COGS Alumni Spotlight: Andrew Raitt

B.A. Mind, Language, and Computation, ’20
Hazelton Fellow at the University of Washington School of Law

Andrew Raitt is a Hazelton Fellow at the University of Washington School of Law, and investigates the interactions between law, policy, and emerging technologies at the Technology Policy Lab. He served as the lead policy researcher for connected and autonomous vehicles at the University of Washington’s Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic. Prior to his time at the University of Washington, Andrew was a Cognitive Systems student, COGS teaching assistant, and seminar director for UBC’s Artificial Intelligence and Legal Systems seminar.

Why did you choose Cognitive Systems as your focus in your degree at UBC?

I’m generally an indecisive person, and I never feel like I can only focus on a single discipline. Going into my first year, I had a massive interest in psychology. While psych offers so many great areas to explore, I personally felt like I wanted to have a more diverse education that also accommodated my then more casual interests in  philosophy and computer science. COGS was the perfect compromise, and I’m lucky I found it.

How much of the career path that you are in now was planned in your time as an undergrad? Is it the career that you had envisioned?

I knew I loved law since high school. For as long as I can remember, my sights have always been set towards learning more about the law in one form or another. Despite this, my career path specifically dedicated to the study of artificial intelligence and technology law was almost entirely serendipitous. It wasn’t until a chance conversation with a total stranger on a beach in Denmark that I realized AI and law could even intersect. Realizing that we might not have all the answers about who is liable when a driverless car hurts somebody, or who gets royalties when an AI generated song becomes a hit was a revelation for me, and I knew I had to pursue my curiosity further. Law doesn’t necessarily require you to have a background in any specific field, and some people face total shifts when transferring into law from other disciplines. For that reason, ultimately being able to bring in so much of what I learned with me into my legal education was unexpected but completely welcomed. For now, I’ll say that my career path has been full of great surprises but perhaps not yet the most winding path. No matter what I end up doing, I have a long road ahead of me. Who knows where I’ll end up, or what chance encounter will send me down a new path next.

What would you advise students that are uncertain about their path and overwhelmed by so many different career possibilities?

It really is okay not to know what you’re doing all the time. The process of discovering yourself is critical, and denying yourself of that will only deprive you of valuable personal growth. It is a blessing in disguise that such discovery can often happen when you make mistakes. Just be flexible and don’t be too hard on yourself when things stray from the plan.  If something isn’t working out, take pride in the fact that you have realized it and do what you can to pivot. You can be so many things in life, so it’s important to be introspective and understand what exactly feels right to you. There is likely no one-size-fits-all career path, and if there was, it probably would be too easy.  Do the best you can to find your own space and build your passions, and most importantly, do it for your own reasons. If you can find a niche in your studies that fascinate you, absolutely take everything you can from it. My interest in artificial intelligence and my passion for law allowed me to merge my career in a really fun and unique way, and COGS offers so many opportunities to explore similar academic intersections. Talk to your professors, talk to your peers, join a lab, and most importantly never give up an opportunity to learn something for free. When you make it (and you will make it), remember that feeling out of place, underqualified, or overwhelmed doesn’t mean that you actually are. Just like being at UBC, you will have been placed on your career path for a reason. Have faith in your abilities and don’t let uncertainty stop you–everyone else is pretending too.

What is the most significant lesson, skill or trait you learned from studying COGS at UBC?

Generally speaking, I strongly advocate for the interdisciplinary learning afforded by COGS. There were a few times in my undergraduate years where it felt difficult to enter, for example, an upper level course on neuropsychopharmacology without having taken the pre-requisite courses that a neuroscience major would have perhaps taken. Being required to learn across a diverse set of disciplines really helped me not only gain a better understanding about how a lot of different things work, but also forced me to adapt and be flexible. Learning what exactly to pay attention to, and changing my learning skills in order to understand unfamiliar things in an effective way have been immeasurably helpful.

More specifically, cognitive psychology (here’s to looking at you, Kahneman and Tversky) actually plays a surprisingly large role in mediation and negotiations, one of my favorite law subjects. Logic and everything they taught me in CPSC 121 also turned out to be very close to the LSAT, and is similar in many ways to legal reasoning.

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

Either find a way or make one. It can be hard to find something you want to do, which is all the more reason to stick with it once you identify something that works. Do what others won’t do, and do whatever it takes to get what you want.

What is your “COGS elevator pitch?” How do you talk about your time at COGS in job interviews?

I tend to say it’s a degree that compares natural thinking systems to artificial ones. The Artificial Intelligence angle is very metropolitan, and people love to hear a good story about how your learning will inform future technologies. Employers love STEM, so you can never overemphasize how interdisciplinary and well-rounded your learning is in those areas. I can list off at least one interesting thing I have learned from each of the main COGS academic discipline pillars (psychology, computer science, linguistics, and philosophy). The modularity afforded by the Cognitive Systems program  can give you a really great opportunity to demonstrate how unique your learning is compared to other non-COGS degrees.

What advice do you have to build and maintain professional networks?

Many of the most unique and fulfilling opportunities I’ve had were gained by making friends with the right people. Never dismiss an opportunity to go to a group dinner or a faculty meet and greet. Go to Koerner’s House Parties even when your friends can’t make it! University life will always reward those who look for opportunities to meet fascinating people,  just don’t be afraid to take the first step by putting yourself out there. For many people, talking about themselves is one of the easiest things to do–it’s always a great idea to show your interest in someone’s work by asking them questions or following up with them by text or email. Professionals especially are more willing to talk to you (and more forgiving of “weird” questions) when you’re a student. Even if nothing comes out of an interaction, you’ll still be better off for trying.

Another piece of advice I would give is don’t be a jerk. While that sounds like a given, you would be surprised at how far you can get just by being friendly and open minded about other opinions. Every person knows at least one thing you don’t; if you go to university thinking you already have all the answers, you’re in the wrong place.

I maintain my professional network like I do my friends. It’s great to send them a message every once in a while to learn how they’re doing and fill them in with what’s going on in your life. It’s okay to ask them for favors, but I wouldn’t advise contacting them only when you need something. Be amicable!

I believe the most important action that someone needs to take to build their career is:

Make meaningful friends and networks. I know I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t get out and meet great people. These kinds of people come in and out of your life, so try to make the most of their time whenever you can. You can’t (and you shouldn’t) do this alone.