An Electric-fying Interview with Annie Brantigan

Stanford University

Annie Brantigan is an undergraduate student at Stanford University, class of 2019, who is pre-med but plans to major in electrical engineering before continuing to grad school, whether that’s medical school, a program in EE, or both. She’s interested in the intersection of medicine and engineering, particularly medical devices and brain-computer interface. Originally from Baltimore County, Maryland, Annie attended Dulaney High School, where amazing teachers and her continued involvement in the robotics club promoted her interest in STEM.

What motivated you or inspired you to go into your field?
I got into STEM originally because of my parents I suppose. My mom is a doctor in a pediatric ER and my dad is a doctor of music who pivoted later in life and ended up on the cutting edge of computer science and software development. I grew up watching, among other shows, Mythbusters, whose members always looked like they were having so much fun, and PBS NOVA specials. One particularly about a neurologically controlled robotic prosthetic arm still sticks in my mind and inspires me today.

In middle school I got involved in the robotics club, and despite having a hard time getting the guys to take me seriously and having to fight to get my hands on the robot itself, I decided to continue with it in high school, and that opened my eyes to all the different ways I could pursue engineering later in my life.

I’m at Stanford now planning to major in electrical engineering and take all the classes I need to be ready for medical school. People think that means I have my life all planned out. I feel like it just means I’m indecisive. But I’m ok with that! I like both medicine and engineering, and specifically the intersection of the two, because it feels like in those fields I’ll always be learning and solving problems.

What have been your biggest challenges so far? How do you maintain positivity and motivation despite obstacles or barriers?
I’ve definitely had times where I couldn’t imagine myself as an engineer. I couldn’t imagine myself fitting in with the stereotype. To change that I looked for engineers I could aspire to be like, tried to analyze why the stereotype existed, and prove to myself that it didn’t have to. I had to learn how to get other people to take me seriously and how to fight for myself. I’m still learning these things. I’ve had to build up my confidence a lot, and battle imposter syndrome at every step of the way.

Like my favorite high school economics teacher would always say, it’s important to be “gritty”, and to persevere even when the task feels insurmountable. I do this mainly by surrounding myself with other gritty people. I also really like to plan things out and break challenges down into accomplishable ones. Lists are great, and it’s so satisfying to check something off a list and look back later to see how many of these little obstacles I was able to overcome.

I try to stay positive by writing down at least one good thing that happens to me every day. It sounds a little hokey I’ll admit up front, but I think it’s actually changed the way I think about things, and I find myself counting my good things subconsciously when I’m feeling discouraged. Also, never underestimate the power of the weather. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes sitting in the sunshine to renew your outlook on life :)

What motto or core values do you live by?
1. It’s important to stay open minded about everything and understand things from other points of view. No issue is binary, and a person’s beliefs and behaviors are influenced by a lifetime of experiences, so I try to appreciate as much of the nuance as possible. I think that’s an important part of just living in the world.

2. I like to think that every experience is a learning experience, and so I try to expose myself to as many opportunities and experiences as possible, even though they can be out of my comfort zone and might not always seem great in the moment. I’ve found that sometimes, something huge in my life really changes for the better. The majority of the time, I learn something awesome and it expands my view of things. Occasionally it’s not great, but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted an experience gained this way.

3. And my favorite motto: surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you to be better, smarter, kinder, healthier, and more ambitious. I like to credit everything to positive peer pressure throughout my life, high school especially, and now in college. It happens almost subconsciously, but I think in many ways we become the people we’re with the most.

What kind of obstacles are in store for today’s young women? What are some words of advice you believe would help girls today overcome these obstacles?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned, in the past year particularly, is that the greatest obstacle to doing anything is a mental one. I’ve been so inspired lately meeting people who have the audacity and determination to believe that when they have a good idea, they can go out and make it reality, whether it’s doing research to answer a burning question you have, developing a new app you think the world needs, interviewing for a job doing something you love, or starting an organization like this one to create change and inspire girls everywhere. The resources are out there to help you at every step of the way. This mental block is at least half the battle, so if I have any advice, it would be that if you have an idea, be confident in your ability to explore it, because getting past the mental block is what makes people different. Studies have shown that while men tend to overestimate themselves when challenged, women tend to underestimate themselves, so while this really applies to everyone, it’s especially important that women and girls feel empowered to fight for their ideas and abilities.

Have Anything in Common?

Preferred superpower:
Teleportation, that would just be amazingly convenient.
Morning routine:
I'm that person that resets the alarm 10 times. Eventually around 9, I roll myself out of bed, into the shower, and off to class.
Average weekend:
I like to catch up on things from the previous week and organize myself. I'll definitely go out with friends and usually try to do something new.
I love playing viola, sailing with my family in the Chesapeake Bay, snowboarding in the winter, spending time with my friends, no matter what we're doing, and reading.
Learn to do anything:
To extreme speed read, mostly so I could cheat this question and learn more things faster.
Favorite TV show or movie:
I love "How To Get Away With Murder", "The West Wing", "SNL", and anything with Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, or John Oliver.