Shuffling the deck

When Andy Bloch ’91, SM ’92, graduated from MIT, he fully intended to use his degrees in electrical engineering.

He got a job with a New York City startup, working on 3D stereo displays and other projects, until one day he got in an argument with his boss and was fired.

It was an early career setback with a silver lining.

It gave him time to take the LSAT, and he scored high enough to later qualify for Harvard Law School. More important, it gave him a chance to master three-card stud at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, his home state.

He figured out a way to beat the house consistently, attracting the interest of J.P. Massar ’78, SM ’79, one of the founders of the acclaimed MIT blackjack team, known for its ability to use card-counting to beat the odds at casinos in Atlantic City, in Las Vegas, and finally around the world.

Bloch became a champion poker player, completing his degree from Harvard Law along the way. He has won more than 15 professional poker tournaments, earned a gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker, and garnered more than $5 million in winnings.

Though Bloch’s pivot from his original academic pathway was especially dramatic, it’s not unusual to see MIT graduates shifting from one career to another.

Economists call the natural human reluctance to change course the “sunk-cost fallacy.” Poker pros call it being “pot stuck.”

Nor are they alone. Ann Guo ’98, MEng ’99, a career coach who switched her own path after starting out in computer science, says more and more college graduates are reimagining their futures. In fact, US Labor Department statistics suggest that most people will change jobs—and in some cases, careers—more than a dozen times during their working lives, often embracing self-­employment to find the right fit.

“I definitely see more career changes and people carving out niches for themselves,” Guo says. “With all the technology tools you can leverage, you can make a thriving one-person business, whether it’s creating a product or a service that serves a smaller niche.”

Here’s a look at four more alumni who, like Bloch, have made major career changes.

Praneeth Namburi, PhD ’16

From neuroscience to biophysics of movement

Twelve years ago, Praneeth Namburi made a detour in what turned out to be the right direction. Then a neuroscience grad student about to join the lab of Kay Tye ’03, he was walking through the Stratton Student Center when he heard music and voices coming from the Sala de Puerto Rico. He stepped inside to investigate and found himself in the middle of a ballroom dance class, where he was immediately mistaken for a dance student. The accidental encounter might have ended right there, but Namburi stayed. And then he went back. And then he went back again.

Praneeth sitting on the ground to attach a sensor on the leg of a posed dancer
In the MIT.nano Immersion Lab, Praneeth Namburi, PhD ’16, places a wireless muscle activity sensor on dancer Kaelyn Dunnell ’25 for the Archive of Dance project studying expressive movements across cultures.KEN RICHARDSON

Today, he is considered an advanced dancer. He routinely delivered showstopping performances in competitions with his most recent dance partner, Miray Omurtak, who just wrapped up a pre­doctoral research fellowship in economics at MIT. And Namburi, who was lead author on two major papers showing how the brain categorizes things as good or bad, has nimbly executed a pivot in his career. Instead of neuroscience, he now studies the biophysics of movement—how elite dancers and athletes are able to move so gracefully and effectively. And he’s a research scientist at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science working in MIT.nano’s Immersion Lab, a shared central facility equipped with immersive sensing and visualization technologies.

The tools of Namburi’s trade include the same kind of motion capture used to create animated characters in movies like Avatar. By attaching reflective infrared sensors to subjects’ bodies and tracking their movements with 28 cameras, he can study how dancers and athletes change position in 3D space. He also

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By: Mark Roth
Title: Shuffling the deck
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Published Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2023 21:00:00 +0000


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