I think being a ‘good parent’ is about controlling that inner dialogue that every parent has with themselves. When we have an inner dialogue that is too judgemental and too negative we quickly lose our balance as parents and everything can spiral downward. This is true for every parent whether working or staying at home. There is always that temptation to compare ourselves with others. For working moms it may be guilt at not being able to make the school play and for stay-at-home moms it may be not providing financially for the family.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Archuleta.
Dr. Michelle Archuleta is an entrepreneur and inventor in artificial intelligence. As the Founder of AIpiphany, an AI NLP startup, she develops foundational AI technology into products that improve patient’s lives. AIpiphany Notes is a product that transforms electronic health records into patient friendly language, so that patients can understand their most personal and relevant information. Michelle is very passionate about making a positive impact in patient’s lives through the use of technology. Prior to founding AIpiphany, she was a data scientist on cross functional teams at Eisai Pharmaceuticals where she analyzed datasets and pioneered new approaches that lead to an innovative biomarker pipeline. Through the development of novel algorithms and data analysis techniques her work led to decisions for taking drugs into the clinic. Prior to Eisai, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard where she worked in artificial intelligence and immune biology. She holds a doctorate degree in engineering from the University of New Mexico. Michelle loves to spend her time outdoors with her six-year old daughter and her wonderful husband in Colorado.
Thank you so much for joining us Michelle! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Igrew up very curious with the world. I went to a very poor school in rural Colorado. We did not have the same opportunities to take special classes, go on field trips, or have much insight at the world beyond our small community. But there was a library and I became interested in neuroscience. Pretty soon I was asking my mom for neuroscience books. I had no prospective that you have to take this and that subject and you can’t advance until you pass this course. I was just a junior high student reading neuroscience books in the park. It didn’t matter how complicated they were I found them fascinating. I learned that if I persisted at reading and investigating things that were unfamiliar to me I could teach myself anything.
I still find myself to be passionately curious to this day and I have been blessed by the opportunities that have come my way. I still constantly teach myself new things.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
Growing up in rural Colorado, healthcare and educational opportunities were very limited. Despite this I learned an incredible resilience and work ethic from my parents and the people of my community. I also had an extreme curiosity and love for mathematics and medicine. In high school I think I read several neuroscience textbooks as well as physics, chemistry, and mathematics.
In college and throughout my career I have always had one foot in medicine and the other in mathematics. At the time there was no such degree as data science, computational biology, or artificial intelligence but I knew that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to leverage mathematics to make a positive impact in medicine. My graduate dissertation was a blend of mathematics and computer science applied to cancer biology.
Along the way I was very much influenced by my grandmother. She was always one of my biggest advocates. She was my champion for my education and she always encouraged me to reach for the stars. When I was a junior in college, my grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer. She was 70 years old and the local doctor had never recommended a colonoscopy. Around this time I began working for a professor who would become my graduate advisor and my dissertation would be focused on applying algorithms to understand mechanisms of cancer signaling.
Shortly after I graduated with my undergraduate degree my grandmother passed away.
I continued my journey in cancer research focusing my skills on computational biology and artificial intelligence. I moved to Boston and worked at a very prestigious biomedical research institute.
During the time of travelling between Boston and rural Colorado, the dichotomy between two different worlds that I identified the problem. Patient’s were unable to advocate for their own health because their experience of healthcare was always in a foreign medical language. I thought about my research projects that could lead to publications. However, those publications would never be accessible because they were written in a technical jargon language. I thought of my grandmother and her experience if only she had been able to advocate for her health.
This is what led me to start AIpiphany, an artificial intelligence company with the product AIpiphany Notes that can transform complex medical jargon found in electronic health records into patient friendly language. A health record in plain understandable language can empower patients to be active participants in their health, build trust and partnership with their doctors, identify medication errors and ultimately save lives.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Sometimes it feels like there can’t be another thing crammed into my day. It’s chaotic meetings, deadlines, an endless reading list, product development, meeting investors, making time to pray and take care of my spiritual well-being, making time to work out, and being present during family time.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
Kids are constantly experimenting, constantly taking in new information, and constantly looking for reinforcement whereas adults already know the consequences of their actions children do not. Kids will receive reinforcement from somewhere it might come from peers, from social media, from movies, etc. As parents we have to ensure that kids have reinforcement from us and this requires spending time with them. If we are not spending time with our children our reinforcement and love is absent from their lives and this void will be filled by all the many other and often negative influences of the world.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
In the beginning, we have the advantage as babies are seeking parent’s reinforcement and love. However as babies become kids and enter new environments such as school other factors start to have greater influence. There is a narrowing window of opportunity to provide children with reinforcement and love that results in them having a good character and good judgement. We therefore must be a constant presence in our children’s lives.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
In marketing world its all about providing an experience when you go to stay at a luxury hotel it’s not the bed or shower it’s all about the experience of it. We can think about quality time spent with our children as providing an experience. The experience doesn’t have to involve money or a fancy vacation it could just be that you tickle your child when they pester you for something. That moment of happiness that moment of joy is priceless and you have created an experience for your child and a lasting memory.
We pray together and thank God for our many blessings. We go to church together as a family on Sundays. We pray together at night and before each meal. Our faith in God is a very important part of our life and it’s something that we celebrate together.
We always try to make learning fun and part of an activity that my daughter wants to do. An example of this was when I was teaching my daughter her multiplication tables and she was distracted wanting to sing her favorite song, ‘what does the fox say?’ I suggested she sing her multiplication tables to ‘what does the fox say?’ song. She did this substituting her multiplication tables into the song lyrics. This was a big hit. All of a sudden it became very fun to sing her new version of the song.
One of the things I used to do when I would read a book to my daughter was purposefully insert a wrong word into a sentence that made the sentence sound hilliarous. I usually did this after we had read the book a couple times. My daughter would plead and plead for me to read this way to her. She loved it! It was a big game and then she would want to read and create her own version of the story. This method helped her to have a love for reading.
We spend a lot of time outdoors together. During the summer we are camping, hiking, riding bikes, playing with our dogs, going on vacations or road trips. There is always something fun for us to do. During the summers we often eat dinner and barbeque outside. We also have movie nights where we setup a big outdoor screen, invite the neighborhood kids over, and make a bunch of popcorn.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
It’s so easy to be carried away with our day, deadlines, and endless demands and sometimes it’s hard to flip that switch and be engaged at home. One strategy I have for this is to engage in laughter. Can I take a moment to laugh, to tell a silly joke, or to tickle my daughter? If I can do that, that’s all I need to be fully present with my family.
Another strategy I have is to wake up every morning and be grateful. To thank God for all the blessings I have received. I find that when I do this I’m likely to carry gratitude with me throughout my day. I also try to find gratitude in the moment of stress, in the moments of chaos.
An example would be that I’m rushing in the morning to get my daughter off to school, she is telling me a long-winded story, and I’m running late. As soon as I can get her buckled in and I’m driving I engage in that story and I treasure that moment. That moment of gratitude and engagement with my daughter carries over to the next meeting and positivity that can last throughout my day.
Another strategy I have is to give my daughter responsibility like doing chores around the house. If I can delegate household responsibility it is a win-win for both of us. She learns responsibility and I have fewer things on my plate. It also helps to have my daughter’s weekend a mix of doing chores and having some fun activities.
Another strategy is to give myself mental space and peace of mind I do this with early morning meditation and prayer. This becomes really important when I have many different deadlines and lots of responsibility. I have to let my mind be quiet and fully engaged in the present moment.
Another strategy is a detailed cost analysis. What are the benefits of taking on project X? How will it make a difference for my company? How will it impact my family? What are the odds of success vs. failure? These are all extremely important questions to make sure I’m working on the right things which will have a big impact.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
I think being a ‘good parent’ is about controlling that inner dialogue that every parent has with themselves. When we have an inner dialogue that is too judgemental and too negative we quickly lose our balance as parents and everything can spiral downward.
This is true for every parent whether working or staying at home. There is always that temptation to compare ourselves with others. For working moms it may be guilt at not being able to make the school play and for stay-at-home moms it may be not providing financially for the family.
There are a million and one ways to make ourselves feel inadequate and yet we are the best parents that we can be when we turn off that negative dialogue and focus on making the most out of the precious time we have with our children.
And while I am careful about my own internal dialogue regarding being a ‘good parent’ I do take inspiration from parents that face true hardship and still persevere at being good parents.
We should also take into perspective that being a ‘good parent’ transcends social economic and educational backgrounds.
Good parents are homeless and while unable to provide shelter for their children they are still the source of love, warmth and strength for their children. Good parents are refugees who have crossed thousands of miles of land and sea, and who have endured violence, corruption, and inhumanity from the leaders of the world and yet still pursue a brighter future for their children.
It is through the lens of humility that we understand that parents that have so little in material things, so little in opportunities, and who have a bleak future are still the spark of light and hope for the next generation. We are challenged to let go of a negative internal dialogue and make the most out of our time and lives.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
The inspiration to “dream big” comes from the example I live. I’m always doing new things and pushing boundaries. From a very young age of three, my daughter would say things ‘like I’m going to go work on my patent.’ or ‘I have to apply for my grant tonight’. We would laugh about it. One time I was practicing my pitch for a pitch competition and she heard me. For months afterwards she would say ‘Hello My name is Michelle Archuleta I’m the Founder & CEO of AIpiphany’. As she grows older and understands the meaning of the work I did I hope she realizes that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
Success is being present and grateful for each moment. Success is loving and appreciating the full spectrum of my day.
A successful day is spending time with my daughter either reading, learning multiplication, Spanish and/or Mandarin and watching her grasp new concepts. For example, she recently came up with a new version to ‘What does the fox say?’ which involves her singing her multiplication tables. It’s quite hilarious!
A successful day may also be cherishing her laugh while I drive her to school. Taking the moment to realize just how beautiful and perfect a child’s laugh is. It’s arguably the most beautiful sound in the world.
A successful day maybe taking inspiration from her curiosity. Listening intently to her stories as I shepard her to collect her things as we get into the car. Children constantly challenge us adults to be curious to be fascinated by the world.
Curiosity and fascination are the greatest gifts that children give to adults each and every moment, a beautiful and inspiring energy that is transformative. It can be hard as adults to let this energy in as we are constantly focused on the here and now and the next steps that need to be done. And yet curiosity and fascination are transformative in the workplace.
A successful day is indulging in that cherished time with my family and weaving it into the rest of my day to be a catalyst of positivity and productivity.
A successful day maybe a roadtrip with my family on Sunday afternoon when with rest and happiness I come up with a new algorithm to be integrated into our product. A new idea that sparks a series of patents.
A successful day maybe at 4:30am on a Saturday morning when I’m drinking coffee and working on computer code. It might be that quiet time before the hustle and bustle of a Saturday packed with adventure that I am reading the latest neural network architecture paper or programming a new web scraper.
Success is being in the moment and so easily transitioning from intellectual curiosity and work (that is not really work but happiness) to pure enjoyment with family. An example of this for me is a road trip with my husband driving and me reading chapter after chapter of deep learning or symbolic logic. Once we reach our destination its being completely in the moment enjoying one another and a new adventure. Then back in the car with my readings, contentment and enjoyment at the interruptions ‘mom I need the bathroom’.
Success is the words of wisdom from a good friend and mentor. ‘You can compete against anybody, man or woman. You are fierce competition.’
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I read a few articles on parenting but more than anything I just try to be authentic.
In many ways I think the books I read on spiritual awareness by great authors like Thich Nhat Hanh and Deepak Chopra help me to be a better parent because they help me to be a better person. Our bedtime ritual is an example of how spiritual awareness has helped me to improve my relationship with my daughter. Every night before my daughter goes to bed I spend time in her room and just listen. She opens up and tells me about all the problems in her day. I give her this quiet time to talk. I am fully present and she knows she can tell me anything.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two which are very powerful together.
‘What you are looking for is already in you… You already are everything you are seeking.’ -Thich Nhat Hanh
‘You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’ — John Bunyan
These two quotes together are a call to action for me. Reflecting deeply ‘You already are everything you are seeking’. -Thich Nhat Hanh. I can find everything I need within inside of myself when I focus on the present moment and have a heart full of gratitude.
And the second one is the flower of success, really the question of have I taken God’s gifts and cultivated them to help others. The only measure of success, ‘You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’ — John Bunyan
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe cities should invest in providing facilities for homeless people to shower and wash their clothes. I think this would prevent a lot of illness and healthcare expenses. I envision that it would pay for itself. I also think that being clean is so important to human dignity. Homeless people have so much to give yet they are denied the dignity of being clean and are shunned from society because of it. By giving the simple gift of a place to shower we may find that to be a catalyst for future prosperity and a better life.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!