demographics; often don’t focus on value; and don’t directly integrate social science.
“You are working on these limitations,” said de Neufville, “You are providing the intellect, and you are developing the professional paradigm, to complement engineering science to enable it to work meaningfully for a better world.”
ESD interim director Joseph Sussman, JR East Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems, provided some historical context — looking to some of the earliest days of the division when it sought to define what it could offer to MIT and how it would distinguish itself. At the heart of ESD from the very beginning of its existence, explained Sussman, is its work toward addressing “critical contemporary issues,” including issues in areas such as energy, the environment, the developing world, and health care.
“Critical contemporary issues are such that they require an interdisciplinary approach,” Sussman said. “One has to think in a very integrative manner about how one deals with those questions. And usually they are undergirded with complex socio-technical systems — the touchstone of what we are about in this division.”
Olivier de Weck, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems, provided some perspective on the future of the field of engineering systems, also describing the new MIT Press Engineering Systems book series — encouraging contributions for future publications in the series.
Three panels of ESD PhD alumni discussed their careers in industry, government and academia — offering some insights on life post-ESD and speaking to the benefits of an ESD PhD.
Erica Fuchs PhD ’06, TPP ‘03, assistant professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, highlighted ESD’s focus on and passion for problem-solving.
“I believe the strength of an ESD or TMP PhD — [which] I’m defining as an interdisciplinary degree involving complex, socio-technical systems at the boundaries of engineering and the social sciences … is that you can stand at the home plate at the start of your dissertation and go for the home run," Fuchs said. "You can swing for the fences … or [in other words] you can pursue the big problems that you love.”