Where are they Now? Jamie Poston: Robotics Researcher

May 01, 2017 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


Do writing skills really matter if you are wanting to pursue a STEM pathway? Jamie Poston, a computer science and engineering major at the University of Nevada, Reno, would absolutely assert that they do! She began IEW in third grade and used it all through her homeschooling years. She attests that no matter what educational pathway a person pursues, he will still need to become a competent and confident communicator across the disciplines. Read on to learn more about Jamie and her experiences with IEW and how it has helped her gain confidence in her scientific studies.

Jamie, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in the Virginia City Highlands in Nevada with my younger brother. I was homeschooled for the whole time, but was allowed to participate in the Virginia City High School sports program for softball, volleyball, and track and field. Besides sports, I also did a lot of other extra-curricular activities, including MathCounts, Future Cities, Academic Olympics, and FIRST Robotics, so there was never a dull moment!

What do you do now?

I now live in Reno and attend the University of Nevada. I'm a junior and major in Computer Science and Engineering. I am also a research assistant with the Socially Assistive Robotics Group at the Robotics Research Laboratory. I have been a research assistant for two years now, and I am a published author of five conference papers and journal articles on Human-Robot Interaction. You can see these papers here. Besides that, I volunteer regularly with FIRST Robotics.

How did IEW benefit you?

I think IEW really just helped me break down what writing is. Specifically, the topic and clincher sentences really helped me to have cohesive writing. After doing IEW, writing was no longer this massive obstacle that I couldn't fathom. Instead, it became a structurally consistent activity that I could do. I did get tired after writing papers day after day, but that definitely helped me get used to it. It really made writing easy.

Did you notice that IEW helped you in college?

College writing was almost like letting me out of the box creatively. No one was concerned with how many very short sentences I used or how many prepositional statements I had. The professors were more concerned with the mechanics of my writing in my beginning classes and then the overall theme or message of my writing in my higher-level classes. I could've gone hog-wild and not followed anything I learned from IEW, but it was still second nature to me, and the professors loved it! I guess I didn't really have the learning curve that other college students may have had in their earlier classes because I was already writing at an advanced level in high school.

While I don't strictly count up every style element in my essays now, I still use some of the things I learned in IEW without even thinking about it, and I think that has really made a difference in my college writing. Also, IEW has made a positive difference in the research papers I have authored. Research papers tend to be more dry and mechanical by nature, but my knowledge of IEW’s Structure and Style has helped a lot and made my writing more engaging.

What type of writing do you most enjoy?

While I don't have a lot of time for recreational writing now, I'd say my favorite type of writing is still creative writing. I like making worlds where the only rules are the ones I set for myself. This is different than the writing I do normally, which is mostly research papers or documentation for computer programs. However, I do think that creative writing is a bit harder than mechanical papers like journal articles or documentation because there are fewer rules to follow, and I can write in unexpected and inventive ways. That is exactly what I like about it!

Do you see any connection from your IEW training to your ability to communicate beyond writing?

In my IEW classes we regularly presented on one of the papers we wrote, not by reading the whole paper, but by getting the keywords down as notes and presenting from there. I think this really helped me with presenting in my college coursework. Because I started doing this at an early age, it feels natural. That doesn't mean I'm totally comfortable in front of an audience—not at all! My knees still shake and my heart races, but at least I know what to say next and how to say it, so the audience will understand what I'm trying to get at. I had to take an “Engineering Communications” class in college, and some students there didn't know what they were doing. It was perhaps only the second time they had presented before. Those students definitely improved throughout the class, but I felt that I learned a bit more because of my early introduction to public speaking.

Do you have any plans for the future where writing and communicating will be needed?

My interests are in computer science and engineering, specifically machine learning and robotics. But I will still need to write and communicate in my future career, and not just a minimal amount! I will need to write emails to co-workers, updates to my boss about how I am doing, media releases if something I'm working on is super interesting, and documentation for the projects I'm working on. So yes, my future plans do include writing, but from my point of view, I really do think every career requires some sort of writing. Some do require more than others, but really every career has some sort of writing and communicating involved in it.

What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?

I would probably tell my younger self to not get so stressed out when writing papers. They'll eventually feel like no big deal, and words will flow out super easily, at least most of the time. I’d also tell her that just because her brain “gets” math and science, it’s not as if she can’t also be good at writing, too! It’s a learnable skill. I definitely can write now. So younger self, you can make it!

Jamie is right. Writing and good communication skills are an essential component of all careers. Do you have a “math and science brain” kid in your home who doesn’t like to write? Share Jamie’s insights with him. It may be just the encouragement he needs to hear as he heads off to polish his rough draft. And congratulations, Jamie, on your academic achievements! We can see you’ve got a bright future in engineering ahead of you!

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