Page 1







Choosing Academia

Featuring Engineering

Choosing Academia

Turning Points Series Discover nuggets of unconventional wisdom through the excerpts of student interviews with Rice University faculty. Copyright 2014 Rice University. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the School of Social Sciences at Rice University. Requests for permission should be directed to Online presence at

Books in the 2013-2014 Series III Engineering: Choosing Academia Connecting Ideas Envisioning Solutions Leading Innovation Empowering Others

Previous Turning Points series: 2012-2013 Series II Natural Sciences 2011-2012 Series I Social Sciences

Rice University School of Social Sciences

Gateway Study of Leadership TURNING POINTS

{series III | 2013 - 2014} Engineering

Choosing Academia

Gateway School of Social Sciences Rice University 6100 Main Street Houston, Texas 77005-1827 U.S.A.

Turning Points Series DIRECTOR


Alex Wyatt 2013-2014 GATEWAY STUDY OF LEADERSHIP DIRECTORS Nitin Agrawal Cynthia Bau Bo Kim 2013-2014 GATEWAY STUDY OF LEADERSHIP FELLOWS Mariam Ahmed Nathan Andrus Jyra Bickham Mary Charlotte Carroll Sai Chilakapati Rucy Cui Nicholas Fleder Justin Fu Cathy Hu Richard Huang Wendy Liu Michelle Lo Xinnan Lu James McCreary Giray Ozseker Tanya Rajan Andrew Ta Guangya Wang


The 2013-2014 Turning Points series features excerpts from interviews with the Rice University George R. Brown School of Engineering faculty conducted by the Gateway Study of Leadership students. Each year, the School of Social Sciences Gateway Study of Leadership participants are engaged in interviewbased research on leadership themes and lessons offered by academics. During the interview process, students explore topics such as the influence of family expectations on career decisions, the role of mentors, the sources of inspiration for research projects, and faculty thoughts on leadership and the role of academia in our society. This year, the collection also includes thoughts shared by Rice engineering faculty on creativity, innovation, and interdisciplinary collaboration. We hope the stories and experiences featured in these books provide a window into the life of research scholars and demonstrate the different ways that ideas and careers are born and flourish.

Ipek Martinez


1. 2.

Rob Griffin, Ph.D. Parental Expectations


Ashutosh Sabharwal, Ph.D. 3 Brotherly Love


Xaq Pitkow, Ph.D. Glimpse of the Next Stage



Genevera Allen, Ph.D. It’s Funny How Things Work Out



Illya Hicks, Ph.D. Never Again



George Hirasaki, Ph.D. Legacy Influencing Choice



Daniel Mittleman, Ph.D. Hard Work for Recognition



Maria Oden, Ph.D. Against the Grain


9. 10.

Michael Carroll, Ph.D. Straying from the Expected Path


E. Neely Atkinson, Ph.D. Journeys within Academia



Wade Adams, Ph.D. A Chance Opportunity


12. Joe Warren, Ph.D. 23 Headstrong Academics 13.

Luay Nakhleh, Ph.D. Initial Interest



Jordan Miller, Ph.D. Exploring Science



Dan Wallach, Ph.D. Teaching & Managing



Benhaam Aazhang, Ph.D. Solving Problems, Starting Early



F. Kurtis Kasper, Ph.D. What Will Live On


About the Contributors Acknowledgements

35 41


Parental Expectations Rob Griffin, Ph.D. Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Rice University

My parents always implicitly understood that I would go to college and complete a bachelor’s degree and then get a job and become a productive member of society. I deviated from that a little. After I finished my bachelor’s degree, I got a job and was working for a couple of years. I wasn’t particularly happy and wasn’t really doing what I wanted to be doing. That is when I went back to graduate school. That is when I deviated from my parents’ expectations. Because neither of them had a bachelor’s degree, I don’t think they understood what it meant to go back to school and get a master’s or doctoral degree. They didn’t really understand giving up a decently paying engineering job to be a poor graduate student. Now that they do, I believe that I have exceeded the expectations they had of me, but there was a period in there during which 1

I deviated from what they had thought would happen to me. Originally I had thought I might want to focus on teaching. Maybe get a little bit more expertise and go back and teach at the high school level or perhaps teach at a community college, perhaps an institution focused on teaching rather than research per se. Very quickly within the first year in graduate school I realized I loved what I was doing and that there would be opportunities to go be a faculty member somewhere that I could do my research as well as excel in the classroom.



Brotherly Love Ashutosh Sabharwal, Ph.D. Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

While in high school, around 9th or 10th grade, I inherited a bunch of things from my older brother. All electronic stuff. I got very intrigued by that and that became my all-consuming hobby, to the point that my grades suffered for one year because I spent a lot of time messing with electronic parts and putting it together, burning things up and so on, so forth. By the end of high school, I could put together many things, but I did not know how they worked. So I knew exactly why I wanted to go study electrical engineering. I wanted to know how that all worked and why it worked. The way the system works in India is; you take an entrance exam, and then you get a location [for Indian Institute of Technology]. All of my first choices were electrical engineering. Campus A - electrical engineering. Campus B 3

electrical engineering, and so on so forth. That’s how I ended up majoring in electrical engineering. After freshman year, I got introduced to research and got to create new things. I spent lots of time during my undergraduate in different labs and working with different faculty members. It was extremely uncommon. I was one of the two or three students who would go around and ask for extra projects to do, especially during summer, when we didn’t have any coursework. During those many conversations, somebody said if you really want to do research, you should go to the U.S. and get a Ph.D. That one conversation was enough for me, to push me down that route. Once in the U.S., I had a chance to do summer internships in companies, but I hung out mostly with academics and I knew I wanted to be a professor.



Glimpse of the Next Stage Xaq Pitkow, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

My parents had very high expectations of me, especially my mother. In fact, when I was born, apparently, she said “This kid is going to Princeton,” which is where I went. She thought that I might be a scientist or maybe, even more than that, an architect. And I was building and designing things, and I’ve a strong affinity to spatial relationships like geometry and things like that. I think I wandered a little bit, but I always had an impulse towards science and figuring things out at an early age, and that aspect of me never really changed. My mother was an elementary school teacher originally and she went on to do different kinds of education, like diabetes education, and then she became involved in more general medical education. And my father was also a high school teacher, an English teacher. He 5

actually had one class he taught on science fiction, and I inherited a bunch of books from him from that class. I really loved those books. They sparked my imagination. Then he went on to do a lot of video production work and run a cigar company and do desktop publishing, so nothing really related to science at all. Every stage of my education I always had a glimpse of the next stage, but not two stages ahead. So when I was an undergrad, I could envision my graduate school. Then as a graduate student, I could envision working as a post-doc, then as a post-doc I could imagine going through the process of becoming a professor. Now I’m just a brandnew professor, so I guess I am starting to envision what the next stage of professor means. So I would say at that point, envisioning myself as becoming a professor happened when I was a post-doc. Until then it was all “I feel like doing this so I’d like to pursue this kind of thing.”



It’s Funny How Things Work Out Genevera Allen, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Statistics, Rice University

I grew up in North Carolina—in a rural part of North Carolina—and my parents are both high school teachers. My dad taught high school math, and my mom taught high school biology. My dad, growing up, told me all along that I never saw the big picture in math, which I now find quite ironic. I went away to a boarding school to study music. My parents were not happy about this; they wanted me to pursue math and science. In college, I initially went to study music - viola performance. My parents insisted it was important that I also have some type of practical major. I randomly picked statistics out of the technical majors, because it had very little requirements. As it turned out, I really liked statistics. My parents always had high expectations, but they were certainly pushing me towards math and science when I didn’t want to. It’s funny how things work out. I decided to go to grad school in 7

statistics. When I was in grad school, I did a lot of consulting for various start-up companies, and I really enjoyed consulting in the business world, and that’s what I wanted to do. I never wanted to be a professor; consulting was going to be my career trajectory. Then, the recession happened. I graduated in the middle of the recession. I thought to myself, this is probably not the best time to go out on my own as a consultant and have no health insurance, so I decided to apply for academic jobs. I did something that nobody should do; I applied for only three academic jobs just to test the waters. And when I got offers on all of them, I thought that I should probably try this. So, it was almost an accident, but it was a good accident that I became a professor.



Never Again Illya Hicks, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Computational & Applied Mathematics, Rice University

In my family, it was kind of ingrained in us that we would go to college no matter what. My father was a mechanic; he had his own shop and worked on cars. My mother was a factory worker; she made cabinets for travel trailers. My parents were married previously and had children before they met and got married and had me, and my older brother. I had siblings that were twenty-something years older than me, and most of them went to college, so it was kind of expected on both sides of the family that I would always go to college. My parents were always proud of my studies. I remember the one time when my mother wasn’t proud. I came home with a C and it nearly drove me to tears when she said, “I know you can do better than this.” From that on, I never got a C. Actually, I take that back; I did get one C in college, but pretty 9

much for the rest of my K-12 education I never got below B. I got more As and high-Bs. I mean, that really stuck with me that she was disappointed, and that I hurt her feelings with the C. It was just being sloppy; it was more sloppy work than just not being focused. The first time I envisioned myself as a professor was in graduate school. I went to Southwest Texas State. Let me retrace it. I’m from Waco, Texas; I played football at Waco High School. I got a football scholarship to Southwest Texas State. At Texas State, I majored in math, minored in physics, and then I came to Rice for graduate school, in the department of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM). The first time I envisioned myself as a professor is when I came to CAAM, and I met Dr. Richard Tapia. He was very influential. I guess the main reason I went to grad school is because I was a math major and I didn’t know what kind of job opportunities were available but I knew I could get a graduate degree and then get a job. I didn’t even ponder getting a Ph.D. and becoming a professor, I thought of getting a Ph.D. and working in the industry. And then, Dr. Tapia’s influence in grad school changed it. 10


Legacy Influencing Choice George Hirasaki, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University

While growing up, my parents told me to just keep a low profile since I was starting school one year after Japan’s surrender in World War II. But then I also remember that my parents always told me that we have to be especially good because we’re Japanese and people will judge all Japanese by how well we behave and how we perform. That meant a lot to me, as they said that our reputation is going to be based on how I do and how I perform. Not just our family, but my whole ancestry would be depending on how well we did. I didn’t think of it as a burden, it felt like a challenge or expectation. This is expected of us! Also I remember as a child that my father would occasionally take me aside and say he would like to see one of us become a diplomat or a scientist. I wasn’t very diplomatic, so I think he was telling me he wanted me to be a scientist. We did not have a long discussion on 11

the subject. He made that statement just a couple of times. He was a rice farmer, and I would sometimes take over operating the tractor after coming home from school and continue until it gets dark. One day I came home and said “Papa, I’ll take over running the tractor.” Then I said “Papa, I think I want to go to Texas A&M to study agriculture.” His face dropped and he said “If you want to study agriculture, I can teach you everything you need to learn here on the farm.” The thought of just living the rest of my life on the farm and never going to a university was appalling to me. I needed to know what the rest of the world looks like. Then I realized he was giving me a message that he would like to see me do better than be a farmer. I realized much later on that he probably didn’t have a choice to be an engineer. He went to University of California, Davis, and put himself through school by surveying much of the state of California. But he didn’t become a civil engineer, because, at that time, Japanese or Asians would not have been accepted into the engineering profession. That’s probably why he became a horticulturalist instead of a civil engineer. There were many Japanese farms and he could find work on a Japanese farm. He wanted me to have the opportunity for a profession that he wasn’t able to have at the point in history when he came to the United States. 12


Hard Work for Recognition Daniel Mittleman, Ph.D. Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

You pursue stuff and it just doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go. In my career path, certainly I’ve had challenges. Everyone has challenges. There are challenges about getting funding. Right now, I’m writing lots of proposals and hoping they get funded and if they don’t, you’ve got to panic. When I first came to Rice, I was not on the tenure track. I was a faculty fellow, which is non-tenure-track faculty here and I was three years in that position and that I found to be extremely challenging. Very very difficult to operate in that environment because it’s hard enough to get funding to do your research and to get people to take you seriously; if your university won’t even provide your salary then it’s even that much harder. I managed to turn it into a tenure-track position after three years and that was great, so as a 13

route to that it was okay, but it was a difficult route, I would say. It was just a matter of doing as much as I could to be active on the campus and in my field. I taught classes even though I didn’t have to, I went to conferences in my field and tried to maintain a very high profile. I took research and experimental data whenever I could in various places. I collaborated with people to try and do that. I wrote lots and lots and lots of proposals. I wrote papers to try and maintain a high profile. I sort of just hustled, essentially, and to a certain extent, that paid off. I was able to get some research funding, even during that time, which surprised the hell out of me, frankly, which was great to get me started. And then when the department was looking to hire someone, I leapt at the chance and so being here already helped a lot. I knew people so I could say, “You’re getting a known quantity. You know how hard I work. You know what I’ve done. This is what I propose to do. You all know it’s exciting because you’ve heard me talk about it three years now.” I’m sure that made a difference, being here.



Against the Grain Maria Oden, Ph.D. Professor in the Practice, Engineering Education, Rice University

My parents always wanted me to do something that I really loved, so they just always said, “you do whatever you do for your job every day, so you should choose something that you really like.” Nobody in my family was an engineer. I always wanted to make things, so somehow I gravitated towards that. I had a great-uncle who was an engineer but basically nobody else in my family had that career. It was a little unusual in my family to pick engineering, but they were pretty supportive of me when I found something that I really enjoyed doing. My grandmother, I remember, asked me a few times why I wasn’t going to be a schoolteacher. She thought engineering was a little crazy for a woman. Nobody else in my family seemed to think that, so it was fine. 15



Straying from the Expected Path Michael Carroll, Ph.D. Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

I got financial assistance to attend a boarding school during my high school years that was intended for grade school teachers. My dad was a grade school teacher, and he thought I would follow in his footsteps. Somewhat by accident, I later got a scholarship to attend university. I was a good student, and when a visiting teacher suggested that I apply for financial aid, which was available to those who studied all subjects in Gaelic, which I did, I took his advice. The fellow beside me in class basically said “I’m going to get a degree in arts.” It was only later that I found out that “arts” was painting and all of that stuff, where I was interested in mathematics. I signed up to be tested for the scholarship offered in the “arts division.” In due course and to my surprise, I was awarded a scholarship and had a place at the university in 17

Galway. That was the first time I broke the mold: I accepted the university scholarship even though my dad advised me not to do so. I actually got a Bachelor of Arts degree, but in science. The other thing to know is that I never took a course in engineering. My courses were all in mathematics, mathematical physics, and physics. Then I took logic, politics, and sociology to fill the requirements for the humanities. So that was the plan, and how it got off the rail.



Journeys within Academia E. Neely Atkinson, Ph.D. Professor, Statistics, Rice University

It took me a few years to discover what sort of mathematician that I want to be. It took me a few years to adjust and say; maybe you’re not going to be what you thought you were going to be. How did I deal with that? It was a matter of getting some more practical experience. I had in my head all sorts of ideas about what things would be like. I just needed a real-world experience to say, OK, what you had in your head is not going to happen, but look, there are all these wonderful sorts of things that you can still do, that would still give you the satisfaction and just because it doesn’t match the plan you had, doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.




A Chance Opportunity Wade Adams, Ph.D. Senior Faculty Fellow, Materials Science & Nanoengineering, Rice University

Going into science, I was sent to Vanderbilt for a master’s degree first and then went to Wright Patterson Air Force Base for my first assignment. I found a job on base and it happened to be in the Materials Lab. That opened the door to materials research and a lot of good things happened. I ended up being a civil servant in the polymer branch, and I didn’t know anything about polymers but I knew several people there and I had collaborated with them for a while, so that was a good thing to do. That got me a civil service position and I separated from the military active duty and went into the reserves. I stayed in the reserves for another 24 years and ended up with retirement as a full Colonel. Along the way, I went back and got a Ph.D. in polymer science at the University of Massachusetts, which was the best school in the world for polymers. I chose 21

that intentionally because everyone who I talked to in the world of polymer science said that was where you needed to go to get your Ph.D.; it’s the best place. And so I did. It was hard and it was fun. I made a lot of friends and I met a lot of people who really helped my career in the Air Force go really well. I was with the polymer branch for 16 years and then moved to the laser-resistant materials branch for 6 years and then ended up being the chief scientist of the whole AF Materials Laboratory. I went in as a lieutenant and ended up being one of the top three positions there, as a civil service “General Officer.” That’s when I first bumped into Rick Smalley from Rice and we had some interesting interactions. We started collaborating and then he was recruiting me to retire from the Air Force to come to Rice and that’s how I came to Rice in 2002. 37 years in the US Air Force, that I’ve just described in about the last 3 minutes. None of those steps, you know, bumping into and working with Smalley, none of that was ever planned. It just happened. I seized on good things and they always were good to me.



Headstrong Academics Joe Warren, Ph.D. Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

I think for most faculty, in general, if you’ve got a Ph.D. and you’ve worked for a while, you develop a feel for what you like to work on and you have an opinion. In fact, that’s why you basically become a professor and you’re given tenure. It’s a trust that you know the right problems to work on, and go work on that. So I’m not particularly deterred if somebody says, “you’re wrong.” I’ll stop and think, and I’ll think about their criticism but I may decide that criticism is unfounded. You know, if you just say “you’re wrong and just stop,” I’m not going to necessarily listen to you. In fact, I probably won’t. I’ll think for myself, and I’m pretty strong-willed, and I’ll take your criticism into account and build a better product off it, or I may just think your criticisms are unfounded. I think most professors are pretty headstrong in that way.




Initial Interest Luay Nakhleh, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

I was born in Israel to a Palestinian family, so I’m an Israeli Arab. I grew up as a minority in Israel, and I did my high school studies there in Israel and I did my undergraduate degree in computer science in Israel, ‘92 to ‘96, then I came to the United States in ‘97, I did my master’s degree at Texas A&M, I did my Ph.D. at UT Austin, finished in 2004, and in 2004 I became a professor at Rice, so I have been touring Texas. When I was in high school, I noticed that I had inclination towards scientific fields, especially math, physics, and computer science. I took a computer science class and I liked it. The main reason was the teacher. The teacher was very good. I like the field because of him. Then I felt that this kind of field where I don’t have to memorize things and I have to reason about things, they appealed to me. On the other hand, I looked at other fields like history where I needed to memorize 25

things and I was not doing well, it wasn’t just for me, I don’t know if I had bad memory or something, but I was never into these topics where I had to memorize lots of stuff. I liked math. I liked mathematical questions. Computer science is built on top of math, there is no computer science without math, but at the same time I liked physics. I finished high school in ‘91, it was a time when Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’ came out, and it was such a big hit, and I read it, I didn’t understand probably 70% of what’s in the book, but somehow it appealed to me. I don’t know what it was, somehow, he writes as if everything is clear to everyone, but somehow it was amazing that this person is talking about laws of the universe and people are thinking about coming up with unifying laws for the universe, so this was the point where I started getting closer and closer to science. When I applied to the Teknion in Israel, you put like two or three choices, actually, so I put computer science first and physics second, so I wasn’t sure it was computer science, but I put the two, and that was my order. I got accepted and I just went, and it was as simple as that.



Exploring Science Jordan Miller, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Bioengineering, Rice University

I grew up in Los Angeles and lived in Boston for college, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My undergraduate degree was in biology—and there, I realized that most of biology is looking at what’s happening inside the cell, and I was more interested in what’s happening outside the cell, and that made me interested in bioengineering. So, I got a minor in biomedical engineering from there, and then I decided I wanted to go to graduate school. I had sort of long-term visions of always wanting to be a professor. I think it just gives you the intellectual freedom to explore science with some of the best people in the world and really find out what is going on inside the body. I have always found that very interesting.




Teaching & Managing Dan Wallach, Ph.D. Professor, Computer Science, Rice University

When I came from Princeton to Rice to start as a professor, I only had the vaguest idea that being a professor is really being a manager, and really you have to deal with your students. I had inkling, but I never managed anyone before, ever. I’d worked with people, but I’d never been in charge of anybody. I was never trained, it was just, here’s your job, and here you go. I just had to deal with that. It’s not like I chose to be a manager. It’s just I chose to be a professor; I have to be a manager, how do I do that? Occasionally, I’ll steal a useful idea from somebody who tells me, oh yeah, here’s how we manage people at Google. It’s important to eat lunch with your people? Very important to eat lunch with your people. You steal ideas and techniques and things, it’s not something that’s central to who I am, what I do. I never had management training. I don’t think I’ve ever read a management book. 29



Solving Problems, Starting Early Benhaam Aazhang, Ph.D. Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rice University

My older brother was an engineer – an electrical engineer, but more on the high power and electric transmission side of electrical engineering, as opposed to electronics. As an engineer, he had a very good life, and he was very good in mathematics. At the same time, he always talked about how engineers look at the problem and immediately want to solve it. They use mathematical tools to identify the problem, formulate the problem, and find a way to solve the problem. From my early years I was interested in math; I was good at math. I liked algebra, geometry, and all different kinds of math. I also found this concept of solving problems intriguing. Watching my brother have a good career, a good lifestyle, and using problem solving seemed to bring everything together. That was intriguing, and I knew in middle 31

school and high school that I wanted to become an engineer. I started my university education in Iran. In Iran, you take a national exam and, depending on your score in the exam, you would be placed in your first-choice program. It had become less about a match of interest and more about match of score to the competitiveness of the department. At that time, which is actually still the case, electrical engineering was the hardest department to get into. That was motivation for me to do what it takes to get into the best electrical engineering department – not necessarily knowing exactly what that meant. That is how I got in, and once I got in (and also because of my brother’s influence), I realized that this was going to be the discipline for me.



What Will Live On F. Kurtis Kasper, Ph.D. Faculty Fellow, Bioengineering, Rice University

How do we get the most value out of our time and then, recognizing one’s own mortality, what is the legacy that one leaves behind? What’s the impact one is going to have that lives after them? I have, on my wall here, awards that I’ve won in recent years and it’s fantastic to be recognized by the society, by one’s peers for one’s achievements. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly honored to have these recognitions, but when you really think about it, when my time on earth is over, those awards will essentially be buried with me, if they haven’t been forgotten before then. But what will live on after me are the students that I’ve trained and the patients that have been reached by the technologies, while those technologies were viable. Because certainly what we produce now will be obsolete at some time. The time at which that occurs, who knows, but when we train people who, 33

in turn, will train other people, then the impact of our research and our efforts will certainly live after we have. This is something that I’ve been thinking about with respect to parenthood. I have two young children, a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, and I’ve been thinking about the impact of the time that I have with them. I could just play around with them all the time, and certainly there’s a lot of value to that, but my primary charge as a parent is to present them with opportunities and teach them, and then when I’m gone they can pass those lessons on to their children.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS Dr. Behnam Aazhang is the J. S. Abercrombie Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University. His research interests are in the areas of communication theory, information theory, signal processing, and their applications to wireless communication, wireless networks, and neuroengineering, with emphasis on closed-loop neuromodulation and real-time brain stimulation. Dr. Aazhang received his B.S. (with highest honors, 1981), M.S., 1983, and Ph.D., 1986, in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Wade Adams is a Senior Faculty Fellow in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. He was educated at the U.S. Air Force Academy (B.S. Physics 1968), Vanderbilt University (M.S. Health Physics 1970), and the University of Massachusetts (Ph.D. Polymer Science and Engineering 1984). He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Dr. Adams also retired from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of Colonel in 1998. Dr. Adams joined Rice University in January 2002, as the Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, later named the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, the first organized nanotech center in the world, founded in 1993 by its namesake. In January 2012 he became Associate Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering. Dr. Genevera Allen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics at Rice University. Her research interests include developing mathematical tools to help scientists understand massive amounts of data sets that


are produced by technological advances in medicine, engineering, the Internet, and finance. Her applied research interests include neuroimaging, high-throughput genomics, imaging, and metabolomics. Dr. Allen received her B.A. from Rice University in 2006 and her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2010. Dr. E. Neely Atkinson is a Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and a Senior Lecturer in the department of Statistics at Rice University. He received his B.A. in 1975, and his Ph.D. in Mathematical Sciences in 1981, both from Rice University. Dr. Michael Carroll is the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and professor in Computational and Applied Mathematics, at Rice University. He was born in Thurles, Ireland, in 1936, came to the U.S. in 1960 and became a naturalized citizen in 1970. Carroll earned his B.A. in mathematical sciences and master’s degree in mathematical physics from University College, Galway, in 1958 and 1959, respectively, and his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Brown University in 1965. He received the D.Sc. for published work from the National University of Ireland in 1979. Dr. Rob Griffin is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. Dr. Griffin’s research involves aerosol thermodynamics and chemistry, air pollution transport, atmospheric chemistry, regional air quality modeling, and urban air quality. Dr. Griffin’s research interests lie in performing field, laboratory, and computational experiments designed to understand the effects and behavior of organic species in the troposphere. Dr. Griffin received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Tufts University in 1993 and his M.S./Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Caltech in 1997/2000.


Dr. Illya Hicks is an Associate Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University. His research interests are in combinatorial optimization, integer programming, graph theory and matroid theory. Some applications of interest are social networks, cancer treatment and network design. His current research is focused on using graph decomposition techniques to solve NP-complete problems. After receiving his B.S. in Mathematics at Texas State Univerity in 1995, Dr. Hicks received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice in 2000. Dr. George Hirasaki is a Professor Emeritus of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He joined the Rice University faculty after a 26 year career with Shell Development and Shell Oil Company. His research in fluid transport through porous media ranged from the microscopic scale intermolecular forces governing wettability to the megascopic scale numerical reservoir simulators for field-wide modeling. A reoccurring theme throughout this research is the dominance of interfaces in the determination of fluid transport processes. Fluids flow through rock and soil in pore spaces that are on the order of microns. The relative transport of phases and components are governed by the degree of wetting of the solid by the fluid phases and the sorption of species on the fluid and solid surfaces in addition to the usual transport coefficients such as viscosity and diffusivity. Dr. F. Kurtis Kasper is a Faculty Fellow in the department of Bioengineering. Dr. Kasper’s research focuses on the development and evaluation of novel biomaterial-based approaches for tissue regeneration, cell encapsulation, and the controlled delivery of thepeutics. He received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 1999, and his Ph.D. from Rice University in 2006. Dr. Jordan Miller is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University. His primary research interests in


regenerative medicine combine synthetic chemistry, threedimensional (3D) printing, microfabrication, and molecular imaging to direct cultured human cells to form more complex organizations of living vessels and tissues. After receiving his B.S. in Biology with a minor in Biomedical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003, Dr. Miller obtained a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Rice University (2008) and completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania (2008-2013). Dr. Daniel Mittleman is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice. He received his B.S. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988, and his M.S. in 1990 and Ph.D. in 1994, both in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Dr. Charles Shank. His thesis work involved the spectroscopy of semiconductor nanocrystals using laser pulses with durations of less than 20 femtoseconds, at wavelengths from 480 nm to 670 nm. He then joined AT&T Bell Laboratories as a post-doctoral member of the technical staff, working first for Dr. Richard Freeman on a terawatt laser system, and then for Dr. Martin Nuss on terahertz spectroscopy and imaging. His research interests involve various aspects of spectroscopy, sensing, and imaging using terahertz radiation. Dr. Mittleman is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America, the American Physical Society, and the IEEE. Dr. Luay Nakhleh is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Rice University. His research is in the bioinformatics field and develops methodologies, through implementing software tools and conducting analyses, that are aimed at answering and empowering research into biological questions, specifically evolutionary questions, his main topic of interest. Dr. Nakhleh was born and educated in Israel. He received his B.S. in Computer Science from the Technion in Israel, his M.S. in Computer Science in


Texas A&M and a Ph.D. degree at UT Austin. He is the recipient of numerous teaching and fellowship awards such Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, John P. Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and more. Dr. Maria Oden is a Professor in the Practice of Engineering Education at Rice University, and Director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Dr. Oden received her B.S.E. in 1989, M.S. in 1991, and Ph.D. in 1994; all from Tulane University. She has more than 15 years of combined academic, research, clinical experience in biomedical engineering with an emphasis in orthopaedic bioemechanics and computational modeling. This work is also supported by three years of experience in computational modeling working with engineering consultants at SageCrisp Engineering in Houston, TX. Dr. Xaq Pitkow is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University with a joint appointment at the Baylor College of Medicine in Computational Science. His primary research focus is on developing theories of the computational functions of neural networks, especially how they compute properties of the world using ambiguous sensory evidence. Dr. Pitkow received his A.B. in Physics from Princeton University in 1997, and a Ph.D. in Biophysics from Harvard University in 2006. He held a postdoctoral research fellowship at Columbia University from 20072010, followed by a postdoctoral research scientist position at the University of Rochester. Dr. Ashutosh Sabharwal is a Professor of Eletrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University. His research includes “distributed� network information theory, full-duplex wireless communications, directional


communication on mobile devices and scalable health. Professor Sabharwal received his B.Tech. in electrical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi in 1993 and his MS and PhD in electrical engineering from the Ohio State University in 1999. Dr. Dan Wallach is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rice University. His research involves computer security, particularly as it relates to web browsers, peer to peer systems, smartphones, and voting machines. Dr. Wallach received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1993, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Computer Science from Princeton University in 1995 and 1999, respectively. Dr. Joe Warren is a Professor of Computer Science at Rice University. His research interests focus on the application of computers to geometric problems and are centered around the general problem of representing geometric shapes. More specifically, he works with computer graphics, computer gaming, geometric modeling, and visualization. Dr. Warren received his B.A. from Rice University in 1983 and went on to complete his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1986.



Special thanks to Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering faculty who graciously spent time sharing their career experiences and educational life stories with the Gateway students through one-on-one interviews. Much appreciation goes to School of Social Sciences Dean Lyn Ragsdale for her ongoing support of the Gateway Study of Leadership program. We would also like to give special recognition to Dr. David Nino, Dr. Phillip Kortum, Dr. David Johnson, Dr. Sergio Chavez and Dr. Royce Carroll, as well as Rice alumni Neeraj Salhotra (’13), Amol Utrankar (’14), Danny Cohen (’14) for their contributions to the training of the 2013-2014 GSL fellows, and to Ms. Jennifer Gucwa for her assistance with editing the publications. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Gateway Associates and the supporters of the Gateway program for making projects like this possible. Many thanks also go to the current and past Turning Points team and the GSL fellows for the tremendous amount of time and effort they commit to bringing the faculty stories to life.


Choosing Academia III  
Choosing Academia III