Prospective grad students

We are continuously looking for new talented graduate students to join our lab. I am not always able to respond to every student’s email, so here are the answers to some of the more common questions.

How do I apply to be a grad student in your lab?

  1. Email me your resume, unofficial transcript, and research interests. Indicate the type of program you are interested in and the desired start date.
  2. Submit a M.S. or Ph.D. Application to the Aerospace Engineering Program at Texas A&M University. Make sure that you mention me as one of the 3 faculty you want to work with.
  3. I do a first pass over all applications in January, so if you are among the top candidates, expect an email from me in January-early February for a Zoom meeting.
  4. I typically send informal offers by email in February. Official offer letters from the university may take a few more weeks.

What are you looking for in a grad student applicant?

The ideal candidate would have a strong background in engineering (aerospace engineering, mechanical, electrical) combined with a strong background or interest in computing (e.g., computer science major or minor covering fundamentals of data structures and algorithms, significant programming experience in more than one programming paradigm, courses in artificial intelligence and machine learning, etc.)

A high GPA from a good institution is a strong indicator of potential for research, but certainly not the only thing I will look at. Meaningful experiences in industry, research and/or project teams are a plus, particularly when relevant to space systems, systems engineering, and/or AI/ML. A passion for science, being self-driven, a strong desire to do research, high autonomy, and attention to detail are essential skills of a successful graduate student. Communication and teamwork skills are critical. Finally, I like recruiting diverse and well-rounded students who will have a positive impact in the lab’s work environment.

I read recommendation letters carefully to try to assess those things. Ultimately, for the top candidates, I like having a short Zoom interview to help me assess the fit for the lab.

What will I learn if I join your lab?

We work at the intersection of space systems, artificial intelligence, and systems engineering and design. Most if not every student in my lab will learn the basics of each of those topics (e.g., at the level of Wertz’s Space Mission Analysis and Design book, and Russell and Norvig). This combination of skills may take some time to achieve depending on your background, but know that it is worth it and quite unique: there is a shortage of space systems engineers with deep expertise in AI/programming/computer science aspects. Different students will emphasize more some aspects or others depending on their projects and research interests. Most students in my lab end up doing significant programming, so if you don’t want to do any programming, we are not a good fit for you. Finally, we put a lot of emphasis on rigor in research, so students in my lab learn about various research methods, design of experiments (computational or with human subjects) and statistical analysis.

Right now, there are two main research thrusts in my lab: AI assistants and human-machine teaming with applications from system design to operations, and spacecraft on-board AI. That kind of defines two “flavors” of students in my lab, but all students have a common set of skills as defined above. See the research page for more details.

What is it like to work as a grad student in your lab?

In addition to taking courses and learning the literature on their thesis topic, most students in my lab work in 1-2 sponsored projects. You can see examples of recent projects in the research page. Our sponsors include NASA, NSF, industry (Ford, Lockheed Martin), DARPA, and DOD. I meet weekly for 30 min one-on-one with each of my students, or 1 hour biweekly, depending on student preference. In addition, we have project progress meetings (weekly or biweekly depending on the project) and weekly group meetings where we go over lab business and students share work and ideas with the rest of the lab. I try to assign 2 students to each project to promote teamwork and improve the quality of the work, but that is not always possible.

Most of my grad students do an internship at NASA or industry at some point during their degrees. I also typically fund one conference per student pear year, although that may be more or less depending on the specifics of the student and their projects.

In terms of expectations, I expect that all my students will be engaged in research, writing papers, and presenting at conferences. A reasonable target is to graduate with 1 journal paper published + 1 conference presentation for a MS student and 3 journal papers + 2-5 conference papers/presentations for a Ph.D. student, although again, this may depend on the individual circumstances. Over time, I expect that students will learn how to generate and test scientific hypothesis, as well as develop excellent communication and teamwork skills. At a personal level, I expect that students will be professional, show integrity and honesty, and communicate with me and the rest of the team openly and frequently.