Spring 2018: Tim Matchen

SHORT ANSWER - ABOUT YOU                                                              

Name & Nickname (if applicable): Tim Matchen
Hometown: Millburn, NJ
Previous Degrees & Where (Undergrad/Masters - if applicable): Princeton University, B.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Degree sought from UCSB and Progress (e.g., 4th yr): 4 th Year PhD candidate
Professional Memberships: IEEE Student Member
Hobbies / Activities / Interests: I like to watch TV, play video games, and go to spin class. I also run a D&D game with some friends!
Interesting aside/fact/information about you: I taught myself to sing the alphabet backwards in 7 th grade so I’d always have an answer for questions like this!


The Department: The diversity of problems people in the department are working on. Mechanical Engineering isn’t just planes, trains and automobiles, and it’s really cool how many different, unique applications of engineering principles people in the department work on.
UCSB: The strong culture of collaboration here is something that I find really appealing about UCSB. People across departments are consistently friendly, approachable, and interested in the ways different fields of research can intersect.
Santa Barbara: It’s hard to beat the weather.


Research program (e.g.,Controls, CSP, EP): Dynamics and Controls
Main Area of Research: Phase model reduction with applications to Parkinson’s Disease
Research Interests (list of keywords): Parkinson’s, neural control, deep brain stimulation, phase models
Advisor / Lab or Group Name: Jeff Moehlis
Important Conferences you attend – did you present a poster or a talk?: I presented a paper at ACC 2017
Master’s Thesis or Dissertation Title OR Topic (most recent): Phase model analysis of Parkinsonian neurons

Title of Most important publication to date and link to your CV or pub list: Phase model-based neuron stabilization into arbitrary clusters (JCNS, 2018)

What types of Financial Assistance have you received? (GSR, TA, Fellowships): I have mostly been a GSR, with a few quarters as a TA. I also received a fellowship from the ME Department.


A) Research Description – geared towards prospective grad students and industry/potential collaborators:
My research focuses on developing phase models for Parkinsonian neurons and subsequently developing electrical control signals to alleviate the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease. Phase model reduction consists of reducing the number of variables representing a dynamical system, condensing a potentially high-dimensional system down to a simpler, one-dimensional model. This model allows us to more easily identify effective control strategies. From there we formulate a control objective and consider the best strategies for achieving it.

B) What do you find rewarding about your research?:

I like that I am able to work on a problem that is both challenging and important. My current research focuses on taking extremely complex systems whose characteristics are outside of the scope of most of the models we carry out phase model reduction on and trying to adapt it to a phase model for control; this work is always challenging and sometimes downright frustrating, but it’s helping us generate better solutions for a problem that affects millions of people worldwide.

C) Collaboration: UCSB prides itself on its collaborative atmosphere. How do you collaborate with e.g., your advisor, and other faculty, groups, research areas, departments, students (in and outside your group)? What about outside of UCSB e.g., industry, other groups, faculty, and students?:
I’ve consistently found that when I needed a second opinion on something—either from a professor in the department or if I have a more neuroscience-specific question—other professors are willing to engage with me and help. Our lab group is relatively small, but I additionally feel I can always bounce things off of my fellow students too.

D) Where will your research take you next? What are your personal Career Goals / Future / Industry, Gov’t or Academia?:
I would like to enter industry, but I don’t know what yet—I hope wherever I go next I can continue to pursue interesting and challenging questions.


A) How and why did you get into your area of research?:
During my first quarter at UCSB, each of the professors in the ME department presented their research, and I was drawn to this problem. A big part of that was that it struck me as a really unique application for a mechanical engineering department and representative of my interest in pursuing a diverse array of problems.

B) Why you selected the ECE Department and UCSB in regards to your research area?:
UCSB has a uniformly strong reputation in dynamics and control, but I also found it appealing that I wasn’t locked into an advisor when I arrived, unlike some other schools I was looking at. Having the flexibility to settle in and find the right fit for me was a strong deciding factor.

C) Thoughts on working in a group research environment and your experience working with an advisor:
We are a very small group (only two PhD candidates and one Master’s student) so my experience is probably different from a lot of graduate students, but I find it works well for me. I have weekly, one-on-one meetings with my advisor, which is invaluable for working through particularly tricky parts of my research.

Information about your academic endeavors and experiences at UCSB.

A) Academically, what do you think are the strengths of the department's graduate program?:
The department has an exceptionally strong dynamics and control group—not just in terms of the academic quality of the output work, but from a teaching perspective as well. I’ve found all my classes in dynamics and control have had faculty who were enthusiastic about the material and kept classes engaging.

B) Favorite course taken and why - feel free to name your instructor:
The ME 215 series (A/B), taught by Profs. Moehlis and Mezic. Coming into UCSB I was perhaps more interested in control than dynamics, but their classes deepened my appreciation and enthusiasm for dynamical systems.

C) Where applicable, share your experience about the screening exam, qualifying exam, defense exam, and working on your thesis / dissertation:
The screening exam is a stressful experience for everyone—in my case, I definitely felt like the oral exam format led me to struggle with it more than I might have in other formats. There’s no replacement for preparation, though, and keeping track of your class notes for later review is vital! The advancement to candidacy presentation is in contrast much more straightforward. It gives you the opportunity to present your specific research, which you will by the time you present be well-versed in. As such, it is far less stressful.

D) If you are or have been GSR or TA describe your experience. TA/Teaching Activities: If you are a TA what classes/labs do you teach or what involvement do you have in the class? Your thoughts on teaching:
I have TA’d a handful of times—first during my 1 st year, when I TA’d for the two undergraduate fluids classes, and now this quarter for ME 3 (MATLAB). My first two times TAing, I did not have to teach a section, just hold an office hours and grade homework. This quarter has been somewhat of an adjustment as I have been teaching a section for the first time, but either way I’ve found the most important thing is to prepare ahead of time. As a grad student, you’re of course going to be more or less comfortable with the material, but going over the work your students have prior to a section or office hours allows you to better anticipate what spots may be giving them trouble and how to best address their struggles.


A) Tell us about your quality of life as a graduate student. How do you balance school, work, social and family (if you have a family) life?:
Balancing work with other aspects of life can be a challenge for anyone. I try to set time aside to pursue my hobbies and spend time with friends—it’s easy to feel like you’re shortchanging your work by doing so, but in the long run it helps you maintain a consistent quality and avoid burning out. It also helps to have a strong working relationship with your advisor—this will help de-stress your work situation as well!

B) Personal life in Santa Barbara: What is your social life like? Where do you live (Grad Student Housing, Family Housing, / Goleta / Downtown SB and why?). What do you think about living in Santa Barbara?:
I live in Downtown SB. I spent my first year living in Grad Student Housing before moving. One thing that’s challenging about Santa Barbara is that it can be a very expensive place to live—rent is relatively high. I chose to live downtown because I felt there was much more to do than when I was living by the school.

C) Tell us about what did you do this summer or plan to do next summer? Travel, research at UCSB, Intern, etc.:
I will be at UCSB working on my research and (hopefully) participating as a mentor in UCSB’s Research Mentorship Program (RMP), which brings a number of high-achieving high schoolers to the school to work on research projects. I mentored two students last year and had a lot of fun doing it!

D) Advice to prospective graduate students about all aspects of UCSB graduate student life (research, academics and personal):
UCSB is a great place to get a graduate degree. Beyond the strong reputation of the faculty, it’s a pleasant place to be, and you can’t beat the weather. Just make sure you take the time to actually enjoy the benefits of Santa Barbara as a town; a work-life balance is critical to success.