Position: Business Analytics Researcher, IBM Research
Thesis: Rayleigh-Bernard Convection Driven Shear: Models, Stability, Dynamics and Transport
Advisor: James C. Alexander
What is your current position? What do you enjoy about it?
I've spent the last fourteen years working in various positions at IBM. I was first hired in as a data mining consultant, then managed several teams of analytic professionals and recently took a position in IBM Research working in Business Analytics and Mathematical Sciences.
The common thread through these positions has been using advanced mathematics to solve real world business problems for internal and external clients with me in the role of analytic consultant. It won't appeal to everyone, but I find the work fascinating.
There is an incredibly complex and rich variety of processes in businesses, far beyond what may be obvious. The people who are experts in these areas struggle to find ways to do their work more accurately and efficiently. Being in a position to bridge their needs and the world of mathematics has been interesting and fulfilling.
It's not all mercenary either, as I've had an opportunity to be involved in work for our clients that has looked at fraud, terrorism, and healthcare.
What are your favorite memories of your graduate school experience?
I had a non-traditional experience. I was accepted into the University of Maryland's Applied Mathematics program in 1976, at the completion of my undergraduate work at Brown. I postponed my start date for a year due to some opportunities I wanted to explore, and that stretched into 25 years.
Entering into a full-time Ph.D. program at AMSC was the fulfillment of a life-long goal. But as one can imagine, at 36 years old I matriculated with a significant amount of accumulated responsibility, and that necessitated that I continue to work in a professional position outside of the university.
That meant there was a sharp divide between my on-campus academic life and my work life. I relished the former, in spite of the abbreviated amount of time I could commit to it. I looked forward to each day that I was exposed to the seemingly endless well of knowledge, the bright and energetic students around me and the committed faculty and staff. I enjoyed taking in the talks on various topics and the broadening of perspective they provided. I coveted every minute I could spend learning.
For me, it was like I went to science camp for five years, and I loved every minute of it.
What do you think the best parts of AMSC are?
One can stipulate the obvious things, like world class faculty, researchers, and facilities. But the thing that stands out to me was the caring and respectful atmosphere of the department.
I always felt that everyone was on the same team and working to help each student meet their personal academic goals. There was a minimum of bureaucracy, intellectual elitism and ego and a maximum of counseling, advising and nurturing.
I think a great example of this are the "pizza dynamics" seminars where cheap food, short presentations and a friendly board of inquisition made up of the brightest people in nonlinear dynamics welcomed expert and novice alike. You cannot buy or legislate a nurturing environment. It has to grow organically, supported by the individuals involved.
Clearly, AMSC attracts liked minded souls who have a passion and aptitude for their academic craft but also see the importance of a collegial, non-threatening, supportive environment for graduate students.
What advice would you give to current students?
I wouldn't presume to be able to advise younger students on a traditional track. For those who may be doing their degrees part time or under similar circumstances as myself, I have two bits of advice.
First, is to be disciplined and pragmatic about achieving your goal. Getting through the program requires clearing through a series of sequential hurdles but some, such as completing your research, need to start early and run in parallel with the rest of the activities. Make a plan and drive to achieve it.
Second, find an academic advisor you like as a person. Not everyone will relate to your situation but some will, and they will be supportive. I was fortunate enough to work with someone that I really liked as a human being, and our relationship buoyed me at times when I needed that additional emotional support.
Story posted 4/3/12