Scientist, writer, policy advocate, YouTuber – before Jordan Harrod established his many successful career identities, his first role was as a student athlete. While she enjoyed competing in everything from figure skating to fencing, she also suffered injuries that left her with chronic pain. These experiences as a patient laid the foundation for an interest in biomedical research and engineering. “I knew I wanted to create tools that would help people with health issues similar to me,” she says.
Harrod continued his studies in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. Before graduating, she spent a summer at Stanford University researching machine learning for MRI reconstruction. “I didn’t know anything about machine learning before that, so I learned a lot on the fly,” she says. “I realized I liked playing with data in different ways. Machine learning was also becoming the big new thing at the time, so it was an exciting path to take. “
Harrod was looking for doctoral programs that would combine his interests in patient support, biomedical engineering, and machine learning. She fell on the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technologies (HST) and realized that would be the ideal solution. The interdisciplinary program requires students to complete clinical rotations and take introductory courses alongside medical students. “I found that the clinical perspective was often underestimated on the research side, so I wanted to make sure I had it. My goal was for my research to be transposable to the real world, ”explains Harrod.
Mapping the brain to understand consciousness
Today, Harrod collaborates with professors Emery brown, an anesthesiologist, and Ed boyden, a neuroscientist, to study how different parts of the brain relate to consciousness and wakefulness. They are seeking to understand how the brain works under different states of consciousness and how this affects the processing of signals associated with pain. By studying arousal in mice and applying statistical tools to analyze large datasets of activated brain regions, for example, Brown’s team hopes to improve current understanding of anesthesia.
“This is another step towards creating better anesthesia regimens for individual patients,” says Harrod.
Since beginning his research in neuroscience, Harrod has been amazed to learn how much is yet to be discovered about the brain. In addition to understanding biological mechanisms, she believes there is still work to be done at the preliminary level of cause and effect. “We’re still learning how different arousal centers work together to modulate consciousness, or what happens if you turn one off,” says Harrod. “I don’t think I realized the magnitude or the difficulty of the challenge, let alone how difficult it is to translate our research into brains in people.”
“I didn’t come to college with a background in neuroscience, so every day is an opportunity to learn new things about the brain. Even after three years, I am still amazed at how much we still have to find out.
Knowledge sharing online and beyond
Outside of the lab, Harrod spends his time communicating research to the public and advocating for improved science policies. She is president of the External Affairs Council of the Graduate Student Council, Early Career Policy Ambassador for the Society for Neuroscience and Co-Founder of the MIT Science Policy Review, which publishes peer-reviewed reports on various science policy issues.
“Most of our research is funded by our taxpayers, but most people don’t necessarily understand what’s going on with the research they are funding,” says Harrod. “I wanted to create a way for people to better understand how the different regulations affect them personally.”
In addition to his advocacy roles, Harrod also has a dedicated online presence. She writes articles for Massive Science and is well known for her Youtube channel. His videos, published weekly, explore the different ways we interact with artificial intelligence on a daily basis. What started as a hobby three years ago has grown into an active community with 70,000 subscribers. “I hadn’t seen a lot of other people talking about AI and machine learning in a casual way, so I decided to do it for fun,” she says. “It has been a great way to keep me up to date on broader field issues. “
Harrod’s most popular video focuses on how AI can be used to monitor online exam proctoring. With the shift to e-learning that occurred during the pandemic, many students have used his video to understand how AI monitors can detect cheating. “As the audience grew, it was exciting to read the reviews and see people become curious about AI applications that they had never heard of before. I also had interesting conversations with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, ”she says.
In the future, Harrod hopes to find a career that will allow him to balance his time between laboratory research, policy and science communication. She plans to continue using her knowledge as a scientist to debunk the hype and tell truthful stories to the public. “I have seen so many articles with titles that could be misleading if someone read only the title. For example, a small study in mice may be exaggerated to make mind-reading technology appear to be real, while research still has a long way to go.
“Since starting my YouTube channel, I’ve learned that it’s important to give people reasonable expectations about what’s real and what they’re going to encounter in their lives. They deserve to have the big picture so they can make informed decisions, ”she says.