Master's Profile: David Britton

David Britton

Undergraduate Degree: BS, Physics and History of Science, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Duke MEMS Path: Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Juris Doctor Law Degree, 2017

What do you do as a master's student in MEMS?

As a master’s student in mechanical engineering and materials science, I worked on legal scholarship at the intersection of engineering and society. I spent my time in Duke neurosurgeon and MEMS faculty member Patrick Codd's Brain Tool Lab engaging with the legal and regulatory issues surrounding an automated brain tumor resection tool being developed in the lab. My master’s thesis under robotics expert Mary "Missy" Cummings focused on the regulation of autonomous systems from a systems engineering perspective, questioning current approaches to managing the risks of new technologies.

Why did you choose Duke for graduate study?

Duke offered a dual degree program that would allow me to get a Master of Science degree concurrently with law degree. As an undergrad, I studied physics and the history of science, and wanted to keep working at the intersection of science and society. Duke's degree programs offered me that opportunity.

Why did you choose to combine a MEMS degree with a law degree?

I believed the engineering credential, on top of my undergraduate physics degree, would be valuable to my legal career. I also enjoy engineering and science, and the way people think in those disciplines, so my MEMS classes provided a different perspective than my law school courses. Lastly, exposure to engineering research has given me an insight into how engineers approach problems, as well as hooks for interesting legal and regulatory analysis of new technology.

What has been the most valuable part of your education at Duke?

Certainly, the most valuable part of education at a top-notch school like Duke is the people you meet along the way, especially fellow students. By working across disciplines as much as I have—which Duke encourages and facilitates—I soaked in viewpoints and theories from lots of brilliant students and faculty. Creating and maintaining these relationships across academic fields has been the most important part of my Duke education.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying to any of the graduate programs and robotics program at Duke?

Take advantage of opportunities to reach outside of Pratt for understanding of the real-world implications of your primary work, and make sure your primary work has something of value to add to society. Relatedly, make sure you find an adviser that you will have a healthy, positive relationship with. Most of the suffering among graduate students comes when they get too far into the weeds on a project that they don't see practical value in, and in that instance it’s best to have an advisor that you work well with and respect so you’re more open to their suggestions and help.