Taking a Fast-Track to a Research-Oriented Career

January 2018
Rachel Bainbridge
Rachel Bainbridge in the lab

Rachel Bainbridge is fast and focused. Many staff know her from her dedication to running at MITRE's Bedford, Massachusetts, campus every morning. Others know her from her work in MITRE's independent research program, where she's developing countermeasures to Electromagnetic Fault Induction (EMFI). Her goal is to help protect our sponsors' hardware from malicious attacks.

Bainbridge first came to MITRE in 2005 as an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) intern. "My summer as an AFCEA intern was great," she reflects. "I helped develop a Java application that would assist users in visualizing a plane's status. Then, in college, I found I enjoyed working with hardware more."

After completing both bachelor's and master of engineering degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bainbridge returned to MITRE full-time to focus on digital hardware engineering. And her career has continued to gain momentum.

Giving Early Career Professionals a Boost

MITRE started our Early Career Research Program (ECRP) in 2012 to give junior staff the opportunity to undertake research and development during the first phase of their careers. It's specifically designed to help them develop skills in research, communication, and project management.

The opportunity to perform transformational research for MITRE's sponsors intrigued Bainbridge. She knew she wanted to apply for the ECRP, but needed some assistance. "I really wanted to get into research, but I didn't have a complete project idea formed," she says.

After doing some brainstorming with her colleagues, she decided to expand on some research done by MITRE’s Jeff Hamalainen on hardware faults. These faults are device malfunctions caused by an outside source, such as temperature or power glitches. Using Hamalainen as a mentor, she developed a proposal and joined the ECRP in 2016, where she spent half her time researching EMFI.

Taking Her Research to the Next Level

After a successful year with the ECRP, Rachel submitted an idea to further her EMFI work within MITRE's internal research program, known as the MITRE Innovation Program (MIP). Every year the MIP receives 1,000 ideas for research projects from across the corporation and selects approximately 200 for funding. As is the case with the ECRP, the MIP allows staff to pursue research that can help our sponsors. In 2017, Bainbridge's idea was chosen to receive funding.

Now a principal investigator of her own project, Bainbridge leads a team of interns striving to develop countermeasures to EMFI attacks on Field-Programmable Gate Arrays. "I feel like I've taken on a lot more responsibility than in the past," she says. "I have a great intern team working with me, which has allowed us to take the project a lot further than I could on my own."

Rachel Bainbridge is a running enthusiast and regular participant in MITRE's annual fun run at the company's Bedford, Massachusetts campus.

A Collaborative Environment

One of the best parts about working at MITRE, according to Bainbridge, is the collaborative environment. As her team developed fault countermeasures, colleagues helped confirm their findings. "Knowing subject matter experts agreed with our findings helped validate our research," she says.

And Bainbridge's best advice for new employees? "Don't be afraid to ask people to help you. Be open to advice from people who have different experience." Developing briefings and proposals is not easy, but Bainbridge found MITRE mentors, including Hamalainen, who are always willing to assist.

Just as important as teamwork is the ability to step back and take time to study or work on something else. "What I really like about MITRE is that you can work on multiple projects simultaneously. I love my own research project, but it's nice to have some diversity." Bainbridge also says that she takes what she learns from one project and applies her new knowledge to another—a MITRE tradition.

Sharing with Sponsors Brings a MITRE First

Bainbridge's goal is to build on the findings from her EMFI research to help other sponsors. Earlier this year, she presented her research at the Department of Defense Anti-Tamper conference, sharing her work on EMFI with peers and government agencies.

She'll continue her internal research for another year and hopes to secure direct funding from government sponsors the following year.

"We're reaching out to interested organizations," she says. "It's rewarding to know that our research has the potential to provide new technology that will benefit our sponsors."

–by Liz Borseti

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