Hey robotics fam. This week begins some earnest personal soul-searching for where I want to apply to robotics PhD programs. I understand that I should pick a program based on the research group / staff, not on school prestige, so I want to make sure that I frame my expectations properly. I write this post to seek advice on how I should approach a PhD program. Specifically, I need to zero in on a research topic, but I’m interested in a ton of things, and don’t know how to narrow it down.
My background is in mechanical engineering (currently in an MSME program), so I’m comfortable with design, analysis, and fabrication of mechanisms and components. I have also taken courses in controls + modeling. I have worked internships in process engineering and software engineering, respectively, plus a co-op in industrial r&d for robotic additive manufacturing. I love software development and data analysis, and I have made a great personal effort over the last 5 years (while working part time in a robotics research group) to learn to be a competent programmer (best practices, algorithms, languages) without taking any formal CS classes. I can cut good code in languages like C++, MATLAB, and LabVIEW without thinking, but I am not so knowledgeable about fancy algorithms, AI, or machine vision. My only big weak spot is EE – I suck at circuits. I’m a quick study, though, and I am not afraid to teach myself new things.
Is it appropriate to frame myself as a jack-of-all-trades? I am curious almost to a fault, and I love the idea of one day working on “full stack development” of a totally new robotic system. I’m happiest when I have a screwdriver in my hand in the morning, and am programming in the afternoon. But, this does NOT help me target a grad program. Biorobotics presents awesome human-centered problems, swarm robotics is fascinating, and even fundamental robotics stuff like teleoperation and control algorithms would be fun. Is there such a thing as a “general” robotics PhD program? Or, are there any current focus areas in robotics that would fit this kind of approach?
Thanks for your advice.