Scientific American Guest Blog
The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life.
Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
Harvard University (CV)
New! Root Robotics acquired by iRobot! (Harvard Gazette, TechCrunch, TheRobotReport)
Research Interests: My lab studies Self-organizing Systems and Collective Artificial Intelligence; we investigate many topics on the border of AI, Robotics, and Biology. Two main areas are: (1) Biologically-inspired Robot Collectives, including bio-inspired robot hardware design, decentralized collective algorithms, and global-to-local programming (2) Biological Collectives, including models and experiments with social insects and cellular morphogenesis. For more about our lab see: SSR website.
Teaching: Spring 2020, CS189: Autonomous Robotic Systems
Office Hours: Will resume in Spring.
Contact: 33 Oxford Street, room 235 (Maxwell-Dworkin Building), Cambridge MA 02138; firstname.lastname@example.org
I am the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a founding Core Faculty Member of the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, where I co-lead the BioRobotics Platform. Before becoming faculty, I spent a year as a Research Fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. I received my PhD and was a Postdoc Lecturer at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL), as a member of the Amorphous Computing Group, supported by the Bell Labs GRPW Fellowship. I am grateful to have received the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship, NSF Career Award, Anita Borg Early Career Award, Radcliffe Fellowship, and be an invited TED Speaker. In 2014, I was chosen for the Nature 10 Award, given to the top ten influential scientists and engineers by the journal Nature (Dec 2014). In 2017, I co-founded ROOT Robotics, an educational robotics company aimed at democratizing coding, AI, and robotics through early education; Root was recently acquired by iRobot (2019). Our lab's Kilobots have also been commercialized by K-Team Inc and over 8000 robots have been sold worldwide.
I am also the author of a popular Scientific American blog article on tenure-track life (The Awesomest 7year Postdoc), the founding advisor for the Harvard Women-in-CS Club (WiCS), a member of the Embedded EthiCS Team, and an advocate for a nurturing culture and gender parity in academia and STEM. I am honored to have received the McDonald Mentoring Award, and to have a large network of mentees and peers who care about these same issues. I work on many gender equity and diversity efforts within Harvard and Robotics/CS/Academia; you can read more about this on my Activism page.
For more about my lab's research, see a TED talk that I gave at the annual TED conference in Vancouver in April 2017. For more about my work on cultural change, see my Cornell Talk that I gave as part of their new Distinguished Lecture Series on Science and Engineering Culture in April 2018. You can also read more about my background and work in this MIT Technology Review article.
Personal Bio: Outside of research, I enjoy the arts (painting, music and dance) and our Indian(me)+AfroCaribbean(Q) culture with my husband and two teenagers. Civic engagement and social justice is very important to my family. My husband Quinton Zondervan (also an MIT CSAIL graduate) is an elected Cambridge City Councillor and my daughter Jahnavi Zondervan was a member of the student government and Black Student Union (BSU) at the CRLS public high-school.
Talks and Profiles:
TED Talk, Harnessing Collective Intelligence (TED, Main Conference, April 2017)
MIT Technology Review, RoboSwarm (Aug 2016)
Nature 10: Ten people who mattered in science (Nature, Dec 2014)